As I mentioned in my first article about wine making in Israel, the industry ended abruptly with the Arab Conquest in the 7th century. In the mid-1800s, while still under Ottoman Muslim rule, a few Jewish families started producing and selling wine for religious uses.
However, the real story of Israeli wine production starts with a man named Baron Edmund de Rothschild of the famed Rothschild banking family. Baron Rothschild was known as the Great Benefactor in the early years of the Zionist movement to settle Jews in the Land of Israel. The First Aliyah (wave of Jewish immigration) is considered to have taken place between 1882 and 1903. Most of the people came from czarist Russia and Romania. Although they had virtually no agricultural experience, they formed agricultural communities here and started to try their hand growing various crops.
In most instances, they failed miserably and got themselves in deep financial trouble. Baron Rothschild came to the rescue of many of the newly established agricultural towns. The Baron, who lived in France and owned the vineyards at Château Lafite, wanted the immigrants to succeed in their endeavors. At first, he and his supervisors helped the communities grow several crops but nothing seemed to be economically viable. Nothing that is until they decided to grow grapes.
Under the Baron’s supervision vineyards were established and two major wineries were opened, in Rishon LeZion and in in Zikhron Ya'akov. In1882, French vines were imported and planted. Then a wine cellar was built in Rishon LeZion. A second cellar was later established in Zichron Ya’akov at the foot of Mount Carmel. In fact, you can tour the historic wine cellar in Zichron today.
In 1895 The Carmel Wine Co. was created to export wines from these two wineries, thus establishing the first large scale wineries in the Land of Israel in 1,200 years. At first the wine was exported to Poland, then to other countries including Austria, Great Britain and the United States.
Later, in 1902, Carmel Mizrahi was founded in Palestine to market and distribute wines to the various lands within the Ottoman Empire, primarily to non-Muslims.
It wasn’t for another 90 years though that the Israeli wine industry would really take off – but that’s a story for the next article.