Annals of a Traveler: Wine Country North of Jerusalem
By Jay Levinson
Looking for something “different” to do just outside Jerusalem? A tour of boutique wineries can be an interesting option and a good introduction to life in Judea & Samaria. It can also be an excellent opportunity to stock up on an unusual wine for Purim, or a quality wine for Pesach and the Seder.
P’sagot is a Jerusalem bedroom community founded in the early 1980s just east of Ramallah/Al-Birah. The settlement, now numbering more than 2300 residents, was once accessible through Al-Birah, where many of the people would shop. Those days are history and economics have changed. Today one picks up a bypass road in P'isgat Zeev.
Although P’sagot is primarily residential, there is one major attraction that makes a visit worthwhile for tourists.
According to local tradition as P’sagot began to develop, Meir Berg started to plant orchards and vineyards, only to find a wine press and an olive oil press possibly dating to the period of the Second Temple. (He reportedly also discovered remnants of a biblical settlement in the area, which he took to be Ha-Ai mentioned in the Book of Joshua. Some archeologists, however, contend that the more accurate location is in the nearby Arab village of Deir Dibwan, excavated in 1954.)
Working in the Ofra vineyard (courtesy of David Ventura)
In 1998 the Berg family planted the first cabernet sauvignon grapes for wine production, which began in 2002. Today P’sagot vineyards cover 40 dunams (almost 10 acres). The winery produces cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and viognier wines as well as a Prat port-style wine (a fortified wine historically originating in the Douro Valley in Portugal). Prat won a gold medal in the 2006 TerraVino competition, though in 2010 winery owners decided not to participate in the competition. Instead they are setting their sights on more competitive European events. A contributing factor is that most of the 100,000 annual bottle production of P’sagot wine is sold abroad.
The winery’s premier product and winner of a least eight awards is Edom 2006, a blend of cabernet sauvignon (40%), merlot (5%), cabernet franc (10%), and petite verdot (5%). The wine is carefully aged in oak barrels for 18 months. It is usually sold in Israeli retail outlets for between NIS 110 and NIS 130 per bottle (NIS 110 in the visitors’ center where a full selection of P’sagot wines can be purchased).
A visit to the P’sagot winery is a very positive experience. Not only is there the winery (the most organized in the Jerusalem area for tourists to visit); there is also an entire visitors center including guided tour of wine making with an explicative movie, an audio visual presentation, and a restaurant (under mehadrin rabbinic supervision) for a light meal or snack, and wine tasting.
The audio visual presentation is interactive in a choice of Hebrew, English or French, and provides an excellent introduction to Israeli issues of security, geography and demography. The presentation can be adjusted to length according to the tourist’s time available. Its flexible design also permits use either as a straight learning experience or as a competitive quiz.
Particularly during Chol HaMoed there are festive activities including camel riding. Prior reservations at 02-997 9333 are necessary. The price of visits ranges from NIS 25 for a tour to NIS 125 for a tour, wine tasting, and a gourmet meal. (Note: The Visitors’ Center is sometimes rented out fir affairs. When outside catering is used, the exact kashrut certification should be verified.) Plan on two hours for a visit without dining.
Ofra, taking its name from the nearby Biblical Ophrah. ( ) is another settlement in the area. Now numbering 3000 residents, Ofra was authorized in the late 1970s. Here, too, there is a large wine industry.
from the February 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine