By Orit Arfa/JNS.org
Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha recently popped its corks at 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, and will officially launch on Feb. 11 to bring Har Bracha to the center of Israeli hipdom.
“Tel Aviv is, first of all, a metropolis,” Lavie says regarding his reasons for opening the boutique winery near the Israeli coast. He had just wrapped up another interview, with Yedioth Ahronoth, during which the reporter pressed him with questions about his political views as a “settler”—a sign that Lavie and his new shop, which he founded with his brother Matan, are reviving conversation about life in the “territories” (AKA the West Bank) among trendy Tel Avivians.
The fast-talking, gregarious Lavie grew up in Kfar Saba and later Brooklyn, where his father served as a Zionist emissary. As a former Tel Aviv night owl in the 1980s, he feels a calling to bridge the political, cultural, and territorial gap that often exists between the metropolis and the contentious hills.
“I wanted to be in Tel Aviv because I wanted to be in the consensus,” Lavie tells JNS.org. “I don’t believe in the boycotts, especially within our own country—to boycott Israeli produce from our own land.”
The cozy shop and its hand-made wooden shelves showcase wine not only from Har Bracha, but also from Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, as well as gourmet chocolates and cheeses from the Golan Heights, Hebron, and border communities around Gaza.
Here, Lavie is keener on talking about good wine than politics. The elevation and microclimate of Samaria—with winds blowing from the coast and heat rising from the Jordan Valley—create ideal conditions for growing wine grapes. Har Bracha has taken home awards in blind-taste tests in Israel and abroad, including the international DeCanter Awards—an indication, Lavie says, that good wine defies labels.
Lately, Samaria is developing a name for itself as a wine country, making headlines for more than just the European move to label Israeli settlement goods. A feature in the New York Times last November put the spotlight on Ariel University of Samaria for its efforts in recreating biblical wine from indigenous grapes that had been suppressed during the Islamic conquest of the land of Israel. Other wineries in the region have also picked up international awards.
Until now, Israeli wine aficionados seeking tastings of Har Bracha products would need to trek (or “brave,” to some) to the Har Bracha Visitor Center overlooking the Jordan Valley, a landscape that inspired the former city boy Lavie to become a farmer in the hills.
“As man who’s been 20 years in Har Bracha, swallowed in the region of Har Bracha, in the winery and the vineyards and, of course, the Visitor Center, I wanted to reach out to visitors and tourists in Tel Aviv who still want to taste the wines of the Shomron (Samaria),” says Lavie.
So far, with hardly any marketing, passersby have already been dropping in at the site of the forthcoming Tel Aviv store—which is marked with the winery’s proud Jewish star logo on the awning. Visitors have been largely curious and welcoming, Lavie says, with only a handful making sneers about the origins of the winery.
Like many other tourist attractions in Judea and Samaria, the Har Bracha Visitor Center has experienced a downturn during the current wave of Palestinian terrorism, another reason Lavie sought to bring the bounty of the settlements to Tel Aviv—but not only from a business standpoint.
“We want to show sympathy and patriotism at this time, and to connect to our fellow Israelis,” he says. “We don’t mind where they come from, what their background is, or what’s their political agenda. We want us to be united.”
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