5 Predictions for Lebanese Wine in 2024
Based on my analysis of what global wine experts have said
Lebanon’s recent timeline in wine mirrors that of Greece. In the last two decades, they’ve both made major strides in improving craft and embracing an identity that’s not eurocentric. However, the Lebanese wine industry is still a microcosm of the country’s charisma, cancers, coping mechanisms, and crises.
I spend a lot of time reading trend reports1 on the wine industry, mainly that of the U.K. and the U.S. which are Lebanon’s two biggest markets. I also live on the internet to an unhealthy degree and spend time with a business advisor2 who plays CNBC in the background for ambience.
Combining this research with my observations and knowledge of the local market, I’ve narrowed it down to five predictions of where Lebanese wine is headed in the coming year.
With no recovery plan in place since Lebanon’s 2019 financial collapse and the war along the Southern border possibly escalating, I have to say that the below could be lit on fire and thrown into a dumpster if Israel decides to
fuck shit up send us back to the Stone Age as they’ve been promising since 2006 :)
#1: More “wildcard” wines
Orange/skin-contact wines and light-bodied chillable reds shattered the rigid 3-color understanding of wines. The lines between wine categories are blurring. As more rosés got darker and more whites got redder, color categories are now a spectrum of hues and flavor profiles. Dividing sections in wine shops according to color or grape has become outdated3.
The blur is smudged further as the conventional division of New & Old World territories is being dismantled. We can’t know what to expect from countries based on static winemaking factors anymore. Everything is fluid now (🥁). As rules are bent, identities are challenged, and climate change pushes vineyards into new latitudes, even “wine” doesn’t mean what it used to because the purist grape-juice-only definition has been disrupted. More producers are tossing other fruits into their concoctions. Co-ferments aren’t just about combining different varieties in the tank but also involve throwing in different species like apples and pears or honey and spices. It’s a more zero-waste approach to building flavors based on what ingredients you’ve got. The “field blend” is a literal blend of what’s in the field; it’s looking at a vineyard as a biodiverse, cohesive garden rather than a structured grid of grapes.
Lebanon has no regulating body to determine what Lebanese wine is “supposed to” be so the divide between classical (European) and experimental4 producers will continue to deepen. In 2024, we’re going to see more colors, more fruits in the mix, and more bubbles. In parallel, we’re going to see others play it safe and double down on their Bordeaux-esque recipes.
→ Opportunity: There has been an uptick in producers that are vinifying red grapes into white wines or dry, still (not sparkling) blanc de noirs. I’ve tried a couple of surprising examples of this technique5. There are tricks to making sure the grapes wouldn’t impart too much color like temperature control or a very short maceration time. Creating a white Cinsault or white Syrah could be worth the experiment as a thirst-quenching limited release in the summer of 2025. Because of the blur in categories, it wouldn’t matter if it’s not the typical “light and bright white” but rather that it is something unique that still packs a punch.
#2: Lower/zero ABV are real contenders
In Eater’s January 28th newsletter, Amy McCarthy writes, “the misguided idea that everything we put into our bodies must serve some greater purpose beyond simple enjoyment has spawned a massive industry of these “functional beverages,” one that’s constantly looking to sell you some new brightly colored drink with a vague halo of health.” It’s true that the competition in the drinks space has reached new levels, especially when it comes to health concerns after the WHO announced that there is no safe amount of alcohol. Uh oh.
As a millennial, I’m going out less but when I do, I opt for a coffee meet-up, a meal, or some activity. If I do have alcohol, I’ll have one martini or one gin & tonic. I can’t justify the by-the-glass pricing. Just as these surveys suggest, my main reasons for opting out are 1) saving money and/or 2) just not wanting to drink. I rarely drink at home and if I do, it’s because I want something other than water, not because I want alcohol. Lately, I’ll have a Wata Cider (4.5% ABV) or a nonalcoholic Laziza beer or flavored Rim sparkling water. My younger sisters (ages 23 and 29) don’t drink alcohol at all. While these behaviors are based on my own life alone, they’re why I find the decline in millennial and Gen Z alcohol consumption (or abstinence) very relatable and plausible.
There’s a growing “neoprohibition” movement as more people reflect on their relationship with booze and begin to stock their fridges with no or low alcohol options. Both no and low brands and shops are growing into proper categories that can go head to head with their alcoholic counterparts.
I agree with Felicity Carter’s take on the industry’s hostility toward the moderation trend. It becomes most obvious during Dry January. Some wine professionals get snarky about people scaling back while others romanticize their defiance. In my opinion, getting defensive is the wrong sales tactic. Ignoring what people want and why they want it will only further alienate customers who feel that wine doesn’t care about them.
As Ashwinn says in his IG reel on Athletic Brewing’s NA beer, when evaluating a product idea, the question shouldn’t be “who’s the market for this?” because that’s limiting it to a specific profile. Instead, the question should be, “what kind of situations is this product for?” Ghia is a brand that does this impeccably. It presents itself as a lifestyle brand that happens to sell nonalcoholic drinks, spritzes, and accessories. Their visuals are retro, lush, and punchy. Founder & CEO, Melanie Masarin, is a trusted tastemaker/influencer who seamlessly weaves her products into her jetsetting hustle. She’s the perfect embodiment of the brand. When she’s in a setting where drinking may be involved, there’s Ghia. By showing this so naturally, she’s proving that alcohol is unnecessary in her fabulous life and the fear of being excluded from experiences (because of not drinking) is washed away. I would argue that Ghia is selling Melanie’s aspirational lifestyle and their products are how customers get one step closer to it.
If more consumers are looking to incorporate NA or low-alcohol options into their drinking habits, it would be wise to explore what that can look like instead of rejecting the varying appetites entirely.
→ Opportunity: Creating low-alcohol option using excess juice after pressing (like a piquette) or a juicy 8% with non-cloying residual sugar. The region has a big chunk of the population that doesn’t drink for religious reasons but they are still active participants in dining and nightlife so coming up with a disruptive nonalcoholic ready-to-drink or mixer as an alternative that’s sold in bars (and stocked for house parties) could be a gamechanging SKU in a winery’s portfolio.
#3: More focus on smaller, customized experiences for the domestic market
The plague of instability and rising cost of living doesn’t encourage wineries to invest in growing the local market. As the peoples’ funds were locked up in the banks, domestic trade shows became another way to burn cash (booth fees and operating costs) and inventory (free samples). It makes sense that most wineries would redirect those funds into increased visibility abroad.
I would argue that the domestic market can be nurtured but the approach needs a remodel. For one thing, we need beverage directors who are empowered to design wine programs with a strategy that’s not just about best pricing. Curated wine clubs and intimate educational experiences can foster a wine community that is fueled by curiosity and socializing and I expect more concepts to embrace this workshop.
I believe some wineries will find the right spaces and people to partner with long-term so that the wines meet the youth where they are and the bottles aren’t just part of the scenery. Gone are the days of free wine at events where there’s no lasting impression left on the attendee.
→ Opportunity: Invest in tasting rooms in high-traffic locations that don’t revolve around one winery but a collective of multiple wineries. Such spaces divide the costs and pressure, elevate a region instead of a single brand, and create more exciting experiences for customers. The Santa Barbara Wine Collective is a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. They sell bottles from multiple wineries in one of the hottest spots in town but the main champion is Santa Barbara. The closest examples in Lebanon would be Aaliya’s Wines (national) or Vine in Smar Jbeil (Batroun-focused and thus, regional). Strengthening the local scene is also about cutting operational costs for producers through shared crushpads and machinery as well as winery intern/mentorships for the youth which will encourage employment within the sector.
#4: U.A.E. & K.S.A. begin to show more promise as export markets
Now, I’m not saying either of the two nations are going to overtake the U.S. anytime soon. However, instead of shipping bottles across the globe, Lebanese wine could flourish within the region in two locations that have international customer bases, including plenty of the Lebanese diaspora. I’m not predicting this just because of their geographic proximity and demographics though.
In the last month, it was announced that Abu Dhabi’s opening the United Arab Emirates’ first brewery and Saudi Arabia’s opening an alcohol shop exclusively for non-Muslim diplomats. It’s been decades of prohibition for both6 so is this a sign of more to come?
As Saudi Arabia pushes its post-oil economy projects further along and “introduces liberalizing reforms”, we’ve all wondered if and when these changes will extend into a loosening of the restrictions on alcohol sales, gambling, and who knows what else. For Saudi, the goal of the shop is to crack down on smuggling and to enforce regulation but could it be a sign of bigger, legal trade in the future? In 2022, there were rumors of alcohol being fair game at one of NEOM’s beach resorts. According to The Wall Street Journal via WIRED, there were plans “to offer a wine bar, a separate cocktail bar, and a bar for champagne and desserts” and a retail wine shop.
As the U.A.E. continue to push Abu Dhabi and Dubai to the forefront of business and hospitality tourism, there’s already a lot happening there. Check out the first “Star Wine List of the Year UAE” that came out just yesterday. According to this, Dubai has expanded its bar and restaurant licenses to retail outlets and free-standing hospitality venues which aren’t attached to hotels and similar facilities. As of last January, Dubai’s 30% tax on alcohol was waived for a trial period of one year. The Emirates could have more potential for Lebanese wine if those in charge choose to do the legwork required to compete in the duopoly market.
#5: The people want more arak
It may not be the expected last prediction after all of the above but bear with me. While drinking in moderation is up and people are trying to save money, the success of premiumization is still going strong. Consumers are choosing to drink better quality, just less often.
Rex Woodbury writes that nostalgia is booming and that “a close cousin of nostalgia, is nihilism. You see both in Gen Z.” He goes on to explain a particular flavor of nihilism, optimistic nihilism, or “the idea that nothing matters and that we’re all going to die—so we might as well enjoy life’s pleasures while we’re here.” In short, Gen Z are lovers of luxury that can be enjoyed right here and now.
Cultural identity and appreciation within food & wine has become very important. Consumers travel more and have become more exposed to international cuisines, food rituals, and origin stories. As far as symbols of Lebanon go, arak checks a lot of boxes. It’s a jovial spirit that is perfectly suited to our cuisine and it’s becoming a popular base for mixologists’ new innovations. Add nostalgia and nihilism to the equation and arak is a winner.
Previous data projected that arak was set to grow by 2.63 billion USD from 2021 to 2026. More distilleries have opened, more boutique brands are flooding the market, and more bars are adding arak cocktails to their menus.
→ Opportunity: Tasting experiences or kits that break down the nuances of different arak batches could gamify the drink we hold so dear and broaden the understanding of what goes into the artisanal process. Consumers would learn why not all araks are created equally.
Some final thoughts
I wonder how Lebanese wineries will tackle their pricing at home and abroad. Lebanese wine has typically been on the lower end of premium pricing7 (averaging at $25-$30) which may backfire in the long run. Then again, Business Wire reported that, in 2023, “Chateau Musar saw the biggest increase in price over the year, with an average price change of +34.2%.” I don’t know if any other Lebanese winery could pull that off.
The trends getting the most traction globally are regenerative viticulture and lightweighting/alternative packaging but those may be farfetched goals for Lebanon right now, at least in a substantial way.
In “Is the Wine Boom Over?” Tim Carl wrote that, “the wine industry is at a tipping point.” He goes on to state that, “the convergence of an aging population and decelerating population growth signals a future with fewer consumers on the hunt for expensive wine, dining and other discretionary luxury experiences, while the varied tastes and financial constraints of younger generations foreshadow a drastically different market landscape.”
Authenticity, another buzzword as of late, can be easy if we present the full picture of Lebanon in our narrative, flaws and all. We’ve got a good story but Lebanese wine is experiencing a clash of generations where some will understand what the new cohort values (labor practices, sustainability, and social justice) and others will stick to what has worked for them in the past. Unfortunately, the major worries ahead - from war to drought8 to inflation - are out of our control.
What do you think 2024 has in store for us?
Drop a comment below.
A few resources: Daily750’s 6 Wine Industry Trends to Watch in 2024, Robb Report’s 7 Bold Wine-World Predictions for 2024, Survival of the Fittest: Analyzing SVB’s State of the U.S. Wine Industry Report 2024, Esther Mobley’s 5 Drinking Predictions for 2024
While these write-ups are based on the U.S. market, they highlight important points to consider when assessing where Lebanon’s market is headed.
Also known as dadboss.
My guess is that ABV (alcohol by volume or the percentage of alcohol in the drink) will be the divider of the future with stores splitting their SKUs according to alcohol content.
Is it experimental though? Co-ferments are rooted in an ancestral method of making wine before it was caged in as an exclusively grape-based beverage. Ironically, it more of a return to the traditional!
The two I liked are from regions similar to Lebanon in terms of growing conditions: 1) Clot de L’Origine Le P’tit Barriot Blanc from the Roussillon and 2) Two Shepherds Blanc de Cinsault which was sourced from Lodi’s Bechthold vineyard, home to some of the oldest Cinsault vines in the world.
Access to alcohol in the U.A.E. varies by Emirate with Dubai’s restrictions being the most lax. The story is a little different for Saudi. Apparently, the complete restriction didn’t start out as a result of religious conservatism. In 1952, alcohol was completely banned in the Kingdom after Mishari bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, King Abdulaziz's 19-year-old son, drunkenly shot dead a British diplomat because he refused to pour him another drink. Did everyone else know this already??
For a while, there has been chatter around the need for an official appellation system like France’s Appellation d'origine contrôlée. I don’t see this happening in the next year. It’s more likely that we’ll have a breakaway faction like Spain’s Corpinnat. The difference is that Lebanon has no Cava D.O. to breakaway from. The similarity is this: in the same way that Cava is marketed as a cheap alternative to Champagne, Lebanese wine is pushed as a cheap alternative to French wine. Corpinnat wanted to put strict standards in place so they could demand higher prices for their top quality bubbles. I can see a cluster of Bekaa Valley wineries creating a stamp of approval like Corpinnat to justify top shelf price tags.
In Decanter’s Nov 2023 issue, Chateau Ksara’s export manager, Ely Maamari said, “water management is becoming a big issue. We used to have long periods of modest rainfall; now rain comes in sudden outbursts, which is much harder to manage. Extreme heatwaves are more common and snow on the mountains melts earlier. We have planted vineyards at 1,900 meters, but we can’t keep going up forever.”
Arabic for we’ll leave it up to God