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Vines Thrive in Israel's Terroir

Israel winesWine making in Israel has a very long history. Some suspect that the modern Vitis vinifera, originated in the Black Sea or the Caucasia region. From there it was spread by traders to the Middle East.

Some time between 6,000 BC and 3,000 BC grape vines were introduced to the area that is modern day Israel. It wasn't until sometime between 1000 BC and 500 BC, that the vines reached the shores of Italy and it was even later, 300 BC and 500 AD, when the Romans took wine northward, to the rest of Europe.

Wine has been used in Passover observations and references to wine in the Bible are easy to find. One of the first things Noah did after leaving the Ark was plant a vineyard.

After Jerusalem and much of modern day Israel was conquered by the Arabs, the area stopped producing wines. Many wine historians consider this a good thing, since the wines produced in the region were very similar to the sweet, cloying drinks that many still associate with Kosher wines today. This hiatus in wine making prepared the ground for the rebirth of the modern Israeli wine industry.

Into the 20th century

In the early 1880s, Baron Edmond De Rothschild helped Eastern European settlers plant French rootstock near Rishon Le Zion, and later in Zichron Ya'acov, south of Haifa. Wines from these transplanted vines and vintners were marketed under the Carmel label and won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris World's Fair.

These vineyards brought new life to the area's wine industry until the overseas markets disappeared. The revolution in Russia and the beginning of Prohibition in the USA in the early 1900s ended much of the exporting. Vineyards were plowed under and replaced with cypress groves. Most of what remained of the Israeli wine industry concentrated on producing sweet Kosher wines that were consumed at religious events and avoided by wine drinkers at any other time.

In 2012, Jerusalem hosts its first ever Kosher Wine Festival.

As the Israelis settled into the modern state of Israel, they focused on raising food crops and other marketable produce and no serious wine drinker counted Israel as a world power when it came to good wine. This changed when the "new" areas of the US and Australia entered the world arena with wines that were profitable. Young Israelis and settlers from other countries brought their taste for fine wines back into Israel and began experimenting with producing wines that could compete in the world markets.

Over the past quarter century, the wine producers of Israel have raised their standards to world-class levels. There are now more than 120 wineries producing thousands of wines annually. The wines of Israel range from light white to dry red and sweet rosé.

Israeli wines worldwide

Israeli wines are exported to more than 37 countries. The Carmel Winery is once again producing award winning wines and has 55 percent of the Israeli market and about 70 percent of the export market.

Don't wait for Passover to sample some of the latest offerings. One author raves about The Domaine Du Castel winery in the Judean Hills whose wines "are to be compared to the best of French vintages in the same class. Their Grand Vin made with Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot and a little Petit Verdot was almost divine."

Daniel Rogov in another article says, "Meron Wineries has consistently given the market excellent Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons; the kibbutz-owned Tzora Winery is now producing noteworthy Cabernet Sauvignons and Sauvignon Blancs; the winery of Ya'ir Margalit has produced what many consider the most individual and among the very best Cabernet Sauvignon wines of the nation; and Eli Ben Zaken is now producing world-class Cabernet Sauvignons."

Israeli wines, while still Kosher, have changed enough to make their presence felt on the world wine scene.

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