BATALON, Lebanon – The autumn cold came late, and suddenly descended on Lebanon by the time of November. The sun weakened, the fog settled, the electric heaters buzzed, and the little grapes remained hanging from a crusader vineyard shivering in the wind. Despite the cold, customers kept filling dozens of outdoor tables at his Iris Domain winery. Families fed duck confit and pumpkin pasta as soft jazz music played in the background. Bottles poured out of red. Over the past five years or so, wineries in Lebanon’s lush mountains like Iris Domain have become a weekend getaway, a respite from the cities’ lack of green space. But the future of this thriving industry is threatened by climate change. Unexpected changes in temperature and recent turbulence in traditional rain cycles started at the heart of the winemakers’ work. Sarmad Salibi tests his wine at Iris Domain in Batallon. (Myriam Boulos for The Washington Post) The rainy seasons come earlier in the year, and last October was the hottest month in Lebanon, according to Rabih Mukhtar, dean of agricultural and food sciences at the American University of Beirut. He attributes changing weather patterns to climate change, which is already testing wine industries from California to Italy and Germany. The intense heat caused a sharp decline in the yield of cruciferous grapes, which eroded the vines by the end of the summer. “They are burning. They need water, and we do not water them here,” noting that the Lebanese viticulture depends on rain, not irrigation. Grapes curl like raisins before they are picked. Those harvested later in the season are very sweet. Too much sunlight increases the sugar content. In the grapes and thus the level of alcohol, which makes them unusable. “We couldn’t pick all my cabernet sauvignon.” For the many grapes they picked, “we made it molasses.” The lifetime of the bottles in Iris Domain, an end-haven Week for city dwellers. (Miriam Pulse for The Washington Post) Laboratory at Château Khoury for wines. (Miriam Pulse for The Washington Post) Left: The Age of Bottles at Iris Domain, a weekend getaway for city dwellers. (Miriam Pulse for The Washington Post) Right: A plant in the Château Khoury brewery. (Myriam Paul for the Washington Post) A booming industry When wine-making business appeared in this country a few years ago, it attracted Lebanese and foreign visitors to the Bekaa Valley, where most of the wineries are located. Bekaa is an area controlled by Hezbollah. It is inhabited mostly by clans and thousands Syrian refugees. In the past, travelers would come to the valley for the famous Roman ruins in Baalbek. The wine changed all of that. New small wineries found a market on social media. In this Instagram-addicted land, kids and adults alike have been fascinated by images of Western food and wine glasses set against a backdrop of overwhelming greenery and endless mountains. “We can’t believe this is in Lebanon” was a common sentiment. This tourism was part of a larger boom in the wine industry in Lebanon, which is producing at least 8.5 million bottles annually, according to a 2019 study by the Lebanon Investment Bank BLOMInvest. About half of this volume is shipped abroad, with the value of wine exports jumping from 13.8 $ 1 million in 2015 to $ 20.3 million in 2018. A cat sits atop a stone wall in Iris Domain, which is part of the wine industry of 8.5 million bottles per year in Lebanon. (Miriam Boulos for The Washington Post) Following the traditional French model of cultivating vineyards, Lebanon has expanded its yield dramatically without irrigation. Mukhtar said changing rainy seasons are disrupting crops, as May and June now see heavy rains, while October and November see unusual droughts. He said that in 2019, when it rained, it was so unusually severe that the soil could not absorb much of it and the water was lost in runoff. Overall, the trend is towards reducing precipitation, as the country is expected to experience a 10-20 percent drop in precipitation over the next 20 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even if local farmers want to break traditions and introduce irrigation, water is relatively scarce here and the vineyards will have to compete with daily use by the Lebanese for drinking, cooking and bathing. To help the land retain more moisture, Al-Sulaiby has been adopting practices on his vineyard to clean the soil. Plant the beans between the vines, cut the plants before they are ripe, and then plow them underneath. In a few years, he hopes to make the soil more like a sponge. Changing temperatures are a separate challenge. Analysis from Berkeley Earth, which compares the average temperature in 2014-2018 to the average temperatures in the late 19th century, shows that Lebanon has warmed by 2.1 ° C, or 3.8 ° F. (If average global temperature increases by the same amount, climatologists say, the Earth will suffer catastrophic, irreversible damage.) In response, winemakers expect that within a few years they will have to grow grapes like the navel that originated in the warm-regions. weather. Crusader is not a fan. In general, white wine – which is very popular in a country where the weather is much warmer than cold – is under threat. Salibi said: “White wine is all about acidity.” “The acidity evaporates when the weather is warm.” But last year, Salibi couldn’t count on the warmer weather. He had to suddenly close his winery to weekend visitors after the abnormally cold weather settled in November. Vineyards at Château Khoury. (Miriam Paul for The Washington Post) It’s too early, the cold is too late. The interior of the Château Khoury looks like the almost-exposed belly of a steel monster: huge aluminum tanks, sorted for different wines, U-shaped to the side, like something in a mad scientist’s lab, a table full of bottles, containers, and cylinders full of liquids and various chemicals amid Winding tubes and various other equipment. Jean-Paul Khoury said this is where he is testing, but refrained from delving into details with a smirk. In the cellar, beneath a group of large steps carved into the mountain, are endless rows of dark bottles. Visitors embraced the warm scent of anise. Khoury seems to love his job. Appears on the face. He is passionate about using every bit of the fruit. After the grapes are squeezed, the peel, either the skin or the pulp, is distilled into anise-flavored sweat. The remaining solid waste goes to the compost. Jean-Paul Khoury, the owner of the Chateau Khoury Hotel, said he first noticed what he thought were disruptions caused by climate change in 2012. (Myriam Boulos for The Washington Post) Khoury said he first noticed what he believed were disruptions caused by climate change in 2012. The early heat meant that his harvest had to start three weeks earlier than usual. When a heat wave struck last year, it caused all of the grapes to ripen at the same time, and they all had to be harvested immediately. Khoury said that he and his team, including foreign employees and members of the Bedouin tribes, worked tirelessly for 15 days to finish work that was usually done over two months. Khoury said the last pot of Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon went to the distillery at an alcohol level well above the required 12 percent. “It’s very hot very quickly.” Wine boxes at Chateau Khoury. (Miriam Paul for The Washington Post) A barrel of Château Khoury Symphony Wine. Government capital controls prevent the owner from purchasing oak barrels from France. (Miriam Paul for the Washington Post) Left: Boxes of wine at the Chateau Khoury. (Miriam Paul for The Washington Post) Right: A barrel of Chateau Khoury Symphony Orchestra. Government capital controls prevent the owner from purchasing oak barrels from France. (Miriam Boulos for The Washington Post) He later noticed the cooler weather. Winemakers need the first frost to start pruning, usually in late October. The difficulties caused by climate change have been exacerbated by the economic crisis in Lebanon. Khoury had trouble paying his workers’ salaries. Capital controls imposed by the government mean that he cannot make payments abroad, for example to French oak barrels. His restaurant has been emptied due to coronavirus restrictions. Sales of his bottles are down 70 percent. Then, in August, the massive explosion occurred in the Beirut port, which disrupted Khoury’s shipment of cork, scheduled to arrive four days later. The ship returned to France. Last year was the worst for Khoury. “Even during the 2006 war it was easier,” he said. “We don’t really know how to handle everything that happens. And nothing is being done to help us function properly.” The economic crisis in Lebanon caused a decrease in the sales of bottles at Chateau Khoury by 70 percent. (Miriam Boulos for The Washington Post) Photo edited by Olivier Laurent. Design by Emily Sabines.