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      Lush Vineyards Produce Tourist Heaven in Gush Etzion

      A lovely blackberry bush 25 years ago became the inspiration for a vineyard that today produces award-winning kosher wines in Gush Etzion.
      By Hana Levi Julian
      First Publish: 12/1/2011, 10:38 AM

      Jewish vineyards return to ancient Judea
      Jewish vineyards return to ancient Judea
      Hana Levi Julian

      A beautiful blackberry bush 25 years ago became the inspiration for a vineyard that today produces award-winning kosher wines in the lands of the Tribe of Judah, located in the Judean hills of Gush Etzion, 900 meters above sea level.

      That was when Shraga and Tamar Rosenberg moved from Jerusalem to their home in Efrat, and Shraga heard from a neighbor that the blackberries in his garden could be fermented.

      From there, the rest was history as he began to tinker in his basement with other fruit and finally starting with grapes.

      "In 1995 we decided to start a small boutique winery," Tamar Rosenberg tells Arutz Sheva, "and contacted the surrounding kibbutzim in the area who at that time were growing fruit orchards. They began to work with us to develop vineyards -- today in Gush Etzion there are 500 dunam (120 acres) of wine grapes growing here," she smiles. "But we intend to remain a boutique winery." 

      The place has capped its production at only 40,000 bottles a year, and sells the remainder of the dozen or so speciality varietal grapes now grown by the vineyard to Tishbi Winery in Samaria. A limited number of bottles (all non-mevushal) are distributed for sale in the New York area as well as Israel.

      The rich soil, seasonal climate and high elevation are all perfect for such a venture, given the warm daytime temperatures and the cold night air. 

      Locals all know the place, and so do the tour guides, who make the winery and its restaurant a regular stop on their itineraries, even though for some reason it is not mentioned at all on sites associated with Israel's Tourism Ministry.

      The crisp winter sunlight this week showed the abundance of the Gush Etzion Winery, even as the remains of the leftover grapes dangled drying on the vines in the vineyard by the Rosenberg family's Gush Etzion Visitor's Center and BaYekev restaurant, a small but upscale kosher l'mehadrin dairy and fish eatery that offers moderate prices but world-class cuisine.

      The menu offers a full range of fare, but chef Gideon Amir's creative streak stands out particularly in the appetizers and in the fish selections, where Portobello mushroom stuffed with spinach, walnuts and Parmesan cheese on a bed of greens was followed by a wonderful Dennis and sea bass dish dressed with date honey (silwan) and red wine sauce. "Drunk" fruit is the unique twist in the dessert menu.

      Located right off the traffic circle at the Gush Etzion Junction, only 15 minutes from Jerusalem, the place is perfect for light lunch or dinner and a tour of one of the finest up-and-coming wineries in the ancient Land of Israel.