Joseph Ergas' brain and mine do not work with the same software. I do not share his worldview or religion. This does not prevent me from going to visit him, appreciating its wines and, why not, finding common grounds.
From a Italian-origin family, Joseph was born in Jerusalem and has spent his life in Israel. "My work? Learning Torah." He also manufactures tefillin, those phylacteries used for prayer. For sure, Joseph is an observant Jew. Is he an ultra-religious Jew? Without any doubt. But the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism is very complex with many traditions, different schools and political ideas : some ultra Jews are even pro-Palestinian activists...
Welcome to the Middle East, a school of complexity.
And I do not like to stick labels on people. Joseph either. "You can not define myself by yourself, because most modern definitions are artificial. People today are accustomed to categorization and the Torah says that there can be no categorization of representations. .. Being Jewish is not a religion, although most people would swear that it is a religion. Jews are a nation that was chosen by the Creator to serve every Jew And the fact more or less . Intensity I try to do my best to fulfill this task and give meaning to my life - because I have been so lucky to be born as a representative of the Jewish nation. "
Studiyng natural wine is not an easy task every day.
We are in the village of Tirosh - means "grape juice" in Hebrew. Here, a few dozen kilometers west of Jerusalem, we are in Israel. Joseph bought the land in 1999 and has planted two and a half hectares of vines: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, nebbiolo, barbera, vernaccia and riesling. Although we find there his Italian origins. A year later, he built himself a large cellar which gets to keep temperatures cool despite the heat of the region.
Initially, Joseph wanted to make an organic garden and sell the vegetables. But he understood that it's a hard work, it is necessary to quickly sell the products that quickly fades and he does not want to deal with supermarkets. "It's better to make wine. The cellar is like money in a bank." But in reality, he doesn't sell a lot of wines. We can found them in the Jerusalem organic supermarkets (Agrippas St., in front of Mahane Yehuda market) and in an Israeli settlement, south of Bethlehem (no name, I will not quote them).
So he still has old vintages on the shelves. He admits that laughing. "Old wines are wines you didn't manage to sell". Oh, it's not really hard to sell but between studying of Torah, making tefillin, producting wine, there is not enough time for marketing, communication, sales management. What Joseph wants is making wine and learning how to make.
Because Joseph tells himself he is a kind of rookie. But neither Rome nor Jerusalem have been built in a day.
Thus, the barbera causes him some problems: new fermentation in bottle, corks pop, juice spills on the floor. It would be honoured to take advices... In general, there are many problems with CO2. If someone wants to study his case, I will transfer the advices.
But do not recommend him to use sulfur or others chemical products. His wine is ultra-natural. "I let the vine and wine finding themselves their own way."
In the glass, the wine looks different. We find there our natural wines but it lacks expertise, experience and a winemaker signature. But as we love this kind of wine, it's really better than all the standardized Israeli production.
Look at this incredible orange wine, a real carrot juice, made thanks to a long maceration on the skins with white grapes: riesling and vernaccia. That's already something totally incongruous in France, so imagine it in Israel, a country which is used with international grapes and international taste. Joseph is a kind of UFO and that's good!
Joseph is convinced he makes wine as in the Second Temple. As 2000 years ago. This Temple, the holiest site for Judaism, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, in which was kept the Tablets of the Law offered by God to Moses, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Today we can only see the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall). Lot of other events have taken place here, from Adam to Abraham, but I will avoid the details.
Furthermore this mountain is sacred to Muslims, the third holiest site in Islam. There are almost 15 centuries, the Caliph Omar has built an architectural splendor, one of the most famous landmarks in the world: the Dome of the Rock.
The Mosque Esplanade/Temple Mount is the source of past and future conflicts, it is know. But I have worse in my pocket because we can always find more extremist people than others. Some Jews would like to build the Third Temple in the same place as the previous. And what do we do for Dome of the Rock, guys? In Jerusalem, some say "It will happen according to the will of God."
Some messianic Jews find themselves in a kind of association, the Temple Institute. Here they prepare the future, they create the practical conditions for the upcoming Third Temple : here furnitures are manufactured, the uniforms of priests are reproducted as the cult accessories. In short, everything will be ready when they have turned down the Dome and when they have rebuilt. Here's what looks like their dreams.
Joseph Ergas is totally in this mood. He said he wanted to make wine for the upcoming Third Temple. When I visited the Temple Institute, I did not see anything special about wine, except reproductions of chalices. So our man say he works towards this goal.
Joseph believes that wine in the Second Temple is natural. Obviously chemicals 2000 years ago were not widespread... That's why he wants only the grape in its bottles.
After reading Torah and its commentaries, he set up a way to produce natural wines. Already, the lack of chemistry in the vineyard and in the winery and the work of Joseph, as a Jew, are the conditions for a kosher-certified natural wine.
What about production? He say he respect a "agricultural Shabbat" applied to the vine. The vine rest every 7 years. The 7th year there is no harvest. Or if there is harvest, he won't sell the wines. He does not work during all the Jewish holidays and this can be a problem for harvest because Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are spread over the months of September and October.
Finally he delivers a more universal message. Shabbath, from Friday evening to Saturday evening, is of course made up of religious prohibitions. "But it's very important to understand that this is also a way of thinking, that is to say, we must observe the Sabbath but also understand why we observe it."
According to Joseph, the goal of Shabbath is to make our lives better. It would thus be a solution against pollution: if the whole world follow Shabbat (if, for one day, we stop work, leave our car, avoid contact with power...), we would save a day of pollution, so 1/7 of the world pollution! He concludes: "Torah is not only for the religious people, this is for all those who love life." And for those who love living wines, could he add.