Israeli Winemakers Say Fallout From EU Labeling Decision Still Unclear

The EU wants products made outside the 1967 borders labeled as such. One winery says the financial effects will only be clear in four months.

Nearly a month after the European Union said it wanted Israeli products made outside the 1967 borders labeled as such, Israeli winemakers in the West Bank and Golan Heights say it's too early to gauge the move’s effect on the Continent.

Among the items taken off the shelves at Berlin department store KaDeWe – and returned the next day – were wines from the Golan Heights Winery, one of Israel’s major exporters. Fifteen percent of the Golan Heights Winery’s products are exported to Europe, including to Poland, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia.

According to the winery’s chief executive, Anat Levi, the wines were put back on KaDeWe’s shelves after local customers put on pressure. “We enjoyed an amazing wave of support,” Levi said. “Two or three days later people were looking for our products more than usual.”

But Levi says European importers working with her say they still don’t know how to react to the decision.

“Some of our distributors in Europe asked us what they should do at the moment,” Levi said. “The directive is to remove the label Made in Israel and replace it with something else, but it’s still not clear. In any case, I assume that some importers won’t label the bottles at all.”

Amichai Luria presents a bottle of his wine, used mainly for export, at the Shilo winery in the Jewish settlement of Shilo, West Bank, November 12, 2015.
AFP

So is the Golan Heights Winery considering fighting the decision, perhaps by highlighting the Golan Heights origin – a region where there are no Palestinian towns and villages?

Levi says there are no such plans, “though there are politicians who are trying to get the Golan Heights removed from the decision.”

She says her company doesn’t want to deal with the politics. “We have always been proud of the Golan as our place of cultivation; the name of our region appears on the front and back labels of the bottle,” Levi said.

The Golan Heights Winery seems to have a greater chance of suffering financially from the EU decision – it has a sizable chunk of non-Jewish customers; for example, in Poland.

For the rest of the wineries, it’s possible a media stir will create sympathy among customers. The owner of the Bazelet Hagolan Winery, Yoav Levi, decided even before the final EU decision to stamp an Israeli flag on its corks as a protest against the labeling threat. The people at Bazelet Hagolan want to appear as patriots unafraid to trumpet their country of origin.

“Labeling our wines in Europe causes us very little damage,” said Shibi Drori, owner of the Gvaot Winery in the northern West Bank. Drori calls the EU labeling policy “anti-Jewish.”

“Most of our wines are sold to customers looking for kosher wine, and we assume that in this market, the labeling will have the opposite effect than what the initiators of the sanctions wanted,” Drori said. “This provocation has led plenty of customers in the United States and Canada to specifically buy products from Judea and Samaria in response and support,” Drori said, referring to the West Bank.

Amichai Luria of the Shiloh Winery in the northern West Bank, most of whose products are exported, believes the financial effects of the labeling will not be clear for at least four months.

“The importers say of course they’ll continue buying wine from us, but they prefer to wait for now so as not to return the bottles later for relabeling,” he said.