Grapes Of Wrath: Israel's Settlement Wineries Fight Back Against EU Labels

Two months ago, Yaakov Berg, the 39-year-old founder of the Psagot Boutique Winery in the Israeli settlement of Psagot, launched an online store for settlement products. Blessings of Israel is, in Berg’s words, an attempt to “connect our allies around the world,” particularly evangelical Christians in the United States, delivering products made in the settlements directly to international buyers and, hopefully, boosting their markets outside of Europe.

Berg’s business is booming. His Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons have won awards and he’s gone from producing just 3,000 bottles a year when he started in 2003, at the height of the Second Palestinian Intifada, to 250,000 bottles in 2015. But Psagot’s growth is tempered by the increasingly worrisome problem it faces in Europe: the European Union’s new guidelines on labeling products from the West Bank. Last year was “a little bit difficult” in terms of sales, Berg says, meaning his digital move is driven as much by economy as it is philosophy,

As human rights groups, boycott advocates and anti-Israel campaigners the world over continue to push for a full embargo on businesses located in the 237 Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the EU recently issued guidelines saying that products coming into the bloc from the occupied territories should be labeled with their place of origin. The labeling is mandatory on fruit, vegetables and wine—bottles made in Jewish outposts must now carry the term “Israeli settlement” in brackets. And that means significant implications for settlement wineries, of which there are at least 30 in the West Bank.

Many Jewish winemakers have been left punch-drunk, while others find they are forced into a sobering reflection on how they should be selling their reds and whites to the world. West Bank vintners are now looking for different ways to reach current customers and new markets, and exploring other measures to circumvent the labels.

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