June 13, Updated June 24

Israeli wine expert Adam S. Montefiore often notes that while wine has been produced in the land of Israel for about 5,000 years, it’s only in the last 20 years or so that its quality has soared. 

In the last decade, “it’s been an absolute wine revolution,” he says, as Israeli wines began winning major awards and gaining loyal international customers.

However, Montefiore admits to ISRAEL21c that the industry has experienced a very tough time since the Gaza conflict that began with Hamas attacks on October 7.

“A lot of wineries lost workers, as many were called up on that day,” he says.

None have been spared the devastating effects of the war, from the tiniest boutique wineries to the largest wineries that rely on dozens of staffers, and as the north heats up under constant Hezbollah barrages of missiles, things are only getting worse.

View of the Barkan Vineyard in Hulda, April 13, 2024. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90
View of the Barkan Vineyard in Hulda, April 13, 2024. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90

Furthermore, Montefiore continued, “for the first three months, wine sales crashed” as restaurants closed and the war effort dominated the country. 

Quite simply, few Israelis felt like drinking, and the tourist and leisure industry ground to an abrupt halt.

Wineries in the Upper Galilee, near the Lebanon border, have been hardest hit. Hezbollah rocket and drone attacks from Lebanon have taken a heavy toll on these businesses. Many employees were displaced and are still living in hotels far from their homes and jobs. 

Avivim Winery in the Galilee mountains had to close after suffering complete destruction by repeated Hezbollah rockets, the last of which injured its owner, Shlomi Biton, who was working in the vineyards at the time of the attack.

As if we’re not coming back

Dalton Winery, only six miles from the Lebanon border, also has come under fire from Hezbollah rockets.

“Since the beginning of October, and in the months following, there has been uncertainty in the wine industry,” says owner Alex Haruni, adding that “the northern border is becoming increasingly violent and inhospitable; it’s a war zone up there.” 

Workers at wineries in the region face very real dangers every time they come to work, he says, and the stress of this “unstable environment” is difficult. A good portion of the grapes simply can’t be harvested while the war continues. 

The day before Passover was particularly stressful, Haruni said, as 40 rockets were fired from Lebanon at the winery and the surrounding areas as they tried in vain to prepare for the festival in between running to shelters.

“Is a rocket going to land on us?” he often wonders. He’s had to get used to “living in limbo,” he stated. “I always prepare the winery as if we’re not coming back tomorrow.” 

Wine barrels in Dalton Winery. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90
Wine barrels in Dalton Winery. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90

Many of Haruni’s employees were evacuated from their homes, and sales were down at the start of the war. 

As sales of Dalton’s award-winning wines have started to pick up, he hasn’t had to lay off any employees. However, in line with all the other wineries in the area, Haruni has been forced to shutter the visitors center. 

“No guests,” he says. “I don’t want to be responsible for them. It’s not a risk I’m prepared to take.” 

Meanwhile, since October 7, Haruni and his team have been preparing Friday night dinner for soldiers stationed nearby along the Lebanon border.

He does not know if the summer harvest will go ahead as usual, but he is certain about one thing: encouraging people to buy Israeli goods, both here and abroad, is the key to survival. 

“We will survive if we have your business. Put a bottle of Israeli wine, hummus, or whatever on your table.” 

3 doing the job of 13

Another wine business that has been hard-hit is Shiloh, an award-winning winery established in 2005 overlooking the Shiloh River and Samarian Hills.  

Winemaker Amichai Lourie has managed to steer the winery through these troubled times despite a severe shortage of workers. Most were called up to serve on October 7, leaving him and two others to hold the fort for four months.

“There were three of us to get the job of 13 people done — it was insane,” says Lourie.

Recently, Lourie thought the worst was over when all his workers returned from reserve duty. His relief was short-lived, however, as they were soon all called back to serve for another two months, at least. 

Having moved into new premises in August 2023, Shiloh Winery was planning to open a new visitors center at the end of October, which of course didn’t happen. 

Plans were drawn up to open it in time for Hanukkah, and then Passover, which went by the wayside once again. 

“We’d already washed the windows,” Lourie said sadly.

Although wine sales were drastically down at the start of the war — “In the first two months, we didn’t sell one bottle” — sales have now picked up. 

While he doesn’t expect sales to fully recover this year, Lourie is heartened by the figures. “People buy less, but they are still buying.”

Lourie has been severely affected by the war also on a personal level. “I lost a lot of good friends on the first day of the war,” he sighed, “and a lot of good friends lost children.”

Tragedy at kibbutz winery

Indeed, on and since October 7, personal tragedies have struck at the heart of the wine industry in Israel in many different ways. 

Hamas terrorists invaded the small domestic winery at Kibbutz Nir Oz and brutally murdered the winemaker, Gideon Fauker, and kidnapped his partners, Chaim Peri and Gadi Mozes into Gaza, where they remain. 

At the time, the grapes had been harvested but now there was no one to turn them into wine. Israeli wine entrepreneur and educator Haim “Grape Man” Gan sprang into action. 

Gan, who had known the Nir Oz winemakers for many years, realized something was seriously wrong when he couldn’t reach them on October 7. By 3pm that day, he understood their fate.

The following week, he visited Fauker’s evacuated widow in Eilat, where she was living at the time, and got her “permission to go to the winery and save the wine,” he tells ISRAEL21c. 

He then put out a call for help that was answered by Shibi Drori of Gva’ot Winery in Samaria and Meiram Harel of Amphorae Winery near Zichron Ya’akov. These professionals were, Gans says, “from two sides of the political divide.” 

Nevertheless, together, they all rose to the occasion and saved the Nir Oz wine.

Gan notes that putting aside one’s beliefs and differences is something that has prevailed across all sectors of Israeli society since October 7, with Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians coming together to help each other whenever they can. 

This unity has been particularly significant in the north, where taking care of the vines is a real challenge, he stressed. 

He described those who have taken on this task as “lions” due to the dangers they face from Hezbollah rockets when harvesting the vines.

The resilience, tenacity and bravery of all those involved in the wine industry in Israel make Gan certain that “we will prevail,” words that apply not just to the industry he has served for 35 years, but to Israel itself.

L’chaim! To life!

If you would like to purchase Shiloh wines, click here.

If you would like to purchase other Israeli wines abroad, please click here.

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