Palestinian wine has a future…
September 1993 in Oslo, the whole world looks at the historic handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. A hope of reconciliation and peace arises in this bruised region. At the same time, in the small village of Taybeh, a father calls his son to the United States and asks him to return to Palestine to set up his business.
In 1994, Nadim Khoury decides to return from his university in Boston to create the first Palestinian brewery in this amosphere of pleasant euphoria. Why beer? Passion, surely, for a man who was already making it for pleasure in his university room. Per destiny, perhaps: Nadim meaning “drinking companion” in Arabic …
Twenty years later and an international success of the Taybeh Beer, his son Canaan diversifies the company by launching in 2013 in the world of wine: Taybeh Winery. Then, I am received by Helena, niece of Nadim, who takes care of the family hotel, the last business born of the Khoury clan. The welcome is warm and friendly. But what was more natural when Saladin himself, in the 12th century, pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the villagers, decided to change the name of the place to “Taybeh”, “sweet” or “kind” in Arabic … and “Delicious” when it comes to food (again destiny ;-)).
If today the brewery exports to Japan, Sweden and Belgium with 6000 hectoliters per year, it was far from being a long quiet river … and still is not. Christian village in a Muslim majority country, producing alcohol was not initially appreciated. But after the failure of the Oslo Accords in the following years and the proliferation of Palestinian revolts, creating a Palestinian product of quality only emerged as an act of political advocacy and recognition. Especially since the domain of the monks of Latrun formerly in Palestinian territory was absorbed in 1967 and that of the monks of Cremisan, close to Bethlehem, is threatened by the wall and risks to quickly topple on the Israeli side. The only brewery in more than 23 years, the Taybeh Winery would become the only Palestinian vineyard.
That’s why people today are proud to enjoy a quality local product that stimulates the country’s economy and exports the name “Palestine”. The brewery and vineyard employ about 60 people from the village and the wine is exported to Israel, Denmark and the United States. However, it is necessary to adapt to the rules and the name of Palestine can not appear alone on the labels when exporting: “West Bank” must be on its side, so that “Palestine” is not considered as a country but as a region … Not a long quiet river I told you, without mentioning the rationing of water imposed by Israel, another big challenge.
But Canaan is a gifted, really gifted man, and likes to face challenges: freshly graduated from Harvard, he achieved with the highest honor from California Davis University in the “Master Brewer” field. And then, he embarked on oenology because producing wine in the “Holy Land” was ancestral and his own grandparents were elaborating it. A 600-year-old lineage symbolized by the family tree, which became the company’s name: each branch representing a child.
Today, the small production is equivalent to 30,000 bottles, while manual harvests, of which red represents the major part. Here again, the challenge is important: for several years Israel has established itself as a country of great wines, notably on the Golan Heights. So you have to be up to it. Here, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah were chosen, with at least 8 months in French oak barrels, each of the bottles being named … Nadim. If the Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 remains closed and heady, Syrah 2015, 14.5%, bet on red fruit and chocolate, with silky and melted tannins. A real success! Similarly, the 2013 Merlot, slightly tilled and ready to drink, offers tertiary aromas of figs and cherries surprising kirschés but perfect to match with a meal.
Nevertheless, Canaan goes for broke on the white. I’m not talking about the Sauvignon Blanc that I could not taste, but the Zeini. This light, floral and bright white is 100% Palestinian! Faced with international grape varieties, the Khoury family wants to inscribe Palestine on the world wine route not only for the final product, but also for its terroir. Canaan opened a procedure to have Zeini recognized as a Palestinian indigenous grape, originating in Hebron, a symbol in this place so representative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he does not intend to stop there because a newcomer “100% Palestinian”, the Beituni, should see the light this year.
Thus, if consuming a Palestinian wine can be perceived as a political act, after this tasting, it can perfectly appear as a gourmet act.