The Makers of The World’s Most Dangerous Wine

Two Estates, Two Countries, Two Wines of War

 Half a year on, we revisit the events on the day of the devastating blast at the port of Beirut, and take a look at the Saadé family’s story of grit, survival, and courage.

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Caption: Brothers Karim (left) and Sandro (right) in their office in Beirut, which was completely destroyed by the explosion on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. The silos of the port of Beirut are visible in the background.

 

When the Johnny R. Saadé family founded Domaine de Bargylus in Syria and Château Marsyas in Lebanon 18 years ago, they never thought that this journey would be saddled with adversity: the war in Syria, the financial and economic crisis in Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently, the blast at the port of Beirut.

 The explosion that ravaged Beirut on August 4th 2020 is an unprecedented disaster, causing hundreds of casualties and thousands of injuries. In a matter of seconds, the capital was turned into shambles and no one was spared. No words can describe the horrific destruction it wreaked on the city.

 This explosion, considered as one of the most powerful blasts in history, took place only 600 metres away from the administrative offices of Château Marsyas and Domaine de Bargylus at exactly 6.08 p.m. At the time, Johnny R. Saadé and his sons Karim and Sandro, as well as a majority of the team, were still on the premises.

 “It truly is a miracle that we’re still in this world. Although many were injured, we are very lucky to be all alive,” says Karim J. Saadé. Earlier, Karim and Sandro Saadé were having a meeting at their father’s office when they heard the first explosion of what seemed to be one of the port’s warehouses.

 A few minutes later, a full blast of devastating magnitude wiped out the entire premises. Johnny R. Saadé and his son Sandro were thrown several metres and injured, severely in the case of Johnny R. Saadé.

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Caption: The destruction at the Château Marsyas offices in the aftermath of the explosion on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. The premises are located only 600 metres away from the blast.

 

Wounded, the brothers had to carry their father down nine floors, removing concrete blocks, tables, glass and iron debris, fallen walls and ceilings as they went. They managed to get out after slightly less than an hour.

 They then stopped a passing car which took them to the hospital. The streets were submerged under all kinds of debris, which they had to remove by hand to clear a path for the vehicle. They finally made it to the hospital where Johnny R. Saadé was hospitalised for 25 days, of which 10 were in intensive care.

 It is not the first time, however, that the Saadé family has encountered significant obstacles, even though “the explosion in Beirut remains unmatched by its deadly cynicism” explains Sandro J. Saadé.

 This tragic event came close to costing the lives of Johnny R. Saadé and his sons, but it is only one of the many challenges they were already facing at both Château Marsyas in Lebanon and Domaine de Bargylus in Syria.

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Caption: The Château Marsyas estate vineyard with the emblematic tree of Marsyas in the centre.

 Being located far from Beirut, the two estates of the Saadé family's vineyards have fortunately not been affected by the explosion. However, the economic crisis and the illegal capital controls that currently prevail in Lebanon, combined with the war in Syria and the COVID-19 pandemic, render the management of the two estates even more complex.

 Bargylus, the family's estate located in the coastal province of Latakia, has been especially difficult to run. Making wine in Syria is an uphill battle due to the lack of wine culture and infrastructure. This task has become even more daunting with the outbreak of war. The Saadé brothers have been unable to visit the estate since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

 Besides the obvious security issues, Bargylus also poses a serious logistical challenge: harvesting is done over the phone by the two brothers; grape samples are sent by taxi for tasting in Beirut to determine the harvesting dates for each parcel; laboratory tests are made outside the country; exporting the wines is also an extremely complicated process.

 Despite the perilous journey, the Saadé family remain upbeat and determined, with an admirable dedication to advancing the wine industry in this oft-overlooked part of the world. Such an undying passion for wine and tenacity to hone their craft is rare, and the wines born from their hands deserve the world’s attention.