Philokalia, a natural winery from Bethlehem, Palestine

Natural winery Philokalia was established in 2015 by architect Sari Kouri in the garage of his home in Bethlehem, Palestine. Production is small, at around 5000 bottles annually. Wines are made with no additions, in a mix of stainless steel and clay vessels that he’s had specially made.

‘The vineyards are located in the south-western part of Bethlehem governorate, argilo-calcaire soils, dry farmed bush vines that are elevated on posts, at altitudes of 930-940 m,’ says Sari. The vines are dry grown and rainfall is 450-550 mm per year, with big diurnal temperature swings.  

‘I’ve started working some years ago with old farmers who have preserved the heritage of grape farming, and work with them during the year for the preservation of several microplots to supply Philokalia. Our first cuvee from grapes farmed exclusively from my own plot was just harvested in 2022.’

He adds: ‘In Palestine there’s the “Baal” farming tradition (referring to the ancient Canaanite god Baal, god of fertility/rain… Baal crops such as grapes/olives/figs etc are historically known to the locals as being superior).’

They don’t state the names of varieties because, as Sari says, the ‘competition is eager to know what we’re up to in the vineyard, and they would have the resources and PR network to have their work recognised; we do not have that capacity and continue to evolve organically vintage by vintage.’

‘Grapes of Wrath in particular, originates from a micro plot that was destroyed by the Israeli military to make a road for a settlement. The 90 year old vines were crushed with massive boulders up to 2m in height, but the vines grew back from between the rocks.’ This is pictured above!

Philokalia Grapes of Wrath 2021 Bethlehem, Palestine
13% alcohol. This is a pre-release sample (the wine will be released in Spring 2023). Naturally made with no additions, from local indigenous grape varieties. This is a skin-fermented white but the maceration depends on the plot, and in this case was 1, 3, 4, 5 or 8 weeks. This is textural and fine, with a really lovely mouthfeel: there’s some breadth to the pear skin, table grape and melon fruit, but there’s a bit of structure too, although it’s really fine grained. A delicate, quite pure white with all the flavours in harmony, finishing with just a touch of sweet apple pie character. Really impressive. 93/100

Philokalia Anima Syriana 2019 Bethlehem, Palestine
14.5% alcohol. This wine explores the potential of some rare red varieties, and these are bought in grapes from old vines. No additions, no filtering or fining. This is spicy, layered and complex with hints of meat, pepper, leather and wax, with nice sweet fruit but also a distinct spicy savouriness. A lovely textural wine with a warm sweet core, but also a sense of freshness. It also really benefits with a bit of time in the glass, or after opening, when the harmonious, elegant side comes to the fore after an initial spicy, slightly wild blast immediately after opening. So interesting. 92/100