Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) figures revealed that nearly 90% of the total 59,000 tons of grapes produced in Lebanon were exported in 2021. It is a clear indication of the high quality of the product. However, this volume is modest compared to Greece’s 270,000 tons, Spain’s 300,000 tons, and Italy’s 720,000 tons (USDA figures). Although small in size, it is worth a closer look at Lebanese grape growing. Says Elie Haddad, from Wadi Farmers, a grape and stone fruit grower in the Bekaa.
“In 2005, Lebanese grape exports to Europe were good but lacking in quality,” Eli begins. “The focus in the last three years on seedless, high-quality varieties has changed that.” FAO figures confirm Elie’s claim, as exports ranged between 15,000 and 30,000 tons between 1978 and 2019, suddenly rising to 47,000 tons in 2020 and 52,000 tons in 2021.
Elie established his vineyard in 2018, growing red and white seedless varieties, including the Ara 15 variety and some Lebanese varieties. He currently harvests 300 tons annually on six hectares. A young player at the moment but ambitious. He plans to expand steadily soon, not only in terms of space and introducing new varieties (there are plans to add Arra 36 to the product range next year) but also building a bottling facility.
“Nowadays, we pack some of our grapes in the field and others in another company’s packaging facility. I also work with others in logistics. For the sector to grow, cooperation is crucial. I have not yet exported my grapes to Europe,” he says. Eli: “I leave that to the big export companies.”
Stable climate with reasonable investment costs
He says Lebanon’s stable climate and fertile soil are ideally suited for growing grapes, resulting in high quality grapes. “A friend of mine, an Italian winemaker, recently told me that you can grow any grape variety successfully here. We have long hours of sunshine, adequate annual rainfall, large groundwater reserves, dry weather from May to early November, and no hailstorms.” Devastating… Therefore, the country has all the characteristics necessary to raise the level of grape cultivation in terms of flavour, shelf life and average production.”
It costs an average of $18,000 to establish a hectare of vineyards and $4,000 to cover them, so the investment is much lower than in Europe. “This covering is not necessary here either, at least not to protect the grapes from rain or cold or to control the amount of ultraviolet radiation. This means that we can offer at least the same quality as in Italy, but at a lower cost,” says Haddad.
Aside from the quality of the product, Farmers Valley offers some additional assets: a zero-waste philosophy and modern, sustainable farming methods. “Plant residues are left on the ground to add to the organic matter in the soil. All of our grapes, from the first to the last, are assigned destinations according to their quality: fresh market, wine, juice, molasses, liqueurs, and even vinegar.” We manage our water with drip irrigation, and thanks to an advanced crop protection program, we achieve results below MRLs in every laboratory test. All our certificates also attest to this, allowing us to market our product anywhere in the world.”
The vineyard is surrounded by a net to protect against unwanted insects and animals
Exports provide greater opportunities than the domestic market
“It takes about three weeks – from late September to the first half of October – to harvest grapes. Thus, in the international market, we avoid competition from Egypt, where the grapes are picked earlier. In fact, the last varieties from the northern hemisphere come from Lebanon before The start of the Peruvian season,” Eli explains.
Despite logistical challenges and exchange rate fluctuations, he prefers exports to the local market. “Before the economic turmoil in 2019, grape prices in the local market were very good, between $2 and $3 for the loose product. But the price has dropped to around a euro, where it still stands. We are in a much better position in markets like Malaysia and Singapore though.” Despite the long transit time and Chinese competition with the cheaper Shine Muscat grapes, our product gets premium prices there due to its quality.
The CBI program helped Eli prepare the certificates
Although the local market has lost its appeal, Saudi Arabia has not even been an option since 2018. Not directly, anyway. “We used to export large quantities there, but it is banned. However, Lebanese products still enter the Saudi market. But indirectly, through the UAE. They pay well for our grapes. Our fruit is very popular in the Gulf countries.” “We hope that we can achieve success in Europe as well thanks to this quality. But some growers and exporters still need to work a little on their specifications.”
Lebanese grapes have no problem competing with Turkish grapes in terms of flavor, Eli says. Turkey is one of the largest producers in the world (2.2 million tons in 2022/2023, according to the US Department of Agriculture). He concludes: “They have climate problems that we do not face. Although, since this year, we have been dealing with an increase in the cost of pesticides and fertilizers due to higher taxes and customs.” Despite current input costs, Eli, who has full confidence in the exceptional quality of Lebanese grapes, has good reason to have high hopes for the future of the sector.
The Bekaa Valley is extremely fertile
for more information:
Bekaa Valley (Lebanon)
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