Wine can seem tremendously unimportant at a time of war.

At what is a torrid time in the Middle East, we wanted to check in with three winemakers – from Palestine, Israel and Lebanon – and ask: can wine really be a source of positivity during troubled times?

What we hear in this episode may surprise you.

It’s a departure from our regular format – a bonus extended edition – because we wanted to give proper airtime to these powerful, nuanced, important interviews.

Wine has more history in the Levant than in almost every other place on earth, bar the Caucasus. Its revival in recent years has been intriguing and exciting. So what is its place now that conflict is raging?

Wine is a conversation starter. There is value in talking. We wanted to take the time to listen – and so we thank Sari Khoury (Philokalia), Eran Pick MW (Tzora Vineyards) and Faouzi Issa (Domaine des Tourelles) for taking the time to talk and share their forthright views with us.

Here are a few sample quotes:

  • ‘We have so many things to do in this beautiful world rather than killing people’
  • ‘I’m extremely confused – we’re in shock, a post-traumatic period that we don’t have any solution’
  • ‘The biggest challenge is to make wine during war’
  • ‘Survival comes first’
  • ‘We’re quite minimalistic with our expectations’
  • ‘I’m sure wine could bring people together – it’s a fact’
  • ‘I’m making the wine – but the wine is making me in the process’
  • ‘Try to taste our wines – and understand the story from all sides’ 
  • ‘Let the wines speak’ 



  • Here’s a bit more information on Taybeh winery
  • You can find our podcast on all major audio players: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Amazon, YouTube and beyond. If you’re on a mobile, the button below will redirect you automatically to this episode on an audio platform on your device. (If you’re on a PC or desktop, it will just return you to this page – in which case, get your phone out! Or find one of the above platforms on your browser.)

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The following are wines Peter tasted in June 2024.

The Taybeh wines were tasted at Akub London, which is where the interview with Faouzi took place (and where some of the photos on this page were taken).

Click on the main wine name for the Wine Searcher link for wider (eg international) availability:

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Or, better still, leave us a voice message via the magic of SpeakPipe:


NB: this transcript was AI generated. It’s not perfect.

Susie: Hello. You’re listening to Wine Blast. I’m Susie. He’s Peter. And we’re going to get right to it in this episode because it’s a longer one than normal. A special bonus, extended edition if you like. and we know your time is precious.

Peter: Yeah. So this show has a slightly different format and feel to other episodes. that’s because we want to dedicate the lion’s share of proceedings to a series of very personal testimonies. normally when we put a show together, we edit the interviews right down. but when we recorded these interviews, it rapidly became clear that we needed to relay them as fully as possible, just because they’re so powerful and nuanced, and important.

Susie: Here’s a brief taster to give you an idea of what we mean.

Eran Pick MW: I’m, extremely confused. We are now at the point that we’re just in an aftershock, post traumatic period, that, we don’t have any solution. The biggest challenge is to make wine during war.

Sari Khoury: We also don’t have a voice, as far as wine is concerned, right around m the world. I mean, you tell someone a wine from Palestine is like, oh, Palestine, they make wine It’s very bizarre. So I try to become a better person through this project, and then I do my part.

Faouzi Issa: I mean, it’s 2024. It’s not even 100 years for the world war to end. Are we killing each other again? Are we spending money on rockets? And half of the world is hungry. We have so much things to do in this beautiful world, rather than killing people. We are from the generation who wants Palestine to be Palestine, Lebanon to be Lebanon, Israel to be Israel. We want the blue sky. We want the good food, we want the good wine and we want borders that are protected by everyone, respectively.

Peter: There we heard from Eran Pick MW of Tzora vineyards in Israel, Sari Khoury of Philokalia in Palestine, and Faouzi Issa from Domaine de Tourelles in Lebanon. three winemakers in what is a very troubled part of the world, riven by conflict and war. we wanted to get in touch and listen to what they had to say, to hear from them about how they view the current situation, their hopes and fears, the realities of making and selling wine during a time of active conflict, and what message they wanted to send to all of us.

Susie: So, just by way of very brief preface, we’ve long been fascinated by the place of wine in what we might term the Levant, the land of the rising sun. So that’s roughly the eastern Mediterranean. Mediterranean, part of the Middle east. So countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine. we’ve covered it in the pod before. Plus, Peter Richards, you’ve filmed your wild side of wine tv show in the Lebanon, haven’t you? So, it’s a region with immense wine history and heritage, which is currently being revived and rejuvenated in a way which, while not yet large scale, is definitely positive and intriguing.

Peter: Yeah, it’s certainly caught our attention, hasn’t it? but this is a part of the world that takes a bit of getting to know. everything here is complicated and complex, isn’t it? From the food, to the wine to the culture, the religions, and most definitely the politics. suffice it to say, this is one of the world’s great melting pots. If it were a wine it would be a field blend, wouldn’t it? From an ancient mixed planted vineyard whose origins are lost in the mists of time, in a challenging terroir where the vines struggle against seemingly overwhelming adversity, but still yield a wine of beauty and delicacy. Perhaps not without the odd rough edge or discordant note, but nonetheless, a wine that intrigues and captivates, you know, flaws and all, and leaves you wanting more.

Susie: You are getting all poetic on us again, aren’t you? I think I might start to worry if this carries on. But no, no, the analogy. I mean, it’s a good one, because, firstly, this part of the world is not short on history. Ah. This was one of the first places to domesticate and develop the wine making vine for large scale consumption, and almost certainly the place from which wine culture was exported to western Europe and places like France, Italy and Greece. So, in short, if there was an identifiable homeland for wine we look to this part of the world as well as the Caucasus to the north.

Peter: Yeah, I mean, historically, this region has been strategically important as a crossroads or bridge between east and west, even north and south, you know, hence the melting pot. It takes all comers. You find a multitude of communities with different religions and cultural backgrounds, with Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Simply the kind of the broader headlines, beyond which lies a world of complexity. It’s hard to appreciate until you kind of immerse yourself in it.

Susie: Yeah, and I suppose, going back to your wine analogy, we could advance the Premices by saying this beautiful wine has many different stakeholders behind it. Perhaps, let’s say each community owns one vine, which by itself would be useless. It’s only when you combine your vine’s produce with that of all the


Susie: other stakeholders that the magic happens, but that doesn’t stop the violent disputes about how to make and sell the wine or how to apportion the profits. not to mention how to develop a strategy for the future.

Peter: Yeah, well said. But I think before we lose ourselves in metaphor, lose everybody, it’s always a risk in a wide podcast. Ah, we should probably just swiftly recap on recent events. so, on the 7 October 2023, Israel suffered a vicious attack from the palestinian territory of Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. the israeli government responded by invading Gaza with ruthless intent. at the same time, conflict began to stir in the north of Israel, along its border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds sway. the net result of this most recent outbreak of active conflict is many thousands dead and many more bereaved and traumatised.

Susie: It’s also worth noting that, shortly before the October attacks, it seemed as if Israel was on the verge of signing an accord with Saudi Arabia, which would have been a major development in the wider region. Could other regional powers like Iran, which has links to Hamas and Hezbollah, have seen this as a threat and attempted to undermine it? Either way, the situation as it currently stands is fluid and it’s combustible. So things may well change after we record in late June 2024. But we wanted to capture a moment in time exploring the situation through the prism of wine by talking to respected and thoughtful winemakers.

Peter: Yeah, so we’re going to kick off with Faouzi Issa, winemaker and co owner of Domaine de Tourelles in Lebanon’s famous Bekaa valley. while Lebanon is nominally ruled by a government representing all the major communities in the country, in reality, Hezbollah exerts significant control, especially in the east, towards Syria, where the Bekaa valley is actually located, and also in the south, towards the border with Israel. The country has been in dire economic and political straits for some time now.

Susie: Now, just by way of brief preface to Faouzi’s interview, Lebanon endured a brutal civil war from 1975 to 1990. It then witnessed a brief but intense conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. And Siracha is a spicy sauce.

Peter: Yeah, well, it will make sense when you listen to the interview. I know it sounds a bit weird as things start. Anyway, I met up with fouze when, he was on a recent trip to London, trying to reassure his international business partners, given local markets, as he put it, might be at risk any time. we went to Akub. I’m not sure if that’s pronounced right. Akub, ak u b. It’s a buzzy palestinian restaurant. In Nottingham Gate, whose chef, Fadi khattan, is pretty well known. and I started by asking fauzi how challenging things are right now.

Faouzi Issa: It’s been challenging for the past 16 years. When I came back from France, working in Lebanon. How challenging? It has a different taste every year. The taste of this year is definitely one of the, it has the most sriracha on it, and it’s the most spicy taste this year because we don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. It’s the uncertainty that makes us always feel anxious, because once you’re in the middle of the war, you understand that you’re on the, war mode and you control things. Once you’re not in the war mode, you cannot control anything. You want to expand, you want to produce, you want to travel, you want to invite people, you don’t know what to do.

Peter: What are your biggest concerns or fears looking to the immediate future?

Faouzi Issa: It’s a very good question because I’m from a generation that inherited the problem, inherited the, mega conflict between Lebanon, Israel and Palestine in the middle. I don’t know that. I don’t know the taste. I don’t know the taste of it. I don’t know what’s going to happen. All, that I know that I want peace with everyone. We are from the generation who wants Palestine to be Palestine, Lebanon to be Lebanon, Israel to be Israel. Borders, accessible borders. We don’t want to have problems. We don’t want to have issues. We’re peaceful people. We’re 2024. We don’t want to be ruled by the unknown. If you ask the same question for the parents, probably it could be a different, answer, because they tasted the war, they tested the problems, but we didn’t. And this is where we give rights to new generations. And we say generations will solve the problem and time will solve it. And we are part of this generation that we want to solve it. We don’t want to escalate the problem. but my big concern is to have an


Faouzi Issa: expansion in the war. And, people who’s, acting, in both sides might not have the same calculations as we have. So what, makes me anxious is that the war happens, and in Lebanon, it can happen. In less than 24 hours, we will end up paralysed, like 2006, where we were in the street, preparing for the harvest. And in two days, we were under the shelter, and collecting some, food or protection or everything for the coming months. So, yeah, this is something that makes me a bit anxious, especially that. I mean, I’ve been in the past 15 years just pumping energy and expansion all over in all dimensions. As you saw. You came to the winery, we just muted all the problems. But sometimes you cannot. We have kids, we have families and we don’t want to risk anyone’s life.

Peter: What would you urge, leaders, governments to do right now? You know, particularly, the leaders in Israel, the leaders in Gaza, but also the leaders in Lebanon.

Faouzi Issa: Look, I think the game is bigger than what we think. I think, someone is manipulating more the idea for a bigger, transformation in the region. I don’t want to sound, childish in saying support or let us live. this is not what they want to have. what I urge is the population, because leaders without population are, useless. So, instead of saying a word to Israel on Gorgaza, I would rather say the word for Lebanon and ask for people to have decoys to defend the country and give the right to the government. Look, Lebanon is the weakness of Lebanon. And the strengths of Lebanon is the diversity. Why the weakness? Because we are 18. Religion, 18 different goals, and we all want to make, the leaders in Lebanon, and the strength is that because we are 18, this country will never fall. Because we’re all being supported from every corner of the globe. We are all emotionally hurt, by the south. What’s going on in the south? The south is being wiped. But last week there was a big concert in centre of Beirut for 23,000 people watching the concert. So it’s like, you know, it’s a country with bipolar disease where in the morning you watch the news and you get so emotional, but at the end you have to drink your drink and listen to good music and eat your good food. So we kind of genetically modified for the past 2030 years. And this is very. It’s, it’s. I mean, I don’t know what. How to explain it, but probably it’s kind of, natural, modification in our mental health.

Peter: You talked about 18 religions there. You’ve alluded to, wider forces acting, in the region. To what extent do you feel the frustration of being a theatre in which there are many, many actors playing, some of which are entirely beyond your control, pursuing agendas which don’t actually necessarily have much to do with your country, but which actually just end up making a victim of the population?

Faouzi Issa: You know, my position in, defending my country, I love my country. And, I, always thought that it would be too good to be true. To have, politically, a stable country with beautiful weather, beautiful food, beautiful wines. We cannot have everything.

Peter: You can have one or the other. Yeah.

Faouzi Issa: We need to lose something. And the, political instability is one that we. I don’t mind sacrifice it. And part of the religion, diversity, is this creating every while. Because Lebanon used to be Lebanon, after the independence, was ruled by the Maronites, by the Christians. And then in the early nineties, the Sunni came in power with the economy of the harirs. Today it’s the shia. So it’s always a turning wheel, showing power to a religion. But we all know that Lebanon will never be ruled for a long term by a religion. We all like each other. We all want to sit on a table, say that, listen, you cannot rule the country alone. You need my help, my economy. I need your education. He needs the power. But today we are outside the game. Today there is a big red card default happening in Lebanon. Someone is acting alone without the. I don’t want to call it green light, but at least the comfort of the other party. And


Faouzi Issa: we feel a bit isolated. We don’t want the war. We think that if we have a calm borders, we might convince Israel not to touch our ground or not to be aggressive. At least we need to have a calm discussion with that. We don’t. I mean, it’s 2024. We don’t want problems. We don’t want wars. Who kills at this? At this? I mean. I mean, it’s not even hundred years for the world war to end. Are we killing each other again? Are we spending money on rockets? And half of the world is hungry. We have so much things to do in this beautiful world, rather than killing people, killing kids and killing. So we need to make sure we control emotions. We want the blue skY. We want the good food, we want the good wine And we want borders that are protected by everyone.

Peter: So how does wine fit into this bigger picture of what’s going on right now?

Faouzi Issa: First, we got a big slap in October when the, war started because Lebanon did one of the most beautiful year. It was 2022. 2023. In the past 15 years, we broke all records because, peter, what happens is when you have. When Covid came and inflation came, you know, our biggest, strength in Lebanon is the Lebanese diaspora living outside Lebanon. This is our biggest resource. We have 20 million lebanese living. So four times bigger than what, than the population itself in Lebanon. So these people, after the COVID and the inflation, they came all to Lebanon because the inflation gave them the right to enjoy the same feeling. But have the prIce. So 2022 Was like, record, you know, record 2023 even bigger. So, you know, we started to dream big and, and expand and new restaurants, new activities until October came. And October is again a slab that doesn’t give you a vision. You don’t know if it’s something that ends in a week, in a month or a year. And with parties that are both irresponsible, you know, Israel is, can. I mean, with the past history, they showed that the government might take decisions that are not calculated. And Lebanon as well, with the non coalition of the country, might end up having conflict run by a party and not by another party. So again, when you’re, you’re not, there is no coalition. There’s a bigger risk that the war will not end up soon. So, yeah, we’re not. I don’t want to say that we are depressed, but we are not expanding anymore. We’re calculating more and more. we’re a bit, lost, in, equation. We don’t know what’s coming. I mean, we are used to have people coming every month enjoying Lebanon, talking about Lebanon, writing about Lebanon. Today, everyone’s writing about Lebanon, about the politics and the war. No one’s talking about the beautiful country that we have. So, yeah, it’s gonna affect the wines. That’s why I’m in London today, because I’m trying to open new markets, trying to, make sure that my international markets are more stable because the local markets might be in a risk at the time.

What are the bright points in Lebanon right now

Peter: And what are the bright points? What about the hope and the excitement? what’s going on that’s getting you excited at the moment?

Faouzi Issa: Excitement is a big word, at the moment. But, I’ve been planting and growing, in the winery in the past two, three years. That today I’m collecting and I’m harvesting. I’ve done one of the most beautiful vineyard that you stepped.

Peter: Yeah, I saw your new Syrah and Carignan. Was it sort of tira roster. High altitude. How’s that. How’s that looking?

Faouzi Issa: It’s the first vintage this year. It’s amazing pride. My kids are growing, so more support, more, dynamic feeling, that will come in the family in Lebanon. the young generation is always, a hint of espoir, as we say in French, a hint of hope, that, we are enrouted in this country. I love Lebanon a lot. And I think, the problem that we have in Lebanon gives us, gives us strength a lot. Peter, I prefer to have this kind of problem, rather than having cold every year or, hungry or, earthquakes, natural, crises are not, manageable. But problems in Lebanon that are made by people can be wiped one day.

The problem of Middle east wine and war is we are bad marketeers

Peter: Tell me about the


Peter: success of the mediterranean varieties.

Faouzi Issa: The Cinsault is one of the big, proof that modern nature can embrace varieties more than others. And the Cinsault in Bekaa valley has in our cost sheet, the lowest among all the varieties because it resists wind, sun, snow, rain, powdery mildew. Because we have powdery mildew in Lebanon, kind of it because of the dry, dry and wet spring. And the Cinsault gives you beautiful acidity, beautiful colour, beautiful tannins. The experience in the mandatory in 2013 that started says that Lebanon gives you another style of the red wines in the sense. And, gives you big, big, reds that we can easily adapt, adopt. Sorry, in our country from the French, but I mean, I don’t know if I’m saying, the wrong facts, but, I know that the rose ancestors. Sorry, the senzo ancestors and the Carania ancestors come from Bekaa valley. And the Grenache ancestors come from Bekaa valley in a grapes called datier de beirut, which is a table grapes. And the french people, they are, marketing wise, they are stronger than us. The problem of the Middle east wine and war is we are bad marketeers.

Peter: But a lot of the history, a lot of the roots of wine go back to this region.

Faouzi Issa: Yeah. And you know, Peter, the first time I took the bottle of wines and I travelled outside Lebanon and I don’t know how to sell them. But, I can tell you that on my way back to Lebanon, I knew that we have a huge, advantage in Lebanon. We don’t need. We have good wines, but it’s not the main things that we need. We need to have a proper history, a proper story, sorry. A proper marketing to tell people what we have. I mean, we have the food. I mean, we have the food. We have the civilizations, we have the weather. We have the problems. We have the crazy people shouting every day on the streets about revolution. We have everything that gives attention to people that they want to know what’s going inside the bottle. And since that first trip to now we are in 26 countries because of that story. It’s not a cliche story, but it’s just telling the truth. And that’s why I’m telling you, if we tell the truth about the war, the war will stop tomorrow. Because we’re not people who wants to war. We were never people with war. Never. But the truth. Because when I touch the ground of the states, they will tell me, oh, you have Hezbollah. How can you make wines? This is not the story of Lebanon. The story of Lebanon is peaceful people, mountains, sea, food, Baixas, flowers, levant. This is what lebanon makes. But in every country, we have some issues. And the most, known, issue in lebanon make us the bad at marketing today.

You’ve been converting cannabis plantations to grenache plantations in Lebanon

Peter: Talking of stories, I mean, you, not exactly directly, but there is a certain amount of cannabis planted in the Bekaa But you’ve been sort of converting cannabis plantations to grenache plantations. Is that a simplistic rendering of what you’ve been doing?

Faouzi Issa: You have a great memory. I don’t know. Definitely, the grenache that today is five years old, six years old, sorry. And the funny part of it, I don’t know if you still remember because you remembered part of it, but the other part is that it was a collaborative project with nuns.

Peter: With nuns. I didn’t realise that nuns were involved. Right. You’re gonna have to start at the beginning. Tell me all the story, especially the bit about the nuns and the cannabis.

Faouzi Issa: So one day, with another collaborative with me in their area, called walid, walid habshi, who, we decided that the area has to really, go, full fledged on grapes because it has the beautiful terroir for grapes. And Lebanon used to have one of the best reputation for the cannabis plantation in Amsterdam. The cannabis brought from Lebanon used to call the red leb, the red lebanese, and used to be the most expensive on the menu. But back five years ago, we thought that, I mean, even more than five years ago, seven years ago, the project started that we need to turn the cannabis plots of the farmers into sustainable crop, which is the grapes. But to be able to do that, we needed big support in the region to buy lands again or to rent back lands. One of the courageous nuns, they had money before the crisis in Lebanon, and they wanted to invest in that beautiful risk taking


Faouzi Issa: project. They came to the area and they enjoyed the project and they bought the land along with us who bought the land next to it. And having a land owned by nuns in a big, in a big area controlled by, I would say drug traffickers and cannabis plant, I mean, farmers is a big pillar for us because, one, it gives us more, guts, more confidence about it, and two, it gives us protection because today, whether you say it yes or no, the religion in Lebanon has a kind of a shelter in areas like that. Today we run 50 grapes turned from cannabis to grapes. And, it doesn’t mean that we are against cannabis plantation, but we are more in protecting the farmers for long term. And this was the part of the game that I have a beautiful picture in my office taken by my drone, where half of the picture is cannabis and the other half is a beautiful new plot of vines. And, both of them are shining and giving beautiful fruits.

Peter: Can wine be a source of positivity in a troubled region?

Faouzi Issa: Yeah, it was always a source of positivity. I am one of the lucky people who was thrown in this beautiful industry where you can talk to everyone in the world. You can just open a bottle of wines, explain what’s going on, enjoy, share a lot of social troubles, social obstacles. We need troubles in our life, otherwise it’s gonna be boring. But the wine is one of these sources that makes you, you know, I was in Vancouver three weeks ago, in Dubai two weeks ago, in London. Now I was in Norway two months ago. wine is a big passport, especially for a country that has a mix of contradiction. And Lebanon has a mix of contradiction. In Ramadan, we have drop of sales, which means Muslims in Lebanon are genetically modified as well. And they like wines, same as we like wines. And 80% of my. Because we produce arak as well. And we buy grapes for arak, not like wines. We plant grapes for wines, because we control them very well. But for the arak, we need the spirit distilled. 80% from our farmers are not Christians, are Muslims. Sunit and cherry. And they sell grapes to produce alcohol. They don’t want to know what you produce later on. But all. But I know that they need a couple of boxes later on to enjoy. To enjoy some feasts. So we. We live in a beautiful country. There’s a. There’s a song for coldplay. We live in a beautiful world. We live in a beautiful world where we understood, as the generation us, we understood that we have a lot of treasure. We have to face problems. We might lose people in the family, like, we know a lot of people who lost it. But that’s the taste of the gambling, and we gamble. But I prefer to stay in Lebanon, defend the country in my style in producing wines, recruiting, people, planting, arid lands and having active.

Peter: What would be your message to our listeners?

Faouzi Issa: I tell them that I’m so lucky to be in Lebanon, and, don’t be, afraid of coming and giving a. Try to visit a country like Lebanon, where you can enjoy the food, you can enjoy the experience, you can enjoy the soil, the weather, the mountain. Nothing is pleasant and satisfying if there is no Baixas on it. A food without Baixas is boring. You can love it the first, two minutes, but it will be boring again. That’s why I don’t eat pizza a lot, because it’s boring. think of coming to Lebanon. Think of helping Lebanon in your words. We don’t want more than words. Good words. Don’t trust the media, don’t trust the tv. We are not powerful people to control the media. We are powerful people to love our lands, to produce good food, good wine good story, good civilizations, good culture. We have beautiful culture that goes back thousands and thousands years ago. And I think we are blessed. And, the wheel will turn soon. And, voila. So, trust our country. That’s it.

Peter: Faouzi, thank you very much indeed.

Faouzi Issa: Thanks a lot, Peter, for another beautiful, discussion together.

Susie: So things are, ah, intensely


Susie: challenging, but there is hope, particularly on the wine front. So much to digest there. But that’s also a great story about the cannabis and the nuns.

Peter: Isn’t it brilliant? It’s one of my favourites. A favourite. Absolutely brilliant. but I mean, you know, Fauzi’s position is that he’s sticking it out. You know, I think lots of Lebanese have left the country, which is fair enough. It’s everyone’s choice. You know, as he said, there is a huge lebanese diaspora living outside the country these days, many more than the actual population within Lebanon. That’s quite a thought when you think about it, isn’t it? It tells the story in itself. But he says he’s rooted there. You know, he wants to create jobs and sort of communicate the bounties and, beauties of Lebanon to the wider world through his wines.

Susie: And he’s doing interesting things with indigenous grapes as well as Rhone or Mediterranean grape varieties.

Peter: Absolutely. You know, he’s got some beautiful plantings all over the Bekaa valley where the likes of, you know, Sansau, Carignan and Grenache really shine. But he’s also working with local varieties like, Merweh and obedi. and we’ve got a couple of wines here on which note to recommend.

Susie: So, first up, I’m getting quite excited about this one because it’s the domaine Tourelles skin. That’s simply what it’s called. Skin 2023 from lebanese 150 year old meowe vines. it’s an orange wine made from white grapes, but left in contact with the skins like a red, which is the way that orange wines are made. it looks cool it’s minimal. it’s really well made. You’ve got lovely aromas of apricots and some ginger, some orange blossom. And then in your mouth it has that lovely, chalky, grippy tannin that you expect from a good orange wine but not too much. You know, there’s some Djuce, juicy acidity and a really great finish that, you know, really uplifting. And great value too, I think, at 17 pounds.

Peter: Yeah, it’s not cheap, but it’s great.

Susie: It’s really good in the context because of what it is, you know, I think that’s good.

Peter: And then I’ve got a red here. It’s the, Demeter Tourelle vieille vignes, Carignat 2021. this also has sort of firm tannins and a lovely character. But, you know, I think that’s typical of this kind of variety grown in the becca, which what Faouzi was saying, where you get loads of sun, but also cool nights. It gives intensity and sort of individuality to the wines. And this one has a lovely sort of wild, dark berry, floral, minty aromas. And it’s really sort of stylish and cultured carignac, you know, tonnes of character, but not too intense. It’s really well made. You know, it’s great with food as well. It’s really good food.

Susie: It’s really good. it’s lovely. So coming up, we hear from winemakers Eran Pikmw in Israel and Sari Khoury in Palestine. To recap, so far, conflict is raging in the Levant. wine has a long history in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, and in recent years has been revived to excellent effect. But the conflict is making life even harder than it was before. We’ve heard a perspective from Lebanon and now we’re going to turn to Israel.

Peter: Yes, we got in touch with fellow Master of wine Iran Pick, who’s winemaker and general manager of Tzora vineyards in the Judean Hills, which is about 20 kilometres ish west of Jerusalem, in between the palestinian territories of the West bank and Gaza Strip. they make blends from international varieties like Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon at altitude in the hills in order to sort of retain freshness and elegance.

Susie: Yeah, and for context, actually, people seeking out high altitudes, tewa expression and alternative grape varieties are interesting trends in Israel. It’s estimated there are nearly 8000 vineyards in Israel, some of which extends into disputed territory in the West bank. When Eran talks of the north, he’s referring to the lands close to the lebanese border and MW refers to Master of wine of course. Anyway, I asked Eran via Zoom how challenging times are right now for them.

Eran Pick MW: So the winery that I work for in the vineyard is located in central of Israel in between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. and actually out of the israeli wine regions were less affected than north of Israel, Golan Heights and north Galilei which are greatly affected. But of course as the country is actually in a war since October 7, there are a lot of challenges. the main challenge, the biggest challenge is to make wine during war. But actually we are quite safe in our place. So it’s nothing, it’s not about safety, just about growing vines, during very tough times, very challenging times. And making wine during these times.

Susie: Can I just ask you, just picking up on the golan heights and the upper Galilee, why is it more difficult there? Just so our listeners get a real picture for the whole area.

Eran Pick MW: So the first area that was affected of course is the area around Gaza. it’s not a wine region, it’s in the Negev desert. And that was the first area that was affected in Israel. a few days after the war began,


Eran Pick MW: the north Galilei started to be let’s say in a low key war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. so the challenges there are much bigger than my challenge. We’re only about 150 kilometres away but they actually. Some of the, some of the vineyards got burned from missiles that fell, ah, near the vineyards. It’s a very hot summer now in Israel and a small fire could lead to a bigger fire. So some wineries lost some of the vineyards. Some wineries are actually closed, and people cannot work there because near the northern border people got evacuated from the place from where they live and where they work. So some vineyards, some wineries faced that. And of course getting work done is very difficult in all of Israel because a lot of the people in Israel got called into the army, as reserve, soldiers. So this is one aspect of the, of missing hands, of workers. The other one is that in our winery in vineyard we have Palestinians working for us, with us for many years, as workers. And Since October 7 we have difficult time to bring them into the vineyard and work. I was always very proud that in the winery we worked ten people. Some of them are Palestinians, Bedouins, Israelis, that live that are non religious. Israel, religious Israel. And we got also immigrants from Russia that are Israel now. So we have from these ten people. I was always proud that we can work, very well together, as a team. And actually everything, kind of, went into the drain during October 7 and since October 7, but I’m quite optimistic that it will be back to almost normal in a few months, hopefully.

Susie: So in terms of your concerns or fears looking at the immediate future, are you quite positive? Are you not too concerned? Do you think you will? I mean, obviously you’ve got a very collaborative spirit there with, a real melting pot of different nationalities, religions. What do you feel your concerns possibly for the near future?

Eran Pick MW: Yes, it’s very interesting. I got a lot of support from the wine industry, from my friends around the world, very close to October 7. And I looked now at my responses to the emails and calls, ah, WhatsApp messages and so on. I was quite optimistic during the first weeks, in October. I thought it’s gonna be like another round, although it was a total different, kind of, event. But I thought in a few. I was very optimistic that everything will be back to normal in one or two months. But after now it’s been more than eight months and people lost a bit of hope, in the last few months. And I think we’re gonna face very difficult until the end of the year for sure. 2024, and maybe first half of 2025. And that’s being optimistic. I think we have another last year, and that’s a general situation in Israel. But for the winery, it’s quite interesting that, this vintage 2024, that we are almost finished with all the vineyard work, and my goal was to get the fruit into the tanks that, you know, usually you have a goal to make the best wine in the world and make, but this year, my goal is just to get the fruit, to be able to get the fruit into the tank. But we’re quite minimalistic with our, you know, with our aspirations, during this year. And it’s quite bad to talk about business, but I think it could be quite interesting that, the business in Israel, with wine has not gone down, not decreased. People, are going out to restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and drinking wine and buying wine which is quite, quite strange to me. business wise, there’s not a lot of changes in farming wise, huge challenges. the most challenging place in the northern of Israel, Golan Heights in northern Galilee, but all of Israel is, being challenged with farming, getting workers, into the winery. the normal workers, usually in some small wineries, 100% of the workers went into the reserve and it was during harvest. So they haven’t touched their wine for a while. but, in our winery, we are less challenged with that. And the workers in the winery, are working and


Eran Pick MW: everything is quite normal in the sense of making the wine

Susie: And the people that you would normally work with that you talked about that aren’t able to work with you right now, where are they? Are you worried about them? Do you know where they are? Are you in touch with them?

Eran Pick MW: Yes. So, in Israel during normal times, we work with people from Gaza. We work with people from the Palestinian Authority. Actually, two weeks before October 7, we harvested the 2023 harvest. And the workers in the vineyard were people from Gaza, which is quite incredible. Our, worker, permanent workers come, in the vineyard, we have three permanent workers. three of them are Palestinians and they come from, the West bank, the Palestinian Authority. And they work with a working permit and they work for us for many, many years. One of them is 30 years, the other one is 20 years. And they are very, very, We have very good relationships. They work, very well. They like their work. They work very hard. We’re very happy. We’re a team. And I know where they are. I know that, it’s very difficult for them, right now. Although the west bank is not, as bad now as the north of Israel and the Gaza area, which is, southwest, of Israel, so they’re safe, but they haven’t worked for a very, very long time, which is. And you can understand the circumstances.

Susie: Now, you served in the israeli army, didn’t you? And then you moved into wine So you have a kind of intriguing insight into both worlds. What would you urge, the leaders in Israel and Gaza to do?

Eran Pick MW: It’s, Wow. It’s a big topic. We need a few hours to talk about it. It’s not very easy. I think what’s most, What’s difficult, I’m a liberal. In Israel, you say leftist. I was always for peace. and I’m, not very happy with the current government. Ah, all of us, all of us in Israel. And I’m sure, many, many people around the world are very confused, in the last months. And I’m quite amazed because, usually I have, answers because this topic interests me a lot, and I live in it. I read about it. I think about it. But what’s most interesting to me that I cannot. I’m extremely confused. Extremely confused. And we are now at the point that we’re just In an aftershock post traumatic period that we don’t have any solution. We just need first to understand the status. What are we experiencing? I think it will take us many, many, many years because it’s very confusing and difficult, to understand. And I mean I have also friends, winemakers around the world that are not let’s say pro Israeli. And sometimes, they send me that they want to understand better. And I just even cannot start to explain this situation because, it’s one. It’s so, confusing and difficult to explain, ah, to someone who doesn’t experience it. I used to have answers and to have solutions, ah, but I have to say that in the last few weeks I’m just shocked that I don’t have any thoughts about the future. It’s quite, new to me.

Susie: So tell us about Tzora winery and your wines.

Eran Pick MW: So the Judean Hills region is a beautiful region. you can see from the vineyard you can see the m. Mediterranean sea in Israel. Because we are set on the 32 latitude. you need to go high in elevation to get good weather. of course it’s a mediterranean climate, but more cooler sites. So we are set on the hills about 700 metres above sea level. it’s on terraces, very old terraces, facing northwest, slope. And We grow 20 ha of mostly syrah with Bordeaux. varieties with reds and samillon, Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc with whites. And we make wine only from blends. We have five different wines. All of the wines are always blends of varieties. The goal is to make quite interesting wine with the personality of the judean hills. because it was a wine region 2000, 3000 years ago but not continuously. And only new vineyards were planted only 30 years ago in the region less than 30 years. So what’s this personality or characteristic of the Wine?


Eran Pick MW: It’s for us to find out. So, I think we start to understand it. We start to have a mark of the vineyard and I’m quite happy with what we’re doing.

Susie: So you’re growing international varieties which we’re all familiar with. What is that taste then that I would get in the glass of your cabernet or your syrah or your chardonnay. That’s different to a chardonnay or a cabernet. Syrup from another part of the world, what makes it unique and yours.

Eran Pick MW: So I don’t have any goals or thoughts about bringing up a varietal, character, more of The reason we’re doing blends because we don’t want any specific variety to come out. So my goal is to have Of course it’s a mediterranean climate. It’s not a very cool climate. It’s under a warm climate, but not too warm because we have a lot of influence from the mediterranean sea. So we don’t have extremely hot days during the summer. So the wines come out quite spicy. And the goal is to make complex wine without heaviness like everywhere in the warm climate regions. I think the goal is because making a big wine you know, extremely, very concentrated, very big. It’s quite easy, in warm places and you have a lot of examples around the world with it. But we want to make very delicate, very complex without any heaviness. This is our kind of holy grail and it’s done by We’re working a lot of shade. So the main, you know, if you go to the cooler regions around the world. Before the climate change, people were looking for the sun, for southern aspects to get good ripeness. We’re looking for the northern slopes to get away from the sun. The grapes are always shaded by the leaves or by nets in order to get away from the sun radiation. And by that we get very fresh grapes, very fresh flavours. With the whites, we’re playing with reduction versus fruitiness which is very interesting to me. And with reds we want very spicy and nice delicate tannins, very drinkable wines.

There is a trend in Israel to rediscover indigenous grape varieties

Susie: And can you also talk, you grow international varieties but there is a trend I think towards rediscovering some of the indigenous or local grape varieties in Israel. Can you talk about that at all? Are you thinking of doing that?

Eran Pick MW: Yeah. So there are two ways of going that way. One way is some wineries do that, go to the local indigenous grapes that are still in Israel, mostly in the West bank. And because wine wasn’t allowed since the Muslims came in the 7th century until many many years after. So we don’t know which grapes were grown 2000 years ago. But indigenous grapes stayed in Israel because people grew them for eating. So the local grapes are named dabuki, Jandali, marawi. They’re grapes that when you look at them and taste them they’re closer to table grapes. some wineries go that way. I can say it’s a trend. Ah, I can say that maybe five or six or seven wineries, they want to make wine out of that. but I think my opinion is that the potential is quite limited in quality. the other way is very interesting. there was a huge scientific paper, and by shivid Rory, he’s a professor in real university. And he and his team went through Israel and looked for wild vines that are still in some creeks, near trees. And actually they took a few dozens of vines like that, sent them to a lab and found local indigenous vines that are not known. and what they did is that they planted them, start to make wine out of them in a micro winemaking facility. And they think they done some tasting. They think they found out of these, 30 varieties, maybe four or five worth experimenting more with. so this could be local varieties, that stay in nature. And people found them after hundreds of years and make wine again out of them. quite interesting. And actually from the tasting I made, there is a nice potential


Eran Pick MW: for a local variety that makes interesting wine

Susie: And just thinking about the ancient traditions of winemaking in Israel, is there anything that you do now that you would say comes from many, many years gone by, the traditions that people had then in terms of winemaking?

Eran Pick MW: Yeah, so it’s interesting. wine was I mean, we know that it was in our region, northern Galilee, mostly in the judean hills. Thousands of old presses were found in our area. Thousands people made a lot of wine 2000, years ago. Really it’s quite amazing. An amazing amount of wine And actually a few years ago they found, not far away from where we are, a winery that probably people think made about 2 million litres a year. That’s amazing. Amazing number of, and we’re talking about 1500 years ago. so people drank a lot of wine made a lot of wine and wine was exported from Israel. You know, winemaking as I do, it’s, it’s quite simple. You take grapes, you crush them or you know, dance on them and after that fermentation and that’s it, it’s wine

Susie: So I think you’re doing your, your job down a little bit. I think there’s a bit more to it than that.

Eran Pick MW: A bit more, but not a lot more, you know, a bit more. I think from all the things we do today, if you took a winemaker to come here to the future, you know, 2000 years ago, winemaker from 2000 years ago coming here. You will understand what we’re doing. Right. it’s not rocket science, but I think it’s interesting. Mostly in the vineyard. people now grow in the south of Israel, in the Negev desert, which was also a wine they grew grapes there, vines. And it’s quite amazing because irrigation wasn’t available back then, right? So it’s. And you have 100 millimetres a year, twice, two times of rain a year. So it’s really amazing. So I think what we’re taking from the past is understanding how to grow wine in a dry and warm place. which is, I think in Israel we have a lot of experience in that. And I have visits from places as famous as Bordeaux and other places coming to Israel and trying to learn about irrigation, to learn about water management. And I think in that matter we are quite advanced.

Susie: Just bringing everything just back to today and the situation. Do you believe that wine can be a source of positivity in a very troubled region?

Eran Pick MW: It’s not about belief, it’s a fact. It’s a fact because as I told you, I don’t know many workplaces that have orthodox Jews live in Jerusalem, in Nebraq, which is an orthodox city. Palestinians, secular Jews, immigrants, people. It just It’s a fact. wine As you know, the wine industry is quite amazing. I think I went into the wine industry and wanted to be a winemaker because first of all of the people, In one of the MW seminars, I met an amazing guy from Lebanon and he told me his feelings during the 1982 war. It was ah, what we call in Israel the first Israeli Lebanon war. And I was in second grade, he was in the same age, about eight years old. It was very It’s one of the. You know, the discussions I really, really remember. I went to mW, also, ah, for the networking and meeting wonderful people and very professional people. But for me, meeting him and hearing his side of the story in Beirut, in 1982 is something that is unparalleled. And I’m sure wine could bring, people together. It’s a fact. But again, I want to portray a very optimistic view. But as I told you, it’s. We’re just in the middle of it. And During day. During my day to day working and living in the. And talking to people these days you don’t find around you too many optimistic people. And But it could change in a few weeks or few months, to have, different leadership, to have. To look


Eran Pick MW: into the future and to build something new. It will take a while, as I told you, a few weeks after October. I thought it will take a month or two, but it will take much, much longer.

Susie: And Aaron, what would your message to our listeners be?

Eran Pick MW: I really. I really hope that first, of all, as a professional, I like travelling, around and telling people about israeli wine And I really hope that. And I haven’t done so since October 7. And I. I think it will be very difficult for me to do it again in the next few years because, wine is now a second priority when they talk about Israel. But, maybe with modesty, I can only ask, try to taste our wines and getting to know them. Hopefully visit one day that will be much safer than now and understand, the story from all sides. Ah, that’s the only thing I can ask.

Susie: Aran, thank you so much.

Eran Pick MW: Thank you very much.

Peter: So, quite an emotional interview in parts there. I don’t really want to start overd analysing things or picking them out because I think in a way, it’s just best to let the words speak for themselves.

Susie: I agree, I agree. But interesting what he was saying about that research into indigenous grape varieties. Now, we did ask him if there were any particularly that had piqued his interest. And he mentioned a variety named, well, I think it’s pronounced yael, y a e l. So perhaps want to keep an eye out for that.

Peter: Indeed. either way, let’s move on straight away to our final interviewee, Sari Khoury from Philokalia. So this is Palestine, but, we’re not talking about the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the hardline islamist organisation Hamas. We’re talking about the West bank, the larger of the two palestinian territories, which lies inland and on the border with Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Susie: And it turns out grapes are a major agricultural crop here, ah, second only to olives, with, around 3400 vines, though that does include table grapes and raisins. And there’s a long tradition of domestic winemaking, particularly among palestinian christians.

Peter: Now, this is a complicated region with complex internal dynamics with life and work, often very challenging for the local population. But wine is a historic reality and the Cremisan monastery is perhaps the largest scale and best known wine producer in the West bank. there’s also Taybeh which Sari mentions and which we’ll come back to afterwards.

Susie: Now, Philokalia is a small scale wine project, the brainchild, as we said, of Sari Khoury I spoke to Sari via a slightly dodgy line. he explained it’s really hard to get reliable Internet connection where he is, in Bethlehem. so we apologise for the poor quality of the audio in places. but he did look, didn’t he? Wonderfully relaxed, smoking a cigarette outside with a magnificent but as yet unidentified treatment by way of background. Anyway, here’s how he introduced himself and Phil O’Kalia.

Sari Khoury: My name is Sari Khoury I’m an architect by training from Jerusalem. And, essentially I was just looking for an outlet for creative self expression and I stumbled by Palestine’s magnificent wine history. this project is essentially a sort of critique of my own environment. The immediate or the broader rings. one of the questions are, can Palestine produce excellence even under difficult circumstances? if you look at it, a greater economic picture, obviously Palestine cannot compete ever on quantity of production, right? So our only avenue is quality. Anyway, it’s a nice idea. So I’m trying to test them out and I feel like I should be inspired, offer the world something from this place, right? Like you want to take someone a gift, you want to take them something that they can’t just pick up off the shelf somewhere, right? So it’s just honest human spirit to pursue and create and share, right? But it has to be excellent. The world, demands excellence, that people pursue excellence, and I want to be part of the world. So wine came along and this great wine history was inspiring. And I thought, maybe I can try to make something with that.

Susie: And just talking about the history, that was obviously your starting point. Can you elaborate a bit on that for us? Because, you know, here in the UK, we don’t necessarily know that much about Palestine’s wine history.

Sari Khoury: Sure. I think the world wine culture owes tremendous, amounts to Palestine as a land, as a, you know, place where civilizations have also come across for millennia. So the domestication of grapes, as a wild plant, the same as olives or wheat, happened in Palestine by the Natufian civilization some 10,000 years ago. And there’s evidence of


Sari Khoury: winemaking in hundreds of archaeological sites of different scales spanning from that time, a lot through canaanite era, because they had a lot of exports of wine and olive oil to the ancient Egyptians, examples of which are the jars of Abydos at the Louvre museum. Today we’re taking on the pyramids and many other examples, and thrived all throughout the byzantine era and began to decline in the later islamic era, because still, the early Umayyad era, like the largest wine press in the Middle East, I still believe, is, Hisham’s palace in Jericho, which is a Umayyad palace, also the largest mosaic in the Middle east. Continuous mosaic. So if you were to look at a 10,000 year old game, the game wine right. We were around for about 8000 of it. So we were around for four fifths of the movie. That’s pretty good. you know, in comparison to the history of countries like Armenia and Georgia, where they found ancient evidence of winemaking in Palestine, you will find a continuous reference of winemaking and export. And then you look at the thriving of wine in Europe. The Romans, partly, ah, that empire split into two. But essentially it was the church that carried wine making in Europe. And in that sense, the church is indirectly but still a palestinian export. so it wasn’t the maker of the wine But sometimes you need people to make a context for winemaking and wine symbolism. And, you know, the french culture about winemaking is deeply rooted in the church spirit of it, which is. It’s a transcendental. And that’s why the French have mastered it so tremendously. Besides the experience and the buildup and, the science and the development and everything, it’s that church spirit that was carried throughout. It’s not enough to have a tremendous history. I mean, what are you going to do with it? Right? People have done so much more with so much less in the world. So that part of the discussion is just for me to know myself. This wine has helped me know my own culture. I think it’s very important for me, just as a human being who wants to exist. But then, you know, people in my area tend to rest on their laurels, say, look at this great history. Well, what are you doing today? So, in a sense, there is this kind of disconnect with the rest of the world about our history. And then I’m trying to produce something in their standards today and the west standards, because why not also evolve? And the dialogue internally is the exact opposite. There’s this great history, but no one wants to do anything about today. So as the project Philokalia, which means, love of the beautiful, the good, right? That’s the name of the project. It reflects the intention, right. And part of that intention, to dig into someone’s history. So the name Philokalia, although it’s greek, it’s very much palestinian, it’s very much rooted here. And the intention is beauty and the challenge of our project, so to speak, is over sometimes the definition of beauty.

Susie: And so you. You take that history and you translate it and meld it with things. Today, you use indigenous varieties, for example. Is that a big part of it?

Sari Khoury: That is the exclusive, objective and, viticultural crop. I think that as a craftsman, I have to. I also have to know the value of my work before I offer it to someone. Right. And I do know that I have no value to offer if I make a cabernet sauvignon. I don’t think anyone from the region has any value to offer if they offer any cabernet sauvignon. So, in all honesty, I have to work on something else.

Susie: And you make a very small amount of wine What grape varieties are you using? What, in terms of whites and reds? And then what do your wines taste like in the glass? What will I get if I drink a glass of your Wine?

Sari Khoury: there are a lot of questions.

Susie: Too many.

Sari Khoury: So we make about 10,000 bottles now. And part of the idea is also, can philocalia explore a working, like, say, a prototypical business model for a local here? Meaning a project that’s not funded from outside, self sustainable, grows organically. I think it’s much more interesting to have 500 wineries in the Bethlehem area that make 10,000 bottles than to have four producers that make 10 million each. I don’t think that’s a sustainable model for our society and for the versatility of expression. I work exclusively with native grapes. I do not mention in public, ever, the names of the grapes. And this is for multiple reasons, you know, with so little work done on the grapes. Right? When somebody says, let’s say one of the names of the grapes we have is called dabuki. So if somebody says, this is Dabuki, what you should be saying is, this is my attempt at Dabuki. You haven’t done enough work. No one’s done enough work on Dabuki to start to define its potential. And I can give you four or five different iterations of the bookie that seem like they have nothing to do with each other. We’re trying to put ourselves ahead of the grape, ahead of the heritage.


Sari Khoury: And that doesn’t even. Doesn’t really work if you want to build, you know, an industry that has good foundations. So, for me, one of the elements of creating this foundation is try to make wines that have this relationship between local wine local cuisine, and local climate. It. So I could make a light red wine that you can serve chilled, because it goes really nice with a summer barbecue like this time of year in the afternoon. Right. Something with spicy, like some kebabs. And you have this refreshing thing with very light tannins. It’s beautiful. wine is, for me, is designed by occasion. Or if you’re having this large, meze tapas style menu on the table, where a white grape would be more suitable because it maintains the freshness. Right. And you’re dealing with all these vegetables. But then a typical white would not have enough anchor to shift between dishes and bring you back to some reference point. So I do an amber style wine skin contact white.

Susie: Is that a varietal wine or a blend of grapes?

Sari Khoury: From my extensive experimentation with the native grapes, I would say that for the majority, with some rare exceptions, we will do better with blends. And it’s no different than our food. You know, you have salt, pepper, but then somebody will say some allspice, some nutmeg, some cinnamon. You will get a more complete wine I think, in this climate, and understanding the role of each grape in it. So it’s not really about highlighting a particular grape. With some rare exception. With some rare exception.

Susie: Just give us an idea in Palestine of, the quantity of winemakers and whether there lots of people like you that are very, small operation or, lots of big operations or hardly any at all. What’s the general wine scene?

Sari Khoury: It’s very small. I think we have a few individual or institutional scale efforts. That’s pretty much what we have. We don’t really have an industry, in the typical sense of the word. so the first modern winery in historic Palestine, has been, Krimzan monastery, established, in the Bethlehem area, not so far away in 1885. It was associated with the movement of establishing catholic institutions and monasteries and schools and churches, basically around the decline of the Ottoman Empire. So it’s maintained its identity, but it’s always worked with native grape. there’s about three, four more in the west bank, besides myself, a few Palestinians in the Galilee and the north. But I would say, all in all, it’s about a dozen palestinian origins.

Susie: And do you, when you use indigenous grapes, are there people using, palestinian, using international grapes, and does that make you frustrated?

Sari Khoury: The majority are using, international grape varieties. the majority also are borrowing ideas about wine and trying to perform in a game that they’re not qualified for. I just know how to pick my battles. You could be a local producer, but your competition is the globe, right. It’s not an easy game. So I think they work with board ideas about winemaking. So, in a sense, you know, if somebody says, I want to make a good wine so I have to use a wine barrel. Why do you have to use a wine barrel? Because it’s become a status symbol of something in the winemaking. But if you dig deeper, you know that the Romans were pushing it on the goals. Sorry. They were pushing wine on the goals. Right. Using amphora. M the goals were using barrels for beer. They were okay with the wine They weren’t okay with the amphora because it broke all the time, and they just put the wine in their barrels, and magic happened. So just because of some accident that happened at one point, I’m supposed to believe that’s a status symbol from my production today, you start questioning. It’s hard to. It’s hard to see things in the same light. And, I think we should do more questioning. But I understand with time, as I work, I start to appreciate my colleagues more and more because, you know, say, Cremizans winemaker, his project also feeds a lot of families. Right. It’s also part of the survival, and that’s a very valuable asset to be able to put in work day in, day out. They’re serious, dedicated people. Taybeh you know, with their beer and wine These people are sharp entrepreneurs. You know, Nadeem Khoury is someone, as an entrepreneur, as a palestinian entrepreneur, we have so many examples that just shine in their ability to focus, laser focus. So I can disagree with Nadeem about the wine but it will be a very small aspect of my deep appreciation and respect for him. M because, you know, it’s a model family as far as an entrepreneurial project in Palestine to take on a whole town of Taybeh. Right. And build a whole brand around a whole town and a community that is absolutely mind blowing. It’s absolutely mind blowing. And such a joy to see and to see that they go through years of hardship, but always with a smile. These people are just incredibly sweet, lovely people. And so the focus about the wine has to be taken, in context.


Sari Khoury: There are larger things at stake and larger questions at play.

Susie: So are those wines not difficult to sell commercially? I know you’re not thinking commercially in that sense, but you’ve got to sell your wine

Sari Khoury: I’m thinking fundamentally, along the way, I have been fortunate to have come by people who will believe at least or understand part of the project, including my own work partner, Vicky Sahagyan, who’s been responsible to sustain and grow and promote this wine in a language that I still don’t understand after eight years. Today I was complaining that if I sit, listen to her talk to a client, my mind just wants to explode. I have no sense of anything going on, but it works. Maybe she knows people better than I do. I think with the people that it has worked with, you know, there’s always this kind of hunger for something, for someone who digs a little deeper, someone who’s trying to be a little bit more authentic. So they build on that. And, you know, I started off with Muslims who are non drinkers, who don’t come from the cities, who were the fundamental and early support of this project, both morally and I, practically, because they sense that someone just believed in an idea, even if they disagree with it. So, you know, my starting point is almost zero. Predicted agreement out of unknown places along the way. It’s worked. And I still have to feel more confident about the wines because, I’m Maybe someone who sees the glass half empty. And because I’m doing wines that have no reference anywhere in the world, I need to be my own compass. And part of that is being really honest with myself. And that’s a hard process to do all the time, right? Like, you need taste something. The market will tell you things, but all you’re listening to is, I could have made this better, this should be better, this be refined. And that’s the voice that’s, you know, sort of banging at your chest. So it’s. It’s a growth process. You know, I’m making the wine but the wine is making me in the process. So I guess it will evolve as much as I evolved, but it’s become that type of vicious cycle.

How challenging are things for Palestinian wine producers right now

Susie: How challenging are, things for you in your parts of the world right now?

Sari Khoury: I don’t know if the expression is correct, but I would say it’s holistically challenging. Meaning from all aspects, labour is very hard, checkpoints are very hard, ports are unpredictable. We don’t have enough professional consultation and advice. If, we wanted to create market opportunities elsewhere, we have. Have no local professionals to go to. We also don’t have a voice as far as wine is concerned, right around the world. I mean, you tell someone, a, ah, wine from Palestine is like, oh, Palestine, they make wine It’s very bizarre, right? So you spend all your energy trying to say, yes, I make wine But yes, it’s. The whole situation is problematic. Also, you have to understand that wine is a long term project. And if you’re focused on quality and if you live in a place where everything’s more about short term survival. Ideas are the first things that go out of the window. Standards are the first things to go out of the window. but also, morale goes out of the window. So when you’re working with, let’s say, your colleague or something, and they just want to get done for the day, they’re exhausted. They’re exhausted psychologically, and you still want them to look, man, this is fine. We’re going to work on it in a certain way, you know, take your time. I don’t care. Three more days, that’s fine, right? I’ll pay for it gladly. But when people are used to doing business as usual, it’s like, I’m sorry, survival comes first. So there’s a language issue also about what comes first.

Susie: What would you urge, the leaders in Israel and Gaza to do?

Sari Khoury: I think I’m more qualified to discuss politics than to discuss wine So that would need its own podcast. I don’t think that I should answer that question, because that is really not the issue. And people will say the occupation is the issue, and some people will just refuse to see that. But what is indisputable is that Israel, before its founding, since its founding, and until today, has occupied the discussion, this is indisputable. So I think we can start off by liberating the discussion.

Sari says making wine is one of the most amazing things

Susie: Can wine be a source of positivity in a troubled region?

Sari Khoury: I, Really, in the last few months, I’m discussing with myself how important is this thing? And I think it’s completely unimportant. What is important is the process. Making wine is one of the most amazing things in terms of the span of realms that it covers. After thousands of years, there’s still innovations being done in wine in a room, to manoeuvre that constitutes, really, one or 2% of the bottle. I mean, if it’s 13% alcohol, it’s 84% water, it’s the last 3% is sugars, acids, tannins, pigments, whatever aroma,


Sari Khoury: we know about half of it, you can control 98% of it. And that 2%, is the room to create so many variations over thousands of years from, you know, millions of producers around the world over time. And still, and at the same time, that process goes from the most basic ingredient, earth, all the way to the tables of kings. So if somebody tries to operate with a sense of process that has an awareness of that, that’s deeply empowering for the person. And whatever it is, the situation that needs to be resolved around us, it requires persons, it requires individuals so I try to become a better person through this project. And then I do. I do my part. You know, I’m not able to discuss with an israeli or palestinian politician, but I can help a farmer whose son is 15 months old, but has to be smuggled into Tel Aviv for treatment during the war, I do my part. And then when I see him sitting in the car so serenely with that, type of health condition with no access, I tend to wonder if I’m really such a strong person. Maybe I have to grow in inner strength. So there’s a lot happening, even in a car ride, that shouldn’t be happening. He should be able to go to hospital normally, he should have transport to go to the hospital. But have I helped him or has he helped me realise the value of still greater space? To grow as a person, you need better individuals to solve things. And, yeah, like I say, I think this project is making me a better individual. It’s not an easy process. The end result is in the wine so to speak. I think if people had a vertical tasting of filokaglia, because I think it’s really beautiful to take a wine like grapes of wrath or stubborn saints or Anima Seriana, many of the wines, you will taste it, you know, eight vintages, and you will see the tremendous amount of evolution that’s occurring there. And that to me, the potential of those grapes is much more exciting than where I am today. And what I’m selling, that I’m the limitation, right? These grapes are producing better and better every year. So when somebody says, this is the bookie, really, my dabuki is a pandora’s box every year. Telling me something more, where’s your Pandora’s box? I think you should have a Pandora’s box, not the dabuki. So, yeah, I think it’s, like I said, it’s holistic. Things are interconnected. We fail at certain levels to communicate. I think that’s why I’m maybe being a little bit more vocal about it today in this podcast. I apologise for that. Usually I answer respectfully and concisely, we appreciate your honesty. Yeah. But there is a failure with, you know, communicating all that, complexity, my own failure. And I’m starting to piece it all together also today. And I’m glad it starts to make sense.

Susie: And what would your final message be to our listeners?

Sari Khoury: I think I should start to listen to my work partner. And she just said, just try the wines. Let the wines speak. I mean, it was my idea at the beginning to have the craft work speak for itself, but I think I forgot it along the lines. And. And, I think. Yeah, she said, just try the wines.

Susie: Sari Khoury thank you so much.

Sari Khoury: No, it is my pleasure. Thank you again for inviting me.

Peter: Just let the wine speak. I think that’s something that all these winemakers would agree on, Dana.

Susie: Absolutely. And I think they’d also agree on the fact it’s good to talk. You know, just as Sari said there, you know, wine is a great conversation starter. and that’s just one of its many values.

Peter: Yeah, quite, quite, quite. Well said. And just to pick up on one point, apparently, local research has identified 21 indigenous grape varieties in this area, with up to eight suitable for winemaking. So that’s interesting for the future.

Susie: Now, I’m very aware this episode is an unusually long one for us.

Peter: Outrageously long.

Susie: But as I said, we wanted to give these winemakers proper air time, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate why, having listened to them.

Peter: Yeah. So we’re not going to do a long outro, but I did just want to mention some palestinian wine before we finish. Is that okay?

Susie: Go for it.

Peter: Thank you. Thank you. yeah, so we didn’t manage to try Sari or Eran’s wines, partly because of the speed we had to turn this episode around. But we’re looking forward to doing so in due course, aren’t we? And we commend them to you all out there in the meantime. but what I did manage to try was a few palestinian wines from Taybeh. the producer Sari mentioned, when I was at Akub with Faouzi.

Susie: And how were they?

Peter: Delicious. it was a great evening, to be honest. I had the Taybeh winery Nadeem Rose 2022 from Palestine. I’m still not quite sure great grape is made from, but it’s quite deep in colour and full of personality. Sort of rose hip strawberry character. So it sounds like a syrup. Might have been a syrah. Had a lovely, creamy textured palette. I mean, really lovely and just so moorish.

Susie: You didn’t stop there, presumably.

Peter: No,


Peter: I didn’t. You know me too well. we have all in the interests of research also. Exactly. The Taibay Nadim Cabernet Sauvignon grand reserve 2018. And this was full on very sort of generous and richest tonnes of dried fruit and creamy oaky character, but also quite well grounded with sort of juicy acidity and firm tannins. Sort of a very satisfying, maturing Cabernet sauvignon from a warm climate. It went down very easily. and it definitely meant my journey home was slightly more meandering than I had intended.

Susie: But we are talking Cabernet, so international varieties.

Peter: Exactly. And I think, as Sari intimated, they’ve gone down the international grape variety route with Cabernet, merlot, m Syrah Sauvignon, you know. And I think the wines that I tried were very much in that international mould. They were delicious and they were a bit different. But they were quite hard to place on a map, if I’m being really, really honest. But, you know, equally, that probably makes them familiar to people. So probably an easier sell is probably quite important as well.

Susie: It is. And how well did they go with the food?

Peter: Is this. They went well with the food. They went well with the food, you know. And akubs. Food is sensational. You know, the idea is lots of sharing plates. We had fabulous, bread, foul labneh pickles, lamb’s neck, Musakhan, which was a new one on me. But it was. It was amazing. You know, the whole experience, you know, with the. With the wines on the table and in the glasses, was just delightful.

Susie: Wow. Okay. So on that note, I think we will round things off by way of closing summary. These are troubling times in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. wine can seem tremendously unimportant at times like this. And yet all three winemakers from these various territories we’ve heard from are very clear about the value it offers. Especially in times of adversity. wine can be a unifying force. It has the power to bring people together to start a conversation. All things needed more than ever. And not only in this part of the world.

Peter: thanks to Faouzi Issa, Eran pick and Sari Khoury. also to Madeline Waters and Adam Montefiore. Most importantly, thanks to you for listening to the very end of a very long programme. Until next time, cheers.