Wineries in Judea and Samaria shone at the annual Eshkol Hazahav wine competition this year, taking a total of seven awards. A total of 251 wines were submitted to the competition, and were judged by dozens of experts in a blind taste test.
The Hararei Kedem winery in Yitzhar was particularly successful, taking two gold medals and one silver. Hararei Kedem's winning wines were a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Cabernet-Merlot blend.
Hararei Kedem is a unique winery for several reasons. Not only does owner Ariel Ben-Sheetrit use Jewish labor, instead of hiring foreign workers as many do, but the wines he creates are entirely organic. In addition, Ben-Sheetrit observes the shemittah (Sabbatical) year, allowing his fields to lie fallow once every seven years.
Ben-Sheetrit was given an opportunity to address the audience after winning, and he used the opportunity to tell the hundreds of assembled winery owners, wine experts, journalists and tourists that he credits his success to his observance of the shemittah year, and to the fact that his grapes are grown in the portion of the land of Israel belonging to the biblical Joseph (Yosef), who is buried a short distance from Yitzhar.
The grapes that created his winning wines were grown in the year before the shemittah year, after he had decided to let the land lay fallow the next year despite agricultural experts' attempts to dissuade him, Ben-Sheetrit related. In that year, 2007, the year before the shemittah year, his vineyard produced three times the usual quantity of grapes.
"It was truly a fulfillment of the words of the Torah, that the land will give enough for the sixth, seventh, and eighth years,” he declared. The grapes were special in terms of quality as well as quantity, he added, as indicated by the prize-winning wines they produced.
The Pesagot winery won three medals as well, and Yekev Gevaot of Givat Harel won a single medal, which join the two gold medals it won last year.
The wine industry in Judea and Samaria has flourished in recent years. Wineries in the region have won awards in Israel and abroad, and have drawn tourists from around the world.