According to the book of Genesis the first thing Noah did, after disembarking from the ark was to plant a vineyard.
The Middle East & Eastern Mediterranean was the cradle of the wine industry, and Canaan must have been one of the earliest countries to enjoy wine, over 2,000 years before the vine reached Europe.
Ancient Israelite had known the taste of wine two thousand years earlier than the first vine appeared in Europe . They planted the vineyards on the slopes of mountains, hoed and weeded the ground annually and watched the right direction of the growing vine. To prevent from the ground slipping they stacked terraces of stones. And when it was the time to gather crops they turned the harvest into a real feast.
The Israelite interest in winegrowing is a continual theme throughout the Bible . Wine was seen as a symbol of happiness. Of the seven species with which Israel was blessed, the vine was first amongst the fruits (Deut. 8:8).
Micha's vision of peace on earth and harmony among men was illustrated with, "and every man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make him afraid."
In the Book of Numbers the story is told of how two men Moses sent to spy out the Land of Canaan, came back with a great cluster of grapes which they carried between them.
Grapes were chosen as a symbol of how the land flowed with milk and honey. Today both Carmel Winery and the Israeli Government Tourist Office use this symbol as their logo.
Winemaking in Palestine was at its peak during the period of the Second Temple. It was a major export and the economic mainstay of the era. However, when the Romans destroyed the Temple, Jews were dispersed in every direction, along with what was then their fledgling wine industry and the once proud industry forsaken. During the Arab conquest all of the vineyards were uprooted because of the Moslem prohibition against alcohol.
When the Israeli Wine Industry was first developed in the 1880's, grapes such as Alicante Bouschet, Clairette, Carignan, Grenache, Muscat and Semillon were planted. These were considered suitable by Baron Edmond de Rothschild because of the similarities of climate between the south of France and Palestine.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the founder of the modern Israel wine industry, was a co-owner of Chateau Lafite with his brothers. Not surprisingly therefore, the initial influence was French. The leading Bordeaux Chateau had first been brought into the Rothschild family by his father James.
Rothschild supported the new wave of Jewish immigrants who began settling in Israel in 1882 and sponsored their attempts to start a viable wine industry. Rothschild built two wineries at Rishon Le Zion, south of Tel Aviv and at Zichron Ya'acov, south of Haifa . The wine of the first vintages went sour because of the high temperatures, so they then had to build deep underground cellars at enormous cost and these remain until today the two largest wineries in Israel.
In Israel today the name is still honored. The winery towns of Zichron Ya'acov and Binyamina are named after the Hebrew names of James and Baron Edmond (Jacob and Benjamin respectively). One of the new wineries of the 1980’s was named “Baron” and Carmel’s premier label was known as Rothshild for many years. Even today the Baron’s picture is featured on Carmel’s Private Collection series sold in Israel.
The original Baron Edmond lived from 1845 to 1934 in France, and he was buried in Zichron Ya'acov in a beautiful park named Ramat Ha'Nadiv (‘Nadiv’ means donor or benefactor). His support for new settlements was vital and many towns which are now thriving would not have survived their early years without his immense contributions.
In the early 1980's a portrait of Baron Edmond de Rothschild was featured on the new five hundred shekel note, an honor reserved for only the most important founding fathers of the modern state. Appropriately considering his main legacy, on the reverse side of the note, was a vine and a bunch of grapes...
There were 3 revolutions which distinguish the development of Israel wine. The first was the founding of the modern Israeli wine industry and Carmel by Baron de Rothschild in 1882. who was no less than a part owner of Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux.
The second was the quality of revolution led by the Golan Heights Winery, who were founded in 1983. They introduced new world technology both in the vineyards and winery.
The third was the maturing of the wine market in the 1990’s , an explosion of new boutique wineries, wine imports & wine stores, which together changed the face of Israel's wine market .
Israel's main wine growing areas remain the traditional coastal regions of Shomron & Samson, but the best quality wines are coming from the Upper Galilee , Golan Heights , Judean Hills & Ramat Arad. The soils are Terra Rossa on the coast, limestone on the hills, sandy clay in the south and volcanic in areas of the north.
The most common grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay. Others include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Johannisberg Riesling, Gewurztraminer & Muscat Canelli.
Of the newer varieties, Syrah/Shiraz is the most promising. Numerous other varieties are available, from Petit Verdot to Viognier. Emerald Riesling, a cross between Johannisberg Riesling & Muscadelle is a variety which succeeded in Israel more than in California , where it was originally introduced.
Israeli wines have capitalized on the image of a healthier, less stressed lifestyle to move out of the kosher department and world into the American mass market. It was commercially opportune and advantage from a marketing point of view.
Israeli Wine - Part II