The tale of Chateau Belle-Vue is truly worthy of the silver screen. Naji Boutros left his native Lebanon in the early days of the country’s vicious civil war to study at Stanford and pursue the American dream of ambition, success and wealth. He quickly made a name for himself on Wall Street followed by the City of London, carving out a high-flying investment banking career with Merrill Lynch.
On the surface Boutros seemed to have it all: the important job, comfortable lifestyle, and a loving family. Yet deep inside he knew that a decade of 12-hour days and constant travelling were taking their toll.
One day his mother phoned, informing him that his cousin’s mother had passed away. “While we were walking down the village road to the cemetery it dawned on me”, relates Boutros, “where did the past 10 years go?” A week later he found himself in Milan on a work trip. “At that time I used to go to Milan on a weekly basis. I found myself right in front of the Duomo. I had been travelling to Milan for years, but I had never been inside the Duomo.”
“Merrill Lynch didn’t mind if you were away from your desk at lunchtime, so I stepped inside and literally felt sucked in to the altar. There I saw the most beautiful cedar of Lebanon crossed by two olive branches with the Latin inscription ‘Sicut Cedrus Libani’ which means ‘like the cedar of Lebanon’. I immediately left the cathedral, picked up the phone and called my American wife, Jill, to tell her I wanted to return to Lebanon.”
That very day Boutros called his boss and resigned. Soon after, he and his wife relocated their family to Lebanon. Boutros spent his first months of freedom cycling all over the hills around his family’s home village of Bhamdoun, reconnecting with his native land and seeking a new purpose for his life. Vines had been cultivated here on ancient terraces since the Romans ruled this land, but over the years grape growing had fallen out of favour and local vineyards had been pulled up or neglected.
When the Boutros family arrived in Bhamdoun, the village was still scarred by the civil war which had finished just a few years previously. Hundreds of villagers had left during those chaotic years and much of the village had fallen victim to physical destruction and economic stagnation. Jill and Naji quickly realised that the old Boutros family vineyards could help solve many of the village’s problems. The village had previously been a magnet for wealthy Lebanese and French visitors thanks to the proximity to Beirut, and his grandparents had owned the historic Hotel Belle-Vue which now stood in ruins nearby.
In early 2000 Naji Boutros started replanting vines on the old terraces. Word soon spread about the Boutros family’s plan to start a winery and locals began volunteering their own neglected vineyard plots in what would become a passionate collective effort. When it was time for Chateau Belle-Vue’s first harvest in 2003, Boutros waited anxiously with his vineyard manager in the early hours of the morning, hoping that some locals would come to bring in the harvest. He needn't have worried; nearly the whole village showed up to help with the picking.
When the Boutros family arrived in Bhamdoun, the village was still scarred by the civil war
Today Chateau Belle-Vue is recognised as one of Lebanon’s finest boutique wineries and enjoys a cult following amongst wine collectors in the US and Europe. The Boutros family’s success has also served the village well, providing much-needed employment opportunities and a significant economic uplift for the local area. Belle-Vue leases land from local families which provides them with a regular income, and the property also features an elegant restaurant and hotel named Le Telegraphe de Belle-Vue which used to be the holiday home of the French ambassador to Iraq and Jordan.
Belle-Vue’s wines are crafted from classic French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which are planted on ancient terraces on the hills around the village. The flagship wine, named simply La Renaissance, is a Bordeaux-style blend including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cabernet Franc and Syrah unite in another wine called Le Chateau. Both blends are aged for at least seven years before release. The family usually produces just 2,500-3000 bottles of Le Chateau, along with 10,000-15,000 bottles of La Renaissance. A beautifully clean and fruity Sauvignon Blanc/Viognier blend, appropriately called Petit Geste, rounds out the offering with a total production of just 1500 bottles annually.
When Naji and Jill Boutros first moved to Bhamdoun with their four children, they joked that their arrival had doubled the local population. Now, two decades later, it’s no exaggeration to say that Chateau Belle-Vue has breathed life back into the village, turning the hillsides green and resurrecting the local economy.
Oeno is the exclusive UK supplier of Chateau Belle-Vue and specialises in sourcing the finest bottlings for private investment and trade. See oenofuture.com