The new Israeli harvest is underway. It started in July with sparkling wine grapes, Muscats, and early picked Sauvignon Blancs, and it may continue into the first week of November when the Cabernet Sauvignons ripen in the northern Golan Heights. However the bulk of the Israeli harvest is from August to October.
The harvest is expected to be somewhat over 60,000 tons of grapes. The main grape varieties harvested in Israel are Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Merlot. These are followed by far smaller quantities of Shiraz/ Syrah, Petit Verdot and Argaman. The main whites are Colombard and Muscat of Alexandria, followed by Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Most of the younger vineyards (VSP) are machine harvested and the older vines (goblet) are handpicked, though specific wineries insist on handpicking.
Israel produces about 40 million bottles of wine and 10 million bottles of grape juice, made from wine grapes. The market is skewed to red wines, but the consumption of whites is growing, as are sparkling and rose wines, but from a very small base.
There are 60 commercial wineries and 300 wineries in all, and many more domestic or garagiste wineries. There are four very large wineries, producing over 5 million bottles a year. These are Barkan, now the largest winery in Israel, Carmel, the historic winery of Israel, Golan Heights, the winery that initiated the quality revolution, and Teperberg, the largest family owned winery. The next wineries in size in terms of production of wines are Tabor, Binyamina, Tishbi, Recanati and Dalton. They produce between 1-2 million bottles a year.
If the measure of the largest wineries is the harvesting of wine grapes, then three very large traditional wineries enter the top ten. These are Arza, Zion and Jerusalem Wineries which produce 2-4 million bottles a year, but much of their production is grape juice and Kiddush (sacramental) wine, though the proportion of table wine is growing at each of these wineries.
Many of the larger wineries have sister wineries or boutique subsidiaries. Barkan, Carmel, and the Golan Heights Winery have Segal Wines, Yatir Winery and Galil Mountain respectively. Futhermore, Arza has the new Hayotzer and Zion has the 1848 Winery.
The top 12 Israeli wineries control nearly 94% of the local market. However the finest small Israeli wineries gain notice by the regular international recognition they receive. These include wineries like Castel, Margalit, Clos de Gat, Flam and Yatir.
Most Israeli wine produced is kosher, but most of the wineries are not. This paradox may be explained by the fact that most of the large wineries in Israel produce kosher wines, but many of the small boutique wineries do not. The fact that some of the finest Israeli wines ( ie. Yarden, Castel, Flam & Yatir) are kosher, shows that a kosher certificate is no bar to producing wines of the highest quality. Amongst the best non-kosher wineries in the country are Margalit, Clos de Gat and Chateau Golan.
Consumption in Israel remains pitifully low. It is between 4-5 liters per head. Exports are worth US$ 40 million, with over 55% of them going to America.
Israel usually does not suffer rain during the harvest, but winemakers will be watching anxiously for the hamsins. These are the hot winds that can cause temperatures to rise dramatically and the vine to shut down. They will also be keen to avoid last year’s freak dust storm that disrupted the harvest in 2015.