Israel is a ‘new world’ wine country, in one of the oldest wine regions on earth. In this Biblical land, one can find a curious combination of the new, old and ancient world of winemaking in a country no bigger than New Jersey or Wales. It is one of the smallest wine producers in the world.
Ancient Israel, with roots going back deep into Bible times, must have been one of the earliest wine producing countries – at least 2,000 years before the Greeks & Romans took the vine to Europe. It took a Rothschild to renew the tradition and create a modern wine industry. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafite, built wineries and planted vineyards in the late 19th century.The initial advice and expertise was French. However, the quality revolution only really began with expertise from California, in the 1980’s.
However something close to a wine fever has gripped the country in recent years. The area of vineyards has increased to nearly 5,500 hectares and there are now well over 300 wineries, many of them domestic garagistes, which have sprung up in the last 20 years.
Israeli Wine Today
There are about 50 commercial wineries harvesting more than 50 tons a year. The largest ten wineries have over 90% of the market. These are: Carmel, Barkan-Segal, Golan Heights, Teperberg, Tabor, Binyamina, Tishbi, Recanati, Dalton and Galil Mountain. In total, Israel produces about 40 million bottles of wine a year.
Israel is famed for its agriculture. Drip feed irrigation, which is used worldwide, was an Israeli invention that revolutionized the global agricultural industry. Israel’s viticulturists are technologically advanced and up to date. The Israeli wine industry is dynamic and constantly on an upward quality curve.
The main grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There are some interesting varietal Cabernet Francs and Old Vine Carignans and Petite Sirahs too and Grenache is making a comeback. Amongst the whites, there are also Gewurztraminers, Rieslings and Viogniers. Mediterranean blends in the southern Rhone style are growing in popularity and it is a style is Israel makes well.
There is currently great interest in the Holy Land’s indigenous varieties like Hamdani, Jandali and Dabouki and also in the Argaman variety, created in Israel. Israel has won major recognition for dry white wines, sparkling wines and for some luscious dessert wines, but is probably best regarded for its red wines.
Israel is an Eastern Mediterranean country, so it is not a surprise that the climate is mainly Mediterranean. Like many long, narrow countries there are a surprising variety of different mesoclimates in so small an area.
The country is divided into five wine regions: Galilee, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and the Negev. The most successful regions for producing high quality wines are those with higher elevations like the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights and Judean Hills.
Lately, sommeliers, retailers and wine critics all over the world, are beginning to show great interest in Israeli wine. The likes of Robert Parker and Hugh Johnson, Decanter and the Wine Spectator have in recent years come to realize something exciting is taking place in Israel. Arguably, Israel is today producing the best quality wines to be found in the Eastern Mediterranean.