Serge Hochar, whose father founded the Lebanese winery Chateau Musar, which gained an international reputation in spite of the travails of the nation’s 15-year civil war, has died in a swimming accident while on holidays in Mexico. He was 72.
Hochar’s father, Gaston, was 20 when he started planting the first vines near the village of Ghazir in the Bekaa Valley, north east of Beirut.
The Hochars hailed from Picardy in northern France. His ancestors came to Lebanon as knight Crusaders and stayed.
Serge, Gaston’s eldest son studied to be a civil engineer before switching to oenology and learning the craft with Emile Peynaud, the man named “the forefather of modern oenology”, in Bordeaux. Serge was one of five children, including three sisters and began working in the winery in his early teens, hand-washing bottles.
When his father proposed he become more heavily involved Serge issued a demand, saying “I want to make the wine my way, I want it to be known world-wide – and I want you to quit!” and became Chateau Musar winemaker in 1959. Three years later, his brother Ronald Hochar took charge of the financial and marketing side of the business.
“My brother looks after the liquid, I look after the liquidity,” Ronald quipped.
It would take Serge Hochar 18 years to find “his way” and define the “formula” for Chateau Musar’s reds. He was a natural winemaker 30 years before the term became fashionable. He produced Bourdeaux-style blends from cabernet sauvignon, carignan and cinsault grapes. They are funky and age well. The whites feature indigenous Lebanese grape varieties such as Obaideh and Merwah. The winery became organic in 2006.
A stroke of luck came in 1979 when English Master of Wine Michael Broadbent declared Chateau Musar’s 1967 vintage “Find of the Fair” at the Bristol Wine Fair and the winery began to sell into the UK and then Europe.
In 1984, Decanter magazine nominates Serge Hochar as its first Man of the Year, paying tribute to his dedication to producing great wine throughout Lebanon’s Civil War, which began in 1975 and continued until 1990. He only missed one vintage, 1976, because there was no electricity and the roads were impassable.
Serge is survived by two sons: Gaston and Marc, who both have studied engineering and worked in the banking, before Gaston took on the managing director role, while Marc succeeded his uncle Ronald in running the commercial side.
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