At a meeting of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus, attended by politicians from the governing Likud and Bayit Yehudi parties, it was announced a new book would be published: Israeli Wines –The Complete Wine Guide. Yediot Books CEO, Dov Eichenwald, brandished the last copy of the book which was published in 1997, no less than eighteen years ago. It was a book published in Hebrew by Michael Ben Joseph, an ex El Al pilot.
There is no clue if the book will be a guide scoring wines, or an overview of wineries. There is no commitment that Israel’s 300 plus wineries will be featured, but the main announcement was that it would cover the wines from the so called Territories, meaning the West Bank (Judea & Samaria) and the Golan Heights.
Michael (Mimi) Ben Joseph wrote the first serious book on wine in Hebrew in 1990. He wrote another book on Israeli wine in Hebrew in 1997 and an English version ‘The Bible of Israeli Wines’ in 2000. Yediot Books have given a commitment to update this book and certainly that is good news.
At the same time, a new initiative was announced for another new book on Israeli wine! This will be called The Comprehensive Guide To Israeli Wines. It will be a partnership between four authors. They are Yair Koren, Sagi Cooper, Haim Gan and Haim Helfgott. Yair Koren is an international wine judge, wine broadcaster and has written for Wine & Gourmet for many years. Sagi Cooper is an experienced and respected wine journalist with his own website, The Daily Spittoon. Haim Gan is the owner of Ish Anavim, an organizer of wine events, wine educator and organizer of the Terravino Competition. Haim Helfgott is a wine lover, who studied wine and has written for Decanter.
The reason for the timing of both these new books was the criticism received by The New Israeli Wine Guide for excluding wines from the West Bank. The New Israeli Wine Guide is a private initiative by two very well respected wine people. It has been published twice, in 2014 and 2015. It was written by Yair Gat, wine writer for Israel Hayom and Gal Zohar, an international sommelier and wine consultant. They tasted wines blind and wrote tasting notes and gave scores. They included wines from undisputed Israel and the Golan Heights.
The storm in a wine glass began when it was noticed that no wineries from the West Bank were included. To put things in perspective, this was a private initiative, published initially only over the internet in the first year and then only sold in a thin booklet in the second. It included only 70 wines so was nowhere near the Rogov Guide in size, distribution and visibility, but was followed with interest by the many who respect the tasting ability of the authors.
The legendary wine critic, the late Daniel Rogov wrote his Rogov’s Guide To Israeli Wines (published by Toby Press) annually. The last one was published in 2012. He gave scores to individual wines and maintained the book as a data base of past scores too.
He was quite clear over where he stood politically. A confirmed leftist, he would not go over the green line into the West Bank on principle. He refused to go there to visit wineries or taste wines, but he would visit the Golan Heights. He observed: ‘’I think most left oriented people do not consider the Golan as occupied territory and purchase these wines with no compunction whatever.’’
However as a wine critic, he would write about wineries and wines from the Territories. Winemakers from the West Bank would visit him in a café in Tel Aviv, or send their wines to him. So wineries from there did feature in his annual guide. However since he passed away, the book was discontinued.
The Wine Route of Israel (published by Cordinata) is the only current book on Israeli wine. It is written by Eliezer Sacks, the owner of Cordinata and Adam Montefiore, who works for Carmel and is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. The latest edition was published in 2015 and launched a few months ago. The first edition was published in the early 2000’s.
This book does not give scores to wines, but is more about wineries and the Israeli wine industry. More than a tourism guide than wine guide. It divides wineries into the following wine regions: Golan Heights, Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee & Valleys, Carmel Mountain, Sharon & Central Coast, Judean Foothills, Central Mountains and Negev.
The region called The Central Mountains includes wineries from Samaria (part of the Territories), the Jerusalem Mountains (part of undisputed Israel) and Judea (part of the Territories.) The wineries in the book from the West Bank, range from Har Bracha and Tura in the ‘northern’ Central Mountains to Gush Etzion and Hevron Heights in the ‘southern’ Central Mountains.
The issue is particularly sensitive at the present time. The European Union has recently chosen to label products from the disputed West Bank and Golan Heights, differently from the rest of the state of Israel. Those against this will ask why Israel’s disputed territories are singled out, whilst all the other of the world’s disputed territories such as the Western Sahara, Kashmir, Tibet and the areas controlled by terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, are allowed to continue unhindered as before.
However the debate about West Bank wineries is also within Israel. The wineries are claiming they are boycotted by certain restaurants within Israel, who will not list wines from the Territories. The coverage the wine guide has received comes in this context.
Interestingly, according to the Wine Route of Israel, less than 10% of Israel’s vineyards come from the Central Mountains, and this includes the Jerusalem Mountains, part of undisputed Israel. Also the largest 10 wineries in Israel have well over 90% of the market. None of them come from the West Bank, and one of them, the Golan Heights Winery, comes from the Golan. However the West Bank is a young growing region with some fine wineries and award winning wines.
The new wine books are more than welcome. Israeli wine has been slightly bereft of wine literature for a few years now, especially since Daniel Rogov passed away. Israel may have a small wine industry but it is large enough for there to be more than one book and one guide on Israeli wine. Inevitably they will all be slightly different and the more written on Israeli wine the better. Both the new books will be warmly received, and they will cover every corner of the country where wine is produced.