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The Negev desert, wine laboratory of an overheated planet

For three years, the Pintos have been growing their trellises in the south of Israel, a country with a high wine production although little or little known to palates and taste buds abroad.

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The Negev desert, wine laboratory of an overheated planet

For three years, the Pintos have been growing their trellises in the south of Israel, a country with a high wine production although little or little known to palates and taste buds abroad.

In an almost lunar setting, at the first light of day, before the sun reaches its zenith and makes the heat oppressive, pickers from the neighboring villages pick the black and greedy grapes intended for the first vintage of the Pintos.

"With 325 days of sunshine a year, we have to irrigate the vines ourselves and we are therefore in control, without depending on the vagaries of the weather", explains David Pinto.

This summer, in France, the high temperatures accelerated the ripening of the grapes, forcing winegrowers to move their harvest forward by several days, even several weeks. And with the drought, Bordeaux producers had to ask for exemptions to irrigate their young vines in bad shape.

"Winegrowers from Bordeaux came to visit us following the heat wave in France", says Mr. Pinto, director of the eponymous vineyard which, like the other domains of the Negev, uses drip micro-irrigation systems, a possible solution, according to him, in the face of global warming.

“We now share common challenges, with the extreme climate and the drought harming the grapes,” he explains, walking between bunches of Grenache, one of the most used grape varieties for Negev wine along with Chenin. white, a variety that stands out in specialized shops in Israel with bottles costing more than 100 shekels (30 euros).

- The bubbles of the desert -

The Pintos are far from the only winegrowers in the Negev. In recent years, more than 25 vineyards have sprung up in this arid region, such as Ramat Neguev, located opposite Egypt, or Nana, planted at the foot of the Ramon crater.

In the heart of the desert, Ilan Abitbol, ​​adviser for many vineyards in Israel, tries different blends on a small plot, a question of finding the perfect alchemy of grape varieties for this extreme terroir.

"The temperature of the Negev gives a particular identity to the wines of the region, sweeter, stronger in alcohol, a classic Israeli (wine) identity", but which must be adjusted to a desert terroir.

"We are used to extreme temperatures whereas in Europe, climate change has an impact on the vines which are not used to these temperatures (...). We can advise them but we cannot export the desert", says he told AFP.

For Yaakov Oriya, local star among oenologists and advisor for several estates, the "extreme climate" represents a challenge to evaluate the grape varieties and blends best suited to this terroir.

"The Negev hosted vineyards in the Byzantine period, we are not the first to make wine in this region but making the desert bloom is still a magnificent objective", he underlines.

"There are more than 300 vineyards in Israel, but ultimately the wines are a bit alike, so when you're faced with a different terroir, like here, you can create different wines," Oriya said.

An example? He promises dessert wines but also a sparkling Negev made with the Champagne method, a world first in a desert, he argues.

Neglecting the olive trees and argan trees on their estate, which are more accustomed to desert temperatures, the Pintos are still on a confidential market with 55,000 bottles planned for this year.

For this family, the vineyard has not only a commercial but also a social vocation, to develop the economy of one of the most isolated and peripheral regions of the country.

“Creating a vineyard here, in Yeruham, is part of our efforts to help the development of the region,” says Jimmy Pinto, David's father, who has created a school network helping more than 25,000 young people in outlying areas.

"It's a big challenge, but in the same way that we believe that the children of this region can be the best, we want to produce a wine that will be the best and in both areas, it takes time before we see the fruits of our investments," he said.

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