Twenty years ago none of this existed. The rise of Massaya is remarkable by any standards and even more so in the context of the bleak and derelict site that confronted Sami Ghosn when he returned to Tanaïl in the early 1990s. Squatters occupied the land, the house was dilapidated, the original vines were neglected and overgrown.
But Sami had a vision and a determination to reclaim the property where he had grown up with his brother Ramzi. Returning from the US where he had been working as an architect, he realised he had urgently to reassert his family’s rights and most of all, he wanted to transform this ruin into a centre for high quality wine and arak production.
Lebanon’s civil war forced the Ghosn family to flee the Beqaa and now the brothers were back.
Their first task was to revive the distillery and resume the process of making arak. Just a trickle at first, but by 1994 the spirit was flowing in sufficient quantities to go to market. Next came a flash of brilliance, when Sami introduced the long necked dark blue bottle that makes El Massaya arak stand out from the rest. Just like Coca-Cola, a fine product needed a bottle design that would resonate around the world. Massaya, incidentally, means twilight and as the sun sets over the Mediterranean the sky darkens to the same shade of arak bottle blue.
- Ambition alone would not transform Tanaïl. Sami and Ramzi, who was in charge of marketing and would in time become the wine maker, recognised that they needed to bring in experienced partners. While the old table grape vines were uprooted and replaced, initially with Cabernet Sauvignon, the Ghosns found help in France. Two highly respected wine makers were invited to Tanaïl in 1998 and both were impressed by the progress and the potential. The support of Dominique Hebrard from Bordeaux and the Brunier brothers Frederic and Daniel from Chateauneuf du Pape proved to be crucial. Their knowledge of terroir and the techniques of blending wines brought a new level of expertise to Massaya which quickly became a recognised name among Lebanon’s producers.
Over the next 12 years the business grew and its reputation spread from the domestic to the international market. The range of wines was expanded and the tall blue bottles of arak gained iconic status.
- It was time to look to Mount Lebanon. In addition to the estate at Tanaïl, Michel Ghosn, Sami and Ramzi’s father, owned land at Faqra. By transforming it into a winery, cellar and resort the Ghosns calculated they could not only enhance the presence of Massaya, they could also improve quality by growing white wine grapes at high altitude and maturing the red wines in cooler temperatures compared with the baking heat of the Beqaa.
The beautiful facility at Faqra opened with a glamorous summer party in July 2014 and the latest exciting chapter in the Massaya story began.