In modern times, Israel’s wine industry was built on the coastal areas. In the 1960’s, eighty seven percent of the wine vineyards in Israel were planted in the Mount Carmel region south of Haifa, and the Shefelat Yehuda region, (aka Judean Lowlands & Foothills), south east of Tel Aviv. Not surprisingly these areas were close to Israel’s largest wineries of the time, the wine cellars at Zichron Ya’acov and Rishon Le Zion.
In the 1970’s Professor Cornelius Ough from the University of California at Davis recommended the Golan Heights as an ideal region for growing quality wine grapes. The Golan rises from overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) up to the snow covered Mount Hermon. The northern most vineyards are 1,200 meters above sea level.
In the 1980’s, Israeli wine reached its Eureka moment as the country began to produce its first world class wines, courtesy of the Golan Heights Winery. The general manager Shimshon Welner was wise enough to aim high and to employ a Californian wine consultant, Peter Stern, who had the technical knowledge to help him to achieve his objective.
The Golan Heights was characterized by its high altitude, its black basalt stone and its volcanic tuff soil. The good drainage and minerality combined with the cool climate, to produce a unique area producing world class wines.
It was understood that in Israel, the temperatures were nearer to North Africa than the south of France and that what was lost by latitude could be gained by climbing. Higher altitude vineyards with a cooler climate provided the potential for grapes to have a longer growing season and delicate aromas and flavors to be preserved rather than being baked out of existence. For the first time, the Golan was referred to as the finest wine growing region in Israel. The Golan Heights Winery, the pioneers of the region, referred to it as ‘Israel’s Wine Country’ and indeed it was.
In 1988 the Negev became part of the modern wine scene. Israelis showed their creativeness by planting vines fulfilling David Ben Gurion’s dream of making the desert bloom. Carmel Winery was the pioneer of the Negev, planting the Ramat Arad vineyard, near Tel Arad. This was followed by others in the 1990’s planting vineyards at Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon, which were to be used by Tishbi and Barkan wineries respectively. Experiments were made in irrigating vineyards using saline water dug from 650 meters feet below and by treating waste from local army camps.
In the early 1990’s there were scarcely any vineyards in the Galilee, apart from the tapestry of vineyards at Kerem Ben Zimra and the Ramat Naftali vineyard whose potential was realized in the Golan’s wines. Then, wineries led by Avi Feldstein, the winemaker of Segal Wines, began to explore the potential of the Upper Galilee.
In the mid 1990’s there were numerous vineyards planted in the Upper Galilee. Dalton (1995), Galil Mountain (2000) and Carmel (2004) built wineries there. Today these three wineries and many others like Amphorae, Barkan, Binyamina, Chillag, Flam, Galil Mountain, Margalit, Recanati, Saslove, Segal, Tabor and Tulip source their best wines from the Upper Galilee.
The Galilee is arguably Israel’s most beautiful wine region. It is a region of crowded forests, plunging hills, running streams and stony ridges. The variety of soils, sometimes gravelly, other times volcanic, or Terra Rossa (and sometimes all three in the same vineyard), became attractive to quality wine growers.
In the 2000’s there was a period of consolidation and massive planting in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights. Now over 40% of Israel’s vineyards are in the cooler, higher altitude Galilee and Golan. It is Israel’s largest wine growing area and wines exported from this region come under the appellation ‘Galilee’ in export markets. The Galilee is regarded by many as Israel’s finest wine region.
There has also been a great deal of planting in the Judean Foothills/ Judean Hills region. This region made a comeback through the efforts of wineries such as Castel, Clos du Gat, Ella Valley, Tzora and Sea Horse which showed that the region could make world class wines in modern times. Castel and Clos de Gat have in particularly pushed the region to the front being amongst the highest quality wineries in Israel.
The newest region to have revived wine growing is the Shomron mountains, where since the mid 2000’s, wineries and vineyards have been springing up like mushrooms after rain. This is also reviving an ancient winegrowing tradition in these Biblical hills.
So vines once again cover the land of Israel. In ancient times Judea was the center of all things vinous. Only twenty years ago, the area of the southern Mount Carmel was Israel’s largest wine growing region. Now the new Israeli wine industry has move northwards, as the Golan and Galilee takes prominence in both quality and volume.
There has also been a move eastwards to the Judean and Shomron Hills.
The most significant move has been upwards as the new Israeli vineyards chase altitude and elevation. Ancient Israel was built on the hills, whilst modern Israel has developed on the coastal plain. However the country’s wine industry has moved to the north and east, in search of higher elevations.
Today, the finest quality appellations for Israel’s best wines tend to come from the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights and Judean Hills. Each of these areas has a higher altitude and relatively cooler climate. The old coastal regions remain areas for the bulk of Israel’s inexpensive wines, but the quality part of the industry has move northwards, eastwards and upwards.