Where passion and high quality become fusion. A craft, built for future generations.
Domaine S.Najm a family estate (Hiba & Salim), in Chabtîne, 600m above Batroun. This is where the road ends… and where their history begins over 60 years ago.
I met Salim in Geneva during the Lebanese Wine Day last June and tasted their wine which I found very special compared to other Lebanese wines and promised I will be visiting the Domain.
An there we go…
Hiba was waiting for us at the upper part of the domain, next to the church of the property. What a wonderful place, surrounded by olive trees and vineyards and a beautiful wide panorama.
Hiba is an agricultural engineer; a gifted winemaker and oenologist very much attached to her land and works with the active participation of her family and young children.
Our group started by visiting the church and quickly took a seat at the terrace just in front of the church’s entrance. We were all-ears, ready and eager to learn everything about this lovely domain.
And we were not to be deceived. Hiba took us deep in the history of the domain, vines and olive trees growing as well as the detailed techniques of winemaking, olive oil and fine arak production.
The Najm work with what their land produces and do not buy grapes from elsewhere. Their land, a limestone and gravelly soil, poor, no groundwater and very sunny, ideal for olive and vine growing. They started to plant vines in 1994 and stopped with the youngest Mourvèdre 12 years ago. The vineyard is surrounding the property. Some vines are mingled among the olive tress. 10’000 vines are planted and severely cut looking for concentration of quality.
Due to the excess of sunlight, the vines are trained in a Goblet shape (Gobelet Méridional) best suited to the warm & dry climate without a fertile soil. Three grape varieties: - Majority of Mourvèdre, a grape originated from the South of France. Fairly nice bunch, more or less dense, small berries, slightly spicy taste. Provides tannins and black fruits aroma. Very fragile and particular to cultivate, although great wines are currently produced throughout the world with this variety. - Grenache, beautiful bunch, wider berries, a taste of red fruits. Hiba use it to bind the Mourvèdre to the Cabernet. - Cabernet Sauvignon, small bunch, small berries, green pepper aroma, brings the beautiful color and the aptitude for aging to the wine.
No pesticides, no herbicides, no chemicals. No treatment of the soil. Hiba uses only a compost which was transformed into organic manure (in the domain) aiming for a wine as natural as possible.
The Grenache is an early grape variety, harvested mid-August. A week after follows the Cabernet and mid-September the Mourvèdre. The manual harvesting starts early from 5:30 to 8:00am. The clusters harvest is directly brought to the crusher destemmer where the grapes are delicately separated from the stems and slightly scraped. They are then transferred into a water-cooled tank, where a limited quantity of sulfite and an appropriate yeast are added as necessary.
A floating cap vat for an initial aerobic fermentation. The exothermic reaction releases carbon dioxide and heat. And, since the yeast does not work at high temperatures, Grenache is fermented at 26 to 28° for aroma extraction, the Mourvèdre at 30° and the Cabernet at 32° for tannins and color. 15 to 20 days of fermentation, with continuous reassembly in a closed cycle, to remix the must (liquid) and the marc (solid) to favor the extraction. After then follows a flow of the liquid, while the marc is passed into a press and the juice recovered and added to the liquid for a pouring wine. This process is called the alcoholic fermentation.
Then the wine goes to a malolactic fermentation in oxygen isolation. The Cabernet in French oak barrel and 25% of the Mourvèdre in American casks while the Grenache is not aged in oak barrels.
Hiba is focused on producing only one red wine called 'Northpathwine'. The name came mainly because of the location, Batroun & the road of the North and the wish to avoid going into appellation such as “Château”, “Constellation” or other “Gods” and to create a difference among the names of wines...
The first vintage was 2009. The production has grown from 2400 bottles in 2016, to 4000 in 2017 and 5000 expected in 2018.
Olive Oil Very old olive trees, some of 60 years, cut open center, for the sun to spread over the whole olive tree. The tree is maintained very carefully, slightly cut to just clean it and delicately handled so as not to put at risk the scope of the following year.
The picking is done by hand. What has fallen on the ground prior to the picking is neglected as it may not be healthy for production. 24 hours later at most, the olives are pressed. The specially chosen and used press is designed to minimize heat creation and unnecessary heat exposure at each step of the production. This end up with a top-quality olive oil, cold pressed, extra virgin and with very low acidity. Also on the side the Najm also produce natural olive oil soap bars.
Hiba uses a stainless steel still and a very hygienic system. A boiler that heats water to the evaporative pipe. The steam heats an industrial oil, which, in turn, heats the still, following the principle of the ‘bain-marie’ and avoiding direct contact with a source of fire.
It takes 10kg of grapes to get a liter of Arak. Hence the need to acquire from a reliable source a quantity of grape alcohol and green anise. This alcohol goes through a 2nd distillation, followed by a 24 hours maceration with a good quantity of fresh green anise. Then it goes for a 3rd distillation and a 2nd addition of fresh anise before proceeding to the 4th distillation. Same principle of Charentaise distillation (cognac).
The arak thus produced then rests in terracotta jars for at least 12 months before being bottled. Arak at 53° of pure marvel.
We tasted various vintages of 'Northpathwine'. It was a real discovery of a different wine compared to other Lebanese wines. Different grapes (the Mourvèdre), different taste, different character, remarkably done.
When our winery visit ended, we followed Hiba across a cliff road which took us to their restaurant “Amar Chabtîne”. Beautiful scenery and overlooking panorama. Hiba explained that their full project is yet to be completed with a hotel, spa and other activities and amenities.
This is where we had lunch. Delicious Lebanese food with a special twist. We feasted on exceptional cuisine and tasted the excellent olive oil and arak.
We obviously didn’t leave empty handed, but with the car trunk full of wine, arak, olive oil and soap.
Thank you, Hiba, for your hospitality, generosity, beautiful mind and gorgeous smile.
Thank you for what you are doing. We greatly appreciate your passion and professionalism seeking to only produce natural and high-quality products.