Wine In Palestine

1-Sinuhe the Egyptian in the14th century BC said that “In Palestine, wine is more abundant than water”.

   Around the 13th millennium B.C., the first agricultural civilisation appeared, which was named by archaeologists “the Natufian civilisation”, after a valley situated north-west of Jerusalem. A Natufian site located in the Raqefet cave south of Haifa (northern Palestine) served as a burial place for the Natufian men and women from 12,500- 10,000 BC. This is evidence of the beginning of human settlement and the oldest evidence of alcohol production of any type in the world[1].

   These ancestors of the Palestinians, the Natufians, were the first to cultivate land, domesticate animals and above all the first to construct habitation. The British archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon believed that Palestine had reached an advanced stage of agricultural production during that period (8th millennium BC). According to her, the techniques of irrigation inside the oasis in Jericho must have been so well developed that she believes there must have been a centralized system with laws and a body responsible for management. In view of the degree of social complexity, one could imagine Jericho in the 8th millennium as a real city[2].

   In the lowland region of the Jordan Valley, where the wild vine probably never grew, domesticated grapevines that were probably imported from the upland regions had been planted there by at least the Chalcolithic period (ca. 4,000- 3,000 B.C.). Already since that time, Palestine produced wine for export. One of the earliest rulers of Egypt, Scorpion I of Dynasty 0, was buried with some 700 jars of wine in a tomb at Abydos, hundreds of miles up the Nile River, around 3,150 B.C.

   The inhabitants of Palestine, at that time, were known as “Canaanites” and they gave their name to their country. The archaeologist Jonathan N. Tubb had noted the existence of a real wine industry consumed locally or exported through merchandise to Egypt or Mesopotamia.[3]

   One of the messengers of the Canaanite God, Baal, was named “Jafnah”. The origin of this word, in all the eastern languages, means vine. The Canaanites celebrated his feast during a festival dedicated to the vine, which, according to the Lebanese historian Anis Freiha, corresponds with the time of vine trimming during the month of May. Today, the name of Baal’s messenger is given to a village in Palestine, situated north of Ramallah.

   The Canaanite texts mention wine several times, calling it also the blood of the vine, which was consumed in very fine glasses, poured out of jugs and kept in jars. It accompanied meals or was taken with the sacred bread in the temple. In brief, its use was more or less similar to that of today. It is interesting to note that a particular form of Canaanite jar was made specifically for the storage and transport of these goods.

   During the Roman period in Palestine, a minister of Ptolemy II (247 – 283 B.C.) owned a village for the production of wine in Palestine. The last meal of Christ recalls the powerful symbolic stature of wine in the new religion. Jesus, during his Last Supper, broke the bread and told his apostles: “Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine until that day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God” (Mark, chapter 14, 22 –25).

   Many places were known for their quality production, such as Gaza, Askalan, Deir El-Balah, Bissan, Ramallah, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Al-Jibe (near Jerusalem), and Al Quds (Jerusalem) itself, which was named the “mountain of wine” as reported by the Arab historian Yakout. The Romans appreciated Gaza’s wine, which was also exported to Bordeaux in France in the 6th century. 

   Many  Palestinian cities and villages carry names related to the vine and the wine, such as Carmel, Karma (vine), Tulkarem (mountain of vineyard), Anabta (grape), Jafna (vine), Majd Al-Kouroum (glory of the vines), Daliyat Al-Carmel(hanging vine of Carmel), Assira (the juice of grape), Jet near Nablus (the word Jet is a Canaanite word that means wine or olive press), Marousse (a Syriac word meaning he who presses the wine or the olive), Fara near Safad (an Aramean word meaning grape press).


2- During the Islamic period, the export of Palestinian wine to the rest of the world stopped, but the production continued for local consumption. A wonderful royal wine press found in Hisham palace, the 10th Omayyad caliphate (724-743) bears witness to the important consumption of wine during this period. Many other evidences concerning wine making were found all over Palestine.

   Closer to modern times, in the 19th century, the Franciscans built the Latrun monastery in 1890 - 15 kilometres south of Jerusalem and next to it their winery. The Cremisan winery was also built next to the Salesian Cremisan Monastery in 1885, located five kilometres from Bethlehem.

   In 1935, the German anthropologist Gustav Dalman published seven volumes about the work and the traditional life in Palestine. He started his research in the beginning of the twentieth century, about wheat, olive and wine. In the photos that illustrate his books, we can see winemakers from Bethlehem pressing wine with their feet, as was the method at that time. He noticed that the wild grapes still existed in the Galilee and the Palestinians called it “Barrïeh”, which means wild. He also noticed that the settlers imported European grapes while the Palestinians continued to use their local grapes.       

   The new Palestinian generation found their way to the prestigious ancestral liquid. Beside the producers of beer and arak, there are more than ten professional wineries in historical Palestine. The common interest between most of them is their passion for wine, because the majority have other jobs. The Palestinian wine is the wine that is produced by Palestinian people, whatever their assigned identification cards (IDs) may be. Those who have an Israeli ID do not have the same rights as Jews. For example, Palestinians cannot rent or buy land from the state, while a Jewish newcomer from Ukraine or Ethiopia can! The winemaker Nemeh Askar from Iqret buys the grapes from a Jewish farmer in his village. He said that the other problem for Palestinian farmers is the water; they cannot even use the grey water from the sewer, which the Israeli farmers are allowed to use. 

   One of the most important aspects concerning Palestinian production is that they are increasingly using indigenous Palestinian grapes. Some of them use it partially, like the Cremisan winery and more recently, Taybeh winery and Adam Kassis. Sari Khoury is the first and only producers who uses Palestinian grapes exclusively for both red and white wine. On his labels however, Sari, preferred not to mention the name of the variety of grapes used because he is afraid that Israeli wineries would copy him. The appropriation of the Palestinian tradition has been foregone with falafel and hummus, amongst many other Palestinian dishes. It could now easily be said that these indigenous grapes are “from the land of Israel”! The most well-known Palestinian wineries are: Latroun winery (in the name of destroyed Palestinian village in West Jerusalem; wine-maker: Adam Kassis), Cremisan winery (5 km west of Bethlehem, wine-maker: Fadi Batarseh), Ashkar winery (Nemeh Ashkar, Kufur Yassif, Galilee), Taybeh winery (Canaan Khoury, Taybeh), Jascala winery (Nasr Krech, Jesh, North Galilee), Philokalia (Sari Khoury, Bethlehem), Domaine Kassis (Adam Kassis, Bir Zeit), Holy Land (Tamer Moin Bsharieh, Aboud), Chateau Laffey (Ghassan Kassis, Bir Zeit), Mony Vineyards (West Jerusalem, Artoul family) and Julia Winery (Anan-Georg Jamil Arraf, Meilia, Galilee Highlands).

[1]Perrot, Jean. Kempinski Aharon. Avi-Yonah, Michael(1979) Archaeologia Mundi: Syria-Palestine I: From the Origins to the Bronze Age. Nagel.

[3] Tubb, Jonathan (2002) People of the past: Canaanites. British Museum Press: London.