A BRAVE OLD WORLD | The Impossible Story of Château Musar

By Nick Hoyle

Any customer who has spoken to Nick in-store knows he’s a fountain of all wine knowledge and his passion for wine is second to none. Here he tells the story of his wine hero Serge Hochar.

The Lonely Planet travel guide describes Beirut, the capital of the Lebanon, thus: “If you’re looking for the real “east meets west” then you need look no further than Beirut…its energy, soul, diversity and intoxicating atmosphere make it a vital, addictive city.”

Well just maybe this is what “terroir” is all about – the soul of the wine – because the Lebanon’s famous wine, Chateau Musar, has an energy, a soul and is addictive and intoxicating in so many ways, it is as beguiling as Beirut and its story is woven in to that of the Lebanon.

The Lebanon has been an area of strife and conflict, on and off, for many years but the worldwide cult status of Chateau Musar is down in no small part to these conflicts and, of course, to the indefatigable charms and efforts of Serge Hochar the late lamented patron of Musar.


The Hochar family owe their presence in the Lebanon due to a much earlier conflict, the Crusades, when a Hochar ancestor was a French Crusader. The popularity of Chateau Musar, though, owes its fame to a more recent conflict, the Lebanese civil war of 1974-1990 and this is where the real story of Chateau Musar begins.

Serge, after a period studying oenology in Bordeaux with the great Emile Peynaud, returned to the Lebanon to take over from his father, Gaston, who had started Chateau Musar in the 1930s. Serge had a wish to create a distinctive and unique wine.

Musar was well received but its market was pretty much all in the Lebanon. This market was effectively destroyed in 1974 with the escalation of the Lebanese civil war. Serge though rolled his sleeves up and decided to take Musar out into the world. There was scarcely a wine event that he didn’t attend. Serge’s energy, drive, charisma and charm allied with his tireless globetrotting on behalf of his beloved Musar began to pay dividends.

In 1979, at The Bristol Wine Fair, the eminent English wine writer Michael Broadbent picked Chateau Musar out as the top wine of the Fair and this established Chateau Musar firmly on the world stage. So, although Musar was now in effect an internationally recognized and sought-after wine, there remained the tricky problem of producing it back in a land torn apart by conflict.


The grapes (Cabernet, Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache for the red, Obaideh and Merweh for the white) are grown in the Bekaa valley some 50 miles from the winery at Ghazir and there lies the problem when that area is a war zone. Astonishingly though, wine was made in every year but two of the conflict. In 1974, no electricity and impassable roads thwarted the vintage and in 1984 the grapes had to travel by sea but unfortunately began to ferment on the voyage and made the vintage impossible.

To make such marvellous wine is an achievement but to make it with tanks rolling through your vineyards and missiles flying overhead is nothing short of miraculous. There is a story that during one intense period of shelling, friends and family begged Serge to take cover but he refused. Instead he took a bottle of the 1972 poured it into one large glass and over the 12 hours of the shelling he noted carefully how it changed over time with exposure to the air. Such dedication.


This devotion and attention to detail is key to Musar. There is very little intervention, believing that each vintage says something different. It is, of course, organic and pretty much a natural wine (long before that epithet became trendy!)

So, if you are tired of the same old homogenised characterless wine that, although consistent, can be consistently dull and if you suspect “natural” wines are perhaps an oenological equivalent of the hipster’s beard, then give Musar a try. It has a real expression of place. It is a unique wine that is different to other wines and can even be different to itself vintage on vintage. This makes it interesting; it has character, it is after all a wine with soul!

For any information regarding the blog or social media, please contact sam@thewhalleywineshop.com.



By Sam Johnson & Northern Whisper Brewing Co.

It wasn’t that long ago that being a beer-drinker was a choice between Lager, Bitter and Mild, or perhaps an exotic German Pilsner if you were lucky. But, gone are those days! The beer scene has never been as exciting and dynamic with a wealth of options now available from Belgium, America, Scandinavia and… Rossendale?

While the small town in the Irwell Valley, famed for its dry ski slope, might not first jump out as the natural home for pioneers of the Craft Beer world, the guys over at Northern Whisper Brewing Co. are certainly doing their part in tackling what they describe as the stupid ‘sameyness’ of the beer market of old.

Brothers, Barney and Josh Vines, and Carmelo Pillitteri (all from Rossendale) founded the Brewery in 2017. The idea for the brewery, however, had been bubbling away for some years before; Carmelo had been brewing behind his family restaurant since the start of 2012, while Barney & Josh had been holding beer festivals on their family farm in Helmshore for a number of years.


During a chance meeting in October 2016 Carmelo agreed to let Josh start collecting the spent grain produced during the brewing process to feed to his rare breed pigs. 4 months later when asking about collecting that week’s grain Josh received the following text from Carmelo:


The rest, as they say, is history!

“The past 12 months have been a whirl wind! In that time we have founded the brewery, developed a range of 13 beers, opened two tap rooms, one in Rawtenstall and one at our brewery in Cloughfold, supplied over 300 establishments across the United Kingdom and last month shipped our first pallet of beer to China. It’s fair to say we have been a little bit busy!”

Although started on a whim, ask the team at Northern Whisper how to define their brewing ethos, and they’ll give you one word: ‘inclusive’. Their range includes everything from traditional British Bitter all the way to the ultra-modern Raspberry Sour, with some IPA’s, an APA, Saison, Stout, Golden Ale, Lager, Witbier and Dunkelweizen all thrown in for good measure. Their aim is, and has always been, to create a range that incorporates a little bit of something for everyone.

At The Whalley Wine Shop we’re certainly seeing the rise in popularity of Craft Beer first hand, with it being one of our fastest growing product categories. The future certainly looks bright for craft beer, that’s for sure;

“I believe the craft beer market is going from strength to strength because today unlike 5 or 6 years ago there is a real interest among consumers in where their food and drink is coming from and how it’s being made. Today the drinking experience starts way before the consumer gets to the bar, social media is awash with pages and groups dedicated to craft beer and a whole hobbyist community has sprung up keen to share and discuss the subject. Two or three years ago four blokes sat in a pub would be discussing the United/City game, today the conversation is dedicated to who’s drinking what and what they are having next; for a passionate brewer like myself it’s fantastic to see!” – Head Brewer, Carmelo.

We’re incredibly proud to be stockists of Northern Whisper beers and have the opportunity to get behind Lancashire’s own budding Craft Beer scene. If you’re ever passing the shop, call in and pick up one of their beers, or if you find yourself over by Rossendale, drop in to one of their ‘Tap Rooms’ and try it out from the guys themselves!


So what does the future hold for Northern Whisper Brewing Co.?

“The aim for the future is just to keep doing what we have been doing for the last 12 months and that’s to get more and more people drinking our beers at home and abroad. We intend to open more Tap Rooms going forward and want to keep things interesting by constantly introducing new and innovative beers.”


Fine Wine Merchant