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Golan Heights: Making wine in the shadow of war

From Ian Lee, CNN
updated 12:56 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
  • Marketplace Middle East takes a look inside multimillion dollar Golan Heights winery
  • Picturesque vineyard in northern Israel attracts tourists
  • But next door, sirens blare as civil war rages in Syria
  • Workers take shelter after airstrike, tanks of wine destroyed

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(CNN) -- A cold morning mist hangs over row after row of deep purple grapes -- a scene ripe for thoughtful contemplation.

Just a few fields away a civil war ensues, and occasionally the sound of sirens punctuates the serene vineyard.

In the Golan Heights, two drastically different worlds exist side-by-side -- as dissimilar as water and wine.

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While the multimillion dollar Pelter Winery in northern Israel begins each morning harvesting fruit, nearby Syrian rebels and government troops exchange gunfire.

Israel occupied this strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 war.

And the region -- characterized by a dry climate, high altitude, and sunshine ideal for grape growing -- was turned into a major wine producer.

Fruits of labor

Today the Pelter Winery is one such site, producing over 100,000 bottles each year.

Jews and Arabs from nearby villages harvest the grapes, before a conveyer belt delivers them to a giant press.

There's no foot stomping here, as the richly-colored fruit is processed and placed in giant oak barrels that co-owner Tal Pelter likes to call "expensive tea bags."

"In a year from now it'll be ready," he explains in a warehouse stacked high with barrels.

Grape harvesting in the Golan Heights.
Getty Images

"When you go to taste the barrels you know where you started. You see the progress in the development of the flavor."

Messy Business

But the business hasn't been left completely untouched by the bloodshed across the rolling hills.

One time an airstrike hit the winery, shrapnel peppering the walls and injuring one person.

The tanks holding the wine were also hit, spilling tens of thousands of bottles of wine over the ground.

"It took our very calm lifestyle and shook it up a bit," said Pelter.

It took our very calm lifestyle and shook it up a bit
Tal Pelter, co-owner Pelter Winery

"But it's not something to be afraid of."

Tasteful holiday?

Tourists don't appear to be put off, traveling to the picturesque fields to taste wine directly from the source.

"We are wine lovers -- this is how we've stayed married for 32 years," jokes Rachel Spigelman about her husband Tzvi.

Though the leisurely sipping is suddenly cut short by a siren blaring.

Workers and tourists take cover, exposing the surreal reality of life in the Golan Heights.

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