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Diana Salameh Khalil
Diana studied oenology at the Institut Universitaire de la Vigne et du Vin in Dijon, France. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1995, earning the “Diplome National d’Oenologie” and the “Diplome Supèrieur d’Enseignemant et de Recherche” in 1997.
After finishing her studies, she had her work experience at Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy and at Jeanjean / AdVini in Languedoc-Roussillon.
Returning to Lebanon, Diana joined the Domaine Wardy team in 2002, a time when wine making was a male-dominated profession, becoming the first female winemaker working in Lebanon.
In 1959 Nahia Abou Raad asked the 15 years old Abdallah to help in distilling arak.
“a couple of weeks” she said, “three tops”.
Nahia was the sister of Michael Abou Raad, owner, along with Najib Gantous, and principle arak maker of Arak Gantous & Abou Raad.
Arak making in Lebanon is a family affair with recipe secrets passed down from generation to generation. Abdallah’s dedication and obvious passion allowed him to acquire these family secrets as he gradually became the main arak maker of Gantous and Abou Raad.
The distillery was situated in Haret Al-Rasiyeh in Zahle, Abdallah remembers that the grapes were sourced from several vineyards in the Beqaa Valley and transported to the distillery on horse and donkey backs. Aniseeds were brought from Hina near Damascus on camel backs.
Fermentation was carried out in clay amphorae, while copper stills were used for the distillation.
60 years on, the distillery moved to the Zahle Valley, the grapes are still sourced from the Beqaa Valley, the Aniseeds still come from Hina (by trucks rather than livestock), fermentation is carried on in stainless steel vats while distillation still takes place in copper stills and aging in clay amphorae.
And Abdallah, now 75 years old, still oversees the entire process, producing both Arak Gantous & Abou Raad and Arak Wardy, depending primarily on his legendary nose and an experience of a lifetime.