Touring Israel and its Wine Regions

August 24th 2012

Although considered a “New World” winemaking region, Israel has been producing wine since biblical times. The small country boasts over 200 wineries, ranging from small, family-run boutique operations to major international exporters. Consider planning your tour to Israel around the five distinct wine regions (Galilee, Judean Hills, Samson, Carmel and Negev), each of which has its own distinct characteristics and attractions.

Galilee Wine

The Galilee wine-growing region takes up the very north of the country and includes the Galilee and the Golan Heights. The high elevation, variable temperatures, rich soil and cool breezes all factor into producing high-quality grapes. Considered one of the best (and most picturesque) wine regions in the country, wineries worth visiting in the area include Galil Mountain, Dalton, Rimon (producing unique pomegranate wines), Golan Heights and Pelter.

Also visit the charming towns of Rosh Pina and Tzfat (Safed), join pilgrims and revelers at the Sea of Galilee, and enjoy the great outdoors and adventure sports like rappelling at the arched Keshet Cave.

Judean Hills Wine

Driving through the Judean Hills, you may forget that you’re in Israel. The lush hills are reminiscent of California’s Sonoma region, with wines just as worthy of checking out. Stop at Domaine du Castel, Flam, Clos de Gat, Tzora and the Hebron Heights wineries for a sampling of the region’s best.

Nearby, check out the Christian Arab village of Abu Ghosh (which some claim is home to the country’s best hummus), or visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried.

Samson Wine

Nestled between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain, the Samson region was named for the legendary biblical figure of the same name. The limestone and clay soil plus temperate Mediterranean climate lend great flavor to the grapes cultivated here.

Check out the Barkan (Israel’s second-largest winery), Bravdo, Red Poetry, Meishar and Soreq wineries for a taste of the range in size and style of Israeli vineyards. This area is home to much natural beauty, so take the time to enjoy the Hulda and Defenders’ Forests, the archeological site of Tel Gezer, or the coastal port city of Ashdod.

Carmel Wine

The birthplace of the modern Israeli wine industry, the Carmel region lies between Netanya (just north of Tel Aviv) and Haifa. The town of Zikhron Ya’akov (well worth a visit on its own), at the foot of Mount Carmel, is the center of it all and is home to the Carmel Winery, which was founded in 1882 by French Zionist benefactor Baron de Rothschild.

Other area wineries well worth a visit include Tishbi, Binyamina, Tulip (which employs special needs individuals from the Village of Hope) and Amphorae. Also be sure to stop in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city and home to lots of fun attractions, including the National Maritime Museum.

Negev Wine

Visit the region that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, believed was the future and promise of the country. Although the climate is hot and arid, there is plenty of evidence to show that it is a historical winemaking region, and modern vintners employ a combination of ancient and modern techniques, from channeling winter flash floods to drip irrigation.

Don’t miss Yatir (built on a 3,000-year-old archaeological site), Sde Boker (located on the kibbutz that was Ben Gurion’s summer home), Boker Valley and Carmey Avdat wineries. And there’s plenty more to do in the desert. Float in the Dead Sea, hike to the top of Masada or the bottom of Mitzpe Ramon (the world’s largest natural erosion crater), or walk amongst ruins at the ancient Nabataean city of Avdat.