Serge Hochar, CEO of the famed Lebanese winery Chateau Musar and credited with cultivating an international reputation for his country's wine, has died aged 75.
His death on December 31 was announced by Chateau Musar on Facebook, and was marked in international wine publications including Wine Spectator.
“The father of Lebanese wine and the man behind Chateau Musar’s recognition worldwide is watching us from the stars,” a message posted on the winery’s Facebook page said.
Wine Spectator hailed him as a “tireless pioneer in winemaking in Lebanon”.
Hochar “was the man who launched Lebanese wines in the world,” the president of Lebanon’s Union Vinicole, Zafer Chaoui, told the local L’Orient Le Jour newspaper.
The daily reported that Hochar died in a swimming accident on holiday in Mexico.
Wine production goes back centuries in Lebanon, but it was not until the 1970s that the country began to gain an international reputation as a wine producer, thanks largely to Hochar.
He inherited the business founded by his father Gaston in 1930.
After studying winemaking in Bordeaux, he and his brother brought wine from the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon to the international market via the 1979 Bristol Wine Fair.
International expansion came amid Lebanon’s brutal 1975-1990 civil war: with the local market destroyed by fighting, Chateau Musar began to focus on exports.
By the end of the conflict, the wine was found almost exclusively overseas, particularly in Britain.
Hochar was seen as key to both developing an international interest in Lebanon’s wines and revitalising its wine industry after the civil war.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2014, he said that just five wineries were operating when the war ended in 1990.
By 2014, that number had grown to nearly 50.
“He was a philosopher king of winemaking who made wine fascinating, bewitching and fun,” wrote Fiona Beckett, the British Guardian newspaper’s wine critic.
The business’s day-to-day operations had already been ceded to his sons and his nephew’s son, but Hochar remained a key proponent of the winery and Lebanese wine in general.
“Wine is above politics,” The New York Times quoted him as saying. “Wine is tolerance.”