Terroir

At its simplest, terroir translates from the French as soil. But to winemakers, terroir is much more than that – it is an alchemy of the elements. 

 

The topography of Lebanon comprises four layers from West to East: a narrow typical Mediterranean coast; a range of mountains called Mount Lebanon; a valley called the Beqaa, in reality a plateau nestled between two mountain ranges; and a second mountain range, Mount Anti-Lebanon, the natural border between Lebanon and neighboring Syria.

 

Massaya’s vineyards are mainly in the Beqaa Valley for the reds and rosé and on Mount Lebanon for the whites.


The soil of the vineyards is one component of the terroir. Mostly a stony mix of limestone and clay, it suits vines perfectly as clay retains the humidity while rocks retain heat, so basically these two are regulator agents that balance the extreme conditions.

 

In summer, daytime temperatures may reach 40 degrees but at nighttime the temperature may fall to 18 degrees. This variation of the temperature is indeed very significant.

 

In winter, the weather is wet with rainfall around 650 mm in central Beqaa (250 mm in Ras Baalbek) and around 1,300 mm on Mount Lebanon with temperatures below zero sometimes, leaving the mountains snow capped for most of the winter. The snow lasts around 10 days in the Beqaa at 900 meters above sea level.

 

The constant sunshine in summer provides a ripening temperature without interruption from May until September-October, while the afternoon wind spreads the warmth to evenly boost the maturing process coupled with the reflection of sunlight from the mountain that enhances the photosynthesis.

 

This is a dry land without much rainfall but the vines receive a natural water supply from the melting snow that trickles down from the mountains because of the clay component. The surrounding mountains are in reality water tanks.

 

And there’s a bonus. The dry heat, especially during the early growth period, is a barrier to diseases, funguses, and hostile insects that usually prefer humidity. Organic farming is then a reality!

 

To sum it up, the range of mountains is a blessing for the vintners. After the cold and wet winter, the Mount Lebanon range plays four roles during the vegetative cycle: it acts a natural protective barrier from the influence of the Mediterranean humidity; it serves as a water tank as during the long dry season its clay releases humidity in the undersoil; it is a natural path for daily geothermal winds that also reduce humidity and allow an even maturity of the grapes; and it is a light reflector and so enhances photosynthesis.

 

Clearly, the conditions are so appropriate for vines that things happen almost naturally and human intervention is reduced to the minimum. In other words, you could be lazy and mother nature will generously provide healthy and beautiful grapes. Blessed Lebanon terroir!


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