Under the towering pine trees scattered across the fields of the Beirut Hippodrome, wine lovers are gathering from all over the country to taste their way through the many varieties of Lebanese wine at Vinifest.
The four-day annual festival kicked off Wednesday evening, with mellow jazz playing in the background as guests began to arrive.
Festival organizer Neda Farah said 37 wineries were represented at the event. “[Vinifest] has been organized like a wine trail.
“So you see Bekaa, you see Jezzine, you see Batroun, you see all the wine regions are represented here [at] Vinifest,” Farah said.
Celebrating its 11th birthday, Vinifest has become a staple in Beirut’s cultural calendar.
Each year has brought an increasing number of visitors, mirroring the heightened interest in wine culture within Lebanon. Before starting the event, Farah said she noticed there was little to no wine consumption in restaurants. “It was all hard liquor or hard alcohol,” she said. In the last decade, though, Farah said she believes this has changed. “Now I can find almost three-quarters of the tables with bottles of wine.”
Every year, the famous Chateau Kefraya releases a special edition of “Les Breteches” at the festival, and this year was no different. With a label commissioned to a Lebanese graphic designer, the winery uses the opportunity to celebrate local wine culture. To commemorate the upcoming 75th anniversary of independence in Lebanon, an image of a Beirut street layered with Lebanese flags and graffiti decorates the bottle.
“I wanted to be truthful to Lebanon, and I didn’t want to show something idealistic.
“The beauty of a city like Beirut is the chaos behind it and how it makes sense once you put it together. I wanted to keep this charm of a Lebanese city,” said the artist, Zena Assi, who designed the bottle’s label.
The winery has been a part of the festival since it began.
Located in Western Bekaa, one of the best regions in Lebanon for winemaking, it has been around since 1979 and is one of the biggest in Lebanon, alongside Chateau Ksara and Chateau Musar.
“We export 40 percent of our production to more than 42 countries around the world,” said Rani Azzi, the vineyard manager at Chateau Kefraya.
In an effort to strengthen cultural ties between the two countries, this year Switzerland is being celebrated as the guest of honor at the event after Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil presented a Lebanese wine day in Geneva earlier this year.
“We are one of the biggest wine consumers per capita in the world. We only cover 35 percent of our own wine consumption, the rest we have to import,” the Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmutz Kirgoez, said. “I find it refreshing, I find it different, I find it important that Lebanon exports all these beautiful tasty things [and] that they also export their wine, which in Switzerland is very popular,” she added.
Switzerland will be represented not only through the master classes in wine tasting and etiquette put on by La Sagesse University and the famous Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, but also through a performance by Melissa Kassab, a Lebanese-Swiss musician.
“I’m curious to see the response of the Lebanese public because I have never played here,” Kassab said, shortly before playing her opening number Wednesday evening.
As the night approached, the ambiance was light and cheerful.
With laughter and chatter in the background, one patron, who said he has been frequenting the festival for years, said visitors should expect “people walking around, sipping wine and nibbling on snacks.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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