Obeidy is a white grape variety grown in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley. Historically Obeidy was never considered suitable for wine-making, instead being preferred as a table grape and for the production of Arak, Lebanese grape brandy.
In 2010 however the Touma family of Château St Thomas started to experiment with the variety. As one of the largest buyers of Obeidy grapes for their well known brandy, they were well placed to select grapes from interesting vineyards across the Bekaa Valley. They started to vinify some examples in stainless steel and work on how best to treat it in the cellar. At the same time Joe Touma met with the team at Wine Mosaic in France and began a joint project to carry out DNA profiling on the grape.
They began sending samples and cuttings off for testing in Montpellier and Switzerland. The results were interesting. DNA profiling revealed no links with other varieties and it was eventually categorised as a truly Lebanese variety.
The grape is very sensitive and has a thin skin. It quickly oxidises if the sun is too hot. The skins burn, so canopy management is essential. Over the last few vintages Château St Thomas have continued to learn how to handle the Obeidy. They now harvest before the sun comes up to avoid the variety’s propensity to turn brown and oxidise rapidly. They also pursue a modern style with fermentation taking place at low temperatures in stainless steel.
Obeidy’s skins are so thin that you can see the seeds through it. As such it seems that too strong a pressing yields a bitter juice. In an effort to combat this Château St Thomas now now carry out only a light pressing and accept mainly free run juice. For this reason Obeidy can seem relatively expensive considering its humble origin as a widely planted table grape. In the cellar it’s a difficult variety and needs to be treated with care.
Generally Obeidy is cultivated up pergolas, high off the ground. This is still the case today, although ever since the variety was classified as officially Lebanese many wineries have started to plant it and cultivate it along more respected viticultural trellis systems. Château St Thomas planted more Obeidy in 2016 using the Goblet system so as to facilitate canopy management a little easier.
Today wine grape nurseries throughout Lebanon are promoting and selling Obeidy as the variety of the future and there is big demand. Plantations will undoubtedly increase and we’ll see more of this variety in the decade ahead.