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- History - A history of Israeli wine and winemaking

History of Israeli Wine

Though a recent and still quite small player in the international wine market, Israel has proven itself worthy of comparison with any New World country. Once known only for its sweet religious wines, the country now boasts a wide variety of award winning table wines as well.

Legend holds that when Moses and the Israelites arrived at Palestine, two spies returned from what is now Israel carrying a cluster of grapes. According to biblical history, the wine from these grapes lasted for forty years as Moses and his followers wandered the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula.

However, wine was made in Israel well before biblical times. The land of Israel exported wine to the Egyptians, and later to the Roman Empire. Not known for their quality, these Israeli wines were incredibly sweet, unsophisticated, and strong. With the waning of the Roman Empire, Israel was conquered by the Moslem Empire in 636 A.D. and winemaking effectively stopped for over a thousand years.

Frenchman Baron Edmond de Rothschild reintroduced viticulture to the region in 1870 by providing financial support and winemaker consultants to the region, but the wine still retained its sickly rich and medicinal taste. Even Israeli independence in 1948 did little to change the countrys wine, which was still used mostly for religious ceremonies.

However, in the 1980s Israels winemaking culture took a dramatic leap forward with the production of fine table wines for daily consumption, not just specific events. Thanks to influences from France and California, several wineries began to win notable international awards. For example, The Golan Heights Winery, established in 1983, won gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition with its 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon. The trend of rapid improvement has continued to this day, and Israels several climate zones have contributed to making Israeli wines as diverse as they are good. The regions wine scene today is composed of many small boutique wineries and a few larger players as well.

- Overview - An overview of Israeli wine.

Overview of Israeli Wine

Once known only for its sweet religious wines, Israels wine revolution in the 1980s has catapulted the country into the international spotlight. With a multitude of climate zones and soils, Israel has everything it needs for fine wine production. With an enterprising and determined population of winemakers, Israeli wines represent the best of technologically advanced, cutting edge viticulture.

Though the country only grows about 4,000 hectares of vineyards, this is enough for the few large and many boutique wineries to achieve profitability. The most common varieties planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, Johannisberg Riesling, and Muscat grapes taking a secondary role.

Though domestic and international conflicts continually threaten Israels newfound winemakers, particularly in the Golan Heights region, the industry has managed to overcome these odds and provide good quality Kosher and other table wines around the world.

- Understanding Kosher Wine - A guide to understanding Israeli Wine

Understanding Kosher Wine

Many of the wines produced in Israel today are labeled “Kosher”, especially those from the larger wineries. This title indicates a fairly complex set of rules governing viticulture. For a wine to be Kosher, vines must be at least four years old, and must be left un-harvested every seventh year. Tools used during winemaking must be Kosher, and may not be used for other purposes outside of winemaking. The tools themselves may only be used by practicing male Jews, and for many wineries one percent of the finished product is poured out as a symbolic ritual. Kosher winemaking in no way negatively affects the quality of wine produced, and the label of Kosher does not necessarily indicate a the traditional sweet Israeli wine for religious ceremonies.

Major

- Galilee

Galilee

The northeastern corner of Galilee and the Golan Heights is arguably the finest wine region in Israel. Its high altitude and cool sea breezes combined with well-draining soil make it ideally suited for winemaking. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc all prosper in this hilly region. Major winemakers are the Golan Heights Winery and Dalton Winery.

- Judean Hill

Judean Hills

Located just outside of the city of Jerusalem, this area’s high climate and cool temperatures make it well suited to varietals like Chardonnay. This region also produces much of Israel’s sweet wine for religious ceremonies.

- Negev

Negev

A relatively recent addition to Israel’s wine map, the Negev region lies in the hot, dry desert to the south. Winemaking is only possible here thanks to extensive irrigation, but the warm climate does make the Negev region well suited to the production of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

- Samson

Samson

This region lies between the coastal plain of Central Israel and the Judean Hills to the east.

- Shomron

Shomron

Shomron is located in northwestern Israel around the city of Haifa. This large and productive region benefits from a distinctly Mediterranean climate with warm days tempered by cool sea breezes. Some of Shomron’s most important wineries are Baron, Binyamina and Zichron Ya'acov.