“Ahh, if only I wasn’t married,” Moshe jested, gently placing his arm around an old friend’s shoulder as she gave a sad laugh. It was only after Moshe told me that his dear wife, Varda, passed away earlier this year that I began to understand what he had meant.
On a small agricultural moshav called Mishmeret, just south of Netanya, Moshe and Varda grew up together, fell in love, and wed. Just days after tying the knot, Moshe was eager to bring his beautiful new bride to meet his aunt and uncle in France. “I had no idea what an apéritif was, but I knew we were going to one,” Moshe recalled with a laugh. After taking a tour of his cousins’ wine cellar, winding through their extensive collection of aged, fine French wine, it was time to begin drinking. The newlyweds attempted to maintain their self respect, trying to keep up with their experienced hosts as the wine flowed like water.
“After about two hours of drinking, Varda whispered to me, ‘Moshe, I can’t feel my legs, I think I need to lay down.’” Moshe stayed for just a bit longer until he too excused himself. “I told my uncle, ‘I don’t even hear French anymore, I need to go rest for a bit.’” While Moshe and Varda lay comatose for eight hours in the middle of the afternoon, the cousins had a good laugh. By the time evening fell, the word had gotten out to all of the extended family that the cousins had successfully knocked out the young Israeli honeymooners.
Upon returning to Israel, envious of the class and style of his French cousins and determined not to be labeled the family lightweight, Moshe begin intensively training his young palate with fine wine. “I also was quite jealous that they were all driving around in Mercedes, so as soon as I could save up enough, I knew I needed to have one,” Moshe said smiling. Before long, Moshe transformed his basement into a climate controlled wine cellar, and like a library stacked from ceiling to floor with books, Moshe’s basement was packed with neatly organized wine bottles. Moshe also generously cellared his friends’ bottles and quickly assembled an elaborate collection.
“Before he met me, he only drank coca cola,” Moshe teased his friend, Elie, who would store wine in his cellar, “I taught him how to drink.” After both Moshe and Elie had all but filled their cellar, they decided it was time to join a local winemaking course — just for fun. “Half way through the course, I tasted our maturing wine, and I said to Elie, ‘with this quality, we shouldn’t be buying and cellaring wines — we should be making them,’” Moshe boasted. Although originally only planning to produce 1,000 bottles of wine for personal use, when it came time to order their vats, they ended up ordering ones big enough to produce 7,500 bottles. “That meant we weren’t just making wine,” Moshe remembered proudly. “We were a winery.”
After a few years of sourcing grapes from the Golan Heights, Moshe decided it was time to plant a local vineyard from which he could harvest his own grapes for his wine. With the new, brave undertaking of a vineyard, Moshe encouraged his brother, Herzl, to attend a wine course as well. After Herzl completed the course, the two brothers partnered to form “Mond Winery”. Eagerly anticipating his first release, Moshe could not wait to bring his new creation over to his French cousins for a taste; needless to say, they were very impressed.
“From the very beginning, Varda was excited about the winery. She also started drinking much better wine,” Moshe joked. He spent most of his days setting up the winery, and Varda became a loved and admired school principal in Netanya. Moshe and his beloved wife were both doing what they really loved. “We shared that together,” Moshe recalled nostalgically. “We both filled our days with things we were passionate about. We really bonded over that.”
Moshe’s love for the sea and Varda’s position in the school brought the young family away from the moshav to a waterfront apartment in Netanya. But that’s when things took a turn for the worse. “When Varda was diagnosed with cancer a week before our son’s wedding, it broke us,” Moshe lamented. “We simply couldn’t stop crying.” Moshe frantically changed the family’s official address at the Ministry of Interior back to the winery on the moshav to ensure that Varda would be buried in the same soil that he had worked all these years.
As Varda’s condition deteriorated, Moshe became her caregiver, sitting at her bedside day and night drinking his wines, watching the vibrant love of his life become frail and weak. Varda’s eventual passing left Moshe half a person, filled with feelings of injustice and anger towards his Creator. “I can understand the idea that a person could complete his or her purpose in life at a young age,” Moshe reasoned, “but this amount suffering — there is simply so reason for.”
According to the Sages, the biblical Moshe is actually the author of the book of Job, and he too complained to God of the injustice of the world. Ironically, all of Job’s troubles also befell him as he sat drinking wine with his family. “I have gone from Moshe to Job,” Moshe concluded, “but Varda’s memory is preserved in my wine.”
Tasting: Varda 2014:
“Before Varda passed, she left me three final wishes: to speak of her at her funeral, to raise the children right, and to remember her,” Moshe recalled in a somber voice. Moshe spent days upon days trying to find an appropriate way to make sure his beloved Varda would always be remembered. In Netanya, near the school where Varda worked, Moshe erected a monument in her memory, and this year he produced a wine that bears her name, never to be forgotten. This blended Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Rosé is bold and full of robust fruit flavors with a great zing to it that makes it a pleasure to drink. There is no doubt that Varda’s spirit lives on in this bottle. On the beautifully designed label of the bottle, Moshe inscribed:
To my love Varda,
you came and gave, asking not a thing
you slowly touched all of us and left your mark
with you I understood that love is eternal
Open this wine on a warm summer evening with a significant other, reflecting on the joy you bring to each other’s lives. Turn on Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” or John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” softly in the background. Mond Winery is located in Moshav Mishmeret, overlooking Moshe’s beautiful vineyard — definitely a worthwhile visit on a Friday afternoon.