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.