It is no secret that our wine-making abilities have been on the up in Israel for some time now. Israeli wines are feted around the globe, winning medals and competitions galore, and new boutique wineries just keep on springing up. Wine-related tourism has also enjoyed a surge in recent years. There are vineyards and wineries to visit, and the wares thereof to taste, all over the country.
Wine has been on the national and cultural agenda for thousands of years, and the iconic outsized bunch of grapes that we associate with the biblical story of the fumbled espionage foray by 12 representatives of the Children of Israel into Canaan is an ever-present reminder not only of the need to maintain an honest approach to life but also of the joys to be had by imbibing a decent vintage.
The upturn in interest in wine, wineries and vineyards has prompted the Tourism Ministry to establish Wine Routes in various grape cultivation-friendly regions. The routes are designed to encourage people from urban and other environments to seek out new parts of the country and follow trails that wind their way among all kinds of boutique wine-producing facilities and, if they have the time, to avail themselves of local rustic accommodation and other local entertainment, cultural and fun services.
Wine-related tourism activities have proliferated all over the country in recent years, with the Judean Plains and the area around Jerusalem one of the leading regions of the sector. The Mateh Yehuda area is home to some 20 wineries, such as the Hans Sternbach Vineyard at Moshav Givat Yeshayahu, the Sea Horse Winery at Moshav Bar-Giora, the Tzora Vineyards, the Agur Winery, the Flam Winery near the Kedoshim Forest and the Domaine du Castel winery at Ramat Raziel.
Today, many wineries offer the public more than just wine and wine tasting. Hans Sternbach Vineyard, for example, comprises the organic Janaba Vineyard, an organic garden, a restaurant and a venue for small events, as well as tours and wine tasting. HSV produces around 16,000 bottles a year. (For more information: www.hsw.co.il) At the other end of the Ella Valley, the Sea Horse Winery offers a range of wines, many of which have cinematic, literary or musicrelated names. The latter feed off owner Zeev Dunie’s prior professional experience as a documentary filmmaker. The wines include the Syrah and Cabernet Fellini blend, the Syrah-based Camus, and Lennon made with Zinfandel grapes. Sea Horse also offers guided tours.
(For more information: www.seahorsewines.com/) Meanwhile, over at Moshav Agur, a visitors’ center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
on weekends, and the winery courtyard hosts customized family events. Agur started up 15 years ago and today produces close to 20,000 bottles a year. These include the Bordeaux-style Kessem and Special Reserve, and the Syrah-Mourvedre blended Layam wine.
(For bookings and more information: 050-867-4505 andwww.agurwines.com.) Mateh Yehuda also has an annual wine festival in October. A map of the region’s Wine Way can be found at m-yehuda.org.il.) Another leader on the national wine tourism scene is the Kramim area near the Carmel region in the North. The two-day Land of Vineyards and Flavors Festival took place at Ramat Hanadiv Gardens near Binyamina in early April, with 22 wineries of all sizes on the roster. The exhibitor lineup included the Eyal Winery at Moshav Givat Nili, which produces Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Carignan wines, based exclusively on locally grown grapes.
(For more information: 057-774-4135 and Eyalwinery@gmail.com) The moshav is also home to the Alona Winery, which was established in 2001. The enterprise puts out a wide range of wines, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Agol.
Binyamina was represented at the festival by several ventures. In addition to a range of wines, the Asambia Winery offers meals, guided tours, wine tasting, cooking workshops and an experiential alcohol workshop.
(For more information: 054-647-4066 and www.asambia.co.il) The Binyamina Winery, which has been producing fine wines for more than 60 years, offers a wide range of quality products, such as Yogev, Binyamina Reserve, BIN and Teva. There is also a variety of liqueurs on sale on the premises. The Binyamina Winery visitors’ center is housed in a building constructed in 1925 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and there are guided tours and wine tasting on offer.
(For more information: (04) 610-7530/5 and www.binyaminawines.co.il) Founded by Baron Rothschild in 1882, the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya’acov is one of the best-known operators in the field. Its modern Center for Wine Culture houses a wine shop, restaurant, two specialist tasting rooms and a small cinema, as well as a barrel room in one of Rothschild’s historic underground cellars. There are also 60-minute guided tours and wine workshops.
(For more information: (04) 639-1788 and www.carmelwines.co.il) If you’re looking to take your oenophilic pursuits up a couple of notches, you can go to the Yama wine spa in Zichron Ya’acov, where you can smooth out a few brow wrinkles in a wine bath while casting an eye over a view of nearby vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea. The Yama chill-out experience also extends to grape-seed massages and Dead Sea salt scrub downs and vinotherapy body wraps.
(For more information: 077-443-1240; 054-664-4849; and www.yamaspa.co.il) Farther east, the Golan Heights region provides a plethora of wineries with assorted liquid, instructional and fun offerings.
The hilltop ventures include the awardwinning Golan Heights Winery (Tel: (04) 696-8435/09), which has a visitors’ center, offers guided tours and wine tasting, and sells wine accessories and souvenirs.
Elsewhere in the hilly region, you can find the Ein Nasahut Winery (052-279-1457), Golan Basalt Winery (Tel: (04) 696-5010), Ram Winery (054-631-1998) and the Bashan Winery (04) 676-2618), and the Bel Ofri agricultural farm (052-279-1457) at Kidmat Zvi, which offers wine workshops and dinner.
The region’s wine tourism activities recently received a boost when Tourism Minister Uzi Landau announced the launch of a NIS 250,000 pilot project that will hopefully lead to the establishment of a Wine Way in the Galilee.
Meanwhile down south, several wineries have emerged in the Negev in recent years, such as the Kadesh Barnea Winery (054- 477-4917), Derech Eretz in Mitzpe Ramon (050-526-0768 email@example.com), the Sde Boker Winery on the eponymous kibbutz, which operates a visitors’ center (050-757-9212), and the Rujum Winery at the Desert Shade Eco Lodge Guesthouse in Mitzpe Ramon (054-627-7413).
There are also several wine-based festivals and other events that take place during the year, such as the Home Wineries Fair at the Sorek Winery; the White Wine Festival at the Herzliya Marina; and the Rosh Pina Wine Festival, all in May. The Four Wineries Festival at Ramot Naftali takes place in early June, and the Festivino Ra’anana is later that month.
Information about interesting wineroutes and tours is available on the Tourism Ministry website. Regional tourism associations provide additional information on festivals and special events.
For more information go to: www.gogalil.org.il, www.gonegev.co.il and www.tour-yehuda.org.il.
This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.gov.il and www.goisrael.com).