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