Israeli Wines and Their History
While Israeli wines date back to Biblical times, the evolution of modern Israeli wines is recent – from the 1980s – and the progress in the past three decades has been remarkable. This unique combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern climates and traditions produces fascinating wines, which are earning the respect and interest of consumers all across the United States and the globe.
“Wines continue to be an important sector of Israeli exports, with growth in that sector showing significant increases in the past few years. One reason is that the target markets are expanding: they are not just purchased for holidays or to respect dietary laws, they are bought and consumed because they are well made and well respected,” remarked Nili Shalev, Isreal’s Economic Minister to North America, based in New York City. “Israeli wines are finally being accepted on the global wine stage, as wines with true personality and quality.”
Ancient Israel may have been one of the earliest wine producing countries – at least2,000 years before the Greeks and Romans took the vine to Europe. But it took Baron Edmond de Rothschild to renew the tradition and create a modern wine industry.
He also insisted in planting Bordeaux varieties, even sending cuttings from Château Lafite itself. He was determined to make fine wine. However in those days the interest in Israeli wine was not great and Rothschild’s vision was not to be realized for one hundred years.
The quality revolution only really arrived in the 1980’s when expertise was imported from California. It was the Golan Heights Winery, which introduced ‘new world’ viticulture and winemaking techniques with the assistance of their winemaking consultant from California, Peter Stern.
In the 1990’s a new awareness of quality food and wine began to spread in Israel. A growing number of small wineries were formed. Since then, something close to a wine fever has gripped the country. The area of vineyards has increased to 5,500 hectares.
There are 35 commercial wineries in Israel harvesting over 50 metric tons a year. Most of Israel’s wineries are modern, technologically advanced and all the major wineries employ internationally trained winemakers, with experience in major wine producing countries.
Israeli wines are sold on five continents. The United States, Canada and Western Europe are the main markets, but Israeli wines are successfully penetrating new markets in Eastern Europe and the Far East.
Arguably, Israel today is producing the best quality wines found in the Eastern Mediterranean.