Zionism in a bottle: How wine bonds people to the land

If wine is so central and pivotal to a Jew, the present day quality and distinction of the Judean Hill wines make it a MUST on every table of anyone who has a bond in his heart and body to Israel.

Agur Winery (photo credit: Courtesy)
Agur Winery
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Did you know that the Judean Hills possess the oldest written evidence of a wine region recognizing its distinction? And so it goes in Parashat Vayechi, the blessing of Ya’akov to Yehuda: “Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; washing his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.” (Genesis 49:11)
This region, the first in the country, is about to receive official status by Israeli and international authorities, reconfirming the biblical record.
The centrality of agricultural produce in Jewish daily life is expressed by reference to it in the blessings immediately preceding “Shema” and written on the mezuzah and tefillin. “Kosher” refers just to a part of life. But living the meaning of kli shel bracha, a vessel for blessing, in full is the physical and sensual joy of life and being grateful for it by drinking the very produce of the actual land which enables us to survive, procreate and prosper. Whatever one’s explanation of this most ancient of texts, the most outstanding thing is the abundance and quality wine in the Judean Hills.
Local patriotism is the starting point of a wine lover’s way of life. And no, drinking local wine, loving and respecting is not the scoundrel’s refuge, if I am allowed to paraphrase an at least 250-year-old Samuel Johnson aphorism. We know wine by geographical regions. Not just the “far and away” or “big brand name,” but first and foremost the one near you. The Jerusalem Post should be the loudest protagonist of the wines in the hills surrounding it. I am proud to be a wine scoundrel and the Judean Hills being my first refuge.
Twenty harvests ago I knew nothing of all this. I just loved the Ella Valley from my days of land navigations in the paratroopers 890 battalion of antebellum Yom Kippur. And when time came to leave Jerusalem, our family picked Agur as home to re-root. With vines planted and outstanding wine fermented and aged, the winery turned out to be one of the pioneers of the renaissance of the Judean Hills wineries.
From 50 hectares (125 acres) to 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of vineyards; from three founding wineries to 35 wineries; from a handful of pioneers to an internationally acknowledged wine making area and wine-route of excellence, the Judean Hills is today the most distinct wine region in Israel.
Wine is just an excuse to bond people together, bridge upon rifts and spark meaningful (or meaningless) conversations. This is why I aim to create value-for-money wines, to be inclusive (to all people), rather than aim at exclusivity.
“Feeling pride about one’s children and expressing it, is excused from vanity,” so I was told about my attempt of acting shy by quoting accolades about my wines. The Agur winery is one with an opinion. We don’t buy into trends – people like that about us. Agur winery produces mostly blends, our vineyards are very close by, all in the Judean Hills. Our vines are located in areas of Israel that record the greatest diurnal and nocturnal temperature contrasts – and with relatively poor soil, mostly lime – bad for regular agriculture, but perfect for vines strive in, creating grapes that fit exactly to my personal taste.
In 2016, Kim Marcus, editor in chief of Wine Spectator, the most important wine magazine in the world, sat down in Agur Winery’s tasting room. Of the 100 wines he and his New York staff tasted during their visit to Israel, Judean Hills wines dominated overwhelmingly, most of which received outstanding scores according to an international scale. I was privileged to be lauded by this experienced taster when he wrote “Another standout blend in the same vein is Agur’s Special Reserve 2012 (Score: 90/100), with beefy overtones to the dried berry and cherry flavors.”
If wine is so central and pivotal to a Jew, but has dwindled during 2,000 years to a simple symbolic Kiddush wine, the present day quality and distinction of the Judean Hill wines make it a MUST on every table of anyone who has a bond in his heart and body to Israel anywhere in the world. All the more when you live in the land itself. Originating in a simple fermented grape juice wine evolves into a full of wonder substance of harmonizing love of life, self-respect, and bonding of people inside a great vessel full of blessings.
With every l’chaim I insist that it be with utmost intention and attention for the good of life. This is how we make wine here in the Judean Hills. If you believe such, as I do, that this is Zionism of normality at its hardcore, visit our wineries, buy our wine and bring joy and meaning on yourself and upon your table.