Winery operates in the shadow of war

Druze and Arabs from nearby villages harvest the ripe fruit

(CNN) – The sun rises over the Golan Heights, burning off the cold morning mist. The perfect time to pick wine grapes.

Druze and Arabs from nearby villages harvest the ripe fruit. Israel occupied this strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 war and turned it into a major wine-producing region.

These grapes are bound for the Pelter winery. A conveyer belt delivers them to a sorter – fruits from stems – the grapes then slither toward a slow press. Old techniques give way to modern. No feet stomping here to create their more than 100,000 bottles of wine a year.

Co-owner Tal Pelter runs the multimillion-dollar winery. We find him testing wine in a room full of oak barrels or what he calls expensive tea bags.

Pelter says, “When you go taste barrels you know where you started and You want to see the progress in the development of flavor.”

The wineries attract tourists. People wanting to taste directly from the source like Tzvi and Rachel Spigelman. Rachel says, “We are wine lovers. I don’t understand a single thing about wine, so I just enjoy. My husband is the wine connoisseur. He knows the years and the blends and everything else and I just go along with him. This is how we’ve stayed married for 32 years.”

Suddenly, a siren blares; workers and tourists take cover, exposing the surreal reality of the Golan – wine tasting next to a deadly civil war. A few fields over, Syrian rebels and government troops exchange fire.

The Golan hasn’t been left unscathed. When the strike came in and exploded once it hit the roof, leaving divots on the ground. Shrapnel peppered the walls and injured one person. The tanks holding the wine were hit, spilling tens of thousands of bottles worth of wine all over the ground.

Pelter says, “It took our very calm lifestyle and shook it up a bit. But it’s not something to be afraid of.”

Tal sympathizes with his neighbors across the border. But he’s not letting it affect his life, and as proof, the company is expanding. Keeping their wine exclusive by diversifying into other markets – kosher wine and cognac. So the harvest and wine process continues in the shadow of a war.

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