A L'chayim From Ariel University

Yisrael Medad,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Yisrael Medad
I am a resident of Shiloh, with my wife and children, and now grandchildren, since 1981, having come on Aliyah in 1970. I have served in a volunteer capacity as a Yesha Council spokesperson, twice a member of Amana's secretariat, Benjamin Regional Council plenum member and mayor of Shiloh. I was a parliamentary aide for Geula Cohen and two other MKs, an advisor to a Minister, vice-chairman and executive director of Israel's Media Watch and was Information and Content Resource coordinator for the Begin Heritage Center. I am now Deputy Editor of the critical edition in anthology of Jabotinsky's writing in English.

The University of Haifa has issued a press release (passed on by IMRA) which reads:

When a vine is found - the secret comes out:

A first-of-its-kind discovery of 1,500 year-old grape seeds may answer the question: Why was the wine of the Negev so renowned in the Byzantine Empire?

*In a joint study by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority at the Byzantine city of Halutza (Elusa), 1,500 year-old grape seeds originating from the Negev Desert have been found for the first time. This variety of grape did not survive to present days. “Our next task is to recreate the ancient wine and perhaps we will then be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the wine of the Negev so fine,” said the excavation director, Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa*

...In the ancient piles of refuse, the researchers found a particularly high concentration of fragments of pottery vessels used for storage, cooking and serving, which included a significant number of Gaza jugs used for storing the ancient Negev wine. The archeologists also found a wealth of biological remains, including animal bones: bones of Red Sea fish and shellfish from the Mediterranean that were imported to the site, which indicated the vast wealth of the Byzantine city residents.

The highlight, however, were the hundreds of tiny charred grape seeds. According to the archeologists, this is the first time “Negev” grape seeds have been found, something that will provide first-of-its-kind direct evidence of the wine cultivated in the western Negev in ancient times. 

That story sounded familiar to me.

So I searched.

And what I found:

...Dr. Shivi Drori, the agriculture and oenology research coordinator for Samaria and the Jordan Rift...is in the midst of groundbreaking research on local varieties, which could transform the Israeli wine narrative.

Drori’s research, based at Ariel University, is threefold. Firstly, to find out if there are local, indigenous varieties that are suitable for making wine. Thanks to the Mamelukes and their form of Prohibition, most of the local varieties here are used for table grapes, not wine. Secondly, to find out if there is any relationship between the local and the classic European varieties. And finally, to find if there is any relationship between the indigenous varieties and ancient grape pips found by archeologists going back hundreds and thousands of years! Exciting, no?

He has been pulling in samples of any local grape varieties that he can find, whether wild or cultivated vines, and so far has trawled up no fewer than 150 samples...So far, he and his colleagues – and he is assisted by a team of many of the leading local experts – believe that six varieties have the potential to make wine.

That was in November 2013.  In March 2014, this was reported

Rediscovering the Grapes Grown in Ancient Israel

A KKL-JNF funded Ariel University study seeks to rediscover the strains of grape grown in ancient Israel for wine-making during the Temple period. DNA from burnt grapes found in the Temple mount compound may provide an answer to what variety of grapes these might have been.

A new study found ancient varieties of grapes from the land of Israel, and is engaging in a complex process to discover the types of wines from the Temple period. Wineries have been very interested.

In October 2014, we read this report at the BBC:

A scientist in Ariel is on a mission to find out what kind of wine was drunk in Biblical times. The project – which is part-funded by the government – also aims to re-launch its production.

Several barrels of wine are already standing next to Elyashiv Drori’s laboratory at Ariel University in the West Bank. His goal is to find a grape variety that was used to make wine thousands of years ago and still survives in Israel.

...In 2011, he despatched a team of students on treks across Israel to find grapes growing in the wild. One problem that they were facing was that the area’s past Muslim rulers banned alcohol for centuries, and many indigenous grape varieties all but fell out of use, JTA says. After three years of searching, though, they found 100 varieties unique to Israel, of which at least 10 are suitable for wine-making.

Elyashiv Drori now wants to compare them to archaeological finds such as the remnants of a kilo of 3,000-old grapes found near Jerusalem’s Old City. He has enlisted the help of Mali Salmon-Divol, a DNA biologist, who has begun sequencing the genomes of the indigenous Israeli grapes. “You want to know what this wine looked like, which wine King David drank, white or red,” she tells JTA. “We can see if it’s red or white, strong or weak.”

So, besides being excited by Shibi's work, take note that Ariel University is doing nothing different than a regular Israeli academic institution -- and perhaps doing it better.