Pales­tinian fam­ily seeks to make a rip­ple with a tip­ple

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

NEARLY 20 years ago, Nadim Khoury cre­ated the first Pales­tinian brew­ery. Now, with his son Canaan, he wants to add Pales­tine to the map of the world’s wines.

In 2013, af­ter Canaan re­turned from study­ing in the United States, they founded a win­ery in the vil­lage of Tay­beh set in the hills of the oc­cu­pied West Bank.

The Khourys, a Chris­tian fam­ily, are one of only a hand­ful of sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­ers of wine in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, along with the Sale­sian priests from the Cremisan monastery near Beth­le­hem.

“Since the time of Christ, peo­ple have made wine in the Holy Land,” said Nadim Khoury, whose given name in Ara­bic refers to a some­times tipsy meal com­pan­ion, a char­ac­ter who can be found as far back as pre-Is­lamic po­etry.

“My grand­mother and grand­fa­ther pressed grapes at home,” added Khoury’s daugh­ter Madees.

Their de­scen­dants now want to “in­crease pro­duc­tion and im­prove qual­ity,” she said.

Around 20 va­ri­eties of grapes are grown in the West Bank and ac­count for a key part of Pales­tinian agri­cul­ture, sec­ond only per­haps to olives.

Vine-dot­ted ter­races cling to steep hills, while in kitchens across the ter­ri­to­ries, the fruit is used for desserts and con­sumed freshly squeezed.

Their leaves, stuffed with rice or meat, are a sta­ple of fam­ily meals and hol­i­day feasts.

Vine­yards cover about 5 per­cent of cul­ti­vated land in the West Bank, and an­nu­ally pro­duce more than 50,000 tonnes of grapes, ac­cord­ing to the Pales­tinian agri­cul­ture min­istry.

But Pales­tini­ans, 98pc of whom are Mus­lim, pro­duce lit­tle to no wine de­spite the West Bank be­ing far from de­void of it.

Some 400,000 Jewish set­tlers have moved to the land Is­rael oc­cu­pied in 1967 in a sit­u­a­tion never recognised by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

And these set­tlers have es­tab­lished more than 20 vine­yards across the re­gion.

For Khoury, pro­duc­ing a Pales­tinian wine is as much a mat­ter of taste as an act of faith in the Pales­tinian cause.

Chris­tians also rep­re­sent 90pc of the pop­u­la­tion of Tay­beh – one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions in the West Bank.

Ev­ery year the Khourys pro­duce 30,000 to 35,000 bot­tles of Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, Mer­lot and Syrah red and white wines made from lo­cal grapes, us­ing oak bar­rels im­ported from Italy and France.

Far­ther south, near the city of He­bron known as one of the most con­ser­va­tive in the West Bank, the Zeini grape is cul­ti­vated.

At the vine­yard nearly 1000 me­tres (3280 feet) above sea level, they make a fra­grant wine that is fer­mented and aged in steel tanks – per­fect for the sum­mer heat of the Pales­tinian hills and as an ac­com­pa­ni­ment to grilled chicken.

The Khourys are now seek­ing recog­ni­tion of the Zeini as the first Pales­tinian grape.

Help­ing to sort the fruit on a con­veyor belt lead­ing to a me­chan­i­cal press, Madees says they want to help pub­li­cise Pales­tine, de­spite the state still not hav­ing re­ceived full recog­ni­tion from the United Na­tions.

As such, ex­port­ing a wine from Pales­tine is far from easy.

“The free-trade agree­ments with the United States, for ex­am­ple, say the ‘West Bank’ but not ‘Pales­tine’, so we had to change our la­bels,” said Khoury.

The front of the bot­tle says “Pales­tine” but the la­bel on the back of the bot­tle reads, “Tay­beh, West Bank”.

“God will­ing, be­fore Christ­mas our wine will be sold in the US,” said Khoury. He is, he said, proud of his “great achieve­ment of hav­ing kept the name of Pales­tine”.

The Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries suf­fer from a lack of or­gan­ised industries and reg­u­la­tions, so it took two years to get the Pales­tinian Author­ity la­bel re­quired for ex­port.

The en­vi­ron­ment is favourable to viti­cul­ture, said Ghas­san Cas­sis, who farms in the fam­ily vine­yards in Bir Zeit near Ra­mal­lah, sell­ing the grapes to Khoury for press­ing.

“We are 750 me­tres above the sea, hu­mid­ity and dew evap­o­rate quickly and the sun­shine is good,” said Cas­sis, who trained in Aus­tralia be­fore com­ing home.

How­ever, he be­moans the lack of skilled labour in the sec­tor.

Nadim, mean­while, is re­al­is­tic about the fu­ture of Pales­tinian viti­cul­ture.

“La­trun, which was a Pales­tinian city of wine un­til the 1967 war, is now in Is­rael and pro­duces a wine sold as Is­raeli,” he said.

The monastery of Cremisan has for years been un­der pres­sure from the nearby sep­a­ra­tion wall built by Is­rael in a bid to pro­tect Is­raelis from at­tack­ers from the West Bank, he said.

Khoury said he wor­ries that Tay­beh could one day be­come “the only tra­di­tional win­ery in Pales­tine”.

Nadim Khoury fills a glass with his lo­cally made wine.

Pho­tos: AFP

A Pales­tinian youth holds grapes at a vine­yard in the West Bank.

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