The Contemporary Wine Industry of Israel

November 21st 2012

 When most people think of Israel, wine probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But the country has an ancient tradition of winemaking that dates back to biblical times, and which today is once again thriving. The small country is home to hundreds of wineries, from small-batch, family-run boutique operations to large companies that produce millions of bottles per year for international distribution.

The modern day Israeli wine industry was jump-started by Baron de Rothschild, who brought grapes from his native France and encouraged and funded vineyards to be planted. For such a small country, Israel’s climate and geography varies dramatically, and there are five distinctive wine regions throughout the country today: Galilee, Judean Hills, Samson, Shomron and Negev.

Besides being contemporary viticulture centers, these wine regions are also rich with religious and historical meaning. For example, the Samson region (the central coastal plain that includes Tel Aviv) was named for the biblical hero, who is believed to be buried at nearby Tel Tzora.

Surrounding Jerusalem, the Judean Hills are rife with great wine and biblical significance. Countless ancient wine presses have been uncovered in the region, signifying that winemaking was once common here, even in private homes. Some of the country’s best wineries can be found here, such as Domaine du Castel, Tzora, Agur, and Yatir Forest.

And, when you’ve had enough Judean Hills wine tasting, head to the picturesque village of Ein Kerem, which has been a Christian pilgrimage site for nearly a millennium. Top attractions include the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Church of the Visitation, the Notre-Dame de Sion Monastery, and Mary’s Spring.

The Negev, the arid desert that makes up almost half the landmass of Israel, is the most unlikely of places for vineyards to thrive, but modern wineries have turned to ancient techniques to make it possible. Well-preserved ancient wine presses at the remains of the hilltop Nabataean city of Avdat demonstrate that winemaking flourished in the region, while the remnants of houses and roads provide a glimpse into everyday life hundreds of years ago. Visit the family-run Carmey Avdat winery for a glimpse into traditional irrigation methods, and head to Sde Boker Winery, located on the kibbutz that David Ben-Gurion called home, for some modern Israeli history.