West Bank’s Taybeh boasts Palestine’s first boutique winery

Sunday 09/07/2017

Taybeh, West Bank - The undulating landscape of the Palestinian territo­ries has a history of win­emaking that stretches back thousands of years and the arms and legs of vines creep among the obstacles of illegal Israeli settlements and military outposts.
The vines’ fruit, which fattens un­der a hot sun at more than 850 me­tres above sea level, is crushed and turned into wine at Taybeh, a small village north of Ramallah whose name means “good” or “kind” in Arabic.
Once most famous for a visit by Jesus and his disciples after the resurrection of Lazarus, Taybeh is known as the home of the Palestini­an territories’ first brewery, the Tay­beh Brewing Company, established by the Khoury family in 1994.
In 2013, they opened the area’s first boutique winery, capitalising on the fertile volcanic ash soil, be­nevolent climate and indigenous grape varieties to produce six high-quality wines. They range from a Sauvignon Blanc to a rich purple Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
“We have a history of making wine in Palestine,” said Nadim Khoury, who co-founded the beer and wine businesses with his brother, David. “My father used to call this place al-enba’at — ‘the vineyards’.”
Taybeh Winery produces about 30,000 bottles of wine a year, with capacity for 5,000 more.
Maria Khoury, Nadim’s sister-in-law, shows the wide tables where, during harvest in September, thou­sands of grapes are hand-sorted to ensure only the best make it into the wine, before they are fermented in Italian stainless-steel tanks.
Eight to 24 months later — the various ageing periods for different grapes — the wine is ready for bot­tling and drinking.
“This is a different face of Pales­tine,” Maria Khoury said. “This is business-building and production of a high-quality product. David hopes that one day he will raise a toast to peace with Taybeh wine.”
Winemaking in the Palestinian territories is often appropriated by Israel. Settlement wineries have opened as the occupation of the West Bank has expanded.
“We did a winery because we didn’t want Palestinian grapes to be sold in the world as Israeli wines,” Nadim Khoury said. “The settle­ments are taking advantage of the fact that we have good grapes and good land and good weather.”
Winemaking under occupation is not without its struggles. Palestin­ians in Taybeh have running water only two days a week. The Khoury family has been practical about the problem rather than bitter and has installed tanks and reservoirs so wine production is not stunted by water shortages.
“[The settlement wineries] are exporting as Israeli wines but keep in mind that this is Palestinian wa­ter, Palestinian land, Palestinian at­mosphere, Palestinian everything,” Nadim Khoury said.
Taybeh’s Palestinian wines are good. The family has sold to upmar­ket outlets in Jerusalem, including the American Colony Hotel and the Legacy Hotel’s bar, as well as in the Notre Dame wine and cheese res­taurant, just outside the Old City.
Although the market is limited, Nadim Khoury said there is demand for high-quality Palestinian wines from local Arab Christian popula­tions and foreigners.
“People are requesting good qual­ity wines,” he said, reaching for a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, with its smart black label bearing the Taybeh logo, a Palestin­ian vine.
“This is aged for 23 months in oak — it’s an excellent wine,” he said.
Visitors are encouraged to tour Taybeh Winery, where they are wel­comed with a free wine-tasting ses­sion.
The Khoury family said they hope their wine and beer-making busi­nesses become the heart of efforts to attract tourists to Taybeh. Across the Palestinian territories, hotel oc­cupancy rates languish at around 20%, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said.
More tourism in Taybeh — with visitors attracted by wine- and beer-tastings more normally associated with rural France and Germany — would provide much-needed in­come for the area. The approach is multi-pronged. Alongside the alcohol, Taybeh Winery sells olive oil, za’atar (thyme) and attractive blocks of soap made by local wom­en’s co-operatives.
History is another draw: Taybeh is home to the ruins of the Byzan­tine St George Church, rebuilt by Crusaders in the 12th century. It is testimony to the centuries of Chris­tianity in the area.
Nadim Khoury said Jesus turned water into wine in this region. In 2017 his family is still producing it. By doing so, they are showing Palestinians’ capacity to produce high-quality goods in the face of ob­stacles imposed by the occupation. “We went all the way to make wine from Palestinian grapes,” he said proudly.
Taybeh Winery is open for free tours and wine-tastings 9am- 3.30pm Monday through Saturday. Reservations are not required but are appreciated. http://taybehwin­ery.com/visit.html