Israeli Wine – Part 3 – Regions and Varieties
Israel is a tiny country but surprisingly it has many diverse geographic regions, from the mountains in the north to the deserts in the south. As far as wine regions go, there are officially 5 regions but they were determined in the 1960s before the wine industry really developed. They don’t encompass today’s reality on the ground.
Different regions mean different elevations, rainfall, climates, humidity and soil. As far as wine goes, Israel can be divided into six different natural regions from north to south based on these characteristics. The regions are the Golan Heights, the Galilee, the Carmel Mountain Range, the Sharon Plain, the Judean Hills and Shfela Coastal Plain and the Negev Desert. That’s right, Israel grows wine in the desert!
With the large influx of Jews into the country starting in the late 1800s, the wine industry was reestablished. Baron Edmond de Rothschild was instrumental in rebuilding the wine industry after it was abolished 1200 years before with the start of Muslim rule. The region first planted with grape vines was in the Sharon area around Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina. This location today is still home to many of Israel’s vineyards.
The indigenous grapes in Israel were all uprooted at the beginning of the Arab Conquest so most grape varieties grown here can trace their ancestry back to France. Baron Rothschild had vines shipped from his vineyards in Chateau Lafite to the Land of Israel to start off the wine industry here. The varieties planted were Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
Israel, being a poor country for most of the 20th century, had no market for these fancy and expensive varieties so cheaper varieties were planted such as Carignan and Grenache for red wines and Semillon Blanc for white.
The 1980s saw the start of high quality wine production in Israel led by Golan Heights Winery located on the Golan Heights. In fact, the Golan is probably the best region for growing high quality grapes for wine in Israel. During this time, the most planted varieties were Carignan for red wines and Colombard for white wines.
Following its original success, Golan Heights Winery planted many new varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, White Riesling and Muscat Canelli. Since then many additional varieties have been planted in Israel. Today you can also find Argaman, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Shiraz which are grown for red wines. White wine varieties also include Emerald Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria, and Viognier.
Most of Israel’s 300 wineries (yes 300!) offer wine tasting in a wide range of venues. A tasting is a terrific way to take a break and add another experience to your trip here. With all these great Israeli wines to taste why aren’t you here tasting them?