Israel is too hot to grow grapes for fine wines, except in the Golan Heights. This reign on Syrian ground, occupied by Israel is up to 1200 metres above sea level and contains volcanic soil.
In Golan Heights, winters can be cold, even snowy, summer nights are cool, but day temperatures high enough to ripen grapes. Golan heights wineries produce outstandingly fresh whites, using international varieties e.g. cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and riesling.
To the Jewish people, no communal, religious or family get-together is complete without wine.
The grape was one of the fruits mentioned in the Bible.
Kosher wine laws were decreed in antiquity so that observant Jews could enjoy it. Fellow observant Jews must produce kosher wine.
While kosher food emphasises the source. But with kosher wines, the focus is on the grower and handler of the fruit during the wine processing.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has survived wars, terrorism, and many other political upheavals, but viticulture evolved at an unprecedented rate with boutique wineries springing up in the north where the climate is more suitable to grow grapes for wine production.
The modern industry started with a co-operative, Carmel Richon le Zion, with financial help and expertise provide by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, from France.
Israeli vineyards need irrigation as the land is too dry and rainfall is insufficient to grow grapes.
At a minimum vines need 600 mm of precipitation to yield suffiecient fruit.
Applied judiciously, irrigation can be beneficial.
Most growers look to California for inspiration, guidance, and education. The late Dr. Ough, the dean of the University of California at Davis, was the first to recommend grapes on Golan Heights in 1970, shortly after the Israeli army occupied it.
Most Israeli wineries produce kosher wine. Producing kosher wine is more expensive since rules according to talmudic promulgations regarding food and alcoholic beverages have to be followed to the letter.
Although wine plays an important religious roll, Israelis happen not to be avid wine drinkers, with an average per capita consumption of less than five litres. This is less than half of the Canadian average, and much less than any European country.
Israel and Kosher wines production rules are:
Vines must be at least four years old
Vineyards must lie fallow for one year every seven years. (Hiring temporary management of non-Orthodox people and employing gentile workers circumvents this rule).
Growing other fruits and vegetables between vine rows is prohibited.
One per cent of the production must be “disposed of” in remembrance of the tithe paid to the Holy Temple
All supplies and equipment to make wine must be pasteurized and certified as such by the rabbinical council.
All grape bunches must be free of unhealthy berries as well as insects.
The winery must be cleaned before and after crushing and pressing under the supervision of a mashgiach (trained religious official)
Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah, sangiovese, barbera, tempranillo, and experimental red varieties are planted.
Growers prefer chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc, and experimental white grape varieties.
Israelis prefer sweet wine to dry wines. Young drinkers tend to choose dry wines.
Practically all wine-making countries produce kosher wines, but the
U S A, Israel, France, Italy lead.
Israel exports considerable quantities to countries with large Jewish minorities.
Barkan Wine cellars, Dalton, Domaine du Castel, Château Golan, Galil Mountain, Clos Du Gat, Golan heights Winery, Margalit Winery, Montefiore Winery, Psagot Winery, Recanati, Zion, and Yarden are some of the leading establishments.
Overall, there are close to 300 wineries with 35 of them being large and the rest boutique operations.