Biblical and Modern Winemaking in the Judean Hills

August 7th 2012

Biblical and Modern Winemaking in the Judean Hills

With interest in Israel’s wines reaching a fever pitch in recent years, the oenophile tourist is advised to avoid missing out on the splendid wine tourism opportunities of the Judean Hills region.

Conveniently nestled between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the picturesque Judean Hills region is one of the country’s most distinguished winemaking areas. Find out why Wine Spectator magazine said that driving through the Judean Hills “is a bit like driving through Tuscany and Napa,” and sip vino in an area that was once a biblical center of winemaking.

Domaine du Castel Winery Tour

Known as the winery that put the Judean Hills on the map as a quality producer of Israeli wines, Domaine du Castel was founded in the early 1990s by a Jerusalem restaurateur. Located on Moshav Ramat Raziel, the winery remains a family-run business that produces about 100,000 bottles of wine per year.

After visiting the impressive barrel room and sampling their fine kosher wines, take a quick drive through the picturesque community to get a sense of life on an Israeli moshav.

Flam Winery Tour

Situated in nearby Moshav Eshtaol, the highly regarded boutique Flam winery was started by two brothers (Golan and Gilad Flam) in 1998. Over the decade and a half that they have been in operation, they have grown tremendously, now producing nearly 95,000 bottles annually of six different wines (four reds, one white and one rose).

Tours of the facility are led by the founding brothers and include explanations of the winemaking process as well as a tasting. For hiking and outdoor recreation, head to the nearby Eshtaol Forest, one of the largest in Israel.

Clos de Gat Winery Tour

Named for the French word for enclosed vineyard (“Clos”) and the Hebrew word for wine press (“Gat”), Clos de Gat is just down the road from Flam and Domaine du Castel in the HaEla Valley. The winery was founded on the site of an ancient wine press and is a gorgeous place to taste wine.

Clos de Gat sets itself apart by using only natural yeasts in the fermentation process, which, according to management, gives their wines greater depth of flavor. They even make cognac! If you drive to Jerusalem along Route 386 from here, you’ll get wonderful views of the lush Bar Giora Nature Reserve.

Tzora Winery Tour

A lovely 20-minute drive away, Kibbutz Tzora is home to a winery of the same name. Here they make wine solely from grapes grown on their vineyard, and so their wines are known for being beautiful expressions of the terroir.

Besides the gorgeous winery, the kibbutz also offers lots of activities for visitors, including the Cave of John the Baptist and the Kiftsuba Family Activity Center.

Hebron Heights Winery Tour

For a lesser-known but equally excellent winery a little off the radar, visit the Hebron Heights Winery in Qiryat Arba (between Jerusalem and Hebron), overlooking the Ma’arat HaMachpelah (The Tomb of the Patriarchs). All the grapes for their wines come from the region, and each wine is barrel-aged for 12 months in new French Oak.

After tasting their French-style wines, you can’t leave the area without stopping at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people.