Promoting probiotic wine in Lebanon

Friday 01/05/2015
Dr Boutros Bou Younes checking a new blend of Cabernet Sauvignon wine

Beirut -Want to enjoy your wine without worrying about indigestion and the effects of alcohol on your body? Dr Boutros Bou Younes has the magic prescription: “One glass of probiotic wine a day is beneficial to your heath and will keep the doctor away.”

At his Chateau Wadih winery, the urology surgeon turned vintner, boasts an innovative and exciting “probiotic” wine, which is as rich and tasty as other red wines but also benefits health.

Tucked away in lush green mountains in Mughairy, some 1,200 metres above the ancient coastal city of Byblos and north of Beirut, the new winery, which Bou Younes named after his 7-year-old son, is the only one in the region that produces this type of wine.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for health, especially for the digestive system, and are usually prescribed for people suffering from a weakened immune system. Bou Younes explains that his probiotic wine contains a natural substance that grows on fruity trees during a specific period of the year and for only two weeks and has the same beneficial effects as probiotics.

“This substance has been medically proven as well as published in American medical journals for its importance in protecting the liver from the effects of alcohol and stimulating the immune system, specifically T cells,” Bou Younes told The Arab Weekly at his winery.

While refusing to disclose the nature or name of the “magical substance”, the surgeon stressed that it has no effect on the wine taste.

“My French oenologist sampled the probiotic wine several times and could not detect any alteration of the taste. He was totally amazed and told me that I could confidently place it on the market,” he said. Bou Younes said the combination of good taste and “friendly wine” is most attractive for wine lovers. It is particularly attractive for those who are cautious about indigestion harm to the stomach and liver, he said.

Outside Lebanon, only one winery produces a probiotic blend, and it is by educating himself online about wine that Bou Younes learned about it. “First I was surprised about the idea but, being a doctor and a chemist myself, I knew about that substance and decided to do the experiment on my wine, by incorporating the right dosage,” he said, noting that “two glasses of his probiotic wine is what is needed to get the maximum amount of protection for body cells”.

What started as a hobby, quickly turned into a passion and a side profession for the 40-year-old physician.

Bou Younes began producing wine in 2010 for personal consumption and family and friends. Two years later, he decided to produce on a larger scale under the Chateau Wadih label, becoming the latest vintner in Lebanon’s vibrant wineproducing sector, which now has more than 40 wineries, up from just five in 1995.

Of the 10,000 bottles that Chateau Wadih is producing annually, only 1,000 are probiotic wine, selling at $53 a bottle. It is a costly and labourintensive undertaking which Bou Younes would consider expanding if there were more demand.

At present, the probiotic substance is only added to red wine, whereas the doctor’s ambition is to produce probiotic white wine and rosé. “I am still in the experimental phase, trying to find the right equation that would not affect the colour of white and rosé wines,” he noted.

Although it is relatively small in Lebanon’s thriving wine industry, Chateau Wadih is eyed by big names in the business. “They are curious about the probiotic formula and they have tried to discredit the produce by suggesting that it is a marketing trick … Nonetheless, they are after the secret recipe,” Bou Younes said.

Bou Younes’ ambitions include promoting wine tourism. He has plans to build bungalows on the land to accommodate tourists who wish to taste his wine and visit the adjacent vineyards. The site is to be equipped to receive visitors year round and include cheese and wine tastings by the fireplace, an in-house cinema and a pub with karaoke music, as well as a heated swimming pool in the summer.

Wine tourism, a trend that is picking up in Lebanon despite its location in the middle of a turbulent region, is being contemplated by other wineries, including Chateau Florentine, located in the picturesque Chouf Mountain area, southeast of Beirut. Through his wine, owner, Roger Yaghi, is hoping to attract tourists to the area, which is rich with history and natural beauty.

“It is interesting from a marketing aspect to produce wine in a region with tourism potentials. In addition to producing good wine, we would be promoting the Chouf and its many touristic and ecological sites through the distribution of our wine,” Yaghi said, in reference to Lebanon’s Barouk’s Cedar Forest Reserve at the top of the mountain and historic palaces in the Chouf villages of Beiteddine and Deir al- Qamar. Yaghi said he plans to build a small hotel and a restaurant in the winery in his native Majd al- Maoush village, a move aimed at boosting wine tourism in Lebanon.

Wine tourism is not limited to wine tastings and visiting wineries but is a great way to learn about the people, culture, heritage and customs of the area in which the wine is produced, he said.

Bou Younes said he wants to go even further by spreading wine culture in Lebanon, as he plans to set up a Lebanese wine institute.

“The aim is to spread knowledge about wine, how it is produced, the variety of wine grapes, how to match the wine with the type of meal, etc. … In brief, you learn how to choose and appreciate your wine,” he said.