Jerusalem Apartment Building Celebrates 10 Years as a Winery

The Katamon Winery celebrates a decade with neighborhood residents - who are full partners in making the wine, from pressing the grapes to pouring the fermented liquid into the casks to age.

"Here is where all the magic happens," declared Avital Goldner as he pulled out his key ring to unlock the storage area under the stairs of his Jerusalem apartment building.

Along one wall stood a row of wooden casks, each circled by metal bands. Only the thermostat on the wall detracted slightly from the atmosphere of medieval authenticity.

"I import them from France," Goldner said proudly, pointing to the casks.

On the other wall, not more than 60 centimeters from the casks, are dozens of glass bottles in two colors. Most are covered with heaps of dust.

"The more dust there is, the better the wine is," Goldner explained.

In the adjacent room are three vats for fermenting the wine. Together with the casks and the bottles, they comprise the Katamon Winery - named after the Jerusalem neighborhood where Goldner lives.

Yesterday, the community winery celebrated its 10th anniversary. Neighborhood residents - who are full partners in making the wine, from pressing the grapes to pouring the fermented liquid into the casks to age - have been waiting for this day for a long time: They're already well-acquainted with Goldner's annual bashes.

"No other winery does what we do - this routine of an annual event," Goldner said. "A few weeks beforehand, [neighborhood residents] start calling to find out when it will be and mark the date on their calendars."

Goldner, 45, spends his days as a sofer, a scribe who writes religious texts. In the evenings, he exercises by doing karate. He has trouble explaining why he decided to launch a community winery as well.

"It began half seriously, half as a joke," he said. "Our family made a small quantity of wine from muscat grapes we bought in the open-air market. It turned out to be good wine, and that pulls you in.

"Already then, in 2002, we saw it was lots of fun to make wine. We wanted to involve other people in it, so we invited a lot of guys. It's very hard to work at this alone. It's better to do it in a group. We started involving neighbors and friends, and it became a kind of permanent happening."

"To me, it just adds spice to life," he added. "To live in a city, with all the soot and everything, it's depressing. If you can liven it up with community activity, why not?"

Our conversation took place outside Goldner's building. Mordechai Frankel, a neighbor, came by on his bike, stopped to chat and was invited to taste the wine. That's the norm at the Katamon Winery, Goldner said.

Frankel agreed. "The social part is that people come in on a daily basis," he said. "It's not a one-time event. The neighbors are invited to visit, they taste what's in the casks. When [neighborhood] residents are hosting friends and relatives they bring them here to see the neighborhood attraction."

The grapes used by the winery are grown in a vineyard near Karmei Yosef, on the coastal plain. Goldner has strict criteria for his grapes, which he learned after starting the winery.

He denied that locating the winery in an apartment building harms the quality of the wine. And he has backing for that claim: In the wine guide published by the late wine critic Daniel Rogov, Goldner's winery received high marks - almost 90.

But Goldner, surprisingly, is ambivalent about the praise. "On one hand, I very much want to make good wine, a perfect artistic creation," he said. "On the other hand, I know it's nonsense to a large extent. It's all wine: You drink, you excrete, what's the big deal? I have a problem with the pomposity that has developed around this whole issue. Wine is to a large extent a matter of personal taste.

"In my view, the wine itself is less important that the human encounters that develop around it," he added. "That's what interests me more."