But great success is sometimes accompanied by great emptiness, and Naji Boutrous was yearning for a deeper connection – to his family roots, and the roots of the land. And so it was, after much deliberation and soul-searching, that Naji and his Minnesotan wife, Jill, made the decision to return to his homeland.
The first thing Boutros did was replant his grandfather’s vineyard, which covers just under a hectare. With Vivaldi’s Four Seasons booming through loudspeakers, Naji and Jill set about the task of replanting vines.
These will flourish on terraced vineyards and in the village: Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for red, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier for white, ranging from south-west to north-east.
In addition to a number of workers Boutros hired to help with the task, others, hearing the music, came to assist with the planting effort.
“I returned without intending to replant so many vines, just the vineyard of my grandfather,” Naji says. But fate would have it otherwise.
By now, word had spread of the Boutros’ project – a cousin asked whether they would replant his vineyard, too. Many of the old Bhamdoun families whose lands had also fallen into disrepair began to come to him with a “simple” request – to replant their land. That first year Boutros planted four families’ vineyards.
Today, Chateau Belle-Vue has some 24 hectares of vines in assorted locations around the village. Most are now owned by the winery, but some are still in the hands of their original Bhamdoun families and Boutros pays for their use either in wine or money.
In 2003, the winery produced its first vintage – a mere 3,000 bottles, made and pressed by hand.
On the label, a vintage image of the former hotel Belle-Vue, which gave its name to the estate, but also a lizard, a nod to this little beast who has never left the village, even in the darkest moments, and is a frequent sight among the vines.
The vintage was aptly named Renaissance, for it does indeed represent a reawakening – of spirit, soil and society.
Little did Boutros know that four years later, when the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend was released in 2007, the wine would win a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.