The History of Wine In Israel

The history of wine in Israel dates back many thousands of years with evidence of winemaking from artifacts and literature. The early Israelites were viticulturists and winemakers, growing their own grapes then making wine in large quantities. Because Israel has a long history of drought, legend has it they drank more wine than water.

Israel’s long history in viticulture was a tumultuous one. Around the 8th century BCE, Israeli wines were exported to Italy with the rise of the Roman Empire, but came to a sudden stop with the invasion of Islam which prohibited drinking alcohol. Hundreds of years later the wine industry was able to start up again, but it wasn’t long before there was another invasion and winemaking was once again prohibited.

Until the 1800s, when cuttings from Vitis vinifera (French) grape varieties were brought to Israel, the wines had been made with indigenous grape varieties that were found only in Israel. It was in 1882 that Baron Edmond de Rothschild helped to establish what eventually became Israels’s most famous winery, Carmel Winery.

In spite of Israel’s long history of winemaking, few wine enthusiasts know about the modern Israeli wine industry.

 

Israeli Wineries and Wine Regions

Wine regions are divided into Old and New World Regions. While officially Israel belongs to the Old World Region, as the production of wine in Israel began more than 2,000 years before it began in Europe one could put it in a class of its own the Ancient World Region. Evidence has been found throughout the country of wine production from the northern most point in the Galilee and Golan Heights down to the southern Negev Desert Region. Under the Roman Empire wine from this area was the most sought after vintage and arrived to the capital with the name of the winemaker inscribed on it, much like today’s modern industry.

Currently, there are over 25 commercial wineries and over 300 boutique wineries in Israel. One of the leading commercial wineries in Israel is Carmel Winery which has been producing wines since 1882 based in Zichron Yaakov and Rishon Le’Tzion. An interesting, innovative boutique winery called Tulip Winery in Kfar Tikva (Hope Village) partners wine with social responsibility by employing adults with special needs and giving the proceeds back to support the community and its activities.

 

The five major wine regions in Israel are:

 

Galilee and Golan Heights

Galilee has been compared to Tuscany This region is most suited for viticulture due to its high elevation, cool breezes, marked day and night temperature changes and rich, well-drained soils.


JustWine Pick for the Galilee Wine Region
Galil Mountain Rosé


 

The Judean Hills

This wine region surrounds the city of Jerusalem and is known for cooler temperatures. It is known for increasing quality and a deep sense of terroir.


JustWine Pick for the Jedean Hills Wine Region
Segal’s Single Vineyard Argaman


 

Shimshon (Samson)

This region is located between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain. The climate is Mediterranean as is lies close to the coast. This means the temperature is moderated making it ideal for growing white grape varieties and making moderate climate red wines.


JustWine Pick for the Samson Wine Region
Tishbi Winery French Riesling


 

The Negev

A semi-arid desert region, The Negev is where technological innovations like drip irrigation have made grape growing possible.


JustWine Pick for the Negev Wine Region
Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2007 Sde Boker


 

The Sharon Plain

The largest grape growing region in Israel, The Sharon Plain stretches from the Mediterranean coast, just south of Haifa including the towns of Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina.


JustWine Pick for the Sharon Plain Wine Region
Galil Mountain Rosé


 

Jancis Robinson in “The Oxford Companion to Wine” writes this:

A primary concern in Israeli wine production is maintaining acid levels to balance the naturally high sugars that the warm climate of the region produces. Vineyards at higher elevations, as opposed to the lower coastal plains, have more consistently produced wines with the necessary acid balance. Cabernet Sauvignon has shown the greatest aging potential thus far. The smooth texture and ripe tannins of Israeli Merlot has increased that wine’s popularity in the market. Chardonnay grown in Israel has shown itself to be highly reflective of terroir and reflective of the particular characteristics of vineyard soils. It is also the primary grape used in Israeli sparkling wine production made according to the Methode Champenoise.

 

The Major Grape Varieties Grown in Israel

Today the most widely planted varietals in Israel include:

 

Major Red Wine Grape Varieties:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Merlot

Syrah

Crossing Argaman

Cabernet Franc

Major White Wine Grape Varieties:

Chardonnay

Sauvignon Blanc

Gewurztraminer

Riesling

 

Wine Tourism in Israel

Israel is now working hard to become a major Eno-tourism destination. Activities and events are being built around wine tastings and winery tours for residence and tourists. Wine tourism has huge appeal, particularly for wine enthusiasts that are looking for an uncommon wine region to experience something out of the ordinary. Just imagine sipping on an indigenous Israeli wine as you watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Here’s an excellent video about the wine industry in Israel: (Start at 1:37)

 

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