The Holy Land of Wine | Israel / by Svetlana Bekker

Svetlana Bekker fell in love with Riesling while studying law in Dusseldorf, Germany, which compelled her to learn more about wine. Svetlana is currently pursuing her Level 3 WSET certification. In addition to her day job, Svetlana created her Wine Shiksa brand, which specializes in merchandise printed with wine-inspired slogans. You can find out more at wineshiksa.com and also follow Svetlana on Instagram.

Wine Map of Isreal —Photo credit Sommelier Israel

Wine Map of Isreal—Photo credit Sommelier Israel

Even in January, it’s a sunny day in Israel. Just like every year, wineries throughout the country come to take part in the annual “Sommelier Fair.” The fair is primarily for a professional audience, but after 6 p.m. it opens its gates to all wine lovers.  

Many Israeli wineries choose to present their work. Some present their vintage achievements in groups of wineries (winery co-ops) and some choose not to attend. If you are the “new kid on the block,” however, you have to be present in order to be noticed.

If you happen to visit Israel around the end of January, it is highly recommended to stop by the fair. It’s a great opportunity to be exposed to a large number of Israeli wines in a single location.

A Quick Overview

The Israeli wine industry consists of approximately 200 main wineries. Unfortunately, there are no officially declared wine regions. Nevertheless, there is a common agreement and a general consensus dividing the country into 6 “unofficial” wine regions. From north to the south these are the Golan Heights, Galilee, Coast & Carmel, Samaria, Judean Hills and the Negev.

If you are planning to visit Israel, you simply have to visit a winery or two, taste the local wines and dine in local restaurants. For purposes of introduction, you might consider two very interesting producers. The first is in the Judean Hills and the second is located in Carmel.   

Judean Hills

The Judean Hills are part of the Judea region or some may call it the Judean Mountains. It is located in the middle of Israel and the city of Jerusalem is at its center. The Judea area is surrounded by Samaria to the north, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea to the east, the Negev to the south, and the coast is to the west. The Judean Hills is really a sub-region that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and Jerusalem.

Local winemakers believe that the Judean Hills is a unique terroir. They even formed a special group of "artisanal wineries” that provide a window into the rebirth of this beautiful wine region and its rich history.

Domaine du Castel (kosher) is a winery situated in Yad HaShmona with vineyards in Judean Hills. The “Castel” name is a reference to the nearby Crusader fortress. Its first vineyards were planted in 1988 by Eli Ben Zaken, in a manner common to the French Bordeaux region--in high density and low vigor. The winery released its first wine – a Grand Vin -- in 1992. Today, the winery produces around 300,000 bottles (25,000 cases) of wine annually.

Vineyards near the village of Abu-Gosh.  Credit Domaine du Castel

Vineyards near the village of Abu-Gosh. Credit Domaine du Castel

Enjoying a stop at Domaine du Castel.  Credit Domaine du Castel

Enjoying a stop at Domaine du Castel. Credit Domaine du Castel

The barrel room at Domaine du Castel.  Credit Domaine du Castel

The barrel room at Domaine du Castel. Credit Domaine du Castel

The magical vineyards or Domaine du Castel are located in the Judean Hills and planted in the mountains above Jerusalem at an elevation of 750 meters (2500 feet) and face the Mediterranean Sea. This allows the vines to enjoy a combination of hot summer sun and cool sea breezes. The local soil is comprised of terra rossa, clay and limestone. The loose, rocky soil and steep slopes are ideal for viticulture.

The Domaine du Castel is happy to host you at their visitors' center and to tour their winery. Following the tour, guided tastings of available wines are paired with plates of light fare. The cost is NIS 130 ($35 US).

Contact the winery prior to your visit to enquire about special events and book your tour.

Coast & Carmel

Carmel Winery (kosher) is one of Isreal’s largest producers and has a long, rich winemaking history. These days Carmel produces approximately 14 million bottles (1.2 million cases) of wine each year. The history of Carmel Winery spans more than 100 years. It has many traditions and interesting stories that will change the way you think about the wines in Israel.

Some examples of old Carmel Winery labels.  Credit Carmel Winery

Some examples of old Carmel Winery labels. Credit Carmel Winery

In 1882, Baron Edmond de Rothschild (former owner of the world-famous Chateau Lafite Winery in Bordeaux) decided to establish a winery in Israel. Construction of the winery near the town of Zichron Yaacov began in 1891. In those early days, the winery also had a second location in Rishon Lezion.

Today, Rothschild’s Carmel Winery encompasses a wide and diverse number of vineyards and grape varieties located throughout the country. This allows the winery to choose grapes from every region – from Galilee and the Golan Heights to the Jerusalem Hills.

Kayoumi vineyard near Meron Mountain in the Upper Galilee.  Credit Carmel Winery

Kayoumi vineyard near Meron Mountain in the Upper Galilee. Credit Carmel Winery

Bottles of Carmel Winery wines.  Credit Svetlana Bekker

Bottles of Carmel Winery wines. Credit Svetlana Bekker

Planning Your Trip

Important Tip: When you visit a Kosher winery, it’s important to know that you are not allowed to touch the wine barrels because it could create a breach in the Kosher procedure. If you really want to “pet“ some barrels (or hug them for a selfie), it’s best to ask the winery guide before you act.

Carmel Wine & Culture

Derech Hayekev 2 (2 Winery St)

Zichron Yaacov 30950

Tel: (972)-4-6391788

E-mail: wineculture@carmelwines.co.il

Carmel Winery is very organized when it comes to wine tours. They also have approachable website—http://carmelwines.co.il/en/wine-tours/ —where you can find information, book tours and plan your next wine trip to Israel.


Domaine du Castel

https://www.castel.co.il/en/

Yad HaShmona, Haute Judee 9089500, Israel

Tel: +(972)-2- 535 85 55

E-mail: castel@castel.co.il

For more about the Judean Hills Entourage – visit http://judeanhillsquartet.com