It has been quite a while since Jesus allegedly changed water into wine in Israel. Wine Making in a more common manner has been around for thousands of years. However, the modern Israeli wine industry was founded in the late Nineteenth Century by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, a French Aristocrat. He would be the same owner of the Bordeaux estate Chateau Laffite-Rothschild. It was good that the Baron bored of collecting art and decided to purchase land in Israel instead even though the wines produced from Rothschild’s Vineyards were not great and it was said, not much better than “the brews drunk by the Nabataea’s”. Flash forward to a century later in the 1980s when things changed and there began a renaissance in wine making in Israel and all over the world. People were traveling everywhere so much more often and in Israel people were discovering that wine was not only for Kiddush (Sanctification). They were also experiencing higher quality wine now than what was produced at home. This, along with the “French Paradox” which was that the consumption of red wine helped reduce cholesterol levels caused demand in Israel for good wine soar. Visitors were coming into Israel in droves and better restaurants had no choice in their wine selections but to offer a vast majority of imported wines. That certainly would not do.
Israel’s semi-arid climate is similar to other great wine-producing countries, like Italy, France and California in the United States. When Israel’s modern wine making history really began in the 80’s much of the technological advances were very similar to those in northern California. Both regions were experimenting with new varieties of grapes, wine making expertise was imported; new wineries were built while existing wineries invested in new equipment.
There are five vine-growing regions: Galil-Galilee (including Golan Heights), the region most suited for “viticulture” due to its high elevation, cool breezes, marked day and night by temperature changes and rich well-drained soils; the Judean Hills, surrounding the city of Jerusalem; Shimshon (Samson), located between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain; the Negev, a semi-arid desert region, where drip irrigation has made grape growing possible; and the Sharon Plain near the Mediterranean Coast and just south of Haifa, surrounding the towns of Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina which is the largest grape growing region in Israel.
I think it is interesting to point out that although there are hundreds of wineries in Israel, ranging in size from small boutiques to large companies producing millions of bottles a year and yet more than 75% of the wine produced nationwide comes from the top five producers. Last year Israel imported about $26.7 million which was revenue from 36 million bottles of red, white, still, sparkling and dessert wines. In addition Israel exports non-alcoholic “grape juice” to Moslem Markets.
An interesting “side note” is that during the Roman era, a Jewish family consumed an average of 350 liters of wine a year! First, it would have been very bad wine! Second, this is an astounding amount considering that today’s domestic consumption is 6 liters per person per year. (in France and Italy, 60 liters per capita) During the Roman era winemaking was one of the most profitable industries second only to piracy!
In 2013, Israeli winemakers, after years of coping with the negative reputation of “Kosher” wines are now winning international awards. A few months ago Joe Gallo, one of the owners of the leading Californian E & J Gallo Winery, visited Israel. “I was not aware that such high quality wines are made in Israel”, He said. We say, “It’s just another hurdle to jump”! CHEERS!