Liquor and love

Romance still rules, at least according to Shachar. He’s already looking forward to late July and Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of matchmaking and marriage. This was a day of joy during the Second Temple period when unmarried girls dressed in white and danced in the vineyards as they marked the beginning of the grape harvest and searched for their beau.

But before Tu B’Av arrives, Shachar will be celebrating Valentine’s Day and can recommend the ideal drink for the day: a dark chocolate liqueur topped by an in-season winter strawberry. This could be followed by a passionfruit liqueur (“passionfruit, do you get it?” he cackles). If that doesn’t get you and your beloved in the mood, nothing will.

Shachar came by his knowledge of the perfect drink for the perfect occasion the long way around. He manages the Amiad Winery in the Upper Galilee which specializes in fruit wines and chocolate liqueurs. It all started about 30 years back when Kibbutz Amiad found itself with a large amount of unwanted kiwifruit. “It was a new fruit in Israel at the time, and we didn’t know what to do with it. No-one wanted to eat it.” A kibbutz member named Jeff, a new immigrant from Scotland, started experimenting with making kiwifruit wine. After his experiment won a prize in a kiwifruit wine competition in New Zealand and found acclaim from the always thirsty volunteers on the kibbutz at the time, the kibbutz decided it could be onto “something good.” The kibbutz’s winery had been born.

Shachar joined the team 19 years ago when he joined the kibbutz. ”I was a lifeguard at the pool in the summer and I’d help at the winery in the winter. I’m still a lifeguard today although I have to be careful not to sample any of our new liqueurs beforehand.”

The winery produces about 15,000 bottles of fruit liqueurs each year. These are fruit wines with fruit replacing the grapes. The natural yeast of the fruit consumes the sugar and produces the alcohol. More sugar is added at the end of the fermentation process. The winery draws plenty of people. “We have a massive water filtration factory on the kibbutz but no-one wants to see that. They prefer liquor-tasting tours.” The liqueurs are popular with everyone, even with men who initially claim that they prefer something “more manly” and are only drinking it to keep their wives or partners company.

So next time you’re in the Upper Galilee and looking to make a toast to love and joy, pop in and see Shachar. L’chaim!

(Cover photography: Dror Artzi)