The last thing Nevo Hazan ever thought he would do was return to Mata Village where he had grown up and live off the land as his grandparents had.
As a young man, after his mandated army service, Nevo left the moshav for the lights and pace of Tel Aviv and a career as a delivery driver. But on one of his weekly runs to a small village near Bethlehem, a Palestinian terrorist changed the course of his life.
The terrorist appeared suddenly, and shot Nevo’s armed guard in the head, just meters from Nevo. The terrorist then turned the gun on Nevo, pulled the trigger twice… but his gun jammed. Nevo reacted like the trained soldier he was, and scanned the scenery desperately for a viable escape route. He jumped down a steep embankment and ran, dodging bullets as he sped through the fields.
When Nevo was certain the shooter had fled, he returned to the scene to assist his guard. Nevo rushed him to the hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery that saved his life.
Afterward, Nevo immediately returned to his routine, giving no credence to the experience. He had served in the army during the first intifada, and refused to believe that this incident should faze him. He continued his delivery job, even returning to that exact same location every week.
Slowly, however, Nevo began to experience unexplained, incapacitating physical pain. His wife worried and his employer fretted. The doctors pronounced him healthy, and Nevo did not make the connection between his symptoms and the terror attack. But when he heard about an American, Jewish professor who was working with traumatized vets returning from Iraq, suddenly things clicked.
Nevo began Prolonged Exposure Therapy, returning to the site of the attack and recreating as many of the conditions of the trauma as possible. These repeated experiences enabled his brain to rewire, breaking the traumatic associations.
He welcomed the long-awaited feeling of peace and began considering additional life changes to foster fulfillment. In 1997, he left Tel Aviv and moved back to Mata Village with his wife and children, seeking a quieter life and a return to the land.
Nevo longed for a change in profession as well; prolonged exposure to the land of his forefathers had begun to affect him, stirring a deeply embedded Zionist drive which motivated him both spiritually and practically.
And then his beloved auntie got sick. The Big Sick. It was cancer.
Nevo’s Auntie Leah had been away from the village for years, but she needed to be near Jerusalem for a full year of chemotherapy treatments, so she moved in with Nevo. Leah was a true child of the moshav and a woman of the land. Between her treatments, she picked fruit. She made jam. She baked homemade bread in the outdoor oven. She showed Nevo’s children how to handpick the grapes that grew naturally in the area, stomp on them (barefoot!) and leave them in barrels for a few weeks until they turned into wine.
The wine – simple, handpicked, local wine – was marvelous.
And Nevo was hooked.
At the end of the year, Leah was thankfully cancer-free. Before she left, Nevo admitted to his auntie, and to himself, that winemaking had touched his heart and was pulling at him to dedicate himself to the land. Nevo never drove a truck again.
The Israeli government offered Nevo, as compensation for the terror attack, a way to retrain and leave his delivery profession behind so he could move forward and distance himself from the attack. He enrolled in a government-sponsored winemaking course on a kibbutz. Nevo then moved on to specialized courses in France, Spain and Italy. His connection to the land of Israel and to the generations who preceded him in Mata Village grew stronger and more vibrant every day. He built wine making structures with his own two hands. Today, the practice of making wine involves every fiber of his being – from his hands to his mind to his gut feelings.
“To make wine, you have to be half engineer and half artist. You have to be precise. But you also need to know when to rely on your sixth sense. It’s like creating musical masterpieces… all from the heart and soul of Israel.”
The blessing of the land of Israel demonstrates itself clearly in the Nevo Winery. Usually, vineyards take a good number of years to develop and reach the potential for producing high-level wine grapes. But Nevo’s 6-years-young vineyards look, taste and produce like they are 20 years old, shocking professional viticulturists with their high-quality fruit. To reach their full potential, they are fermented for up to five weeks, well beyond the standard red wine fermentation of 10 to 14 days.
The Jewish law of Shmitta (the Sabbatical year) is carefully observed at the Nevo Winery. The land is neither worked nor sold that year – and grapes that grow spontaneously are open for anyone to come and take. The Torah promises (Leviticus 25:20-22) that G-d will bless the yield of Shmitta observers. In 2014, Nevo saw that blessing with his own eyes, with a bumper crop and yield that carried the winery well over the 2015 Shmitta year.
Nevo feels privileged to be directly involved in many aspects of Jewish law and Jewish life that, to most Jews, remain theoretical. In addition to separating terumot and maasrot (tithes) and observing Shmitta, the winery is careful to avoid kilayim (hybridization) and leave pe’ah (a percentage of crops left for the poor to harvest and take) in all its vineyards.
The Jewish Sages said that agriculture is a natural way to develop one’s connection to and faith in G-d. Nevo is a witness to this reality each and every day, as best expressed by his habit:
People come in to the winery and ask Nevo, “Who runs this place?” Nevo points to the sky and says, “I just work here.”
The rhythm of the seasons and the Jewish calendar is the pulse of the Nevo Winery.
In late summer, the tension can be felt in the air as Nevo, along with his wife and children, prepare for the harvest. While most wineries harvest according to the level of sugar in the grapes, Nevo Winery harvests according to the level of acidity in order to achieve both complex wine flavor and long drinking windows.
Nevo is insistent about harvesting by hand, at night, so the heat of the day doesn’t cause the freshly picked grapes to start fermenting before they’re ready.
As soon as the daily tasting and testing shows that the grapes have reached their optimal pH, three generations of the Hazan family don headlamps and enter the excitement of harvest mode. Adults gently cut off the grape clusters. Children run the buckets of grape clusters to the central repository, where they are soon crushed and destemmed.
Over an average of five to seven years, the grapes progress from vine to vat to barrel to bottle. Nevo wines are not mevushal (boiled) in order to give the customers the opportunity to experience the living, vibrant taste of Israel and its fruit.
Each Nevo Winery vintage has its own story, where planned precision meets intuitive spontaneity. Every single barrel is carefully and personally selected in France, and then imported to complement and enhance the flavor of the wine. Nevo employs a practice for some vintages of aging wine for two years in one type of barrel and then switching to an alternate barrel for the remaining three years in order to achieve a complex flavor. He has also created varietals (single-grape wines) from grape varieties used almost exclusively for blends, and they’ve turned out to be some of the most marvelous wines he has ever produced.
The unique combination of precision, history and spirituality can be felt in each sip.