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Feature: Palestinian wine struggles with social norms, Israeli occupation

by Nida' Ibrahim

RAMALLAH, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- In a conservative country of a Muslim majority like Palestine, selling alcohol might be difficult. Even in Hebron, a city known for its grape vineyards, making or drinking alcohol is socially unacceptable.

However, a new Palestinian winery opened to serve an authentic local wine. "Making wine is definitely much nicer than selling it," Palestinian winemaker Canaan Khoury told Xinhua.

Cities with a more liberal vibe like Bethlehem and Ramallah, where alcohol can easily be found on liquor store shelves or served in bars and restaurants, are where Canaan can sell his products.

Canaan lives with his family in a small village of Taybeh in the West Bank, where residents not only enjoy drinking wine, but also have learnt the basics of fermenting grapes at home.

Twenty-three-year-old Canaan told Xinhua that his father was the first to teach him wine-making since he was young.

During his study at Harvard, his passion led him to tour different wineries around the world to learn how to be a professional wine maker and carry his experience back home.

The new winery serves three kinds of wine, the 13 percent alcohol merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaan told Xinhua while wearing a Grey hat.

The winery used foreign grapes but planted in Palestinian vineyards. Official Palestinian data states that around 8,000 hectares of Palestinian lands planted with grapes. Around 1.4 million grape trees in the West Bank and Gaza produce around 80 tons of grapes every year.

Owners of Taybeh winery say that they are trying now to make wine with authentic Palestinian grapes.

"There are 21 types of Palestinian grapes that are grown in Palestine. We planted several kinds of them and we are waiting for them to grow in order to use them to make a purely Palestine wine," David Khoury, one of the owners of the Taybeh winery, told Xinhua.

As the bottles hit the Palestinian market, owners know it is hard to compete in prices. "We don't expect to see any profits until the next few years," Canaan added.

Their prices range between 12.5-17 U.S. dollars while the owners say that they incur high production costs as a result of the political reality.

Aside from social restrictions, Canaan said they face economic and technological challenges due to the Israeli occupation.

"The prices of water used for irrigation is one of the highest in the world, and the same goes for electricity," Canaan explained.

Israel's policy of land confiscation has limited or denied Palestinians' access to their lands.

Some bottles made their way to Denmark but the exporting process as Canaan explains is not easy.

"We don't have our own borders and as such we have to go through Israel, facing extra security checks, paying more fees and expecting delays," he said.

Nevertheless, owners hope that exporting wine abroad can help push a struggling Palestinian economy, especially by those who want to try and support a Palestinian wine.

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