Israeli wine: Wikis


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Tour of Zichron Yaakov winery, 1945

Israeli wine is produced by hundreds of wineries, ranging in size from small boutique enterprises to large companies producing over ten million bottles per year. Wine has been produced in the Land of Israel since biblical times. Israel now exports over $22 million worth of wine annually.[1]

The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. Today, Israeli winemaking takes place in five vine-growing regions: Galil (Galilee, including the Golan Heights), the region most suited for viticulture due to its high elevation, cool breezes, marked day and night temperature changes and rich, well-drained soils; the Judean Hills, surrounding the city of Jerusalem; Shimshon (Samson), located between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain; the Negev, a semi-arid desert region, where drip irrigation has made grape growing possible; and the Sharon plain near the Mediterranean coast and just south of Haifa, surrounding the towns of Zichron Ya'akov and Binyamina, which is the largest grape growing area in Israel.

In 2007, recognized wine critic Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate awarded 14 Israeli wines its highest wine rating of "outstanding."[2]



Ruins of an ancient Israeli wine press dating to the Talmudic period (100 - 400 CE)

Viticulture has existed in the land of Israel since biblical times. In the book of Deuteronomy, the fruit of the vine was listed as one of the seven blessed species of fruit found in the land of Israel(Deut. 8:8).[3] The location of Israel along a historic wine trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt brought winemaking knowledge and influence to the area. Wine played a significant role in the religion of the early Israelites with images of grape growing, harvesting and winemaking often being used to illustrate religious ideals.[4] In Roman times, wine from Israel was exported to Rome with the most sought after wines being vintage dated with the name of the winemaker inscribed on the amphora. In the 7th century AD, the Islamic conquest of the Middle East virtually wiped out the region's wine industry with wineries closing down and vineyards, planted with now lost indigenous grape varieties, pulled out.[5] During the Crusades, Christian Crusaders and entourages temporarily revived winemaking between 1100 to 1300 AD but the return of Islamic rule and the subsequent Jewish Diaspora extinguished the industry once again.[3]

In 1848, a rabbi in Jerusalem founded the first documented winery in modern times but its establishment was short lived. In 1870, the first Jewish agricultural college, Mikveh Israel, was founded and featured a course on viticulture.[4] The root of the modern Israeli wine industry can be traced to the late 19th century when the French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild, began importing French grape varieties and technical know how to the region. In 1882, he help establish Carmel Winery with vineyards and wine production facilities in Rishon LeZion and Zikhron Ya'akov near Haifa. Still in operation today, Carmel is the largest producer of Israeli wine and has been at the forefront of many technical and historical advances in both winemaking and Israeli history.[3] One of the first telephones in Israel was installed at Carmel and the country's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, worked in Carmel's cellars in his youth.[6]

For most of its history in the modern era, the Israeli wine industry was based predominately on the production of Kosher wines which was exported worldwide to Jewish communities. The quality of these wines were varied with many being produced from high yielding vineyards that valued quantity over quality. Many of these wines were also some what sweet.[3] In the late 1960s, Carmel Winery the first Israeli winery to make a dry table wine.[6] It wouldn't be till the 1980s when the industry as a whole saw a revival in quality winemaking when an influx of winemaking talent from Australia, California and France brought modern technology and technical know how to the growing Israeli wine industry.[3] In 1989, the first boutique winery in Israel, Margalit Winery, was founded.[5] By the 1990s, Israeli estates such as Golan Heights Winery and Domaine du Castel were winning awards at international wine competitions.[3] The 1990s saw a subsequent "boom" in the opening of boutique wineries. By 2000 there 70 wineries in Israel and by 2005 that numbered jumped to 140.[7]

Today, less than 15% of Israeli wine is produced for sacremental purposes. The three largest producers-Carmel Winery, Barkan Wine Cellars and Golan Heights Winery account for more than 80% of the domestic market. The United States is the largest export destination.[3] Even though it contains only around a quarter of the planted acreage as Lebanon, Israel has emerged as a driving force for winemaking in the Eastern Mediterranean due to its willingness to adopt new technology and its large export market. The country has also seen the emergence of a modern wine culture with up-scale restaurants featuring international wines dedicated to an ever increasing wine-conscious clientele.[8]

Climate and geography

Southeast mediterranean annotated geography.jpg

Israel has a distinctly Mediterranean climate, with the country located along roughly the same latitude as San Diego and the US-Mexico border. There are two primary seasons - a hot, humid summer season running from April to October with very little precipitation and a cold, rainy winter season from late October to March. During winter, average precipitation is around 20 inches (50 cm) with some areas seeing as much as 35 inches (90 cms) annually.[4] Some vineyards in the higher elevation regions of Golan Heights can see snow in the winter months. The dry growing season, drip irrigation is essentially to sustaining viticulture. Vineyard managers will utilizing pruning and canopy management techniques to maximize shade production from the sunlight. Harvest will often take place during the cooler temperatures of night time.[3] The dryness of the growing seasons serves a protective barrier to many grape diseases that thrive in damp weather and allows vineyard managers to control vigor and yields with by irrigation.[4]

Israel is roughly equal in size to the state of New Jersey and is bordered by Lebanon and Syria to the north/north east, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the deserts leading to the border with Egypt to the south west, the Jordan River and Dead Sea region along with the border to Jordan comprise the country's eastern boundaries.[6] Vines are grown throughout the country ranging from the mountain ranges along the Lebanon, Syria borders down to Beersheba and Arad in the south. Small plantings are also found on the Mizpe Ramon plateau and at Neot Smadar in the desert north of Eilat.[4] The vast majority of Israeli winemaking takes place in the more temperate northern climate: Galilee, Sharon Plain, Samson, Golan Heights, and the Judean foothills in the West Bank.[3]

Across Israel there is a wide range of microclimates due to differing soil types and topography. Most areas have limestone based soils with layers of marl and hard dolomites. The color of the soils range from red terra rosa in Judea and Galilee near Mount Tabor to gray in the mountain ranges stretching from Mount Carmel to Zikhron Ya'akov. Marine sediments are found in the loam soils of the coastal plains and at the base of the elevated foothills around Binyamina-Giv'at Ada and Latroun. The Golan Heights and parts of the Upper and Lower Galilee regions have significant layers of basalt deposits of clay and tuff created by centuries of volcanic activity and lava flows. Wind blown sediment deposits help create the loess based and alluvial sand soils of the Negev area.[4]

Wine regions

Chardonnay from the Golan Heights Winery

Israeli wine is produced in five regions: Galilee (which includes the sub-regions of the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee and Lower Galilee); the Judean Hills, surrounding the city of Jerusalem; the Samson region, located between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain; the Negev desert region; and the Shomron region, which includes the Sharon plain located near the Mediterranean coast and just south of Haifa. More than 80% of the vineyards planted in Israel are located in the Shomron, Samson and Galilee regions.[3] As of 2005, there were 14,820 acres (6,000 hectares) under vine.[7]

The Golan contains some of the highest elevated vineyards in Israeli-controlled territory, with vineyard planted upwards of 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) from the Sea of Galilee towards Mount Hermon.[8] There are seven Israeli wineries in the Golan Heights that cultivate a total of 1,600 acres (648 hectares). These include four boutiques, and Chateau Golan, Bazelet Hagolan, and the Golan Heights Winery whose Yarden, Gamla, and Golan labels enjoy international renown.[9].

The Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967, are located northeast of Israel proper, though Israel considers it a sub-region of the Galilee. The political status of the Golan Heights has resulted in controversy on the export market. In one example, following domestic demand for kosher wine, a number of Golan Heights wines were marketed by Systembolaget, Sweden's state-owned monopoly alcohol retailer, as "Made in Israel" on shelves and in the sales catalogue. Following customer complaints and consultation with Sweden's foreign ministry, Systembolaget changed the shelf labelling to read, "Made in Israeli-occupied Syrian territories."[10] However this prompted further complaints, from some customers and a Member of Parliament. Systembolaget's solution was to simply remove all reference to the product's country of origin on shelves and in catalogues, classifying the wine as of "other origins."[11][12] The actual bottles remained unchanged throughout the controversy, and carried the producer's English-language labels.

Grape varieties

Cabernet Sauvignon

During centuries of Islamic rule, alcohol production was banned as part of the Islamic dietary laws. Ancient Israeli vineyards were pulled out along with any indigenous grape varieties. Today, the wine industry produces primarily French grape varieties imported during the late 19th century. The most widely planted varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon blanc. Emerging varieties that have recently been increasing in popularity include Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Riesling and Syrah. Other varieties planted to some significant degree include Emerald Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria and the crossing Argaman.[3]

A primary concern in Israeli wine production is maintaining acid levels to balance the naturally high sugars that this warm climate region produces. Vineyards at higher elevations, as opposed to the lower coastal plains, have more consistently produced wines wines with the necessary acid balance.[3] Cabernet Sauvignon has shown the most potential to age and develop. The smooth texture and ripe tannins of Israeli Merlot has increased that wine's popularity in the market. Chardonnay grown in Israeli has shown itself to be highly reflective of terroir and reflective of the particularly characteristics of vineyard soils. It is also the primary grape used in Israeli sparkling wine production made according to the methode champenoise.[4]

Production figures

As of 2008, the Israeli wine industry produced an average of 30 million bottles of wine annually in a variety of styles ranging from red, white, rosé, still, sparkling and dessert wines. Large wineries and co-operatives still dominate the industry but there is an emerging culture of small production boutique wineries. The 8 largest wineries in Israel, in terms of production volume, are Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Efrat Wine Cellars, Binyamina Wine Cellar, Tishbi Winery,[13] Segal Winery and Dalton Winery.[4]

Wine tourism

It was announced in early 2008 that a 150-acre (0.61 km2) wine park would be created on the slopes between Zichron Ya'akov and Binyamina in order to promote tourism in the area and wine tourism in Israel in general.[14]

Assessment by wine critics

Annually since 2005, Daniel Rogov, Israel's leading wine critic and Food & Wine Critic for Haaretz, has been ranking Israeli wines in his Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wines. In the 2010 Edition, Rogov describes, sorts and ranks 2,000 wines from nearly 150 Israeli wineries.

Israel's reds, whites and rosés also have been praised by Robert Parker and Oz Clarke. When Parker first reviewed Israeli wines in 2007, he awarded 14 of them more than 90 out of a maximum 100 points, rating them world-class.[15] Clarke included two Israeli wineries, Domaine du Castel and Yatir, in his Pocket Wine Book 2010. Kim Marcus, managing editor of Wine Spectator magazine, was not impressed by Israel’s wineries in the 1990s, but in 2008, he wrote that quality had improved immensely, especially the red wines.[16]

Kosher wine

There are two methods for making kosher wine. One is to bring the wine, however briefly, to near-boiling point, so that it can be considered 'cooked', and the other is to insure the grapes are harvested by Jewish workers and handled only by a kashrut supervisor. When the first method is used, the wine will typically be flash-pasteurized while flowing through steel pipes, and then immediately cooled. With the second method, only the supervisor can extract the fermenting drink from the barrel to allow the wine maker to taste for readiness. [17]


  1. ^ Israeli wine flows onto international shelves
  2. ^ "Grapes on the Golan: Israel's Wine Industry". Newsweek. 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 364-365 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h A. Domine (ed) Wine pg 742-745 Ullmann Publishing 2008 ISBN 9783833146114
  5. ^ a b K. Marcus "Israel's Moment In the Sun" Wine Spectator June 30, 2008
  6. ^ a b c K. Marcus "Israel Awakens" Wine Spectator, Sept 30 1998
  7. ^ a b T. Stevenson "The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia" pg 438 Dorling Kindersley 2005 ISBN 0756613248
  8. ^ a b H. Johnson & J. Robinson The World Atlas of Wine pg 265 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 2005 ISBN 1840003324
  9. ^ Howard G Goldberg (June 11, 2007). "Future Once Again in Question for Golan Heights Wineries". Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  10. ^ Oliver Styles (June 8, 2006). "Sweden ignites Israeli wine row". Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  11. ^ "Sells Wine from Occupied Area". September 21, 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  12. ^ "Row over Golan Heights wine". The Local. June 5, 2006. Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ "Israel seeks to become wine tourism destination". Globes. 2008-01-17. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  15. ^ Israel's wine industry gets international recognition from US critic by Nicky Blackburn, January 3, 2008, in Israel 21c Innovation News Service, Retrieved 2009-12-16
  16. ^ Toasting Israel's Vineyards
  17. ^ Toasting Israel's Vineyards

External links

Further reading

  • Ben-Joseph, Michael, The Bible of Israeli Wines, Moshav Ben Shemen, Modan Publishing House, (2002) ISBN 9657141281
  • Rogov, Daniel, Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wines 2010, The Toby Press LLC, (2009) ISBN 9781592642625


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