The first winery town of Israel is the unpretentious, pretty Zichron Ya?acov, which lies on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, midway between Haifa and Netanya. It is close to Route 2 (the coast road), Route 4 (aka ?the old road?) and easily accessible from Route 6 ? The Yitzhak Rabin Highway.
?In this modest town, it is possible to visit the largest winery in Israel (and one of the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean or Middle East) and also small garagistes, producing a few thousand bottles a year. This is the heart of the most traditional wine growing region in Israel and the area where the first vineyards were planted in the 1880?s by Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
?The area of the southern Mt. Carmel is unique. Within close proximity it is possible to visit wineries from all stages of Israel?s modern wine development. Carmel- Zichron Ya?acov was built in the 1890?s, Binyamina was founded in the 1950?s, Tishbi in the 1980?s and Amphorae in 2000. However there is more than enough to see in a visit just to Zichron Ya?acov.
?Zichron Ya?acov is the Tuscany or Provence of Israel. It is a town that still has the village appearance of pre-state Israel, and the surrounding valleys are covered with vines. The Founders Street (HaMeyasdim) has been turned into a pedestrian area allowing tourists to browse in craft shops, eat in Mediterranean style restaurants or sip coffee in the coffee shops and watch the world go by. Many of the houses are original and are still occupied by the founding families, whose forefathers went through unspeakable difficulties.
?When the first families arrived at Zamarin (as it was originally called) from Romania in 1882, they found an inhospitable place with the ground so stony that it was difficult to clear the land in order to build. They were not used to physical work and were hopelessly unequipped to survive in such a hostile environment. Early attempts to grow wheat and potatoes were not a success and they swiftly ran out of money. In the early years, no less than ten per cent of the settlers died and the cemetery reveals graves of some 300 children that died in the first twelve years. However the settlers of the First Aliyah had spirit in abundance. When a representative of the philanthropist Baron Hirsch visited Zamarin, he urged the families to reconsider their positions, offered finance and suggested they return home or face starvation. However the settlers were determined to stay, saying ?We purchased this land with our well-earned money. We have no other home in the entire world. We will not leave even if we die of disease and even if we gnaw the stones from hunger!?
?The person receiving this message was so impressed by the response, that he immediately approached Baron Edmond de Rothschild, a Frenchman from Paris, for financial assistance. Rothschild, who had already started to assist the fledgling settlement of Rishon Le Zion, was quick to provide finance, advisors and a direction. He sent agronomists to Palestine, who recommended the planting of vines as being suitable for the Mediterranean climate and stony soil. He provided finance to subsidize the settlers and initiated a massive planting program of vineyards in the 1880?s.
?In 1887 Baron Edmond de Rothschild visited Zamarin for the first time. At his request, the village was renamed ?Zichron Ya?acov?, which means In Memory of Jacob. The Jacob in this instance was Edmond?s father ? Baron James ?Jacob? de Rothschild. He was known as the Great Baron and was a financial genius. Apart from this, he also purchased Chateau Lafite, the most famous winery in the world, for the Rothschild family. Thus Baron Edmond inherited the ownership of Chateau Lafite. Possibly this was significant in his determination to create a modern wine industry in Israel.
?In the 1890?s Rothschild built Israel?s two largest wineries, at Zichron Ya?acov and Rishon Le Zion. After the wine turned to vinegar in the early harvests because of the high temperatures of Palestine during the harvest, he was forced to build deep underground cellars in order to better control the temperature. The investment alone at Zichron Ya?acov Wine Cellars was 5 million francs. This was a massive figure in those days and even more than the 4 million francs paid by the Rothschild?s to purchase Chateau Lafite!
?However Zichron Ya?acov thrived and it became the center of Israel?s new wine industry. The success of Zichron Ya?acov was regarded with some jealousy by the other colonies supported by Rothschild. They used to refer to it as ?Little Paris? as it became a symbol of new Israel.
?Well over 100 years later, Zichron Ya?acov still sits Mt. Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There are still vineyards on either side of the mountain ridge and, though it has grown into a large town, it still retains its own special atmosphere.
?A tour of Zichron inevitably involves wine, but there are also museums which record the history of this unique place. The places to visit are as follows:
?Tishbi Coffee House, 33 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)
This is housed in one of the original buildings on the ?Founders Street? owned by the Tishbi family, a veteran family of wine growers. Here it is possible begin the day with either an Israeli breakfast or a special selection of wine and cheeses. There is also full range of Tishbi wines & foods available. It is a place to meet and be seen.
Tel. +972 (0) 4 6290280.
?Beit Aaronson – Aaronson House Museum, 40 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)
This museum provides an insight into the lives of the early settlers, because the two houses belonging to the Aaronson family are preserved, with the original furniture and household belongings in place. The dramatic story behind the buildings, reads like a spy novel. It revolves around the Nili spy network that worked for the British against the Turks. The chief actors were Aaron Aaronson, a world renowned agronomist, and his sister Sarah, who took her life so as not to reveal any secrets. It is worth visiting the museum to be told the sad story.
?Aliyah Museum, 2 Hanadiv St.
The museum of the First Aliyah is dedicated to those immigrants who arrived to Israel between 1882 and 1904. The short films, sculptures and displays show it like it was, with all the hardships, including the heartbreak of a family returning to Romania, the rebellion against the Rothschild administrators and the battle to encourage Hebrew to be spoken. Tel. +972 (0) 4 6294777.
?Carmel Winery – Zichron Ya?acov Wine Cellars, Derech Ha?Yayin (Wine St.)
Carmel?s Zichron Ya?acov Wine Cellars was built in 1892 and remains the largest winery in Israel. The visitor can see the old, new and ancient world of winemaking in one setting. It is possible to see the refurbished cement tanks, the ?foudre? room of large oak barrels, alongside stainless steel tanks, temperature controlled by computer and Rothschild?s deep underground cellars. The size of the stainless steel tanks range from to 500 liters in the micro-winery, to 500,000 liters, the largest tank in the country. Zichron is not only the most historic winery in Israel, but it also illustrates the cutting edge of modern winemaking technology.
The visitors center named Carmel Wine & Culture (Winery St.), hosts professional tours, wine workshops and tutored tastings. The wine shop offers all Carmel?s wines from the prestigious Carmel Limited Edition to Selected, Israel?s largest selling brand. Recommended wines include the Appellation Old Vines Carignan and Carmel Ridge Red, which come from Zichron Ya?acov vineyards.
?Bistro de Carmel, Derech Ha?Yayin, (Wine St.)
The building where the Bistro de Carmel is situated was used until the 1970?s for housing the manager of the winery and the winemaker of Zichron Ya?acov Wine Cellars. Today it is an original, boutique setting for events, banqueting and functions. There are small intimate rooms suitable for smaller groups and a large deck outside for larger ones. For bookings: Tel. +972 (0) 4 6290977
?Smadar Winery, 31 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)
A new small winery owned by local vineyard owner Moti Shapira, whose forebears planted Rothschild?s first vineyards. The winery, which produces about 5,000 bottles a year, is situated in old stables, which are part of one of the original houses in Zichron. The winery specializes in the Mediterranean grape variety Carignan, grown north east of Zichron at Shefaya, which is most associated with the region. Tel. +972 (0) 4 6390777.
?Somek Winery, 16 Herzl St.
A new ?garagiste? winery situated in the road adjacent to Hameyasdim, producing six thousand bottles a year. It is owned by a vine grower, Barak Dahan, whose family were planting vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880?s. His wife, Hila, studied winemaking in Australia. Their vineyards are in the Hanadiv Valley, in the foothills of Zichron. The winemaker studied winemaking in Australia. The Carignan, ?Bikat Hanadiv? and Chardonnay are recommended. Tel. +972 (0) 4 6397982.
?Poizner Winery, 71 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)
This is another small, domestic winery set up by the Poizners, who were also one of the founding families of Zichron Ya?acov. The father, Yossi is the wine grower, tending to the vineyards and the son, Yoav, is the winemaker. They produce about 3,000 bottles a year. Best are the Carignan, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Kfar Yuval.
. Tel. +972 (0) 52 3224220 or +972 (0) 52 3202323
?Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens and Nature Park
Baron Edmond de Rothschild was known as the ?father of the yishuv? by David Ben Gurion. However of all places that he helped, it was Zichron Ya?acov that had a special place in his heart. He purchased land in the area between Zichron Ya?acov and Binyamina, which came to be known as Ramat Hanadiv (?Hill of The Benefactor?) and requested to be buried there. In 1951 the remains of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and his wife were interred in a specially constructed mausoleum. This is the place for a hike or picnic. Apart from the opportunity to pay respects to the founder of Israel?s wine industry, there are beautiful gardens, a nature park and a short film about Ramat Hanadiv. There are also archaeological and historical remains, including an ancient wine press. Tel. +972 (0) 4 6298111 or www.ramat-hanadiv.org.il
Tishbi Winery lies in between Zichron Ya?acov and Binyamina. It was founded in 1985 by Yonatan Tishbi and was originally called Baron Winery in honor of Baron Edmond. The present generation?s great grandparents, Michael and Malka Chamiletzki, arrived from Russia in the 1880?s to settle in the tiny village of Shefaya, north east of Zichron. They also became vineyard owners with the sponsorship and encouragement of Rothschild. The national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik encouraged the family to change its name to Tishbi. Today the 5th generation is involved in the business and though it has become the 6th largest winery in Israel, it still remains a family affair. Yonatan?s wife, Nili, runs the visitors center and son Golan is the winemaker. Here it is possible to sit under the trellised vine to enjoy local cheeses and a glass of wine. Worth seeing is the Alambic Still for distilling brandy, purchased from the Cognac region of France. This is a speciality of Golan, whose brandy has won international awards. Some of the Tishbi series of wines come from Yonatan?s own vineyards in the surrounding valleys.?
Tel. +972 (0) 4 6288195.
?Shefaya & Hanadiv Valley Vineyards
It is possible to see the vineyards surrounding Zichron Ya?acov. This is the oldest and most traditional vineyard area in Israel being originally planted by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the 1880?s. In the little closed valleys of Shefaya, north east of Zichron, or the broader Hanadiv Valley, south of Zichron, it is possible to see many vineyards growing all the main grape varieties. The most successful variety in this area is Carignan, which was first planted in the 1880?s. For many years it was used for cheap blended wines, but lately is producing excellent quality wines from low yield, old vine vineyards.
A vineyard is the perfect place for a picnic , especially with a bottle of the locally grown wine.
?The Zichron Ya?acov and southern Mt. Carmel region is where Rothschild first planted vineyards in the 1880?s. Many of the wine growers today are fifth or sixth generation. It is remains the heart of Israel wine country.