Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Grapes of wrath: a battle of the bottles in the West Bank


By Ruth Regan - March 18, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Taybeh Beer] [agriculture] [Occupation]

The West Bank hosts at least 29 wineries, all a part of the physical and economic fabric of illegal Israeli settlements. This fledgling industry has been flourishing since the early 2000s, promoting to visitors a rhetoric they are a continuation of antiquity. 

In amongst these vines, east of Ramallah, is a small Christian Palestinian village standing 900 metres above sea level called Taybeh.
 
Taybeh means good, if you’re talking about people, or delicious, if you’re talking about food (or wine).
 
In 1994, after the Oslo Accords, the Khoury family moved back from Boston to Taybeh to open Palestine’s first brewery.
 
The brewery is currently bottling 5000 beers an hour, with 7 commercial products, and is available in 12 countries internationally, including Israel. It entered the US market last year.
 
But during the second intifada (from 2000-2005), production came almost completely to a halt as the business was unable to import any raw materials, from the barley and hops to glass bottles.
 
Staff at work at Taybeh brewery - pre-dating the winery - currently bottling 5000 bottles an hour and sending them around the world.
 
“I wanted something I could make without being affected by the Israelis,” said Canaan Khoury, the technical developer behind the Taybeh winery.  Canaan Khoury is in his late 20s and the son of Nadim Khoury, who founded the brewery with his brother, David.
 
After six years of experimenting with Palestinian grapes, Taybeh Winery opened its doors in 2013.
 
“We found 21 indigenous Palestinian grapes that are not available outside,” said Canaan Khoury. He added they still have much to learn about Palestine’s varieties, microclimates and the various individual flavours they produce.
It is not just microclimate which affects the taste of wine, but the politics of occupation too.
 
Some farmers have access to less water access than others, even if just a five minute drive apart, giving their wine a more bitter taste.
 
Before Taybeh, the farmers suffered having to export their grapes to Israel.
 
“They [the farmers] used to sell the grapes to Israeli wineries, [but] they had to go through a long process in order to get it inside of Israel,” explained Khoury.
 
The grapes would sit in the sun while farmers waited for permits and checkpoints, diminishing the quality of the grape and as a result, diminishing the price they would get for them.
 
“Now it’s a thirty minute drive, [so] they’re really happy to sell us the grapes. They can bring them here before they get hot and be done by 11am,” Khoury said.
 
The winery uses grapes from local Palestinian farmers in Birzeit, Taybeh and Aboud.
 
Wine making was no new endeavour for the Khourys or the wider village of Taybeh, which has been producing wine on a household by household basis for centuries.
 
“Every house in Taybeh has a big vine that’s used as shade. That tree gives 30kg of grapes,” described Khoury, recalling Christmases growing up as a time of visiting other families and exchanging wines, helping to keep warm in winter.
 
Khoury learnt the process of wine production from his grandma.
 
He named the wine 'Nadim’ after his father. It means “your drinking buddy” in Arabic, “or the person you regret drinking with,” he jokes. The bottle’s logo is their family tree, with each leaf representing a member of the family.
 
Nadim – the name of the Taybeh wine – means favourite drinking buddy in Arabic and was also the name of one of the two brothers who founded Taybeh brewery.
 
Just 18 kilometres away, standing at the same altitude of 900 metres above sea level, is Psâgot winery, which boasts a world famous brand of wine. Psâgot is located within an Israeli settlement of the same name.
 
Both wineries say they focus on quality over commercial production. But that is about where the comparisons stop.
 
Psâgot have developed a very different visitor’s experience from the personal, family-run nature of Taybeh, with multimedia displays, a 'wine veranda’ and an auditorium playing visitors a documentary film.
 
The label on the Psâgot wine bottle is stamped with an image of a first century C.E. coin, inscribed the Hebrew words “for the freedom of Zion”, indicative of the politics of West Bank wine making as a nationalistic pursuit.
 
 
The winery describes its location as in the 'Judean mountains’, reassuring visitors it’s just 'a short 15-minute drive north of Jerusalem,’ without reference to its settlement status.
 
This is an instance of the tactic to conceal the origins of settlement wines, outlined in a 2011 report by the research center WhoProfits about Israeli settlement wine making. Tactics include defining their wines by the grape rather than the location where it is grown.
 
Last summer, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ruled that Psâgot wine can continue to write 'Product of Israel’ on its bottles, despite its production in Palestinian territory.
 
The European Union, which imports 20% of Israeli wine, is battling Israeli lobbying to enforce wine from Israeli settlements is labelled accordingly.
 
And how old is Psâgot? Well, their website tries to claim several millennia, making great historic references about the area’s 'rich winemaking tradition that began 3000 years ago and is still going strong to this very day’ as well as referring to 'remnants of biblical-era vineyards and wineries’, such as the ancient cave where the coin, their logo, was discovered.
 
“The coin is a reminder of our deep connection to the earth and to our roots,” their website reads.
 
“As we walk through the vines, we hear the echoes of our ancestors, experts in their time, who made the finest wines for the temples of Jerusalem and emperors of Rome as early as two millennia ago.”
 
The modern incarnation of Psâgot winery was established in 2002.
 
The WhoProfits report also outlined the support given to settlement wineries by the Israeli state. They are given tax benefits, subsidised water and funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Tourism and even Defence.
 
What’s more, the industry is used to further occupy Palestinian land.
 
“The planting of vineyards is actually a relatively easy and highly accessible means for taking over Palestinian land, due to a combination of legal and physical conditions,” described the report.

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