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Fruit of the Land

Gershon Burstyn

Modern-day wine makers in Israel are reestablishing the art of their forefathers, and it’s as much about the land as it is the wine

Monday, October 02, 2017

 Mishpacha image

This really isn’t about the wine. It’s more about the land, and the grapevines that grow on the land, and the 400 or so families that have come back to Har Bracha (Photos: Eli Segal)

N ir Lavi, the winemaker and founder of Har Bracha Winery, jumps out of his seat and walks to a window at the back of his tasting room.

“Do you see that?” he says, pointing to a mountain range in the far distance. “That’s Harei Gilad,” in Jordan, he says. He takes a few steps forward and, now standing in the middle of the room, faces west. “From here, you can see from Netanya to Herzliya, and facing this direction,” he says, pivoting south, “you can see all the way to Jerusalem. But we didn’t know all of that when we came up here. All we knew was that we wanted to settle the land.”

We’re sitting in a wood-paneled wine-tasting room/restaurant in the settlement of Har Bracha, 870 meters (almost 3,000 feet) above sea level, and about 800 meters as the crow flies from Shechem.

Har Gerizim rises directly to our north, green and fertile, the mountain of blessings and the inspiration for the name of the yishuv and its winery. (A small white dot in the distance is the spot where the modern-day Samaritans still bring their “korban Pesach.”) Har Eival, the mountain of curses, lies over the ridge and out of sight. Shechem, under total Palestinian control since 1995, spreads out in the valley below, office buildings and residential towers rising triumphantly from the valley floor.

 

Lavi returns from his panoramic tour and takes a seat in one of the restaurant’s wooden chairs. But he doesn’t just sit in the chair, he sinks into it, as if his feet have grown roots, as if he was born in that chair and will die in that chair. In a word, he not only looks at home, he looks as if he’s come home.

He tells us about his winery, which sells about 50,000 bottles every year. But somehow, we quickly gather, this really isn’t about the wine. It’s more about the land, and the grapevines that grow on the land, and the 400 or so families that have come back to Har Bracha. Lavi, who grew up in Kfar Saba, a comfortable suburb of Tel Aviv, has left that all behind. He’s out in the wilderness now, surrounded by people who’d rather see him gone — and there’s no place he’d rather be.

"Ein Torah kemoh Torat Eretz Yisrael,” says Lavi, 46. “And the Torah of Eretz Yisrael are the laws concerning the peirot and the mitzvot hateluyot ba’Aretz.”



Har Bracha: Fount of Blessing

When they first came to the mountain, some of the early settlers planted vineyards, though Lavi admits they had “no clue” what they were doing. After the first harvest, they sold their grapes to a large Israeli winemaker, who turned around and sold the bottles for NIS 180, about $50. 

 

“Our eyebrows went up,” he says. “Do you understand?”
So they planted more vineyards as their community grew from an original core of 30 families. Today, the winery sells ten varietals, from dry red Shiraz to semisweet white Gewürztraminer. Lavi says the microclimate on the mountain — hot days and cool nights — produces an exceptional growing environment. 

The vineyard’s Merlot is especially prized, and Lavi says the Merlot Highlander series is his personal favorite. The Joseph Cabernet Series and the Cabernet Franc Special Reserve Highlander sell out quickly, says Lavi, and he’s especially excited about an upcoming 2015 Special Reserve Shiraz-Merlot Highlander, made in the shemittah year under the Otzar Beit Din.

“This mountain is phenomenal for growing wines,” says Lavi. “There is brachah in Har Bracha.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 680)

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