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Château Ksara


Château Ksara is the best selling wine in the Middle East. In Lebanon, it can claim nearly 45% of local off-trade sales and 30% of the total wine market (including foreign wines). Abroad, Château Ksara has consistently taken the lion’s share of Lebanese wine exports, and in 2005, secured an impressive 40.5% (roughly 1 million bottles) share of all Lebanese wines sold abroad, a 16% year-on-year increase of its foreign sales.

Syria and the UK were the main growth markets with year-on-year growth of 50% and 30% respectively. Reserve de Couvent, Château Ksara’s mid-priced red, once again proved to be the motor behind the export surge, making up 38% of all Château Ksara’s international sales.

Today, Chateau Ksara’s reputation as Lebanon’s biggest and oldest winery is secure. To produce its 2.2 million bottles, the winery harvests 2,000 tons of grapes from its 300 hectares at an average yield of 7 tons of grapes per hectare. This is nearly half the yield of some new world producers who, foregoing quality, happily harvest as much as 14 tons per hectare. For Château Ksara, quality is paramount.

All this has been achieved by excellent management, a solid corporate infrastructure and regular reinvestment – on average $500,000 every year since 1991. Château Ksara’s announcement that it will increase production to 2.7 million bottles over the next three years cannot come soon enough. The winery sells all the wines it makes and for some labels, especially for the Reserve du Couvent and the Chardonnay Cuvée du Pape, demand is exceeding supply.


Château Ksara is making steady inroads into new markets nowhere has this impact been felt than in the UK, the biggest importer of Lebanese wines. Its $14 billion wine market is intensely competitive, but Lebanon, which only produces 6.5 million bottles a year, can exploit its tiny output by positioning its wines as high-quality, sought-after boutique products. This has been done to stunning effect by Château Ksara, which has seen remarkable growth – 80% in 2006 alone – in its UK sales Currently its fourth biggest market, Château Ksara believes the UK will eventually take the top slot, overtaking Syria, France and the US. Other markets in which Château Ksara has performed strongly include Germany, Finland, Sweden, Egypt and Jordan and Canada, where it was the first Lebanese wine to be sold. In all, Château Ksara can be found in over 30 countries.

Success has been achieved by understanding the importance of strategic alliances with professionals who understand their market. In the UK especially, Château Ksara has demonstrated that by joining forces with an established and respected distributor – in this case the House of Halgarten – it is possible for a small producer to thrive in what is arguably the most competitive wine market in the world.

Château Ksara was the first Lebanese winery to introduce “modern” grape varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay et al – into Lebanon in the early 90s, eschewing the sector’s traditional reliance on less fashionable grapes such as Cinsault and Carignan. Today, its vineyards are home to some 20 varieties of grapes for the production of red, white, rosé wines, vin doux (sweet wine) and arak.

In 1994, Château Ksara was also the first to enter into long-term rental agreements with Bekaa landowners who were also encouraged plant better quality grapes. This move has influenced the way many of Lebanon’s producers now farm their own grapes and has contributed to an overall improvement in the quality of Lebanese wine.


Château Ksara began life in 1857, when Jesuit brothers inherited and began farming a 25 ha plot of land to produce Lebanon’s first non-sweet red wine. In doing so, they laid the foundations of Lebanon’s modern wine industry.

It is worth remembering however that Lebanon’s oldest winery is merely continuing a 5,000-year-old trading tradition. Lebanon sits on the site of ancient Phoenicia, one of the world’s oldest merchant civilizations and one of the first to sell its wines to other nations.

At the end of World War I, France was mandated to govern Lebanon. Its military and administrative machine moved in, bringing with it thousands of French soldiers and civil servants, for whom wine was an integral part of their culture. Ksara was in a position to supply Lebanon’s new administrators and by the time the French left in 1946, Lebanon had embraced the Francophone experience with a passion that can still be felt today. During the next 30 years, Ksara maintained its position as Lebanon’s most popular wine as Lebanon grew into a cosmopolitan and convivial hub, where western tastes were eagerly adopted.

In 1972, the Vatican encouraged its monasteries and missions around the world to sell off any commercial activities. By then, Ksara was a profitable entity, producing over 1 million bottles annually and representing 85% of Lebanese production. When then order to sell came through, the winery was optioned to a consortium of Lebanese businessmen and in August, 1973 was sold for $3.2 million.

During the 1975-90 civil not one harvest was missed, even in 1982, the year of the Israeli invasion. Nonetheless, conflict flared up at random across the country at sporadic intervals. Not knowing where the next round of fighting would occur, Château Ksara was forced to rethink its entire distribution strategy. Understandably, exporting was also difficult, but the company was nonetheless able to meet its obligations, sending 15-20% of its production abroad, mainly to France.

But the longer the war dragged on, the more the company began to feel the strain. When the guns fell silent in 1990, Ksara had lost a significant chunk of its local market share. Zafer Chaoui, who was appointed chairman in 1991, had a vision and that same year the flamboyant businessman, backed by an aggressive board of directors, appointed a new Managing Director and made more funds available. He did not know it then but he had set in motion of one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds in Lebanese business history.


Today, Château Ksara sells 16 wines and eaux de vie. Despite the undeniable level of innovation, the focus is increasingly on the premium range of wines and Chaoui has made it clear that he would like to eventually see a greater concentration on this niche, one in which there are higher margins and better opportunities to build brand equity in an increasingly competitive global wine market.

Château Ksara produces three reds: Prieuré de Ksara, the entry-level but nonetheless high quality wine made from Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvée de Printemps a fruity, summer blend of Gamay and Tempranillo, and the mid-priced Réserve du Couvent, a medium to full-bodied wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc and aged in oak for six months. It is Château Ksara’s best-seller with a price-to-quality ratio that would be hard to find anywhere in the world.

At the top end are the premium reds: Château Ksara, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot; the single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cuvée de Troisième Millénaire, Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon flagship red and a blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Verdot. For its 150th anniversary in 2007, Château Ksara has created Le Souverin, a limited edition blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Arinarnoa aged in oak for two years, to celebrate the occasion.

The whites include L'Observatoire de Ksara, a light and fruity wine made from Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Clairette; Blanc de Blancs made from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Chardonnay and finally Lebanon’s first single varietal Chardonnay Cuvée du Pape, made with grapes grown at Ksara’s highest (1,400 meters) vineyard and harvested at a low (6 tons per hectare) yield.

There are three Rosés: Gris de Gris, Rosé de Ksara and Sunset. All have excellent acidity and fresh, fruity aromas.

Château Ksara also makes Moscatel, an excellent pudding wine and Ksarak (Note to editor: this is correct spelling), the country’s bestselling premium arak, an aniseed drink similar to ouzo and raki. Finally, there is a limited quantity of Eau de Vie. Bottled in 1998 and made from two superb vintages – 1937 and 1945 – it rivals the finest cognacs.

Recent developments

Château Ksara is in the midst of a $7.5 million expansion program, which includes a new, $500,000 tasting room, $4 million spent on new equipment and another $3 million on 75 ha of new vineyards. The ambition is to increase production by 700,000 bottles, taking the annual production to 2.7 million bottles by 2010.

To commemorate its 150th birthday in 2007, Château Ksara has written an official history, produced a documentary film and is holding a three-day celebration for foreign representatives, diplomats, and the world’s leading wine writers. The events will consolidate Château Ksara’s position as the country’s most respected winery as well as cement Lebanon’s position as an important wine producing nation.


Château Ksara has always sought to strengthen relations with its retailers and the end users. Since the mid-90s, the winery sensed that while there was an enthusiasm for wine in the Lebanese market, there was also a lack of knowledge. To counter this, Château Ksara organised theme nights and wine seminars that have led to greater awareness and brand building. Château Ksara was also the first producer to respond to Lebanon’s supermarket revolution in the late 90s in terms of display and point-of-sale tastings.

Château Ksara has had a long and illustrious tradition of innovative advertising, a strategy it has always maintained has been crucial in image building. As far back as the early 90s, it has set new standards: Château Ksara’s television ad for Ksarak is widely held up as one of the best Lebanese short films in modern times. Shot in the Bekaa Valley, it captures all that is good about rural Lebanon and, with its young-couple-in-love motif, positioned the company as a traditional product that hinted at an idyllic past.

In 2001, Château Ksara worked with H&C Leo Burnett to create an innovative ad campaign that would reflect the winery’s innovative spirit and one that would make people aware of the endless opportunities that wine affords – with all food, all-year-round and on all occasions. The award-winning campaign, which uses the wine cork as the thematic motif, has been a massive success and has once again consolidated Château Ksara’s position as Lebanon’s leading producer and the choice of the Lebanese wine devotee.

These campaigns, as well as the introduction of exciting and appealing new labels and an extraordinarily competitive price to quality ratio, has led to improved brand perception across the whole Château Ksara range, especially the entry level wines such as Prieuré de Ksara and L'Observatoire de Ksara.

Brand values

The name of Château Ksara dates back to 1857, and has become associated with the three core values: tradition, nobility and modernity. These are emphasized through name and lineage (tradition); through a high-quality product (nobility) and the tremendous innovative advances made since 1991 (modernity). Today, Château Ksara has positioned itself as an old company with a young and dynamic spirit. It produces some of Lebanon’s finest wines, invests in state-of-the-art equipment and recruits and trains the best human resources to ensure its products are sold in as many countries to as many satisfied consumers as is possible.

Things you didn’t know about Château Ksara

• L'Observatoire de Ksara is named after the Middle East’s first observatory that was established at Château Ksara in 1902 by the Jesuits.

• Château Ksara’s has a 2 kilometres network of ancient Roman cellars that provide ideal conditions for the ageing of wines.

• Château Ksara receives over 40,000 visitors a year at its winery in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley.

• Château Ksara achieved ISO 94 certification in 2001 and ISO 2000 certification 2003

• Elie Maamari, Château Ksara’s export manager, began his career as an accountant at the winery. Today, he is a distinguished enologist and a Chevalier d’Ordre du Mérite Agricole for services to wine.

Michael Karam has lived in Lebanon since 1992. He is a business journalist and wine writer. His articles have appeared in Decanter, Harpers Wine Weekly and the Spectator. He is a contributor to the award-winning Wine Report (Dorling Kindersley) and the Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford University Press). He is author of Wines of Lebanon (Saqi), which won the Gourmand Award for the Best New World Wine Book 2005; Chateau Ksara: 150 years of wine making 1957-2007 and Arak and Mezze: The Taste of Lebanon (Saqi), which will be published in 2007.

NOTE TO EDITOR: Please credit all photos - except vintage archive shot of Jesuit winemakers (Chateau Ksara Private Collection), vintage label (Chateau Ksara Private Collection) and author shot (no credit) - to Norbert Schiller/Focusmideast

- Chateau Ksara: >> View Movie << (2009-01-01)



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