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Friday, August 18, 2006

War threatens Israel's wine harvest

One of the side effects of the war, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is that there are problems with the wine harvest in the Galilee. Most Israeli wines are exported, and in fact, I do not recall seeing any Recanati Wines for sale in Israel.
Winemaker Lewis Pasco of Israel's Recanati Winery says that if the cease-fire holds, picking will commence next week at Kibbutz Manara, one of his best and largest suppliers. But the damage there is substantial.

Located just south of the Lebanese border, the kibbutz was showered by Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets. The vineyard manager was unable to work in the vineyard once the war started in mid-July, so the vines could not be monitored for mildew nor the grapes tested for sugar, routine practices at this time of year. At least half the crop is a loss due to poor quality. The home next to the vineyard manager's was shelled and destroyed. "I'm calling him once a week to see if he's still alive," says Pasco wryly.

A U.C. Davis viticulture and enology graduate, Pasco worked at several Northern California wineries -- Chimney Rock, Marimar Torres and St. Supery, among them -- before immigrating to Israel in 1997. He is also a former chef who ran the kitchen at Riera's, a long-gone Berkeley restaurant, in the early 1980s. Six years ago, he joined Recanati Winery, a new venture in Israel's Hefer Valley that now produces about 40,000 cases a year of red and white wines.

The winery purchases grapes from several sources, but the Upper Galilee vineyards are the most prized and were the most compromised. Access to Kibbutz Manara was closed by the Israeli Defense Forces during the war; on Monday Pasco was finally able to survey the damage.

Kerem Ben Zimra, another viticultural area where Recanati buys grapes, is about nine miles from the border and also came under fire, says Pasco. But the growers there were able to maintain their vineyard treatments despite the risks, and Pasco expects to harvest high-quality Chardonnay in a couple of weeks.

Even at the winery, which is about a two-hour drive south of the conflict, the monthlong war took its toll. The winery's logistics manager, a commando with parachuting expertise, was called up for duty, and the assistant winemaker, a mine specialist, could be next if the cease-fire collapses.


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