Friday, April 24, 2009
Fruit of the Vine
This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 8 July 2005.
It used to be, if you used the words "wine" and "Israel" in the same sentence, you'd probably also use words like "sickly sweet" or "only used for kiddush." Nowadays, when you put the two together, you can actually make favorable comparisons to the world-famous Napa Valley in California. In recent years, wine making (which has gone on in this region for thousands of years) has really taken off as a serious business, often with wonderful results. Not only that, a whole world of wine-related businesses and activities have appeared.
In 1995, the supermarkets we patronized had a small selection of wine (most of it sweet) on display next to the grape juice. The bottles were usually dusty. These days, you often find whole aisles or even sections of supermarkets devoted to wine. The store pictured above also has a wine expert on hand (an immigrant from France), to help you decide which wine will go well with your meal. Of course, it helps if you listen to his advice. Jil has told us stories of Israelis who come back to complain that the wine he sold them was "bad" when in fact the problem was that someone had paired a lovely bottle of Shiraz with his humous and falafel.
But things are changing. Today you can find a Hebrew-language magazine, Wine & Gourmet, several books, and even specialty wine stores, like The Wine Center. You can even find myriad choices in wine refrigerators and other wine-related products. Of course there are also wine tastings and similar gatherings including the annual Israeli Wine Fair, which has being taking place for the last seven years. As more Israelis travel the world for pleasure and on business, they return knowing more and wanting more from the wine they drink at home. And they are getting it.
The names of the giants in Israeli wine-making are well known: the Golan Heights Winery, Carmel-Mizrachi, and Barkan. We have discovered a number of wonderful boutique wineries, as well. Our visit with Amram (see photo, above) was delightful. In the basement of his home in Ramot Naftali, in the northern part of Israel, Amram has set up a wine cellar/tasting room, complete with photos and sample equipment, to which he refers as he explains how he produces his wine. After hearing his spiel, asking many questions, and tasting several varieties of red wine, we parted from Amram and his wife not only with several bottles of Merlot, Cabernet-Merlot and Cabernet-Shiraz , but with a bag of home-grown lemons his wife insisted we take as a gift.
Israel has, deservedly, received alot of attention for her advances in technology and medicine. Many of the inventions that make lives around the world better today originated in Israel. (For more information on such things, I highly recommend you visit Israel 21c.) It's a pleasure to see progress also being made here in the ancient art of wine making. There's something appealing about the notion that toiling alongside the high tech innovators are winemakers endeavoring to produce the best wines Israel has ever created.
Often we are preoccupied with the conflicts and turmoil with which our country is plagued. It's easy to feel that there's nothing going on here but tension and confrontation, especially in these weeks leading up to the disengagement. Too bad there's no holiday coming up, an occasion to celebrate the things we have in common, a reason to remember the ways in which we are united. Perhaps if we joined together in a "l'chaim!" (a traditional toast, meaning "to life!") over a glass of the fruit of the vine, we could use the opportunity to relish, if only for a short time, our mutual love of life and country.