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May 25, 2015 / 7 Sivan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘wine’

Ancient Grape Seeds in Negev May Help Re-Create 1,500-Year-Old Wine

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Archaeologists have discovered 1,500-year-old grape seeds in the Negev Desert for the first time and which were used to produce “the Wine of the Negev” — one of the finest and most renowned wines in the whole of the Byzantine Empire.

A joint study by University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority at the Byzantine city of Halutza (found the seeds that were of a variety that 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.

“The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” he added,

Archaeologists know of “the Wine of the Negev” or “Gaza Wine” — named for the port it was sent from to all corners of the empire — from historical sources from the Byzantine period. This wine was considered to be of very high quality and was very expensive.

No one knows what made it so fine because the variety did not survive.  In earlier excavations in the Negev, archaeologists found the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where wine was produced, and the jugs in which the wine was stored and exported, but the grape seeds themselves were not found until the new discovery.

The archaeologists found the ancient grape seeds in one of the Halutza refuse dumps that were preserved almost completely intact and now mark the boundaries of the ancient city.

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 archaeologists also found a wealth of biological remains, including 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 next stage of the study is to join forces with biologists to sequence the DNA of the seeds to discover their origin.

The archaeologists are asking, “European varieties require copious amounts of water. Today it is less of a problem thanks to technology, but it is unlikely that was the case 1,500 years ago. It is more interesting to think of local grape varieties that were better suited to the Negev. Maybe the secret to the Negev wine’s international prestige lay in the method by which the vines were cultivated in the Negev’s arid conditions.”

What Did King David Drink? Israeli Wine Researchers Aim to Revive Ancient Libations

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

ARIEL, West Bank (JTA) — The small cardboard box in Elyashiv Drori’s palm looks like it’s full of black pebbles.

Closing the box quickly, he explains that it cannot be open for long. The pebble-like pieces, which were uncovered in an archaeological dig near Jerusalem’s Old City, are in fact remains of a kilo of grapes stored nearly 3,000 years ago. They were preserved under layers of earth from the era when David and Solomon ruled over the Land of Israel.

Next to his laboratory at Ariel University, Drori — an oenophile who has judged international wine competitions — already has barrels of wine made from grapes that have grown in Israel for two millennia. Finding a living sample of the 3,000-year-old grapes will be the next step in his years-long quest to produce wine identical to that consumed in ancient Israel.

“It’s not interesting to make chardonnay in Israel because there’s chardonnay that comes from California,” said Drori, the agriculture and oenology research coordinator at the Samaria and Jordan Rift Center of Ariel University. “But if you can make wine in Israel that isn’t elsewhere and that connects to the history here, that’s much more interesting.”

Today there are hundreds of Israeli wineries, but they largely use varieties of grapes that are indigenous to Europe. By finding and growing grapes native to Israel, Drori hopes to bring Israeli winemaking back to its roots.

One major hurdle: The area’s past Muslim rulers prohibited alcohol consumption for centuries, and many indigenous grape varieties all but fell out of use. But some of the grape varieties survived.

Cremisan Cellars, a winery outside Bethlehem run by Italian monks, has produced a dry white wine called Hamdani Jandali that is made from two species indigenous to the area. Drori has found mentions of Jandali and Hamdani grapes in Second Temple-era texts from 2,000 years ago, and is preparing to showcase kosher wines made from the grapes at a festival next summer.

With funding from the Jewish National Fund as well the city and national governments, three years ago he sent a team of Ariel masters’ students on treks across Israel to find grapes growing in the wild. After three years of searching across the country — with tips from hikers who had seen wild grapes — the students found 100 varieties of grapes unique to Israel. Of those, at least 10 are suitable for winemaking.

“I understood how much local species are connected to their countries,” said Yakov Henig, one of Drori’s student researchers. “Every nation has its species, and we have a culture and tradition of making wine. This is connected to our identity.”

Drori’s next goal is to match the wild grapes to grape seeds and remains found in ancient archaeological sites. If a seed has survived the centuries with its shape intact, Udi Weiss, an archeo-botanist at Bar-Ilan University, will create a 3-D scan of the ancient grape seed and determine based on its shape whether it matches grapes that grow now.

“We want to get to a place where there will be a kind of fingerprint for the species we found all over Israel,” said Weiss, who works with Drori. “My hope is that I can say that a sample is exactly the shape of a seed I found in David’s City in Jerusalem.”

To tackle the challenge of grape remains whose shapes have been distorted, Drori has enlisted Mali Salmon-Divol, a biologist specializing in DNA analysis who has begun sequencing the genomes of the indigenous Israeli grapes. Once Salmon-Divol has a record of each species’ DNA, she will sample the DNA of the ancient grapes and see how they line up.

California Earthquake Wreaks Havoc at Chabad House

Monday, August 25th, 2014

The 6.1 earthquake that jolted northern California in the middle of the night Sunday upended furniture and scattered broken glass at the Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center.

“It was very violent—not a gentle rolling quake, but more of a jolting traumatic experience that shocked us out of sleep at 3:20 a.m. and lasted for about half a minute, Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum told the Chabad website.

The rabbi, his wife and five children were not injured.

Tenenbaum said he waited outside with his neighbors until daybreak before going back into his home and Chabad center, where power had been lost, to survey the damage. Upended furniture and broken glass prevented him from accessing some rooms, including his office. A disaster recovery fund was quickly established for those wanting to help out.

“I went to check up on people in the area and found that they were in a similar situation,” he added. “Their houses are standing, but everything inside has been ruined. Thank God, this happened in the middle of the night when we were in our beds and not in other parts of our homes, where heavy bookcases fell over.”

The Chabad website reported, “Tenenbaum says that waking up in the middle of the night with his children screaming amid violent banging and shaking helped him picture what life must be like on a regular basis for people living in Israel, where Hamas has been firing rockets from Gaza for much of the summer.”

“It is really surreal,” he said. “There are some stores that are functioning as usual, and others have been completely destroyed for now. Some streets are buckled, and others are just fine. Some people have broken water mains or leaking gas pipes, and others do not.”

Many residents in the area, famous for its wineries, are crying over wine spilled from barrels that were broken from the earthquake.

The largest quake to hit the San Francisco area in 25 years, it caused several injuries, including three who are in critical condition, set off fires and knocked out power.

Napa’s downtown historical areas sustained irreparable damage.

Samaria Wines Receive International Acclaim in France Despite Boycotts

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

A French wine competition has awarded the Psagot Boutique Winery of Samaria gold stars for each of its eight wines that are a continuation of the Biblical tradition of wine production in Israel.

Established in 2003 by Yaakov and Naama Berg, the Psagot Boutique Winery is located in the Binyamin hills north of  Jerusalem ,which served as the cradle of wine-cultivation in Biblical times. The winery’s vineyards are planted on ancient limestone terraces at a height of 3,000 feet above sea level, alongside the community of Psagot, located south of Beit El and Ofra in Samaria.

Editorial note: A 2011 Washington Post article suggested that the labels on the Berg bottles say they are from Psagot, Israel, containing wine produced from vineyards planted on ancient limestone terraces in the “northern Jerusalem hills” and aged in French oak barrels stored in an ancient cave.

When asked, Berg “shrugged off suggestions that the labels mask the wine’s origin in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.”

“This is a geographical definition, not political,” he says of the reference to the Jerusalem hills. “When it comes to wine, the geographical area is critical, like Napa Valley” in California. As for the reference to Israel, Berg said that he is subject to Israeli law and that his winery is built on state land.

Energetic founder and chief executive of Psagot Winery Yaakov Berg.

Energetic founder and chief executive of Psagot Winery Yaakov Berg.

In keeping with ancient history of the location, the Psagot Winery ages its wines in an ancient underground cave that was used for wine-making in the Second Temple period. The cave was discovered in the process of establishing the winery in an area where remnants of ancient vineyards still exist.

The annual French wine competition is held by 1001degustations.com, a wine site that was created by French wine producers in order to promote international interest in wines and wine production.

The Psagot wines competed against scores of wines sent from wineries across the world including leading wine-producing countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, USA, South Africa and Argentina.

All eight of the Psagot wine entries placed in the competition, either in first, second or third place, a special feat for the Israeli boutique winery according to the founder and CEO, Yaakov Berg. “We sent all our wines to the competition and they all received awards,” Berg told Tazpit News Agency.

Psagot’s red wines, Prat and Shiraz, were awarded gold stars as well as the Judges’ Favorite Award. The grading is based on the criteria of color, aroma and taste and is decided by a jury composed of wine producers, sommeliers, oenologists, and restaurant owners. On the competition’s website, Psagot’s Prat wine was noted for its pleasant fragrance and fruity flavor, while the judges described the Shiraz as an elegant delight.

The Psagot Winery has won accolades in Panama, England and the United States among other countries. Because the competitions use blind tasting of wines to prevent bias, the Psagot wines have an equal opportunity to win like all the other wines. “Otherwise, politics would just get in the way and our wines would have no chance,” Berg told Tazpit.

The Psagot winery produced 200,000 wine bottles this year following a successful grape harvest in 2012. Most of the bottles have been exported abroad to various countries.

“This recent win is special because it shows the world what the land of Israel is made of. Two-thousand years ago, our people produced good wines in the same region, and now we are back home doing the same,” Berg said.

Archaeologists Find Largest, Oldest Near East Wine Cellar in Israel

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Archaeologists have unearthed what may be the oldest — and largest — ancient wine cellar in the Near East, containing forty jars, each of which would have held fifty liters of strong, sweet wine, archaeologists from George Washington, Brandeis and Haifa universities announced late Friday,

The amount of wine estimated to have been stored in the cellar would fill approximately 3,000 modern bottles, and there probably are other wine cellars waiting to be unearthed.

The cellar was discovered in Tel Kabri, located near the northwestern coastal city of Nahariya and the site of a ruined palace of a sprawling Canaanite city in northern Israel and dating back to about 1,700 B.C.

The archaeological site is located near many of Israel’s modern-day wineries, such as Carmel Mizrachi in Zichron Yaakov, near Haifa.

“This is a hugely significant discovery — it’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in age and size,” said Eric Cline, chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of at The George Washington University.

He teamed up with excavation co-director Assaf Yasur-Landau, chair of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, co-directed the excavation. Andrew Koh, assistant professor of classical studies at Brandeis University, was an associate director.

Koh, an archaeological scientist, analyzed the jar fragments using organic residue analysis. He found molecular traces of tartaric and syringic acid, both key components in wine, as well as compounds suggesting ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used in ancient Egypt for two thousand years.

Koh also analyzed the proportions of each diagnostic compound and discovered remarkable consistency between jars.

“This wasn’t moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements,” Koh noted. “This wine’s recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar.”

Yasur-Landau said, “The wine cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place, a place where the Kabri elite and possibly foreign guests consumed goat meat and wine.” The team discovered two doors leading out of the wine cellar—one to the south, and one to the west, and pending more digging in two years, it is assumed that  both doors probably lead to additional storage rooms.

A large part of the palace was destroyed approximately 3,600 years ago as a result of an earthquake or some other disaster, according to the archaeologists.

Dr. Koh told reporters that the presence of tartaric acid  means it was used for grape juice or wine, and several ingredients are the same as those found in winemaking recipes that previously have been found in ancient texts from ruins in what is now Syria,

Luscious grapes grown in Israel are recorded in the Biblical narrative of the “12 spies” who traveled from the Sinai Desert after the Exodus to the area of Hevron to report back to Moses what the People of Israel could expect when entering. The grapes and pomegranates that the spies brought back from the Hevron area supported the promise that Israel indeed is a land of “milk and honey,” but 10 of the spies also said that the local Canaanites were giants living in fortified cities. The report sent fear into the Children of Israel who rebelled against their mission, for they were punished to remain in the desert and die by the end of 40 years after leaving Egypt, except who were under the ago of 20 at the time of the Exodus and except for the two spies who tried to persuade the people that they could overcome Canaan with God’s help.

Fine wines have been become a booming industry in recent years, with the grapes of the southern Hevron Hills and the Golan Heights being used for dry wines considered some of the best in the world.

Havdalah at Ari’s

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

The Pew Report on the state of American Jewry has frightened us, but there is a way to counter the assimilation of the younger generation. I saw it on a recent Saturday night.

It was a post-Shabbos gathering in a beautiful modern building across the street from where I live in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. I had been told that 303 was the apartment number and I found the door unlocked. When I entered, a few young people who were chatting together welcomed me into the conversation. Lots of folding chairs were arranged around a table in the center of the room. While we talked, young men and women kept arriving, two of them with flutes, five with guitars, one with a harmonica as well as his guitar.

The wine, spices, and candle for Havdalah were placed on the table, and tea lights were lit. The singing began – slow end-of-Shabbos melodies.

I had heard singing from across the street several times at the end of Shabbos but hadn’t realized the singing was a prelude to Havdalah. I was told that this weekly gathering “happened organically,” that the secret was “the wonderful personality of Ari Levine.”

I thought I would visit the gathering for a minute or two but had not realized how moving it would be.

The gathering happened spontaneously, but not overnight. In order to be drawn to this shared experience, a person had to care about a meaningful Havdalah, and in order to participate in the singing one had to know the words. Everyone had either studied in a day school or been introduced to Torah life and learning through NCSY or the Manhattan Jewish Experience or a beginner’s minyan. A number of them had the good fortune to have spent a year or more learning in Israel.

Among the people I recognized were graduates of Yeshiva, Stern, and several other colleges. Some are in graduate school while others are at work as physical or occupational therapists, lawyers, teachers and a variety of other fields.

They have not led a cloistered existence. They have gone to El Salvador and Nicaragua on humanitarian missions to help build libraries in small towns where the natives had never seen a Jewish person before. They have visited Mexico, Russia, and communities across the United States and Canada to add their youthful ruach and joy to Shabbos and Yom Tov. One of the best examples of their idealism is a program my teen-aged niece participated in this summer; it’s called GIVE, and that is what the kids do –give help to poor communities and places devastated by hurricanes.

It takes a lifetime to be an observant Jew. For the fortunate children born in observant homes, it begins with modeh ani at two years old and progresses to berachos, to what’s involved in keeping a kosher home and in eating only kosher food, to the weekly preparation for Shabbos and the delightful atmosphere of enjoying time with family and friends without the intrusion of a cell phone, computer, or any other electrical device.

With every passing year I appreciate more profoundly the structure for life Hashem gave us in the Torah. We have to live in a community in order to attend shul on Shabbos; because we don’t drive on Shabbos or Yom Tov we can’t live in a suburb with acres of land around each home. This guarantees a closeness among members of the community: a new mother has meals brought to her and her family for several weeks after she gives birth; everyone is invited to a kiddush for a special occasion; when a death occurs, a chevrah kadishah prepares the body for burial and everyone in the community comes to console the mourners.

The movements that told their members they didn’t have to observe halacha and study Torah were misguided. Ismar Schorsch, the former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has commented on the mistake the Conservative movement made in ruling, when Jews began moving to the suburbs, that driving to shul was permitted on Shabbos. People drove to other places besides shul and Shabbos was destroyed.

It will not take commissions and studies and federation programs to change the situation in the United States. Anyone who wants to make up for all that he or she has missed can call NJOP to find a class in reading Hebrew, in basic mitzvos, an outline of Jewish history. One has to have an interest in finding out what is in the Torah, both Written and Oral.

A person has to intuit that ignorance is undoing his or her Jewishness. He has to feel repelled by vulgar bar mitzvah affairs and by the use of low-class terms in Yiddish; she has to sense that something is wrong when sitting shivah is limited to a few hours for a day or two and turns into a social event with food, drink, and raucous laughter.

A Jew will marry a Jew if he or she has experienced a meaningful Torah life and has learned Torah. The organizations exist to teach, and there are many observant people who will be happy to invite a newcomer for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals.

Everyone is welcome at the Havdalah at Ari’s; it is each person’s decision whether or not to come.

Rare 1,500-Year-Old Wine Press and Church Model found in Israel

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have unearthed a huge wine press and a ceramic model of a church dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries, the early-Byzantine period.

The huge wine press, the size of a football field, consists of three components, IAA archaeologist Dr. Rina Avner explained.

“A large treading floor paved with ceramic tiles was discovered in the center in which there is a press bed of a screw used to press grapes. Three vats into which the must flowed were revealed along the western side of the treading floor. The collecting vats were carefully designed with slots in their sides that allowed the liquid to flow in a controlled manner and they were treated with hydraulic plaster so as to prevent the must from seeping into the ground.”

The wine was fermented and made into quality wine through the use of compartments around the treading floor. In the second stage the grape remnants were pressed a second time by means of the screw situated in the center of the treading floor, from which plain wine was prepared that was referred to in rabbinic sources as paupers’ wine, she added.

The ceramic model of a church was a rare archaeological discovery and was unearthed near the wine press.

“This object is a kind of clay box that has an accentuated and decorated opening in its broad side,” said Dr. Avner.

“Floral decorations and crosses appear on the other three sides. The roof of the model is fashioned in the shape of a sloped tile roof, and in its four corners are four decorative knobs meant to accentuate the corners. On the top of the roof a large loop handle, also flanked by crosses, was attached for holding or suspending the object. The variety of decorations and building-like features of the object suggest this is a miniature model of a church.”

The model is one of several objects that were used as ritual objects that were hung or placed inside buildings. An oil lamp inserted into it through the decorated opening illuminated the inside of the model.

“Since the crosses also served as narrow openings, the light was disseminated via them and shadows of crosses were projected onto the walls of the building where the object was placed,” she said.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/rare-1500-year-old-wine-press-and-church-model-found-in-israel/2013/04/08/

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