I don't remember ever being a drinker.
Not even a social drinker.
And yet, here I am waking up early morning on this almost stormy day to go visit a renowned winery on the outskirts of Batroun in the north of Lebanon.
Heaven knows why I continually do this to myself. Put myself in unknown situations.
There is a storm lurking somewhere behind the "bushy" clouds and suddenly I am afraid of getting stuck in one of those rain lakes that form when it pours in Lebanon.
However, I push myself forward as is my norm and get ready for the hour drive.
Mum, Fifi, will accompany me. And that makes me think of a hundred and one plan on how to save her if we r stuck in a rain lake
The drive to the north is always bliss.
There, it is home. Even the unknown and yet- to – be discovered places are home.
Just before we reach Batroun, we make a right turn to get to Basbina, where the idyllic winery is set.
People are friendly when we ask for instructions. And the scenery is simply lush. The weather is holding out. The storm seems to be experiencing stage fright.
Its hesitation is my gain.
The village houses, the narrow streets, and the view make me think about how badly I need adventure in my life.
I suddenly don't know why I wait to travel to have adventures when my country is full with free experiences ready to unfold in front of me, and for me.
The car keeps moving upwards towards the mountains and the people get friendlier and friendlier, and everything around us becomes more and more raw.
I take tens of pictures.
Who knew I could be a tourist in my own country?
Slowly the lush greenery surpasses itself and I am confronted with imaginary real-life pictures slowly unfolding in front of my eyes as the car makes its way to Ixsir winery.
We are there.
So far away from the highway and the sea. And yet closer to heaven somehow.
No wonder this winery was selected by CNN as one of the greenest buildings in the world. I have never seen so much greenery in my life.
A gorgeous black dog trots our way to greet us. He is holding a small ball in his mouth.
Fifi laughs and tells him sweetly, "no fat chance I'm playing with you this morning cute fellow. I can't even walk properly!"
The open space is segmented and opposite our parking space, a long stairway leads to an old renovated, minimalistic house.
I can't help but gloat internally because I defied the weather and my fear of new experiences, to come and write about this place.
Just think, if this open space is majestically welcoming on this almost-stormy weather, then how would we describe its effect on a sunny day?
I help Fifi climb the stairs.
A lovely young woman greets us from the top.
Her name is Elise and she is the Enotourism officer in the winery. We will be her guest for almost two hours.
Two hours filled with information, picture taking, relaxing feeling...and a glass of rose that leaves me drowsy for the rest of the day.
The 400 year old house hosts a charming restaurant. We sit on a table opposite the entrance door and have our first cup of coffee.
The glass of wine will come later in the story.
The intimate interior is curved with arched windows and doors. I can tell from the iron rods aligning the windows that the back garden is a sight upon itself.
The lighting is soft.
Next to the restaurant there is a wine boutique. If only I were a drinker.
Ixsir was the idea of three friends. Passionate about wine. Passionate about the finer things in life as this meticulous place shows. Hady, Ethien, and Gaby.
When they decided to create this elite wine, Hady took a sabbatical to study in Bordeaux.
He will join us soon. And we will know his story.
The working team is formed by less than 20 people.
They bond like a family.
A family of young people who are driven by passion.
The spirit of this place wears a relaxed youthful dress.
Yet the wine which sprung to life around 2008 is as regal as any other older wine.
Don't get me wrong. I can't tell the difference between a cold beer and red wine, however, before I made my small visit I asked around.
And the people who love their wine tell me Ixsir's taste is different. It holds more than one specific taste.
The three friends chose Basbina as a location for ixsir winery for safety purposes. In The Bekaa things sometimes get shaky, but here in this almost forgotten haven, the wine is safe.
And the visitors can escape.
The house is said to have belonged to a family of fiefs. It used to be a feudal house. In here, the families, long ago, proved their strength and marked their power over other families.
The house remains as it used to be. Minus the feuds.
The large stones were simply cleaned with water so as not to rot.
Through a spiral staircase we visit the cave.
The wine making process unfolds in front of our eyes and I watch as they are peacefully settled in wooden cases to age elegantly before they are brought to the market.
The laboratory is so clean and organized it seems surreal. The workers look relaxed.
Elise says between her storytelling, "Ixsir is proud to be a young, modern, ecological winery". Rain water is collected for irrigation, and in here all is recycled. The waste-water, the vegetable residue, and all is turned into compost to fertilize the vineyards.
The fermentation area, the operation space, the cellar and the storage stacks are all worthy of being photographed.
Yet it is the natural light( called also skylights) that filtrates from everywhere throughout the premises which captivates me.
The natural light minimizes Nrj consumption, and it creates a luminous working space for the workers who have to spend hours underground. On a daily basis.
The logo of Ixsir wine symbolizes the sun.
After all, we are a country which enjoys 300 days of sunlight.
And also, the grapes which produce the wine need the sun to be able to store the sugar. This very sugar turns into alcohol during the fermentation process.
The name means the purest substance of all times which contains a secret potion that bestows eternal youth.
On the walls of the tunnel leading to the operation space, Ixsir holds many an exhibition.
This morning, it holds large photos of the lands of Ixsir spread all over the country from north to south.
Elise notes, "Ixsir is the wine of the Lebanese mountains. We do not plant on flat lands. We plant on hills. The grapes have to be tortured and not be given a lot of water to be able to care for their inner juices. The grape has to search for the water".
The roof of this exquisitely minimalistic space is a green roof. We shall visit it later. With moi getting tipsy on the one glass of rose I glamorously hold as I tour around the beautiful open space.
Elise continues, "The farmers work on their own lands. They do not move here and leave their villages and families. Each worker stays in his village".
Inside the ageing space, French wood is used for the fermentation boxes. "We use the French wood for the simple reason that we do not have Lebanese artisans who create such boxes from Lebanese oak".
We finally move to the back garden that first caught my eye. But not before Elise encourages me to try a nice glass of wine.
After all Fifi, who remained comfortable seated on the entrance table had her share of "Vin".
I hold the glass pretending I am a movie star and we walk around the back gardens. Colorful tables are everywhere; trees and greenery are the background décor to this idyllic space.
Here, when the weather is not angry, tens of visitors book their places weeks in advance to merrily eat and drink the days and nights away.
Here comes Hady, and I am halfway through my glass, and more than happily ready to hear his story. I smile a bit too much because the wine has gone straight to my head, but I can't stop taking sips.
Very small yet "meaningful" sips.
We sit on one of the outdoor tables. I can't resist taking a picture of my glass of wine and my notebook. Somehow it all seems becoming.
He recounts that he worked for 12 years with the great company Fattal in the distribution department. Of course, he loved wine. He adds, "But what is more beautiful about the wine business is the land behind it. In this business you meet the farmer and also the top notch journalist in the New York Times".
He needed the sabbatical because although he loved wine, he did not have the technical education needed to produce fine wine.
Of course he was afraid for taking that risk.
Leaving a stable job for a passionate yet mysterious adventure.
He was supposed to stay a year in university. He ended up staying two.
"Two of the best years of my life".
They were three friends when they embarked on this delicious adventure.
"Yet, when people around us knew about what we were doing, doors began to open. Suddenly, many people wanted to join us. All The Debbane group, and also Carlos Ghosn( the French-lebanese-brazilian businessman)".
Fear still prevails over them. Lebanon is, after all, a country with an ambivalent future. "Doubt lurks somewhere at times. Are we doing the right thing?...questions of the sort haunt us."
The only disadvantage (I would never have thought there would be one in this sumptuous place) they experience, "lays in having to work non-stop. The first three or four years I don't remember taking off on a week-end.
Not a single week-end off. But I suppose this is what passion is like".
At this point my smile is rigidly plastered on my face.
I have totally emptied my glass, and I am a bit too excited. As if I have never been out of the house. Or perhaps have only been out to buy groceries, and this is too much happiness for me.
On the way back, I forget that Fifi is with me and I daydream of...many things.
Suddenly, I remember Fifi and I tell her as I am engulfed with happiness and flushed with the aftermath of one whole glass of wine, "Perhaps I should become an alcoholic. Drinking suits me so much".
She does not even bother to look at me as she answer with a note of desperation in her voice, "poor girl. I should have left you up there to play ball with the dog".
Somehow, this doesn't seem like a bad idea.