Wine Talk: Be a wine tourist

Today’s thriving wine industry connects Israel to biblical times and the birth of the Jewish people.

Wine and cheese in nature 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine and cheese in nature 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Thirty years ago the symbols of Israel were the kibbutz and the Jaffa orange. Today, they are wine and hi-tech.
But you can’t give a bottle of hi-tech as a gift, so wine has become Israel’s finest ambassador. It is the most Israeli of all products because of its connection with a place (the area where the vineyard is situated) and a person (the artist-scientist who makes it).
The thriving wine industry today combines not only the attributes of successful Israel in terms of agriculture, technology, creativity and innovation but also the thread with which it connects Israel to biblical times and the birth of the Jewish people.
Internal wine tourism is crucial for the wine industry to increase consumption and to bring more people to experience wine. Wine tourism from overseas is no less important to brand Israel as a quality wine-producing country.
For the tourist, wine offers 5,000 years of winemaking history. Israeli agriculture, archeology, gastronomy, history, religion and Zionism may all be better understood through visiting the country’s wineries and vineyards. It is possible to really get to know Israel through its wines.
Wine tourism is built upon two models.
Firstly, the Italian model, known as agritourism.
In Italy, wine is present where you happen to be. You visit a walled town in Tuscany, stop at the restaurant you pass by on a bus and visit the winery on the way back to the small hotel you found on arrival. Wine is never at the forefront, or the prime objective, but it is ever-present.
The second is California’s Napa Valley.
This is wine Disneyland. A special visit is required, and it is all laid out in an organized route. The wineries are highly individual and creative in thinking up ways to attract and hold the attention of the tourist. The idea of combining arts and food with wine began there, and this was the first place a winery became a tourism center and not just a production center.
The world has followed these models, and in Israel this is true no less than anywhere else. There are three main wine routes to visit. These are the North, comprising the Galilee and the Golan; the Mount Carmel area on the coast; and the Shfela (Judean foothills) west of Jerusalem. Each area has so much to offer, including many wineries of all types and sizes.
The North comprises Israel’s fastest-growing vineyard areas of the Galilee and the Golan Heights. If wine in the times of the First Temple was centered in Judea and the modern wine industry was built on the coastal regions, the new center of quality vineyards is the Upper Galilee and the Golan. Wineries include the Golan Heights Winery, a pioneer of the Napa Valley style of visitors’ center; the architecturally interesting Chateau Golan; and Galil Mountain, built with the tourist in mind. On the Golan Heights alone there are 15 wineries.
In the Galilee, I was told, there are 40 wineries. For example, in the Kadesh Valley you can visit three wineries one after the other – Ramot Naftali, Amram and Na’aman. The wonderful thing is that they are all worth a visit. At the Ramat Dalton Industrial Estate, it is possible to visit seven wineries, such as Dalton, the pioneer of the Upper Galilee, and Adir, with its original dairy-pluswinery visitors’ center.
The Mount Carmel region, overlooking the Mediterranean, is the most traditional wine region. This was where Israeli wine was reborn after 2,000 years, courtesy of the Rothschilds. Here, it is possible to see wineries from all the stages in the modern development of Israeli wine. Carmel was founded in the 1880s, Binyamina in the 1950s, Tishbi in the 1980s and Amphorae in the 2000s. All are close together, and each has innovative but different visitors’ centers. There are more than 20 wineries in this comparatively small area.
The Judean foothills region is another area that is blooming. Here are some of Israel’s finest wineries such as Castel, Flam and Clos de Gat. This was the first organized wine route in Israel, with festivals and activities surrounding wine.
Tzuba, Tzora, Ella Valley and Mony are wineries well worth a visit. In terms of vineyard activity, this is the fastest-growing region after the North. On the way, it is a must to see the new visitors’ center of Barkan at Hulda. It is very impressive in the California style.
However, it does not stop there. The Binyamin region in the Samarian mountains north of Jerusalem is the newest wine route. Wineries such as Psagot, Shilo, Gvaot, Tura and Har Bracha may be reasonably young, but the area represents a true return to the biblical roots of winemaking.
Finally, the Negev represents the most unique winemaking region. There are farms to visit and numerous pioneers who are fulfilling David Ben-Gurion’s dream of making the desert bloom. It is also possible to see some of the finest old winepresses, in places such as Shivta and Avdat.
The map of Israel is covered with small wineries where someone is making wine with individuality and passion. From north of Eilat to the northern Golan Heights, there are literally hundreds to choose from.
There are other places to visit where there are no wineries. Places like Ramat Hanadiv south of Zichron Ya’acov and the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv are also fascinating to the wine tourist.
Ramat Hanadiv houses the beautiful Memorial Gardens of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and the ornate burial place of the founder of Israel’s modern wine industry. The Eretz Israel Museum has an exhibition devoted to Rothschild’s life’s work and a full range of ancient winepresses, showing the different styles during different periods.
Alternatively, there are a number of wine exhibitions, trade shows and wine festivals throughout the year. At these, one can be spoiled for choice. Many wineries gather together in one place, and there is an opportunity to taste and compare wines and meet winery personnel.
However, nothing beats a visit to a winery or a vineyard. Only this way do you experience the combination of wine, people and place, the essence of wine tourism.
In his book on wine tourism In Search of Bacchus, George M. Taber wrote: “Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, casts a magic spell on people who will travel far to meet a winemaker and taste his product in the place where it was made.”
There is a certain enchantment surrounding wine that can seduce even the person who does not like wine. Enjoy learning more about Israel by visiting its wineries.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.