(MENAFN - Youm7) ZAHLE, Lebanon: It's difficult to find yourself bored in Lebanon. You can play on its beaches, explore its history at Baalbek, cruise the castle wall in Byblos and, of course, get loose in Beirut.
But nestled comfortably in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley is the Middle East's answer to California's Sonoma and France's Provence " namely, Lebanon's humble but potent wine region.
Started in 1950 by Michel De Bustros, a member of a wealthy Christian Lebanese family, Chateau Kefraya grew slowly and not without impediments. The original land plots were hardly arable and forced De Bustros to spend years cultivating and experimenting " all amidst the lead-up to and eventual civil war that rocked the Hezbollah stronghold in Bekaa.
But struggling through the difficult times paid off. Kefraya, the picturesque winery situated just a few kilometers from Chataura, operates one of the most sophisticated wine-making processes in Lebanon. It produces nearly 3 million bottles annually (second only to Chataeu Ksara) and has distribution in over 40 countries.
However, despite its global presence, there is a personal feel at Kefraya that is is not unintentional.
"Chateu Kefraya is the work of a lifetime," said De Bustros. "There is absolutely nothing in the Chateau Kefraya that I haven't personally developed or planted in the last 50 years."
Tours and tastings operate year-round.
Chateau Ksara, Lebanon's Viticulteur-in-Chief, is located just off the main drag in rugged Zahle. The winery began over 150 years ago when Jesuit priests discovered the winery's famous caves, which are perfectly suited to age wine.
Now hosting over 40,000 visitors a year, the winery boasts a buzzing tourism operation in addition to its wine production. Its tour, offered in Arabic, English and French, will take you through the stages of production: from planting to harvesting to crushing to aging. The friendly, though somewhat over-rehearsed, guides will lead you through the damp, musty caverns where oak barreled vintages rest. You'll even be treated to the stylings of Kenny G through inconspicuous speakers.
The Ksara tour ends with a requisite tasting in the Chateau's restaurant where visitors can sample the most recent red, white and rose vintage (or, if you're lucky, its own Arak). If you don't mind the somewhat bland, passionless presentation of its product, you will enjoy the product itself " the winery consistently takes home awards from Vinalies Internationales Paris, the Berlin Wine Trophy, the Mundus Vini Neustadt and the Selections Mondiales des Vins Quebec.
Tours and tastings offered year-round.
If the Bekaa wine region in Lebanon draws its charm from its unassuming qualities, then Chateau Nakad is its crown jewel. Similarly rocked by conflict and tragedy during the fierce fighting in the Bekaa, Nakad steadfastly continued producing fine quality wine in a micro-fashion, at least when compared to Lebanon's big boys.
Hidden in the hills of Jdeita, Nakad winery boasts fine quality reds in smaller numbers. In its nearly 100-year run, the Chateau has produced about 10 million bottles, or around 113,000 per year.
But the family-owned and operated business is dripping with hospitality and charm. The two brothers will gladly give personal tours and engage in conversation outside the parameters of the wine business " something that is tougher to find at the better-known Lebanese wineries.
Tours and tastings available by appointment.