Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Vines of Bethlehem

I'm interested in the wines of the Holy Land, for, um, scholarly reasons. Here's some news.
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers on Friday destroyed over 300 newly planted grape vines in al-Khader village south of Bethlehem, locals said.
Landowner Mohammad Ibrahim Sbeih told Ma'an that he saw settlers from the illegal Sde Boaz settlement on his land in the al-Shub area.
Coordinator for the local resistance committee Ahmad Salah told Ma'an that the settlers vandalized 18 dunams (four acres) of land.
Israeli forces arrived in the area and detained Sbeih and his brothers for several hours, he said.
I reviewed a book of pilgrimage sources to the Holy Land, that included the following.
Burchard of Mount Sion's "Description of the Holy Land," written from 1274-1285, one of the longest sources in the collection, contains extended discussions of the fruits and animals of the Holy Land, the diverse modes of life, religious identities, and languages. One favorite passage focuses on wine. He writes:
 "There are many vineyards in the Holy Land; and there would be more, except that the Saracens who are now in possession of the land do not drink wine, apart from some of them furtively. Therefore they do not cultivate vines, but destroy them, apart from a few perhaps, who live near Christians and grow them for profit in order to sell them to the Christians" (314). 
The description continues to describe the quality of the wine of the region (excellent) and the harvesting techniques for producing three successive batches of grapes in the region of Ṭarṭūs. He writes:
"In the springtime, when the vine first sprouts, the vinedressers take note of the number of bunches of grapes forming that each vine and branch is accustomed to produce in the normal course of things and immediately cut off and throw away all the rest of the branch beyond the bunches themselves. This is done in March. In April another branch sprouts from the branch, with new bunches of grapes. When they see this they again cut off from the branch whatever is beyond those bunches. In May, the stem produces a third branch with its bunches of grapes. Thus they have three series of grape bunches, which all grow the same way, except that those that sprouted in March are gathered in August, those that sprouted in April are gathered in September, and those that sprouted in May are gathered in October. In this way they have three wine harvests a year" (314-315). 
I'm busy today writing other essays for various places, but thought we could all pause a moment to think about delicious Levantine wine.

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