THE first Palestinian-owned winery is helping to restore the fortunes of grape-growers in the West Bank. The winery is in Taybeh, one of the few Christian villages in Palestine.
The grapes are sourced, in the main, from three neighbouring villages, where they are grown by Christian farmers whose olive groves were destroyed by Israeli settlers. The EU helped by donating vines, and overseeing their planting and management during the early years.
Before the establishment of the Taybeh winery, the grapes were sold to Israeli wineries, where they often arrived in poor condition, owing to lengthy delays at checkpoints.
Now, the winery at Taybeh pays a premium for its grapes, and insists that picking begins as early as 4 a.m.; so that the grapes arrive at the winery by 11.
Among these grapes are the familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. Rather more exotic is the Zeini, which is sourced from Muslim growers in Hebron.
The wines are aged in stainless-steel tanks, except for the better reds, which are matured in French oak barrels. Such is the state-of-the-art equipment that the temperature of each individual tank can be controlled by iPhone from anywhere in the world.
The winery is owned by a Palestinian Christian, Nadim Khoury. His first project was setting up, in 1994, the Taybeh Brewing Co., which was the first, and is still the only, brewery in Palestine.
Wine has been produced for a long time in Palestine, and there are a number of wineries in the West Bank. These include Cremisan, just outside Bethlehem, established in 1885, and run by the Italian Salesian Brothers; Domaine de Latroun, on the main road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, planted by Benedictine Trappist monks in 1895; and recently established boutique wineries such as Psagot, in Israeli settlements.
Mr Khoury and his family seem determined to put the village of Taybeh on the map. The Khoury’s hotel, which is in the centre of the village, welcomes guests for on-the-spot tasting. Their first wine festival was held in March.
The village is off the regular Holy Land pilgrim trail, even though it is the Ephraim where Jesus retired to after raising Lazarus; but it has much to offer the visitor.
Here is an enclave of Christianity and alcohol in Muslim-dominated Palestine — a possible call on your next pilgrimage.