The Muse of Château Musar

The woods of my childhood were easy to reach beyond my backyard and across the long pasture to the west. There, at edge of civilization as I knew it, was a tall, thick stand of conifers with a perfect little smeuse the size of a six-year-old girl. Through it, I would step from the open field into a shady cosmos of birdsong… sunlight kaleidoscoping through the boughs… the sharp scent of jack pine oxygenating the air. It was enchanted in a way the grown-up world would rarely ever be… except on this night.

“The first ever bottle I tasted that was produced by my grandfather, Gaston Hochar Senior. A nose of forest floor followed by a palate of sweet ripe berries, layers of tobacco, coffee, liquorice with balanced acidity and SO MUCH freshness. A singular experience from a wine from the early Musar era. ~ Marc Hochar, Chateau Musar

On this night, the taste of pine sap on my fingers brought it all back to me, except it wasn’t pine sap at all but a deep breath and sip of a Château Musar Rosé. From this “still and softly-oaked tribute to the ‘blended’ rosés of Champagne,” a liquefaction of memory poured forth. I was simultaneously a little fairy climbing a tree and an imperious professional woman attending her first-ever wine dinner.

Who knew wine could do that?

Well, Marc Hochar knew. It’s just another day at the office for Château Musar, which is not to diminish the wonder of such unexpected revelations. This just compels the Hochar winemakers to bless the wider world with the fruits of their labor. They have been making Château Musar wines for generations in the soil of the Garden of Eden, so it is understood: something divine is going on here.  

Grapes and earth and weather over the imprimatur of time can create many lives in a bottle of Musar, and several more inside us, according to Hochar. That’s because “We preserve the life that’s embedded in these wines. We don’t filter them, or strain them, or take anything out,” he explained. “So they retain this ability to behave like living things… they change. If you open two bottles of the same vintage at the same time, you should not be surprised to find they are not the same.”

Coming from Lebanon, a land of extremes, such seeming contradictions are embedded in the DNA of a Château Musar. The Mediterranean climate of warm, dry summers and bitter cold winters in their Bekaa Valley vineyard inhabit every bottle. Such dimensionality was deliciously supported by a five-course “Taste of Lebanon” at Kalamazoo’s Rustica restaurant. At its by-invitation-only wine-dinner, six different Musar wines were featured. Each one was unique yet somehow recognizably Musar… familial in the roots of Rosé, Hochar Rouge, Blanc, Rouge… ancient and alive.

As we sipped, my friend and I would say the first thought the taste and aroma conjured: mown hay, carob, chanterelles, the marsh on a summer night, a cellar door. The ocean… sand that had been stirred up by whale fins. The acrid air from skeet shooting. Colostrum…  manuka honey. An awareness of past lives… gravestone moss. The stories started telling themselves with our voices. This wasn’t about logical, credible comparisons, but letting the wine meander through our sensory lobes of experience. Here were memories that weren’t always our own… or were they? I thought of these lines in a poem by Jon Wallace:

What we say seems to make sense, yet

beyond the chatter don’t we go on forever, effortlessly

resisting the fixity of words? I tell you

we are precisely what cannot be spoken

or felt, and so remain secrets even to ourselves.

From this mysterious inner-expedition came my “sappy” review, which I was somewhat embarrassed to share with Marc Hochar when he stopped by our table. It didn’t seem dignified enough, or in the proper canon of wine vernacular. But to my great relief, Marc was delighted with my story. He found pine pitch entirely apropos because that’s what was real for me. And that was the point… maybe even the goal.

This remarkable event has raised the bar for every glass of wine I’ll ever drink again. You’re welcome, Hochars, and I am sorry, every other label.

It’s just that Château Musar invites an engagement in which wine isn’t just for enjoying, but for enhancing a delightful tour of self-discovery. The wet-dry, earth-sky, love-hate, hot-cold, blood-water, laughter-tears, primordial-modern Lebanon has imbued its country’s most famous wine with its own memories. To imbibe is to rehouse them… and explore the Muse of your own life when you let them live in you.

© Leeanne Seaver 2022

2 thoughts on “The Muse of Château Musar

  1. Such a lovely toast in prose to the wine, the event, the sommelier, the vineyards, and the experience.

    I am thankful to have been a witness and fellow patron that evening.

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