Forget Kiddush Wine – did you know that Israel has over 200 wineries and a gallery of awards for world-class Israeli wines? Join Shatour to taste Israel’s top wines and visit the scenic boutique wineries where they are produced.
Wines have been produced in the Holy Land since Biblical times but today’s wineries are using the latest technologies to produce exciting new vintages. Israel’s wine-growing regions are among the most beautiful in the world to visit, from the lush northern Galil and Galilee regions to the Judean Hills and northern Negev desert. Israel is a tiny country and almost half of it is desert, but its wineries produce over 35 million bottles of wine a year.
The climate in Israel is ideal for viniculture – mostly Mediterranean with long, hot dry summers and short wet winters. In the north there may be snow on higher ground for several weeks, while the south of the country has semi-arid and desert conditions all year around. Growers are increasingly cultivating international grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Colombard, Muscat, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Emerald Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
The history of wine-making in Israel can be seen in the ancient wine presses and storage jars that have been unearthed throughout the country. The Arab conquest of the region and three centuries of Ottoman rule shut down the business, but wine has always played an important part in the Jewish religion. Rabbis teamed up with agricultural schools and kibbutzim in the late 19th century to restart the wine industry to make kosher wines for Shabbat and Pesach.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who owned the Chateau Lafite winery in France, decided to invest in planting vineyards in 1884 and set up wineries in Rishon LeZion and Zichron Yaakov that can be visited today. They became the basis of the State of Israel’s wine industry, marketed around the world by the Carmel Wine Company, which is today responsible for 40% of the country’s production.
During the 1970s, new vineyards were planted and new wineries opened in the Golan Heights and across the Judean Hills. In recent decades, vintners trained in France, Germany, California and Australia, have set up boutique wineries to take advantage of the variations in climate, altitude and soil types, experimenting with 42 different grape varietals and wine-making techniques, to compete for national and international awards.
Rothschild’s legacy has expanded around Zichron Yaakov to include Binyamina and Tishbi. To the north east you should visit the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights regions, whose wineries win international awards for their complex and interesting wines. The cool climate and high altitude make this region’s wines the most sought-after Israeli vintages.
The Galil Mountain winery, located 1,000 meters above sea level, collects grapes from six local vineyards to make its renowned wines. The Golan Heights Winery won the 2012 New World Winery of the Year award and was the first Israeli winery to win Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s prestigious Wine Star Award. Their state-of-the-art facility offers tours and tastings, where you can try their many award-winning Israeli wines.
In central Israel, where the weather is hotter and more humid, you can visit the Rishon LeZion and Barkan wineries along with smaller boutique operations like Ella Valley and Teperberg. Wineries and vineyards carpet the Judean Hills, where high altitude combines with a warm climate and low rainfall to grow flavorsome grapes. International wine experts recommend the Domaine du Castel and Psagot wineries in this region. Heading further south to the Negev Desert, modern irrigation techniques allow vintners to experiment with different grape varietals, with stunning results. The Yatir winery is regarded as the best winery in this area.
The Israeli wine industry has come a long way from the sticky sweet flavors that are associated with kosher wine. Take a tour of the Middle East’s top New World wineries and we promise you’ll want more than a sip of their wines! Talk to Shatour about our Israel Wine Tours today.