Israel may not be the first destination that comes to mind when thinking about wine, however, the region has been producing it for thousands of years. Since ancient times, and endowed with great symbolic value, wine has been part of everyday life and religious ceremonies. Today, the Israeli wine industry is booming, with its vineyards and wineries becoming a major attraction for wine lovers and tourists in general.
Israel as a tourist destination
Israel is a small country in size but very varied in landscapes and microclimates, as well as being highly rich and contrasting due to its cultural and religious diversity, its ancient history (where old traditions coexist with modernity and high technology), its delicious Mediterranean cuisine, its markets, and its quality wines.
Genesis of wine in Israel
Wine exists throughout the Middle East since biblical times. Even ancient Egypt sourced wine from Cana. For the Jews, wine represented not only a drink but an element of religious celebrations, later inherited by Christians (just recall the miracle of the wedding at Cana, in Galilee, where Jesus transformed water into wine, and the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, using the elements of bread and wine).
The Roman period made Judea and the port cities of Ashkelon and Gaza vital centers for wine production. The important wine tradition of the region faded during Muslim rule of the Holy Land: the Ottomans, for whom it was forbidden to drink wine, continued to cultivate vineyards, but only for table grapes. In that period, many native vines disappeared. The Crusaders tried to replant vineyards in the 12th and 13th centuries, but finally ended up “importing” wines from Europe.
Renaissance of viticulture
Five centuries later, a radical renewal of viticulture began in present-day Israel. In 1848, Rabbi Itzhak Shorr built the Zion winery in Jerusalem. In 1852, Rabbi Abraham Teperberg founded an agricultural school near Jaffa.
However, viticulture in present-day Israel was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, a Jewish banker and winegrower from Bordeaux, owner of Château Lafite Rothschild, who in the 1880s planted vineyards of French grape varieties. In 1906, his company became the Carmel cooperative of winegrowers, which began exporting kosher wines for the Jewish community worldwide. In 1982, the Golan Heights Winery was founded, whose production principle was quality wine at affordable prices.
Traditionally, wines made for religious, ceremonial, and sanctification purposes used to be red and sweet. Over time, the taste of Israelis evolved in line with international standards. While still making kosher wines and wines for religious purposes, today Israel has great wines that are more commercial and competitive within the market.
There are currently more than 300 wineries in Israel. The white wines that have received the most awards are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Roussanne, Viognier, Colombard, Gewürztraminer, and Grenache blanc, while among the red wines, we can mention: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Barbera, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Carignan. To these, we must add two very interesting native vines: Marawi and Argaman.
Israel has a remarkable variety of areas and climates, each with very variable microclimates, even every 2 or 3 kilometers. They range from the sea to the mountains, with incursions between valleys and the desert.
Although Israel’s wine map is divided by topography, soil, and climate into six distinct regions, it can be difficult to classify Israeli producers by region. Many have their winery in one region but produce wines from several or all regions, taking advantage of the fact that grapes harvested anywhere in the country can reach the winery in one or two hours.
The official wine regions in Israel are Galilee, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills, and the Negev.
Wine tourism in Israel
Wine tourism in Israel, which is rapidly expanding and has great potential, is a unique and varied experience in a relatively small territory, offering a combination of history, culture, and high-quality wine. Israel’s vineyards, commercial wineries, and boutique wineries are open to the public. Many of these wineries are located near “zimmers,” small rural tourism centers in northern Israel.
Most wineries offer guided tours, wine tastings, and special events. They have a variety of ancient grapes, which are now in the process of being recovered, as well as modern grapes. The development and use of new viticultural technologies (drones, moisture sensors, winemaking technologies, among others) are also of interest, due to Israel’s long-standing leadership in agricultural technologies.
A journey through Israel’s wine routes, with its historic and biblical sites, is undoubtedly a very pleasant, inspiring, and highly interesting experience.
From Viavinum, we can design you a fabulous tailor-made trip to Israel including visits to some of its boutique wineries. Whether you are a wine initiate or a wine lover, do not hesitate to contact us.