This is a beer story from London to Ra’anana, via Rishon Le Zion and Petah Tikvah. I started my career in the beer industry working for Bass Charrington, who were brewers, pub owners, hoteliers and vintners. The group was the largest brewer in Great Britain and the largest pub owner. Bass Hotels & Resorts later became the largest hotelier in the world for a while, and Bass Charrington Vintners were owners of Chateau Lascombes of Margaux, the Bordeaux negociant Alexis Lichine and Hedges and Butler, a three-hundred year-old shippers of wines and spirits, with cellars under Regent Street. Bass from Burton-on-Trent and Charrington, from Mile End, London, were historic breweries themselves, both being founded in the 18th century. The red triangle of Bass was the world’s oldest registered trademark. However, the joint company broke up in 2000, when they decided to focus on hospitality rather than brewing. Mitchell & Butlers, itself dating from the 19th century, is today one of the leaders in pub, bars and restaurants in the UK. The hotel company was renamed Six Continents and is today known as the InterContinental Group. Bass Charrington is no more, forgotten by many. The iconic Bass Ale is still made. It was made immortal by Edouard Manet’s painting “A Bar at the Folies Bergere.’ However today it is owned by Anheuser Busch – InBev. I worked for 13 years for the group. It was owing to their broad interests that I was able to move from beer to wine and from pubs to restaurants and hotels, as my career changed direction and I became an active member of the wine trade.
Wine is an unimportant diversion in these black days, but for those who live in the wine bubble, growing vines, caring for vineyards and making wine, brings us back to a sense of normality, with the feeling “life must go on.” The longevity of some wineries in their relationship with the land, producing some of Israel’s finest products, is a reassuring sign of continuity. Not for nothing is wine considered Israel’s finest ambassador. Recently Israeli wine has celebrated some important anniversaries. Domaine du Castel celebrated 30 years, Golan Heights Winery 40 years, Binyamina Winery 70 years, Carmel Winery 140 years and Zion Winery 175 years. Soon Tishbi and Dalton wineries will reach their thirty-year anniversary.
The anti-Israel rabble that seems to be a coalition of Muslims, crazy left wingers and ignorant do-gooders, claim that Israel are colonists and that they are committing genocide. Even the ‘woke’ movement are prepared to ignore the rights of the LGTB movement or women as far as Hamas is concerned. Jew-hate overrides all. They give a pass to the lack of human rights in places like Turkey, and the massacre of Muslims that has taken place in Syria, simply because Israel and Jews are involved. It tears the mask from their supposedly moral stance. Their slogans and demonstrations seem to be saying that all Palestinians are Hamas and all Jews are Zionists. Most disappointing the enlightened woke world accept the fundamentalist, violent, barbaric Hamas as representing them. One would expect intellectuals to say “we support the Palestinian people, but the brutality of Hamas was not in our name.” No, the hatred of Jews overrides facts, common sense, morality, everything. They do not want a two-state solution. They seek a final solution, with Israel wiped off the face of the earth. From the river to the sea. Their stand says more about a collapse of morals in Europe and the western world than it does about us. It is an overlooked fact that the actions of Hamas and the blind, unconditional support exhibited by their supporters has damaged the Palestinian cause beyond their understanding. Though we live in a post truth world, the facts tell a different story. The Jewish connection to Jerusalem goes back 3000 years. Long before the words Muslim or Islam were even invented. Furthermore, the Palestinian population is growing very fast. How this equates to the genocide claim beats me.
Israel has gone through an unspeakable trauma. The Simchat Torah Massacre on October 7th 2023, was the worst single day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Over 1,300 people were slaughtered in cold blood in their beds, their safe rooms and their homes. Women were abused, families burnt alive, babies were beheaded. Revelers at a Peace Music Festival were mown down in their hundreds. The brutal, inhumane, animal behavior of the Hamas terrorists was considered more violent even than ISIS with levels of barbarity not seen in modern times. Over 220 people were kidnapped and taken hostage, including grandmothers in their eighties, toddlers and even babies. Over 3,000 people were injured. Every single Israeli knows someone killed, kidnapped or missing. The shock and pain has rocked the very foundations of Israeli society. Israelis are hurting like never before.
On October 7th 2023, 1,200 Israelis were massacred in cold blood. They were slaughtered with maximum cruelty in their beds and in their homes. Whole families were brutally murdered including the elderly, women, children, even babies. Houses were burnt. Party revelers at a “Peace Festival” were gunned down in their hundreds. To put this into perspective 1,000 Israelis roughly relates to the equivalent of 35,000 Americans. More Jews were killed during the Simchat Torah Massacre than on any day since the Holocaust. 199 people were taken hostage including grandmothers in poor health, children and toddlers. After the carnage, over 3,000 remain injured. Many of them seriously. People often forget the ongoing price endured by the injured. Rehabilitation may take a long time, but the mental scars will be forever. In the years to come 10/7 will become as well known to Israelis and Jews worldwide, as 9/11 is to Americans (who, if you remember, put the month first).
At 6.30 am on the early morning of the Simchat Torah festival, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel in the north western Negev. It was the Sabbath, a time of tranquility and peacefulness. Most families were still in their beds. Hamas went from house to house, from community to community, murdering families in their beds and safe rooms in cold blood. At the same time there was a music festival in the name of peace, where young adults were dancing without a care in the world. Revelers were still partying when Hamas gunmen brutally mowed them down in their hundreds.
In the late 1980s, I came to an Israel which was a bit backward in terms of its alcohol beverages. In wine, Carmel Mizrahi was a monopoly with 75% of the market. Then ‘Selected was their entry level brand and ‘Rothschild’ was their prestige label. Regarding beer, Tempo Brewery was an even bigger monopoly. Goldstar, Maccabee and Nesher were the main brands. As for spirits and liqueurs, the big brands were Elite Arak and Stock 84 Brandy. Most of the spirits were made by the big wineries: Carmel, Barkan, Eliaz, and Askalon-Segal. In fact all the wineries made spirits, with one notable exception. That was the reasonably new Golan Heights Winery, which from the get-go decided to concentrate on quality table wines. You may remember Vodka Stopka, Keglevich, Vodka Gold, Captain Rum, Lord Gin and Tehila (imitation Tequila.) There were also some vermouths (Carmel & Stock), whose chief benefit were that they were kosher, and Amadeus liqueurs. The most successful spirits in terms of quality were the brandies produced by Carmel and Tishbi, which won some major awards, and the most well-known liqueur internationally, was the chocolate orange Sabra, produced by Carmel on behalf of Seagram.
The wine used for Kiddush every Friday night is personal and dictated by family tradition. Over the years many have reverted to using dry wines. Sweet Kiddush wines are in decline, though the use of grape juice remains popular. However, due to family tradition, many still insist on a sweet red sacramental wine. I usually use the dry wine we are going to drink with the meal for Kiddush. Rosh Hashanah is the only time when I actually recommend a sweet wine for the blessing. If during the New Year Seder, we are encouraged to eat sweet foods cumulating in the apple and honey, I believe we should insist on a sweet wine in honor of the wish for a sweet year. As it is the Jewish New Year, it should be a good one. Probably Yarden HeightsWine is the one of the best, but there is great variety of dessert wines. Failing that, you can always fall back on Moscatos, like the good value entry level Buzz or higher quality and more authentic Bartenura from Italy.
It is getting hotter. You don’t need me to tell you that. Remember Israel may be the most southern quality winemaking country in the northern hemisphere. That may be cause for concern in the future. When I asked one of our leading winemakers about this a few years ago he answered me with ‘head in the sand’ complacency: “Well, we have made wine for 5,000 years, why would we not continue?” I am not sure panicking helps, but the irregular weather extremes in wine regions around the world, often with tragic consequences, has belatedly woken up the wine industry. Wild uncontrollable fires, fast moving floods, drought and out of season frost and hail, have bedeviled wine regions as far apart as Australia, California, Italy, Greece and Germany. Some of the events caused distressing tragedies, but last year’s calamity is already replaced by the current years’ disasters and unseasonal weather patterns. These days there is no discussion about wine or wineries, which does not begin with comparing notes about the weather! All the talk has even had an effect here. Today, there is barely a winery that does not talk sustainability, at least on the label and in the marketing blurb. It is an absolute turnaround. Vineyards which used to be as clean as a whistle, with brown stripes of earth between the vines, standing like upright soldiers, now have a cover crop, which makes it all look more natural, even if less manicured.
Many of the Israel’s wine intelligentsia believes the wine world revolves around points, medals, forest fruits and astringency. They are quite disappointed to learn what a tiny fraction of the wine industry they are. It is disconcerting for them to know that by far the majority of the wine in Israel is bought in supermarkets, in a similar way to any other commodity. Quite a lot of these wine drinkers actually prefer Moscato, Lambrusco or Blue Nun to a complex Cabernet. They are not interested in the flowery language on the back label. An eye-catching label or attractive promotion is more likely sway the final choice, rather than where the grapes were grown or how long the wine was aged. It is a fact that 90% of the wine sold is under NIS 40. It is enough to have the so called expert snorting in his wine!
The official wine region of Judea lies sandwiched between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, those two contrasting cities that define modern Israel. It is framed by the sea in the west and the mountains in the east. The Mediterranean and Jerusalem Mountains are main features that contribute to make this such a unique terroir. This region is also a symbol of winemaking in the Bible, when the Judea was regarded with the reverence of Bordeaux of ancient times, in terms of both quality and quantity.
The association of Judea and wine began a long time ago with the Patriarch Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah. This earmarked Judea as a bountiful region of wine, and this is what it proved to be. As Amos the Prophet wrote so poetically “the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it.” Today curious wine tourists may meander through the Judea region in our times, and chance upon ancient terraces where vineyards were once grown. It is quite likely they will stumble over a flat limestone basin, where the grapes were once trodden by families and wine was made. To have the opportunity to see these relics of ancient winemaking, is a stirring and moving sight.
There are wine lovers who are fascinated about wine but only outside the gates of the winery. The drinking of wine, maybe matching wine with food and endless discussions about the merits of this wine against that, provides adequate satisfaction. Then there are a growing number who want to be a witness to the creation of a wine, to participate in how it is made. They yearn to smell the aromas during fermentation and have the challenge of blending aiming for that elusive result of 1+1=3, when the finished wine is hopefully better than the sum of its parts. Others are fascinated with the vineyard and the differences of ‘growing wine’ and ‘growing grapes.’ They want to experience working the land, coping with the vagaries of the seasons. For them, the question is how something as ancient and well established as a vine, with the humble, unpretentious grape as its fruit, can produce something as exalted and celebrated as wine. For these people buying, drinking, talking about wine is not enough. They want to become more involved, to get dirty in the earth and the wine itself. For those who want to participate more there are options.
Planting vines and making wine in the Land of Israel.
Any student of Zionism or wine lover knows Carmel Winery was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1882. If we forget, just look at the winery logo. The founding of the future winery towns of Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov was in that particular year, but it was also when the first experimental vineyards were planted. Carmel’s first winery, Rishon Le Zion Cellars, was established only in 1890 and the first time the brand name ‘Carmel’ was used was not until 1896, and that was initially for an export marketing company. The root of the word is Kerem-El, God’s vineyard. Of course, the founding of a winery usually dates from the first harvest or when the first wines are launched. In this case, it was when the very first vines were planted. Agudat Hacormim (the wine growers cooperative), registered in French as “SCV des Grandes Caves”, was founded in 1906.
I have been many years in the Israeli wine industry and been in many vineyards, but I had never been in Dabouki vineyard. Until now that is. I recently drove up to Givat Nili, to see one of the few vineyards still growing Dabouki. It is a big vineyard with all sorts, but when I arrived in the area of the Dabouki vines, I had the feeling as though I was peering into history. I felt like saying: “Ah, Dr. Dabouki I presume!”
I was confronted by 50year old vines, flailing in all directions, with thick gnarled trunks and arms waving in grotesque shapes. Each vine had its own shape and personality, as if screaming about its own individuality. You go to Cyprus and 100 year vineyards are here, there, and everywhere. In Israel, I don’t think I have seen a fifty year old vineyard before. I had the feeling I was entering a vine museum. It was as though I was seeking remains of something that once flourished, but now is a rarity. The vines did not look that healthy. They in fact appeared to all intents and purposes to be dead. If I brush too hard by a branch and it would snap like dead dry wood.
And Decanter likes them too!
The Decanter World Wine Awards is these days the largest wine competition in the world. It also has great credibility as one of the best. It is certainly not like the European competition which kindly sent us a medal, when I worked for Carmel, even though we had not even submitted a wine! This year no less than five Israeli wines have been awarded Gold Medals at Decanter:
You need to be with someone with a lot of knowledge and have a good imagination to reveal the hidden secrets of the terrain. There I was with the famous archaeologist Professor Yuval Gadot, clamoring down the forested slops of Ramot Forest in the Judean Highlands, near the entrance to Jerusalem. He led the way with the enthusiasm of a child, supported with the deep knowledge of a professor, with decades of archaeological finds and ground breaking papers under his belt. Even though he knew what was coming, there was still some of that infectious boyish enthusiasm as though he was discovering everything for the first time.
I remember when Israel was a white wine drinking country. Emerald Riesling was the largest selling wine and Grenache Rose was popular, and reds were considered astringent and only for those that understood wine. Of course all that changed and Israel became a red wine drinking country.
Today white wines are coming back. The reasons are obvious. Our climate and cuisine cry out for white wines. The balance between fruit and acidty, the freshness, comparative lightness and refreshing nature of white wines are certainly easier to drink in our hot humid climate than bombastic, high alcohol red wines. They match better with food, offer greater variety and quench the thirst.
The phrase ‘the Jerusalem wineries’ used to refer to those traditional wineries, with roots in Jerusalem, who mainly produced ‘liquid religion.’ That is my description of grape juice and Kiddush wine. When I made Aliyah 34 years ago, there were four such wineries: Arza, Hacormim, Shimshon and Zion wineries. All of them can trace their beginnings back to the winery founded in 1848 by the Shor family, in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
We are taught that in wine there is truth. However, no doubt we are in a post truth period, where presidents and prime ministers, a la Trump, Netanyahu & Johnson, are often accused of creating their own truths. Fake news is in. There are also instances of wineries reinventing history.
Don’t assume that everything you read about a winery is historically correct. Closer examination shows how wineries are prepared to have a very flexible interpretation of the facts, to suit the imagination of a particular marketing department of the time. It is rather like rewriting history in reverse. However, rather than being outright lies, most of these are based on some form of factual information. Of course, if repeated long and often enough, the story becomes the new reality. As, was attributed to both Mark Twain and Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world, before truth puts on its boots.”
The revolution of Israeli wine over the last forty years has been one of Israel’s finest success stories. There have been steady developments each decade and as a result, Israeli wine has earned deep respect worldwide. It is frustrating that this has not yet been recognized here, because lately honors and awards are given for political kinship, rather than the old-fashioned concept of giving credit where it is due. It is high time the Israeli wine industry was recognized by the country itself. After all wine may not be our largest export, but it is Israel’s finest ambassador. As we celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary, I have named the people that made a difference and epitomized their era in this amazing story.
The first 35 years were the years of Carmel, the historic winery of Israel. The person that best represents this period is Elyakum Ostashinski who was CEO of SCV des Grandes Caves and Carmel Mizrahi for nearly thirty years from the early fifties. Previously he had been Mayor of Rishon Le Zion. This was a period in which Carmel Mizrahi was a monopoly. These were not great days of Carmel in terms of quality, but were in terms of dominance. Israeli wine did not have a great image, but times were different. Nevertheless, Carmel kept Israeli wine afloat through all the ups and downs of building the State. Ostashinski provided the stability and his high profile and longevity merited respect. Carmel’s greatest ever award would come far later, when the Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz won the International Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2010.
We are about to celebrate our 75th anniversary as a country. Once, for those abroad, Israel was symbolized by the Jaffa Orange and the Kibbutz. Today, Israel is today regarded as the Start-Up Nation. Hi-Tec is what the country is most known for, and the most representative product of the “Land of Israel” and “People of Israel” is wine. After all you can’t give a bottle of Hi-Tec as a present.
Our wine history may be divided in to two parts: Pre-1976 and post 1976. In that year the roots of the Israel wine revolution were planted. It was the year vineyards were first planted on the Golan Heights and Israel’s first international style wine was produced. These unconnected events were a turning point.
CREDIT: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
I have had the pleasure of meeting Jon Seligman. He is a Brit, with South African roots, who came to live in Israel many years ago. He is the Senior Research Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority and is extremely accomplished with the longest cv I have ever seen. The list of positions he has held is complemented by a long list of archaeological digs and excavations he has participated in or led, and an even longer list of papers he has published. One thing is certain. He has many accomplishments and a very distinguished career.
The Golan Heights Winery is now entering its fortieth year. During this time, the winery led the quality wine revolution in Israel in terms of wine quality, wine marketing and wine education. As a result of the investment in quality and image over forty years, it is fair to say that the Golan Heights Winery is today the number one Israeli wine ambassador in the wide world of wine and the number one exporter. Yarden is the most visible and famous wine brand….and if things had to be distilled down to one wine, Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon is Israel’s most awarded wine.
I picture Eli Ben-Zaken in the summer of 2021, standing on his own outside his house and winery at Ramat Razi’el as he defiantly fought against the fierce wild fires in the hills and forests that rise towards Jerusalem. The flames raged a mere thirty meters from his property. Told by the authorities to evacuate, he refused. He was a lone figure, holding a domestic hose against the might of the force of nature that confronted him. With his wire rim glasses and blue Covid mask smudged by ash, I thought the image symbolic.
Here was the man who twice built the most beautiful winery in Israel. He was the pioneer of the Judean Hills wine region. He taught Israeli wineries about the absolute pursuit of excellence, aesthetics, style and quality. Yet, at the age of 77, he was defending his family home alone and with great courage and fortitude. This is characteristic of the man: earnest, heroic, standing his ground and always involved in the nitty-gritty.
When I made aliyah in 1989, there were just twelve wineries. In those days all of them, except one, also made spirits and liqueurs. The exception was the Golan Heights Winery. Then, we used to talk about only one region in Israel in relation to quality. That was the high elevation, volcanic Golan Heights. The largest wine growing region was around the southern slopes of Mt Carmel, or what may be described as the northern Coastal region. The most planted variety by far, was Carignan. The largest selling wine was Carmel’s Selected Emerald Riesling.
The Golan Heights Winery has launched their new expression of Yarden Rom, from the 2019 vintage. This is a rarely produced prestige wine of the winery. Whereas the Yarden Katzrin is a Bordeaux blend, the Rom blend also incorporated Syrah.
There has been tremendous warmth and interest both ways, about the new relations between Morocco and Israel. We all loved watching the World Cup. The incredible success of the Atlas Lions had us all on the edge of our seats. If Morocco can do it, maybe Israel can, although that does seem a dream too far! Anyway, at the same time Morocco was on our minds, we learnt some new Moroccan wines were being imported to Israel. Shaked, Israel’s leading importers and often the pioneers, have listed seven wines from Celliers de Meknes and Thalvin-Domaine Ouled Thaleb, two of Morocco’s most famous wineries. We had the opportunity to taste them and meet the winemaker and export manager, at Shaked’s Annual Tasting. In Israel there is a very sizeable ex patriot Moroccan population, who will be curious to taste wines from the old country. The timing could not be better.
New Year’s Eve, Sylvester’s or Novy God, are all reasons or excuses to drink sparkling wine. This is the wine of celebration symbolizing happiness and joie de vivre. The prime quality representative of this sector has always been Champagne, made in the Champagne region of France by the ‘Champagne Method’. The image of real Champagne does have a certain magic and stardust about it.
I once ate in a good Greek restaurant in London, and astonishingly, there was not even one Greek wine on the wine list. It was only slightly better when I visited one of the finest Turkish restaurants in the West End. There I found the cheapest Turkish house wine, but that was all. When I went to Palomar, an award winning restaurant bristling with Israeli influence, there was but one paltry Israeli wine in each category on the wine list. In America, Israeli chefs are a little less embarrassed to list Israeli wines, but not much. When I go to a restaurant where the food is ethnic, I want the wine to represent the cuisine.
A few years ago the wine team of one of the world’s most famous winery’s in the world visited
Israel. They spent a week here visiting wineries, vineyards, universities and academic
institutions. When I asked the owner why a winery from Bordeaux of all places, would come to
learn from Israel, and not say somewhere like Australia, I was told: “Israel is streets ahead. No-
one has the research and development that is taking place here.” Unfortunately when I posted a
proud photo with the winery owner, I was told to take it down. It was a secret visit – though it
was in no way secret to all the wine people and researchers they met.
I travelled north from the center of the country, fortunately driven by Yael Gai. It is enjoyable going against the flow of the traffic, especially when you are not driving. It took two hours to arrive at Kibbutz Yiron. There, we were welcomed in the community garden of the kibbutz in a beautifully shaded, tranquil spot. It has a carefully cultivated wild look, resplendent with colorful flowers, a vegetable garden and fruit trees. All I needed was a book and a hammock. Of course, I am not turning into a market gardener. I was there to visit Galil Mountain Winery.
Vladimir Putin’s kamikaze drones have been launched indiscriminately across Ukraine and recently on civilians in Kyiv, their capital. The bombardment from the Russian army was typically brutal, murderous and a designed to cause fear, panic, the maximum mayhem, and to crush the spirit of the Ukrainian people.
Chef Shalom Kadosh is an icon. He has cooked for Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, from President Carter and Menahem Begin onwards. Nowadays Israeli Chefs are shaking up the world, but Kadosh was the first. No one has done more to advance Kosher cuisine, Israeli gastronomy and he has been a shining ambassador of Israel amongst his peers, the greatest chefs in the world, and gourmets and gourmands everywhere.
Sukkot is the harvest festival, when we sit in booths under the stars. It is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. However most of the grains, including wheat and barley, and many of the fruits, were harvested earlier in the year and are covered by other harvest festivals (such as Passover and Shavuot).
Gaja is arguably the most famous name in Italian wine.
Argaman is the 6th most planted red grape variety in Israel. Originally the purpose of this variety was modest. It was not intended to be seen so much, but to be used more as a work horse grape. Recently though, Argaman has been catapulted to the forefront by the very good results in the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Challenge International du Vin. So maybe we should look at this variety with new eyes.
The Purim story gives us an insight into wine consumption in an unlikely place. The Persia of those days was in stark contrast to the ultra-strict Islamic regime of Iran today. Wine infused parties were all the rage. Just read the Scroll of Esther. Many even attribute the discovery of wine to Persian folklore.
I learnt this week that Adv. Gabriel Ginio had passed away in Jerusalem at the grand old age of 97. He was the 6th generation of the Ginio family. Why did this strike a chord within me? This was because it was the Ginio family, who founded the first recorded winery, in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1840. Gabriel Ginio may have been a lawyer, not a winemaker, but to those that met him, he was able to reminisce about the family wine business. May his memory be a blessing.
The Shor Winery was founded by Rabbi Yitzhak Shor in the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1848. Israel’s oldest winery was situated alongside ‘Ha’Kotel Hakatan’ – the Little Western Wall. One of the Shor family’s inspirations was Sir Moses Montefiore, who had encouraged Jews to return to agriculture and work instead of living off charity. One hundred and seventy years later, the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery opened a tasting room, at the Montefiore Windmill in the heart of Jerusalem. A connection between the Shor Winery of 1848 and the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery of 2019, was Tsippora Mendelsohn, née Shor, who has just passed away, aged 93 years old.
One of the requirements to make a wine Kosher in Israel, is observance of the Shmittah year. Secular Jews and certainly everyone who is not Jewish, are endlessly confused about what this entails. The observance, ambiguities and contradictions of Shmittah defy rational explanation. This is my effort to write an explanation for the curious. Of course, it goes without saying, religious Jews, Torah observant Jews and Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jews, should seek their explanations and discussions about the minutiae of the Halacha (Jewish law), from a Rabbi. This is not for them.
Israel has a festival for planting trees, which is called Tu Bishvat, aka the New Year for Trees. It is celebrated literally by planting trees and has also become a festival with ecological undertones, reminding us to care for the environment. School children will go on tree planting activities and people from abroad are encouraged to make a donation for a tree to be planted in their name. This respect for trees and the environment has stood Israel well. It is the only country in the world with more trees than one hundred years ago.
The cradle of wine culture was in the Eastern Mediterranean. In ancient times and Biblical times, the wine drinker would have been quite familiar with wines from places where today’s Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Lebanon and Turkey are situated. After the golden age, the region made pretty awful wine for 2,000 years, or at least during the periods there was not prohibition. However in the last twenty years there has been a revolution in quality. Each of the East Med countries is making the best wine they have made for thousands of years and it has become a very dynamic, quality driven wine region.
One can basically tell the story of Israeli fizz in three sparkling wines: The President’s, produced by Carmel Mizrahi, Yarden Blanc de Blancs made by the Golan Heights Winery and Raziel Brut Nature, a new expression by the Ben-Zaken family. The President’s was the dominant player from the 1950’s until the late 1980’s. Yarden Blanc de Blancs dates from the early 1990’s and Raziel’s new sparkling wine has not even been launched yet!
In this little sliver of the Holy Land, in the southern Levant, lying on the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, wine has been made by the Canaanites, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Nabateans, Byzantines and Crusaders up to the modern Israelis. Archaeology, the Bible and religious texts provide an insight both into winemaking and the importance of wine in the region.
I recently received a message offering me the opportunity to see the film ‘Redemption’, about the Israeli winemakers of Judea and Samaria. This is the area also known as Greater Israel, the West Bank, ‘the Territories’, the ‘Occupied Territories’, the Palestine Authority or even Palestine, depending on where you stand on the political spectrum. In the new wine map it is known as the Central Mountains, which describes the topography, but overlooks the political storm below the surface. Whichever is used immediately flags up your political belief without a filter. Of course, I was interested to see the film, especially as it is the third film I have seen this year on winemaking in the Levant, the eastern basin of the Mediterranean.
Wine must be one of the most conservative of all consumer products. Believe it or not, it was roughly in 800 BCE, that the Phoenicians first decided to store wine in glass. The Romans were the first to use cork. That was a long time ago. Three hundred years ago the idea of putting wine in a glass bottle became in vogue. In time, the bottle shape evolved to the cylindrical shape we know today. Yet here we are in the 21st century, and we are still selling wine in glass, which is heavy, and we are still demanding the customer buy five glasses in one go, the contents of a 750 ml. bottle. In these environmental caring days, it should be understood that most of the carbon footprint of wine stems from the production, packaging and transport of this glass. Furthermore we are still stoppering a bottle with a bit of tree bark as we have done for centuries. The developments over the last 30 years, has been unbelievable. The technology in the vineyard and winery is a different world from what the grandparents of today’s winemakers were used to. Yet in the packaging of wine, we are in a kind of time warp.