There is a welcome wind of change that I am happy to see blowing through the vineyards of Israel.
After years of taking nature for granted, at times even by tearing up often virgin terroir to plant vast swaths of trellised vines, and using fertilizers and pesticides to attempt to control the forces of nature, there is an awareness of late that when nature is in balance, the harmony that results is beneficial for all.
As a wine photographer, and as someone who tries to respect the environment as much as one can while living a modern lifestyle in the 21st century, this is a most welcome development. It not only gives hope that there are people out there who are happy to spend their often precious resources, and forgo greater profits, to try and return to a state of equilibrium, this is visually rewarding as well.
I paid attention to this when photographing the harvests of Abaya and Vortman wineries in 2017, in old vineyards near Shuni and Zichron Yaakov that Yossi Yodfat and Hai Vortman had saved from destruction, and last year when I was with Jonatan Koren of Lotem Organic Winery at Tzivon.
I was also impressed when I was at Dalton's Elkosh vineyard two years ago, in February 2017, when I photographed a splattering of flowers on a cold winter day that brought some color to the grass that had been encouraged to grow between the vines.
But it was not until I saw the full beauty of this vibrant vineyard a few weeks ago, when it was it was a sea of flowers and healthy ground cover contrasted against the still dormant vines that I appreciated the rewards that come from a dedication to environmental awareness and bio-diversity.
If this was not enough to convince me that every winery should follow this path, last week I was at Tabor Winery. During a group visit organized by Ophira and Ran Biron, Michal Akerman and Or Nidbach, respectively the viticulturist and winemaker of Tabor, introduced us to their new branding and why they have adopted a Barn Owl as the symbol of the winery.
They talked about their project, inspired by and with the support of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to restore the balance of nature in their vineyards. Michal said that it was not until they had lured back predators, when they saw an owl with its prey on the vineyard fence, that they understood they had come full circle. By allocating land to natural infrastructure such as islands of rocks and constructing ecological corridors to allow the safe movement of animals within the vineyards, and by encouraging the return of natural grasses and plants, they have been successful in their attempt to restore the equilibrium.
This is a win-win situation for everyone.
For the consumer there are better quality wines untainted by residual chemicals, and for future generations there is the promise of a healthier environment.
For all the above-mentioned wineries – Abaya, Lotem, Vortman, Tabor and Dalton, and many others – their dedication to the environment has benefits that go beyond the savings that come from the reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides. They are rewarded with healthier vines, better quality fruit, vineyards that have the potential to live longer which one day may achieve "old vines" status, and a deep satisfaction in both healing and giving back to nature.
And for myself – the wine photographer who finds satisfaction in being in the vineyards at first light when the air is crisp and the light soft, clean and gentle – I am not only rewarded with stunning visual beauty of a bio-diverse landscape. I also have the appreciation that there are people in this industry that have the same bond that I do with the planet and are no longer prepared to take its bounty for granted.
Photos by David Silverman. Copyright © 2019 dpsimages. All Rights Reserved