The road from the Mediterranean to the mountain village of Basbina climbs past olive groves and the 7th-century Kfifan monastery.
This part of the Lebanese mountains is peaceful, in spite of the closeness to Tripoli, where pro- and anti-Assad militias are facing off, and nearby Syria, where a civil war is raging. This is where Lebanese-Brazilian businessman Carlos Ghosn, the chairman and CEO of Paris-based Renault and Japan-based Nissan, has chosen to become a sleeping partner in a winery called El Ixir.
''This is one of my first investments in Lebanon, though I have a long-standing passion for wine,'' Ghosn tells ANSAmed.
''I believe in the future of this country. Of course there will be highs and lows, but the Lebanese people can make it.'' Having survived a terrible civil war (1975-1990), Lebanon now suffers the consequences of fears of a violent spillover from neighboring Syria. With the Gulf countries issuing travel advisories on Lebanon, both the real estate market and the tourism sector are in free fall, with GDP contracting rapidly after posting 8% yearly growth between 2007-2010. ''Yes, the Syria crisis is scary, but Lebanon is used to living in crisis. I have no doubt it will make it this time as well,'' said Ghosn, a Brazil native who grew up in Beirut, where he studied with the Jesuits. ''And anyway, a good glass of wine is the elixir we need in times like these,'' adds Ghosn, making a pun out of the winery's name.
Producing 300,000 bottles a year, El Ixir is run by the Debbane' family of winemakers. They also own five vineyards in Jezzine, in southern Lebanon, which were bombed by the Israelis in 2006, and in Deir al-Ahmar, in the Bekaa Valley, which is mostly controlled by the Hezbollah Shiite militias.
Here in Basbina, the wine is created in the cellars of an 18th century stone mansion, which once belonged to a local lord.
This is where Ghosn, speaking in Arabic, receives his guests.
''You will ask yourselves, what is a carmaking boss doing here,'' he says. ''Well, for those of us dealing with an industry made of metal and big investments, in which governments often intervene, it is sometimes a relief to get away and recharge. And let's not forget that this land has been producing wine since the Phoenicians. By exporting wine we can also export the lesser known aspects of Lebanon, which are quality and joie de vivre.''