Fady Sfeir and his son Antoine set up their wine production unit, with eight vats and as many oak barrels in the old garages of Peugeot's headquarters, last August. The objective is to produce eight vintages of organic wine and sell them online, by subscription, in restaurants or at independent wine merchants. Originally, Antoine Sfeir, 28 years old, wanted to open a place in Paris where wine lovers could taste the wine produced on site, eat cheese and listen to live concerts at the same time. The Covid-19 pandemic started spreading at the time, and the project to open such a place to the public has been postponed.
Never mind. Very sunny at the beginning, before rains in August, the wine season looked exceptional. Antoine and Fady Sfeir therefore decided to get started by buying the vinification vats in July, with an initial investment of more than €100,000, and by finding premises through the town hall of Courbevoie, where the family has been living since Fady's arrival in France in August 1986. But because of their precarious lease, Fady and Antoine will have to find another space when new owners will take over in about 10 months. In the meantime, since September 1, they have been filling the vats with grapes harvested in the Loire, three hours from Paris by road.
It was in the mind of Antoine, a graduate of ESSEC (a major business school) and a great wine enthusiast, that the project matured. The young man is studying for his master of wine, the "ultimate diploma in wine," in the words of his father Fady, whose eyes shine with pride at his son's achievements. "It is a great personal challenge," he said. "The theoretical part consisted of 21 tests of one and a half hours each, ranging from the production to the sale of wine. The practical test consists of a blind tasting of 36 wines."
Antoine had previously worked in winemaking in Champagne, Spain and Australia. He also sold wine in Bali during his graduation internship. For him, wine is like cinema, a field in which his sister works in Los Angeles: "Wine is extremely complex, a bit like cinema. It is a collective work where everyone plays their part and, in the end, the consumer judges the work with one word: I like or dislike."
The young man passes on his passion to his friends and his father, and the idea comes to him to pass it on to others as well: "When Antoine suggested that I join him in his adventure, I immediately said yes. A few years before retirement, Fady Sfeir left his position as sales manager in software sales and began training as an oenology technician at the University of Burgundy.
A few months later, here they are both in their winery in Courbevoie. Fady and Antoine have the same elongated face, the same dazzling smile that turns into a sonorous laughter, and "the same imposing nose!" Hence the name chosen for their small business: "Pif à PaPa." Pif as nose; pif as wine in slang. The collaboration between father and son is going very well. "We complement each other. My father is more organized; he takes care of the management. I am into wine and technique," Antoine said. "We are both very sociable! And then, maybe because of my Lebanese roots, family is important to me and we laugh a lot together."
The objective of Antoine and Fady Sfeir is to produce their own grapes in the future.
"Our project is to eventually have our own vineyard in the Paris region," said Antoine Sfeir, author of a memoir on the history of wine in Paris. "The French capital is a great wine-growing region, which has the same soil as Champagne. But its vines were destroyed by phylloxera in the 19th century. And the vineyard has not been replaced because of land development pressure and the development of the railway."
And then why not one day make wine in their village of origin in Lebanon, in Rayfoun, by planting Merweh in particular, a little-known indigenous grape variety? It was an idea for a while before being abandoned by the duo, given the country's unstable environment of the country. "I have a lot of hope for Lebanon and its youth," said Fady Sfeir. "They will be able to pull the country out of corruption and stagnation."
(This article was originally published in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 5th of October)
"That will be a great wine!" Leaning over an oak barrel, the Sfeirs, father and son, taste the barely fermented grape juice. The day before, they were in the vineyards in Anjou, harvesting in the rain before bringing the harvested grapes with them in two refrigerated trucks. Their direction was Courbevoie and their winery, located a few minutes from the skyscrapers of the business district of La...