When winemaker Hillel Manne moved to Beit El in 1996 he asked about agricultural land. He was told that the shallow Terra Rosa soil on limestone, coupled with harsh winters, made agriculture here unlikely. That was when he got excited. With his experience managing the vineyard at Israel’s Kibbutz Shaalavim and studying agriculture at the University of California, he had a gut feeling that he was onto some excellent wine territory.
He was right. Israel’s warm climate ensures the right sugar level, and the cool evenings of Beit El (altitude: 2,854 feet) produce excellent acid retention. The result is grapes maturing with the perfect balance between sugar and acid, a balance that preserves the wine naturally for years.
But is winemaking here really new? Hardly. The countryside here features hundreds of stone wine presses hewn in the Roman and Byzantine periods, the time of the Second Temple (Talmudic-Gaonim). Ancient winemakers poured their fermenting grape juice into clay jugs and stored them in the many caves around Beit El. As Hillel tells his guests, “We have an unsurpassed tradition to live up to.”
That tradition includes upholding a complex of Jewish laws that ensure that the wine is kosher. If Hillel and his workers find wheat growing between rows of grapes, then those grapes must be uprooted and burned, under the prohibition of killim, mixing crops. In addition, for the first three years, the fruit is orlah and forbidden.
To make sure that the wine is kosher, only religious Jews work at The Beit-El Winery. Almost all the pruning and harvesting at Israeli wineries is done by non-Jews. Not so at the Beit-El Winery. Here, all the labor, including planting, pruning, and harvesting, is done exclusively by Jews. The winery is under the supervision of Rabbi Zalman Melamed, as well as the Orthodox Union and New Square.
Just 45 minutes from Jerusalem, the welcome sign is always out for visitors.
E-mail: [email protected] Within Israel, call 02-997-1158 or 054-524-0936. From the US, call 972-2-997-1158 or 972-54-524-0936.