August starts the beginning of grape harvest in Israel. It’s a time of excitement and anticipation, hope for the wines that will come in the months and years ahead. It follows months of pruning and planning, preparations and hard labor invested in the vineyards and the fields. Yet there is also a sense of fear and trepidation that hangs over the heads of vintners and wine-makers. A heat wave can be devastating to the grapes that may over-ripen on the vines. Inversely, a cold spell could spell disaster as frozen grapes cannot be used produce wines of quality. This build up is a time of excitement, and as we begin the harvest here in Israel, we are certainly not experiencing any cold, sadly it’s quite the opposite.
Tragically, the devastation from fire has left its mark on our beloved land. Last week, forest fires in the Judean Hills wreaked destruction on families, farms, and on the Metzuda winery that has been left with nothing. This sorrow is felt amongst all of us here in Israel’s wine community and we mourn the loss of one families ability to harvest their hard work.
For some, the excitement and labor of love that turns grapes into holy nectar will bear fruits in a few months when fermenting, filtering, bottling, racking and sampling will determine the value and virtue of this year‘s hard work. I love scanning the posts on social media to see friends turning their grapes into greatness. The buildup and anticipation has finally arrived and while we ponder what will be in the year ahead, we celebrate vicariously as Israel’s great wine-makers are laboring tirelessly in the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the night to handpick their hard work.
Pruning and cutting, gathering and harvesting grapes is a tradition that brings villages into the fields, families together, and provides jobs for migrants looking to feed their kinfolk. Jewish tradition teaches us to provide for the needy at this time, whereas grapes that are cut away or fallen on the edges of fields are allotted to those who cannot make ends meet. These traditions are ingrained in our Jewish identity and while this maybe antithetical to the modern business culture that has taken over, it’s connects us to our biblical past and social responsibilities that we must support less affluent members of our society.
It is easy to think of our wine industry as just that, an industry with profits and parnassah as our main goal. Yeah those of us who work with wine know that, while indeed we are farmers at heart, connected to the land which provides for our families and livelihoods, there is something much more profound that is taking place now during the harvest here in Israel and around the world.
While this wine guide is no longer pruning and harvesting as I did as a younger man, I share vicariously in this time of passion and celebration. My responsibility is to share and to write, to host and to hopefully bring awareness to travelers, guests, and readers that can appreciate the words I have written here.
And so I raise a glass and send a prayer, for those who have lost their livelihood in a fire, and those whose wines will lift us up together, into a new era of greatness and grandeur in this tiny yet powerful little country of wine makers and grape growers.
To my friends in the Galilee region picking on mountain tops and in valley floors, too steep for any machine to harvest, I salute you.
To my comrades in the Carmel ever so slightly chilled by a soft breeze from the Mediterranean Sea as they pick their Chardonnay, I pay my respects.
To the resilient farmers in the Judean Hills, unscathed by fire, with the fortitude to look forward to a brighter future with new vines to be planted, I raise my hat and my glass.
To the hard working farmer and friends, toiling the soil, hauling the harvest and, working the land, may our work be fruitful, our labor joyful, and the fruit of the vine delightful.
I stopped over for a visit to my friends at Nevo Winery to see the harvest and fermentation ‘in action’ (see video). While I mourn for the loss of some, I’m thankful these friends were able to continue their work untouched by the flames.
L’chayim, to life, labor, and love of great wine.