The home of Israeli wine

Despite its proximity to the disastrous fire last week, Zichron Ya’acov was spared. Enjoy a break in this beautiful town and some happy tastings.

By
December 20, 2010 13:26
4 minute read.
The home of Israeli wine

wine barrels 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The first winery town of Israel is the unpretentious, pretty Zichron Ya’acov, which lies on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, midway between Haifa and Netanya.

In this modest town, it is possible to visit the largest winery in Israel and also small domestic wineries, producing a few thousand bottles a year. This is the heart of the most traditional wine growing region in the country and the area where the first vineyards were planted in the 1880s by Baron Edmond de Rothschild.



Zichron Ya’acov is the Tuscany or Provence of Israel. It is a town that still has the village appearance of pre-state Israel, and the surrounding valleys are covered with vines. Rehov Hameyasdim has been turned into a pedestrian area allowing tourists to browse in craft shops, eat in Mediterranean style restaurants or sip coffee in the coffee shops and watch the world go by. Many of the houses are original and are still occupied by the founding families.

The success of Zichron Ya’acov was regarded with some jealousy by the other colonies supported by Rothschild. They used to refer to it as “Little Paris” as it became a symbol of new Israel. Well over 100 years later, Zichron Ya’acov still sits Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Vineyards still remain on either side of the mountain ridge, and, though it has grown into a large town, Zichron still retains its own special atmosphere.

A tour of the area inevitably involves wine. Some of the places to visit are as follows:

Tishbi Coffee House, Rehov Hameyasdim 33, Tel. (04) 629-0280

This is housed in one of the original buildings on the “Founders’ Street,” owned by the Tishbis, a veteran family of wine growers. Here you can begin the day with either an Israeli breakfast or a special selection of wine and cheeses. It is a place to meet and be seen.

Carmel Winery – Center for Wine Culture, Rehov Hayekev, Tel. (04) 639-1788 Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars was built in 1892 and remains the largest winery in Israel. This is the only winery in the country where you can see the old, new and ancient world of winemakingwinemaking in one setting. At Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars, it is also possible to see winemaking on both a massive and small scale.

The Center for Wine Culture offers wine workshops and tutored tastings for groups of between eight and 20 people, for those that book in advance only. The complex includes a large and small winery, Rothschild’s deep underground cellars, professional tasting rooms, a viewing room for films or presentations and a restaurant. In addition, The Wine and Culture Shop offers a range of rare older vintages and magnums.

Bistro de Carmel, Rehov Hayayin 2, Tel. (04) 629-0977
The “Winemakers’ House” was used until the 1970s for housing the manager and the winemaker of Zichron Ya’acov Cellars. Today it is a Mediterranean style, kosher dairy restaurant, where it is possible to sit and have breakfast overlooking the activities of the winery.

Tishbi Winery Visitors’ Center, Binyamina Industrial Estate. Tel. (04) 628-8195
Tishbi Winery lies between Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina. It was founded in 1985 by Yonatan Tishbi, who was born to a family of wine growers. Today the fifth generation is involved in the business and it still remains a family affair. Yonatan’s wife, Nili, runs the visitors center and his son Golan is the winemaker. Here it is possible to sit under the trellised vine to enjoy local cheeses and a glass of wine.

Worth seeing is the alembic still for distilling brandy, purchased from the Cognac region of France. This is a speciality of Golan, whose brandy has won international awards. Some of the Tishbi series of wines come from Yonatan’s own vineyards in the surrounding valleys. Look out for Oshra Tishbi’s fine food items and an excellent olive oil.

Smadar Winery, Rehov Hameyasdim 31, Tel. (04) 639-0777
A new small winery owned by local vineyard owner Moti Shapira, whose forebearers planted Rothschild’s first vineyards. The winery, which produces about 5,000 bottles a year, is situated in old stables, which are part of one of the original houses in Zichron.

Somek Winery, Rehov Herzl 16, Tel. (04) 639-7982
A new “garagiste” winery situated in the road adjacent to Hameyasdim, producing six thousand bottles a year. It is owned by a vine grower, Barak Dahan, whose family were planting vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880s. Their vineyards are in the Hanadiv Valley, in the foothills of Zichron. His wife, the winemaker, studied winemaking in Australia.

ZICHRON YA’ACOV means “in memory of Jacob,” but who was he? The winery and town are named after Baron James Jacob de Rothschild, Baron Edmond’s father, who purchased the famous Bordeaux winery, Château Lafite, for the Rothschild family in 1868.

Zichron Ya’acov and the southern Mount Carmel region is still the area with the largest concentration of vineyards. It remains the center of Israel wine country.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeli and international publications. He can be reached at adam@carmelwines.co.il.


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