wine being poured

A Brief History of Israeli Wine-Making

Arie HochbergThis month, Arie Hochberg of Israeli Wine Direct stopped by to share his knowledge of Israeli wine. With a passion to broaden people’s understanding of wines from Israel, Arie guided an audience of wine professionals, enthusiasts, and educators through a tasting of six wines from his portfolio of boutique winemakers and vineyards in Israel, including both Kosher and non-kosher wines.

Consider exploring this an Israeli wine for your next bottle of vino and read below to hear what we learned about the vast history of wine-making in Israel!

Biblical Times

corksIsraeli’s wine history dates back centuries and continues to evolve today. Produced in the Middle East for over 5,000 years, wine is even mentioned in the bible—Noah is attributed as the man who discovered the wine making process. When King David reigned around 3000 BCE—the same David depicted in Michelangelo’s infamous sculpture in Florence, Italy—he was said to have an extensive wine cellar where he employed a man to select his wines for his meals (could this be the first sommelier?).

Around 600 CE, wine was prohibited and most of the vineyards were uprooted across Israel. During this time, only wines made in Monasteries and Jewish communities for sacramental purposes were allowed. Shortly after this, wine-making was resurrected, only to be toppled again by the Ottoman empire which spanned an astonishing 400 years, from 1517-1917, in Israel .

In 1848, after hundreds of years of lost history, the first recorded winery was opened by Yitzhak Shor. Used only for religion purposes, it wasn’t until 1882 when French born Baron Edmond James de Rothschild laid the foundation for today’s modern wine industry in Israel.

The Turning Point

wineThe Rothschild family, known best as the family behind famed Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, France, can also be credited with many of the advancements in wine-making seen in Israel. Not only did they invest in an Israeli vineyard, but they also commissioned a study on the land of Israel to understand how to make quality wine in the country. This was the turning point for the cultivation of the wine industry in Israel.

Following Rothschild, wine-making in Israel took off. The Carmel Wine Company was founded in 1895 to sell the wines of Rishon LeZion and Zichron Ya’akov, both famous for their wines, further establishing modern day wines of Israel.

Modern Times

winesAfter many tumultuous years in the 1900’s where wine-making in Israel halted, it was finally revamped in the 1970s. This remains the turning point that many reference as when modern wine-making techniques were brought to Israel. Finally, wine was being made and consumed for enjoyment, rather than just religious purposes. For the first time since Rothschild in 1882, Israel’s climate and soil was studied again to better understand the terroir and create great wine reflective of the region.

Today, there are over 250 boutique and 70 commercial wineries thanks to the boom of wine-making in the 1990’s spanning 13,585 acres of vineyards. 60,000 tons of grapes are harvested each year, of which 11,400 tons are Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

While only 65 million bottles of wine are produced per year—comparatively, Germany’s 252,000 acres of vineyards produce 1.3 billion bottles—Israel is definitely among one of the up and coming countries producing wines of note today!

Further Reading and Sources:

“Château Lafite Rothschild | Domaines Barons De Rothschild (Lafite).” Domaines Barons De Rothschild Lafite Chteaux Et Vignobles De Bordeaux, 2016, www.lafite.com/en/chateau-lafite-rothschild/.

Garret, Dylan. “Decoding Israeli Wine.” Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, 20 Nov. 2015, www.winemag.com/2011/07/25/decoding-israeli-wine/.

Hochberg, Arie. “Wines of Israel Lecture.”  21 Feb. 2019, New York, International Culinary Center.

Menenberg, Aaron. “Thirteen Israeli Wines That Will Change Your Worldview.” The Tower, 2018, www.thetower.org/article/thirteen-israeli-wines-that-will-change-your-worldview/.

Montefiore, Adam. “Rothchild’s Kosher Commitment.” Israeli Wines Pride of Israel, 2017, winesisrael.com/en/4788/rothschilds-kosher-commitment/.