Israel, like many long thin countries, has a surprising number of microclimates. It is possible to ski in the morning on Mount Hermon in the north, and in the afternoon to go scuba diving to see the Coral Reef in the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Likewise, it is possible to be in the Central Mountains at 1,000 meters altitude, and a short time afterward to fall away to the Judean Desert, where the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 400 meters below sea level, is situated. One can visit the hot, humid Sea of Galilee, where you will be surrounded by date palms and banana trees. Climb ten minutes on to the Golan Heights and cool climate produce like apples, pears and wine grapes are grown. It is a country of variety, extremes, but all on a small scale. Israel would comfortably fit into New Jersey.
A hiker may walk anywhere in Israel and find ancient wine presses, providing evidence of a long winemaking history. In modern times the original vineyards were planted in the coastal regions and they formed the basis of Israeli wine for a hundred years or so. With the quality revolution, the vineyard areas moved northwards and eastwards in search of higher elevation. This was when the cooler areas of the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills became known for producing quality wines. Today the largest concentration of vineyards is in the north (Galilee & Golan) and the Judean Foothills, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The Wine Map of Israel is divided by topography, soils and climate into the following separate regions:
The Galilee, Galil in Hebrew, is situated in the north of Israel. The Upper Galilee is a mountainous area of forests, plunging peaks and stony ridges. It is Israel’s most beautiful vineyard region. The soils are heavy, but well drained. They tend to be a mixture of volcanic, gravel and terra rossa soils. The vineyards near the northern border with Lebanon are 350 to 450 meters above sea level. The vineyards near Mount Meron, range from 650 to 1,000 meters above sea level. Most of the vineyards in the Upper Galilee were planted only since the mid to late 1990’s. The annual precipitation in the Upper Galilee is from 800-1,000 mm. Winter temperatures can be from 0-15 0C whilst in the summer the range is from 12-30 0C.
Wineries in the Upper Galilee: Dalton, Capsouto, Covenant Israel, Kishor, Lueria, Or Haganuz.
The area of vineyards in the Lower Galilee are situated near Mount Tabor. Here elevations are 200 to 400 meters. Soils vary between volcanic and limestone. Precipitation ranges from 400 – 500 mm a year. Tabor Winery is the main winery of this area.
Winery in the Lower Galilee: Tabor
Galilee vineyards: 25%
The Golan Heights is situated in the north east of Israel. It is a volcanic plateau rising to 1,200 meters above sea level. The area benefits from cool breezes from the snow-covered Mount Hermon. The Golan may be divided into three: The southern Golan overlooking the Sea of Galilee is 350 meters above sea level. The soils are basaltic clay. The middle Golan is 400 – 500 meters altitude. Then there is the Upper Golan which rises from 750 to 1,200 meters. Soil is more volcanic tuff and the black basalt stone is everywhere. The annual precipitation: 800-1,000 mm. Winter temperatures can be from minus temperatures to 15 0C, whilst in the summer the range is from 12-30 0C. The Golan was first planted with quality wine grapes in 1976. It was the region that first drew the world’s attention to Israeli wines. Regular pests include the wild boar, that come at night and gorge on the grapes, but only when they are ripe.
Winery on the Golan: Yarden – Golan Heights
Golan Heights vineyards: 18%
Mount Carmel, the Menashe Hills, the Shomron Hills and the Judean Hills make up the Central Mountain Region. They start in Haifa and then run down the spine of the country. The main concentration of vineyards is in the valleys north east of Zichron Ya’acov benefiting from the southern Carmel Mountain range and cooling breezes off the Mediterranean Sea. This was one of the first regions planted with vineyards by Baron Edmond de Rothschild at the end of the 19th century. Elevations rise from 0 to 150 meters above sea level. Soils vary from calcareous clay, terra rossa, limestome and chalk. The climate is typically Mediterranean. Annual precipitation is 400 – 600 mm.
Example of wineries in the Mount Carmel region: Amphorae, Carmel, Somek.
Many new vineyards have been planted in the Shomron Hills. Here the shallow soils on a limestone base and the high altitude, between 700 to 850 meters, prove ideal for growing wine grapes. The sparse, stony hills look very Biblical. Vineyards have only been planted here in modern times, since the beginning of the 2000’s.
Wineries in the Shomron Hills: Gvaot, Tura.
The Judean Hills rise towards Jerusalem. Warm days, cooling winds from the Mediterranean and cool nighttime temperature characterize the region which sharply rises from 500 meters elevation, west of Jerusalem. Directly north and south of Jerusalem, elevations reach up to 1,000 meters . The soils are thin terra rossa and stony, on a bedrock of limestone. Vineyards have been planted here since the beginning of the 1990’s. They tend to be in nature reserves, surrounded by garrigue and wild Mediterranean herbs. Fossils, found in vineyards, show the ancient history of this region.
Wineries in the Judean Hills: Ella Valley, Five Stones, Hayotzer, Teperberg.
The southern tip of the Central Mountains is Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest planted forest, which is the meeting place between the mountains and the desert. Elevations rise from 600 meters to 850 meters.
In the Central Mountains, the higher areas receive snow in the winter. Annual precipitation is 500 mm., apart from Yatir Forest which is 275 mm. Average winter temperatures are 0-18 0C, whilst summer temperatures can rise from 15 to 30 0C.
Central Mountain vineyards: 11%
The area is from 0 to 100 meters above sea level and it is a hot, humid region. Summer temperatures range from 20 to 32 0C. Annual precipitation is 350-400mm. Alluvial soils mix with sandy, clay loams. There is also a fair bit of terra rossa. This was one of the areas planted by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the 1880’s, because it was near some of the farming villages. However, it is a region more known for growing strawberries and citrus fruits than wine grapes and many vineyards have been replaced by real estate.
The Northern Coastal Plain runs includes the traditional growing area of Hanadiv Valley and the and areas east of Binyamina. The Central Coastal Plain is south east of Tel Aviv and includes Mazkeret Batya and Gedera..
Wineries in Coastal Plain: Alexander, Recanati.
Coastal Plain vineyards: 15%
This a region of small vineyards and many wineries, which is bisected by the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There are the rolling hills with deep soils, which are chalky and clay loams. Elevations are higher than the coastal plain, from 150 to 350 meters above sea level and average rainfall is up to 500 mm a year. Winter temperatures are from 5 to 20 0C, whilst those in the summer range from say 18 to 30 0C. Vineyards were planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This is today the largest wine growing region, popular with tourists because of its closeness to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Wineries in the Judean Foothills: Barkan, Bravdo – Karmei Yosef, Segal.
Judean Foothills vineyards: 27%
The Negev is the desert region that makes up half the country. Vineyards have been planted in the Negev Highlands, in particularly at Mitzpe Ramon. Soils are sandy loam and loess. The Negev Highlands are up to 900 meters elevation. Rainfall is barely 50 to 100 mm. a year. Temperatures range from very hot during the day (15-40 0C in the summer) to cooler evenings and very cold nights. The vineyards are sometimes shrouded in mists during the morning hours. The dryness and lack of humidity keep diseases to a minimum. The modern pioneers in the Negev first planted vineyards in the 1990’s. Vineyards in the desert is a classic example of Israel’s skills in agriculture, in making the desert bloom. A unique problem to the Negev vineyards are marauding camels, that may eat a vine to its roots, as though it was a salad.
Winery in the Negev: Yatir.
Negev vineyards: 4%
The official wine regions of Israel are Galilee, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and the Negev.
Galilee – Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, Golan Heights
Shomron – Northern Coastal Plain, Mt. Carmel, Menashe Hills, Shomron Hills
Samson – Central Coastal Plain, Judean Foothills
Judean Hills – the hills to the west, north & south of Jerusalem
Negev – the Negev Highlands.
These were decided long before the Israel wine industry took its current shape. There are proposals to change and update these to fit in with the realities of today.