How to Produce Quality Wine in Israel
When the first bottle of Rothschild’s Rishon Le-Tzion wine was brought to the Netziv by courier, he was more than happy to receive it – but he refused to taste of it. First, he went to his apartment below the floorboards of the beis medrash of Volozhin, and changed clothes. Only after changing into his bigdei Shabbos did he allow himself to taste the wine made from grapes that grew in our holy land.
The land has probably not increased in intrinsic kedushah in the last century and a half, but the wines have gotten much better. Boutique wineries have sprung up, not only in the Golan, famous for its soil of volcanic origin, but other parts of the country as well. In a recent blind test, the Harerei Kedem winery of Yitzhar took two gold medals and one silver. How did it do so well?
[Owner] Ben-Sheetrit was given an opportunity to address the audience after winning, and he used the opportunity to tell the hundreds of assembled winery owners, wine experts, journalists and tourists that he credits his success to his observance of the shemittah year, and to the fact that his grapes are grown in the portion of the land of Israel belonging to the biblical Yosef, who is buried a short distance from Yitzhar.
The grapes that created his winning wines were grown in the year before the shemittah year, after he had decided to let the land lay fallow the next year despite agricultural experts’ attempts to dissuade him, Ben-Sheetrit related. In that year, 2007, the year before the shemittah year, his vineyard produced three times the usual quantity of grapes.
“It was truly a fulfillment of the words of the Torah, that the land will give enough for the sixth, seventh, and eighth years,” he declared.
Harerei Kedem’s wines are also organic, and it eschews foreign laborers in favor of Jewish ones, which happens to be particularly desirable for the Israeli economy.
While I certainly hope that all of the Israeli wines live long and prosper, they would probably go broke if everybody had my taste in wine: the only wine I really like is super-sweet Manischewitz Red Grape Wine. I could drink that stuff by the gallon (although I do not do so in practice). I have long not understood how such a delicious wine is so universally disdained by my local Orthodox Jewish community.
Ariel Ben-Sheetrit (full disclosure: my oldest son’s brother-in-law) not only attributed the success of the wine to keeping Shmitta, but also to the proximity (in Yitzhar) and devotion to, the kever of Yosef Ha-Tzaddik. The chareidi media left that out.