Israel’s premier wine website in English, www.wines-israel.com , has received many questions in recent months, most usually from readers from abroad. These questions, both written and verbal, all seek information. Rather than respond to each in turn, wines-israel has decided to pose a selection of the questions to Israel Preker and records his answers below. Preker is the creator, owner and manager of the website in Hebrew and in English.
Questions by readers of the Wines-Israel website: Does Israel really make wine?
Answers by Israel Preker of www.wines-israel.com : Israel has been making wine for 5,000 years and was making wines even before the vine reached Europe.
Q. Does Israel have a rich winemaking history like Greece or Egypt?
A. Yes. The main literary source of information is the Bible and Talmud. Grapes, vineyards and wine permeate every book of the Bible. Wine was one of the mainstays of the economy in those days and was a major export. The importance of wine then, in Biblical times, is why wine is so important to the religious ritual of both Jews & Christians today.
There is also no lack of archaeological evidence.Visit Israel today and you will see old wine presses everywhere.
Q. I thought of Israel as a Middle East country, with the country mainly covered by sand. How can it be suitable to make wine there?
A. Think of Israel’s position. It is an Eastern Mediterranean country. The Mediterranean Sea runs along its western border. North of Israel is Lebanon. To the West is Cyprus. Both wine producing countries. Turkey & Greece are not so far away. Israel has more in common with these countries than others in the Middle East. The climate is mainly Mediterranean, the food Mediterranean. Given this information, it would be a surprise if Israel did not produce good wine and good olive oil etc like other Mediterranean countries.
Q. Presumably Israeli wines are like Manischevitz, the wine sold in America?
A. Israel makes a very small amount of Sacramental wines, but most of the wines produced are quality table wines, sparkling wines and dessert wines, like any other normal wine producing countries.
Q. Are all Israeli wines Kosher?
A. No. There are many wineries in Israel producing non-Kosher wines. However it is true most of the larger wines produce Kosher wines.
Q. Israeli wines are Jewish wines. I have tasted them. They are undrinkable.
A. You are confusing Sacramental wines with Kosher wines. Sacramental wines are generally sweet red wines used for Kiddush by Jews or as Altar or Communion wine by Christians. These wines may or may not be Kosher, but they are of a style often preferred for religious ritual. No-one would claim these are quality wines
Q. How are Kosher wines made?
A. Basically the handlers of the wine at the winery need to be Sabbath observing Jews and nothing un-Kosher may be used in the winemaking process. Apart from this, Kosher wines are made like any other wines. The same procedures of harvesting, fermentation, ageing and bottling occurs with producing a Kosher wine as with a non-Kosher wine.
Q. Presumably a Kosher quality wine will always be inferior to a non-Kosher wine?
A. Not necessarily true. Kosher wines from Israel win trophies in the major wine tasting competitions and high scores from international critics regardless if they are kosher or not. In fact the Israeli wines to have won the most prestigious awards in recent years have been those from wineries producing kosher wines.
What this proves is that Kosher wines may be world class if they are made well. Whether the wine is Kosher or not is not the issue.
Q. How many wineries are there in Israel?
A. There are 250 wineries in Israel and hundreds more small domestic wineries. However the largest ten wineries have a very large share of the wine market. They are:
Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Teperberg, Binyamina, Tabor, Tishbi, Galil Mountain, Dalton & Recanati.
Q. How many vineyards are in Israel?
A. There are vineyards all over Israel from the northern Upper Galilee down to the Negev Desert. There are 55,000 dunams of wine grape vineyards, which equates to 5,500 hectares.
Q. What are the main grape varieties grown in Israel?
A. Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Merlot, Shiraz/ Syrah are the main reds. Colombard, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the main whites.
Q. Are there any Israeli varieties?
A. There is ‘Argaman’ a red wine variety developed in Israel. Some of the old, indegenous local food grapes still exist, but most of the grape varieties to make wine are the international ones.
Q. Where are Israeli wines sold? I never see them.
A. Israel is a tiny wine producing country and therefore is unable to compete in the mass market against wine producing countries of the size of Australia and Chile. So, Israeli wines will obviously not be as visible, as those of the major producing countries. Most Israeli wines are sold in Israel and exported wines are sold mainly in North America and Western Europe. The largest export market is America, particularly the East Coast.
Q. What is the Israeli wine expertise like?
A. The modern Israeli wine industry was founded in the 1880’s by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the world famous Bordeaux winery, Chateau Lafite. All the initial expertise was French. Israel made a big quality advance in the 1980’s, when Californian experts brought ‘New World’ technology to Israel. Today most of the wineries employ internationally trained winemakers who have studied and worked abroad, in places like Australia, California, France and Italy etc. Furthermore some of the world’s most famous wine consultants are offering advice to Israeli wineries.
Q. What is the best source of information about Israeli wines?