Iraqi Jew runs Manhattan’s only vineyard

Ever heard of Chateau Latif? (No, not Chateau Lafitte, although the play on words is intended). The wine is named after Latif Jiji, 89, Manhattan’s only winemaker. Charming article in Arutz Sheva, containing an account of how the Jiji family sheltered Jews during the 1941 Farhud (with thanks: Michelle)

 Latif Jiji in his 40-year-old winery (photo: David Klein)

Latif Jiji looks over this year’s crop at Chateau Latif with an expression of satisfaction.

If you’ve never heard of Chateau Latif, you’re not alone. In fact,
your favorite sommelier probably hasn’t heard of it, either. It’s not
from the south of France, nor is it from Napa Valley. Rather, its
terroir is the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

As far as he knows, Jiji is the only winemaker in Manhattan who grows
his own grapes on the island. The “chateau” is the brownstone that
Jiji, 89, has shared with his wife, Vera, for the past 50 years, and the
winery’s grounds are their 15-by-45-foot backyard. The grapes come from
a single vine, measuring more than 100 feet, that grows out of the
garden, up the exterior wall and onto the roof.

Though the vine draws its water from the East River, its roots
stretch back to a different waterway: the Shatt Al-Arab, the confluence
of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, on which the Iraqi port city of
Basra sits. It was there, in 1927, that Jiji was born into a Jewish
family. He caught the winemaking bug from his father, who grew grapes
and made wine in the courtyard of their home on Basra’s main
thoroughfare.

Jiji said his passion for wine “came from being Jewish in Iraq,
celebrating Passover.” The making and drinking of alcohol, he explained,
was something that separated Iraq’s Jewish and Christian minorities
from the country’s Muslim majority, for whom alcohol is forbidden.

During his childhood, Basra was a sleepy town with about 10 synagogues and two Jewish schools, Jiji told JTA. Life in Basra was peaceful, he said, and the Jewish, Muslim and Christian residents of the city coexisted nicely.

But in 1941, after Iraq’s short-lived alliance with Nazi Germany
prompted a British invasion, rioting and looting that targeted Jewish
neighborhoods and businesses broke out in the city. The pogrom became
known as the Farhud — an Arabic term meaning “violent dispossession” —
and while it was limited to looting in Basra, in Baghdad nearly 200 Jews
were murdered and hundreds more wounded.

The Jijis were spared most of the violence, and they opened their
home to friends and relatives fleeing more dangerous parts of the city.

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