For many, a booze-soaked day in the Bekkaa - sorry, a sophisticated cultural and gastronomic degustation experience - is the perfect plan for a summer weekend. And for many, removing the risk of wrong turnings, drink driving, and unexpected vineyard closures at one fell swoop is an attractive prospect.
When we joined one of Club Grappe's regular Saturday tours, the group took in the very different Bekaa wineries Clos de St Thomas and Ksara, with a traditional breakfast stop at the oldest bakery in Chtaura and a closing late lunch at the Ecolodge in Taanayel. The club, Lebanon's first to specialize in wine tasting and education, attracts between 20 and 35 people of all ages each weekend, making for a jolly air-conditioned singalong bus experience. At both vineyards we were plied with a range of their lower-end wines, and given smiley tours of the premises.
And it's by no means a cookie-cutter experience. The Bekaa in summer is a glorious thing, and there's plenty of freedom within the tour structure to wander through the rich green vines and bask in the sunlight outside the wineries. If you're already familiar with the wine country, the tours visit a different set of vineyards every time. If you're not, there's nothing to be intimidated by - most of the group are local amateurs along for a nice day out with some wine tasting thrown in and the opportunity to bulk-buy favourite bottles direct from the growers - a pretty good deal when the whole day costs just $40 per head.
Did touring with Club Grappe give new insights and skills with Lebanese wine? Not exactly, but everyone had a great time, and the advantage of the club is being privy to its wide range of other events, offers and workshops, including a new wine boutique just opened in Furn el Chebbek. And then there was the closing long, lazy lunch in the sunny courtyard of the traditionally-built Taanayel Ecolodge, of which I'd heard much but never visited.
It seems that even the package experience can offer something new, whether it's the people you meet or the corners of country you discover.
For more information call Club Grappe 03 611603