Chateau Belle-Vue

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Once Upon

Once upon a time, Bhamdoun was famous for its grapes, its wines considered among the best in Lebanon.

Today, Bhamdoun’s award-winning Château Belle-Vue is one of the few wines produced outside the Bekaa Valley.

Chateau Belle-Vue, a family-run vineyard and winery, pays homage to a legacy of viticulture – it is as much steeped in sentiment and history, as it is community renaissance.

Named after the Hotel Belle-Vue, built in 1860 and subsequently destroyed during the civil war in 1983, the vineyards were replanted in 1999 by Jill and Naji Boutros.

It is no exaggeration to say the village of Bhamdoun owes its  recovery largely to the efforts of this entrepreneurial and community-minded family.

It was at the Belle-Vue Hotel, his grandfather’s house, that Naji Boutros spent his childhood summers. “Each of the rooms then had a breathtaking view of Sannine and the sea, ” he recalls.

It is said that General de Gaulle slept for several nights at the hotel, tasted the local wine and marveled at the terroir of Bhamdoun.

Fast-forward to the 1990s …  Naji Boutros is a successful investment banker for Merrill Lynch in New York, before heading his employer’s new office in London for 10 years.

Vineyards &

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.

Ancestral

What could have been a leisurely life of “gentleman farmer” had become a big and beautiful adventure.

With the support of Jill (marketing manager of the estate), his partner in life as in this project, the passion for wine and the renaissance of the Bhamdoun vineyard become the happy pretext for an even more noble ambition: to revive a local community, give life back to the village and involve its inhabitants. ” I want Lebanese from abroad to find in Bhamdoun the village of their ancestors,” says Boutros.

Organic &

Château Belle-Vue’s grapes, with exceptional qualities, are grown without fertilizers or chemical herbicides. Only ancestral and natural methods are used. Even the irrigation water of the vines comes from tunnels dug by their ancestors. Says Naji: “The important thing is to make good grapes.” Moreover, he makes a point of honor that the vinification respects the natural rhythm of the wine. No yeast is added to speed up the process. It is the natural bacteria produced during the fermentation phases that allow the transformation into red and white: “We approach each phase in respect of the vine and the wine, even if it takes more time.”

In addition, Boutros made the choice not to filter his wine. This gives it a very special velvety taste and aroma: “The filtered wines are much more common, but it is a deliberate choice that we made.”

If Château Belle-Vue is considered a small estate, with a production of only 20,000 bottles, its reputation is great. Above all, commercial considerations are relegated to the background, in favor of an authentic and quality wine.

"Our success means the success of the whole village."

Jill & Naji Boutros

Having conquered the challenges of winemaking, Jill and Naji began their next project – a restaurant and boutique hotel, named Le Telegraphe.

In its past life, this location was a vacation home for the French ambassador to Iraq and Jordan, built to take full advantage of Bhamdoun’s famously ideal summer climate.
Situated at the edge of the village on a beautifully landscaped property shared with the restaurant, the hotel overlooks vineyards lacing the valley, facing both the sunset and the sea.

The gardens are planted with lavender and roses, providing a visual and sensory feast from every direction.

The building, which is now a sumptuous B&B, had been totally destroyed, with no roof, windows or plumbing, so it required serious renovation work. Today, this former French ambassador’s summer house is a charming one-of-a-kind getaway with seven rooms, named after the different grapes they harvest.

Book your stay in the month of September, and you can join the wine harvest.

The French-Italian style restaurant features large tables carved in rustic wood, with a bar for tasting.

Paradise

Jill And Naji Boutros have been working hard to recreate the lost paradise of Bhamdoun, planting olive and fig trees and almost 150 cedars, in addition to the vines.

Bicycle trails through the vines will be the next step closer to the dream of promoting ecotourism in the region.

In testimony of its community spirit, Chateau Belle-Vue donates $1 per bottle sold to fund scholarships for needy children.
The complex also boasts a public community library comprising 6000+ volumes in 3 languages.

With most of the employees coming from the village (every grape is handpicked) and the renting of farmland from locals, this is a project deeply embedded in the community in which it is situated.

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Chateau Belle-Vue

When & Where

When

Guided tours of the vineyards and winery can be scheduled Mon-Saturday at 12:30 or 4:30 pm. Phone 70 628 383 for reservations. Tours begin on the Le Telegraphe property and normally last about an hour.

Where

Bhamdoun Al Dayaa, main road, Bhamdoun

Heather & Sami Eljurdi

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