Making wine just like our ancestors

The grapes of Psagot Winery produce 250,000 bottles of red and white wine.

The winery and visitors’ center is in the Binyamin region (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The winery and visitors’ center is in the Binyamin region
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
While many of us may still think one needs to fly to Tuscany to visit a boutique winery, there are actually many excellent boutique wineries in Israel.
Almost without us noticing, boutique wineries continue to pop up around us, and they all seem to be of the highest quality.
There’s something magical about how wine is made, and over the years many people have journeyed to see where these fine Israeli wines are coming from. Many boutique wineries – both young and veteran – are investing significant resources to create state-ofthe- art visitor centers. What could be more authentic than making and drinking wine in the same spots where our ancestors enjoyed wine thousands of years ago? Evidence of this lies in the many ancient wine presses that have been discovered over the years throughout the country.
Now that we are at the height of the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, what could be more appropriate than soul searching at the Psagot Winery, about 900 meters above sea level in the Jerusalem mountains, where wine grapes have been grown from time immemorial? Psagot Winery, located in the Binyamin Region near the settlement of Migron, was established in 2003 by Ya’acov Berg, who at first glance does not seem to be the kind of person whose entire life revolves around wine. Wine was just a hobby for Berg at first. Psagot is one of the few vineyards to cultivate grapes at such a high altitude, but the climate is perfect for growing grapes, and the quality of Psagot wines is proof of this. As a young winery just getting started, Berg decided at first only to use grapes from fields that had been owned by his family for years. He even uses an ancient cave near the winery as a makeshift barrel room.
Now the winery is no longer just a hobby; Psagot produces 250,000 bottles of red and white wine annually.
A few years ago, Berg and his staff realized that many Israeli wine lovers were interested in tasting good wine and in learning about how the wine produced, so they set about creating a fabulous visitors’ center called Nahalat Binyamin. The center is housed in an impressive stone building surrounded by trees, with an amazing view of the Jericho Valley, the Edom Mountains and Wadi Kelt. The center consists of a small movie theater where guests enjoy a film about how their wine is made; a wine cellar; a barrel room; an event room; and a gorgeous balcony where events are held on special occasions. A variety of tours are available, all of which include wine tasting.
Due to its location in a settlement community in the Binyamin Region, the winery owners know that it’s impossible to speak about their wine without mentioning the historical significance of the land, the political situation and their relationship with their non-Jewish neighbors. This can make their operations more complicated, especially since every discussion is emotionally charged, but Berg believes that wine can help promote peace.
Many people are also curious about the biblical significance of the winery’s location and are excited to hear that the Tabernacle was located in the area.
If you are interested in delving into the historical and religious significance of the area, when you’re done with the tour of the winery, you will enjoy visiting two caves from the Second Temple period that were uncovered when construction began near the winery.
One of the caves is in use today by the winery for aging wine. If you enter the cave, you can see that it remains exactly the way it was when it was discovered. Nothing inside has been altered. The natural climate inside the cave is perfect, so Berg didn’t even need to install any refrigeration. The interior of the cave maintains a constant temperature of 12º in the winter and does not go above 18º in the summer. Who knows, maybe this is where our ancestor vintners stored their wine, too.
In a second nearby cave, a wine press and an olive press were discovered. Archeologists claim that these caves were used by Joshua, who lived in the 13th century BCE. It’s amazing to go inside these two caves and see how connected our lives are to those of our ancestors. And during these exceptionally hot days of September when it still feels like summer outside, it is wonderful to take shelter from the burning sun and spend a few moments in the cool caves.
Psagot Winery is open Sunday to Thursday, 9 to 5; Friday 9 to 1.
For more information, Psagot Winery: 02-997-9333.
Where to eat:
The nearest place to find a really nice restaurant is Jerusalem.
Although our capital is famous for its hummus and shuk restaurants, it is also home to a number of excellent culinary experiences. One of my favorites is Medita, which is spread over 350 square meters. Open for just one year, Medita is lucky enough to have Moti Ohana, of Hehatzer fame, as its chef. Ohana is a graduate of Cordon Bleu, and has been running restaurants in Israel and overseas for more than 10 years. In addition to the great food, the prices are also reasonable. The restaurant is kosher and therefore closed on Shabbat.
Medita, Beit Natziv, 101 Hebron Road, Jerusalem
Translated by Hannah Hochner