Sometimes it’s tough being an Israeli tour guide. It’s not all fun in the sun you know. A guide has to keep up with the latest information on many different topics. Take the Israeli wine industry for example. There is so much to know and so much hands on research to do.
Just this past week I had to give up my Friday morning brunch at a Tel Aviv area café (also for tourist research purposes but that’s for another blog) and attend the Recanati Wineries Wine Tasting Event at their winery in the Hefer Valley. And I had to drag my poor wife, my colleague Della (#dellatoursisrael), and a friend to help with the research, you know, to get their expert opinions.
And there were so many different varieties of wine offered that it was difficult to keep track. And not only wine but a huge selection of cheeses, provided by Jacobs Dairy from Kfar Haroeh, had to be tasted along with many varieties of Israeli olives, veggies and of course some great crusty breads. Recanati provided a great band so at least there was music to listen to while doing our research.
And this is only one winery (and a good one I admit). Israel has a booming wine industry that actually has its roots (get it) in biblical times. Grape vines are mentioned in the Bible as one of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. In Roman times wine from Israel was exported to Rome. Many containers were found with the name of the Jewish winemakers from Israel stamped on them!
In the 7th century, with the Arab conquest and imposition of Islamic law in the Land of Israel, the wine industry was wiped out, wineries were forced to close and vineyards were uprooted which caused indigenous varieties to be lost – such party poopers!
In modern times the Israeli wine industry was reestablished with the help of French (of course) Baron Edmond de Rothschild who owned the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. The Baron began importing French grape varieties and technical knowhow to Israel. In 1882, he helped establish Carmel Winery with vineyards and wine production facilities in Rishon LeZion and Zikhron Ya'akov.
That was 1882. So what’s been going on since? Well to be honest, for the next 100 years not much but then things started to change. In the 1980s there was a revival in quality winemaking when an influx of winemaking talent from Australia, California and France (again, of course) brought modern technology and technical know-how to the growing Israeli wine industry. In 1989, the first boutique winery in Israel, Margalit Winery, was founded. By the 1990s, Israeli estates were winning awards at international wine competitions.
The 1990s saw a real boom in the amount of boutique wineries. By 2000 there 70 wineries in Israel, and by 2005 that numbered jumped to 140. And now, well I’ve lost count!
And what about the many varieties of wine produced in Israel. It’s hard to remember so many. There’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon blanc. More recently Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Riesling and Syrah have been produced. And we have to taste all of them so we can recommend them to our clients – oy, such hard work!
Other varieties now planted in Israel to some significant degree include Emerald Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria and the Argaman.
And all these vineyards are planted in five different wine growing regions in the country from north to south, including in the Negev desert. Can you believe that? Everywhere you go in Israel there’s wine to be tasted.