The Israeli wine community is small, cutting across different social circles, ethnicities, and geographies. When a winemaker or winery owner experiences the loss of a loved one, the whole community knows. There has been a greater number of funerals and shivas in the last few weeks than ever before. Some have family or friends who are hostages of Hamas. And meanwhile, with the country at war, its people are in mourning. The wine bars, clubs and restaurants are closed, tourism has ceased, and no-one is celebrating anything with a glass of wine. This has already led to a 70 percent decline in sales.
After the rockets from Gaza damaged wineries in the south, Hezbollah began to rain missiles on the northern Galilee where many wineries were in the middle of harvest. Harvest could not be completed because there were no working hands to pick the grapes waiting on the vines. Many Israeli farmers were called up for active duty and the Palestinian workers who had been employed on a regular basis were no longer able to enter Israel to work.
Most of the wineries are closed to the public and almost half of their workers have left for the military. Roy Itzhaky, owner of Tulip Winery and Maya Winery, is serving as a Major in the reserves of the Israeli Air Force. Winemaker Dror Engelstein is a Major in the Army’s Missing Persons Unit, and has been serving for several weeks.
There is a greater sense of fear and uncertainty than ever before. There is no clear indication as to how the government will assist or compensate businesses that are suffering. Rockets continue to be launched into Israel, causing human injury and economic damage. After a shipping container was hit, the Ramat Negev Winery lost a large number of bottles of wine, and rockets have struck vineyards in the Galilee region, Judean Hills, and Jerusalem.
Further north, Hezbollah has a significant presence in south Lebanon near the border with Israel. As a result of the rising tensions, many families have been evacuated. The local wineries are under constant stress and there is a serious shortage of workers. The Israeli wine industry has been subjected to wars and military operations in the past, such as intifada, with theft and damage caused to vineyards and agricultural equipment. The industry is currently experiencing one of its most challenging times, both as a community and as individual winemakers. Among them is well-known winemaker Mika Ran Mandel, whose brother was murdered by Hamas. Wine enthusiasts may be familiar with the wine importer Shay Winkert, whose son was kidnapped by Hamas. The grandfather of Daniel Lifshitz, a renowned wine importer, has not yet returned from captivity.
The list of names of those who have fallen in battle is growing. Alex Haroni, CEO and owner of Dalton Winery in the Galilee, posted on his social media: “Reading the news and in particular the army casualties from the previous day, praying that there are no family or friends on the list. Unfortunately today my prayers were not answered and we woke up to the news that the son of one of our growers was killed in battle. Our hearts go out to Yisrael Ozeri and his family on the death of their son Yaakov. May his memory be blessed.”
The resilience and determination of Israeli winemakers and growers remain unwavering despite these challenges. They continue to strive for excellence, adapt to changing circumstances, and find innovative ways to overcome them. Or Markus, owner of the Markus Winery located in Moshav Kfar Monesh in the Hefer Valley, has launched Achim Layevev – Brothers in Wineries (TSC). The idea is that wineries that cannot be open to visitors during the war should invite customers and to come and have a glass of wine despite the situation.
Soon after the Hamas attack Dalton winery hosted a wedding for a young couple who were due to get married on 22 October but had to change their plans when they got called up.
Eitti Edri, export director at Carmel Winery, says that production is continuing and they are managing to export now that flights have resumed. “A lot of our workers have been called up but it’s been uplifting to see how strong we are. Everyone has taken on three times the work and we are operating as normal.” At Carmel’s Yatir winery in the south they have been hosting wine tastings and activities for families who have been evacuated from their homes and are staying at hotels nearby. Other wineries are also donating wines to evacuated families and to the families of soldiers.
The industry is coming together in solidarity. In wineries where the winemaker has been called up, fellow winemakers are coming to assist with the making of wine, the fermentation, and handling stainless steel tanks and pumps. Slowly, orders for Israeli wines from their importers, mainly in America, are starting to arrive. However here in London, Israeli wines are almost only found in Jewish neighbourhoods and are rarely found in restaurants, hotels or wine bars. This needs to change.
How we can support the Israeli wine industry here in the UK
1. Purchase Israeli wine today from a local supermarket or online at hedonism.co.uk, winedirect.co.uk, vinello.co.uk or kosherwine.co.uk, kosherwinecellar.co.uk among others.
2. When you go out to eat, bring Israeli wine from home, even if it involves a corkage fee.
3. When you go to visit friends or family, take a bottle of Israeli wine as gift.
4. Request that the wine shop near your home begins carrying Israeli wines.
5. Israeli restaurants in London: start selling more Israeli wine.
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