Vered’s heart dropped deep into her chest, filled with insult and pain. Although she had seen a thing or two in her day, Vered gazed sadly at the suggestion box of her winery’s visitor center, which had been filled with hundreds of puzzle piece sized scraps of her business cards and brochures, torn to shreds by a politically driven guest. “It’s not easy being the ambassador of the Shomron,” Vered told me, but she spends about as much time advocating for the Jewish settlement of the West Bank as she does making her stellar wine.
When Vered and her husband, Erez, decided to invest all of their wedding money into “settling the land” by planting a vineyard on the edge of the Palestinian controlled city of Nablus, the young couple never dreamed that their idealistic ambitions would one day be so influential. “Those were extremely difficult times,” Vered explained. “We had nothing to eat. I was cleaning houses. I don’t miss them.” It wasn’t only financial difficulties that haunted the young Ben Saadon family, but security issues as well. “Terrorists planted explosives between the rows of wine grapes several times,” Vered anxiously told me, “thank God Erez was never hurt.”
After four agonizing years, Vered and Erez finally caught a break, when the renowned producer, Carmel Mizrachi, wanted their precious grapes for their new “Har Bracha” series. Vered and Erez’s merlot grapes were a hit, and they quickly received excellent feedback from their newly acquired customer. Just when the future started looking hopeful for the Ben Saadons, due to political pressures, Carmel Mizrachi was obliged to end their Har Bracha series, forcing Vered and Erez right back into hot water. With all other options crossed off the list, they had no choice but to crush their grapes themselves to survive. Placing their final hopes and shekels into four oak barrels in a patched up tent next to their home in Recheilim, Vered and Erez were holding on to a fraying thread.
Often times, successful entrepreneurs will speak about the romance and innocence of the early days of starting their company, regardless of how difficult they might have been. But not Vered. “It’s like if you would ask me if I miss waking up in the middle of the night to change my daughter’s diapers,” Vered explained, “no, I don’t. I enjoy watching them grow and develop personalities much more.”
“Financial success is given by God,” Vered told me adamantly, “we did not give up hope.” Sure enough, already in their first year of production, their wines starting making some noise and even picked up prestigious awards at international wine contests. To Vered and Erez it became clear as day that the very tight spot they were bound to would ultimately be their pathway to tremendous success. Within only a few years, Tura Winery became known for producing some of the highest quality wines found in Israel. “Things got out of control, simply out of control,” Vered laughed. Hustling around the clock with no differentiation between work and home, Vered and Erez barely have any wine left to sell. While many other wineries are carrying years of overbearing inventory forcing them to lower prices or trade their unsold bottles for discounted winemaking equipment, Vered pointed proudly at the empty shelves of their wine room. It was hard to picture this chic and confident woman sitting before me cleaning houses to make ends meet just a few years before.
Although there are many successful wineries located across the green line, Tura Winery has become a main attraction for diplomats, celebrities, and activists seeking a glimpse into the highly debated issue of Israeli settlements. With their vineyards almost impossible to reach without army presence and their beautiful visitor center on the wrong side of any two state solution, Tura Winery has a lot to offer a curious tourist. “It’s not just about wine anymore,” Vered explained, shaking her head through a smile. With an ever revolving door of visitors anxious to either break or reaffirm stereotypes, Vered’s voice has become raspy and hoarse with years of endless political dialogue and discussion. “There are people who have arrived at the winery over an hour of driving through traffic from Tel Aviv only to refuse to taste my wine,” Vered recounted dumbfounded.
Driving through the West Bank you can see innumerable acres of olive trees and vineyards planted by Israeli settlers for the purpose of “settling the land”, but few as influential as those of Vered and Erez. Although planted purely for ideological purposes, the Ben Saadon’s simple vineyard has been transformed into a hub of dialogue and discussion. Had the political climate not have pressured Carmel Mizrachi to end cooperation with Tura, not only would Israel be robbed of one of its finest wineries, but also a crucial platform in the attempt to bridge the ever expanding gap between those on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
“Seven years,” Vered says about her wines, who seem to have learned from their vintners the importance of patience, “four years in the vineyard and three in the bottle”. Drinking this wine is like going fruit picking. While you can get delicious fruit at any supermarket, fruit picking is such an enjoyable activity because of holistic experience: the sensation of mineral soil under your feet, the fragrant leaves, the rustic farming equipment. That is the full experience of this wine. Vered and Erez named their daughter Smadar Hallel, “nascent grapes of praise”, to embody the incredible importance of taking that which the soil provides and using it to produce something that will cause praise and celebration of the land. This bright and ripe merlot provides warranted praise for the land of Israel and Tura Winery. Drink this bottle at a special occasion, even if it means saving it until you have a real reason to celebrate. Pair this wine with The Decemberists’, “The King is Dead” or The Weepies’, “Say I Am You”, and give Vered and Erez a visit at Tura Winery in Rechelim.