Israeli Wine – Part 1 – Ancient History
When people around the world think “exceptional wine” the places which produce the best wine that come to mind are France, Italy, & California. Well, Israel should be added to that list because Israel has some great wines. In fact, the wine industry is booming. No trip to Israel is complete without a visit to one of our delicious wineries.
There’s so much to tell about Israeli wines that I need to write more than one blog about the subject. I’ll start off by writing about the history of wine in the Holy Land.
How far back does wine making go in Israel? The answer is way back! If you’ve read your Bible you know that wine, grapes and vineyards are mentioned multiple times, and not always in the best light. According to the Bible, Noah was the first viticulturist having planted a vineyard after leaving the ark. But that was in Armenia so I’ll move on, closer to home.
When Moses sent men to spy out the land what did they bring back – well, a huge cluster of grapes of course. In fact, the symbol of the Ministry of Tourism is the two spies carrying grapes. According to the Bible wine was used in the Temple service by the priests, by kings for economic reasons and by just plain people for drinking and enjoyment. Even today Jews the world over drink wine to both bless and enhance the Sabbath.
All over Israel we find ancient wine presses, from the Biblical period on up through to the 7th century CE. The Bible records that King David, ancient Israel’s second and probably most famous king, had so much wine that he had an official whose only job was to keep tabs on the royal wineries. During Roman rule wine from Judea was exported throughout the empire. Yes, you read that correctly – Israeli wines were exported to Italy. It was known that some of the best wines in the Roman Empire were produced right here.
With the dispersal of much of the Jewish people, after the destruction of the Second Temple, in 70 CE, wine making went into decline. It ended abruptly in the 630’s with the Arab conquest of the Land of Israel. Alcohol is forbidden according to Islam and the zealous Muslims destroyed just about every vineyard in the country.
Luckily, in the modern era, the Israeli wine industry took off again – but that’s a blog for another time.