Walk into your favorite wine shop and head for the kosher section. Look for the wines labeled “Product of Israel”. But first, let us look behind and beyond labels for a bit of history.
According to Genesis, as soon as Noah emerged from his ark he planted a vineyard. Wine was made in Israel (Palestine) over 2,000 years before the vine ever reached Europe. When the Romans conquered the area, the Jews were dispersed along with their wine industry. During the Arab conquest all vineyards were uprooted because of the Moslem prohibition against alcohol. From 1882-1892 Baron Edmond de Rothschild (co-owner of Chateau Lafite) sent vines from the Rhone and Midi and built two wineries, in the French style. The weather in Palestine was thought to match that of the south of France.
The best new Israeli wines have a lot in common with their Californian brethren. Napa and Sonoma helped sell Americans on better California wines and now Israeli wine makers are on the same path. In the mid 1980’s the Israeli economy was strong. People began to travel more; young people with money to spend began to demand better quality local wines and not just the sweet ceremonial wines of their ancestors. A new trend is the emergence of non-kosher wines for sale in Israel and the rest of the world. About 125,000 cases of Israeli wines are sold in the United States annually.
“Israeli wines have capitalized on the image of a healthier, less stressed lifestyle to move out of the kosher department into the American mass market. Israel has been projecting an image as a wine-growing country, comparable to other Mediterranean wine countries”.
According to the University of California-Davis, Israel is a growing region 2 and 3, like part of Napa and Sonoma, Bordeaux, Piedmont and the Rhone. There are dry summers, snowy winters, low humidity, with vineyard elevations 800 to 3,700 feet. Using night harvesting there is a maximum of two hours between harvesting and crushing the grapes. The vineyards are planted in well-drained, volcanic soil, high in minerals and vineyard controlled irrigation systems. Many of the winemakers have degrees from U.C. Davis, with work experience in the US, Europe and Australia. Traditional vinification techniques are used including: Barrel fermentation, Champagne method for sparkling wines, carbonic maceration for fruity reds and French oak barrels for premium red and white wines. In newly planted vineyards, especially in the cooler regions, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay have done very well.