June 28th 2014
Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, had a dream to make the southern deserts of Israel bloom. The Yatir Winery, a fulfillment of that dream, lies in the midst of the largest planted forest in Israel on the northern and western edges of the Negev. Founded in 2000, Yatir has produced a bottle of wine that was judged to be so excellent that it scored 93 points from world famous wine critic Robert Parker. Many people believe that this single, exceptional rating is what put the entire Israeli winemaking industry on the map in recent years.
The grapes that Yatir Winery uses are grown in the vineyards of Ramat Arad, in the semi-arid climate of the Negev desert. The winery’s facility is rich with ancient history. In nearby Tel Arad, archaeologists uncovered artifacts from the times of the early kings of Judah, including the sons and grandsons of King Solomon. Over time, remains of 180 different antique wine presses have been identified on the grounds of the winery, reinforcing the connection between the modern winery and its ancient origins on this land.
Visitors are often astonished to learn that grapes can grow in the desert. In fact, the Yatir Winery’s management is proud of continuing a tradition of winemaking in the area that goes back thousands of years. The Yatir Forest is believed to be the spot where the Biblical Lot escaped after fleeing from Sodom. The book of Genesis describes Lot as drinking quite a lot of wine here. The ancient wine presses found on the site attest to the fact that the region has been considered prime wine country for several millennia.
Today, Yatir Winery produces 170,000 bottles each year. Guided tours can be arranged for groups as large as 20. Tour groups are treated to views of the grape pit, the tank farm, the wine cellar and the bottling systems. Of course, no winery tour would be complete without a tasting.
By prior arrangement, visitors can experience an expanded tour that includes a drive though the Yatir Forest and its reservoir, noting remnants of agricultural work that was conducted on the land. The expanded tour includes a walk through the ruins of the ancient synagogue of Ainim. For an extra special experience, ask your tour guide to arrange breakfast in the Yatir Forest.