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What Makes Wine From Israel Unique?

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The winemaking tradition throughout the east of the Mediterranean goes back millennia but the modern Israeli industry has seen its peak over the past few years.

White wines have risen dramatically in terms of quality. Rhone variety and the hybrid varieties are pushing away from Cabernet blends. Native grapes are beginning to see commercial results.

The winemakers who have traveled abroad have returned with an open mind to experiments. This has led to an era of innovation has sprung up in this vibrant and diverse Mediterranean country. This will surely determine the direction of Israel’s wine industry into 2021. Here are some developments to keep an eye on.

White Wine

Seventy percent (70%) of the wine grapes that are grown throughout Israel are red including Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way. But, the demand for Israeli white wines both in Israel and internationally is on the rise.

“It’s like someone flipped an on and thought, ‘Wow it’s an extremely hot climate, and we should drink white wine cold”” Says Joshua Greenstein, an executive vice-president of the Israel Wine Producers Association trade group.

Acidity and freshness are the two main factors and the most excellent examples come from vineyards at high altitudes. In addition to Chardonnay along with Sauvignon Blanc, there are excellent examples of Gewurztraminer from producers such as Psagot, Jezreel, Tabor and Golan Heights Winery.

Rhone-style whites such as Recanati’s Special Reserve white blend and Netofa’s Roussanne have also been gaining traction.
Rhone-Style Reds

“Mediterranean grape varieties will be the best for our climate and terroirs,” says Gil Shatsberg the executive vice president of Recanati. “Early maturing grapes that have the capacity to preserve natural acidity even in hot conditions are the best chance to make high-quality wines that are ideally matched to the local culinary traditions.”

It includes blends as well as bottlings made of varietals like Grenache Syrah, Grenache Mourvedre. Top-quality examples of Shiraz/Syrah come from wineries like Ramot Naftaly Winery, Pelter Winery, Binyamina Winery, Shiloh Winery and Tulip Winery and blends are the mainstay of Jezreel Valley Winery, Hayotzer and Dalton Winery.

Boutique Wineries

The four most prominent producers — Barkan Wine Cellars Carmel Winery, Teperberg Winery and Golan Heights Winery – account for almost 50% of Israel’s production of between 40 and 45 million bottles annually. Since the late 1970s, there’s seen a steady increase in proprietor-owned craft wineries that produce as much as 30,000 bottles per year.

It was Dr. Yair Margalit, who established Margalit Winery in 1989, is regarded as the founder of the Israeli small winery movement. They focus in quality, quality of terroir, and expression. They also experiment with methods of winemaking, blends that are proprietary along with grape varietals.

Small-scale producers such as Kishor Winery, Agur Winery, Shvo Vineyards, Alexander Winery, Ephod Winery, Nadiv Winery, Odem Mountain Winery and Gush Etzion Winery are racing to the top of Israel’s wine industry.

The Vines of the Desert

One of the most dry wine regions around the globe Israel’s Negev (Hebrew meaning “dry”) began to produce grapes around 2500 years ago. They were cultivated by the Nabateans who were a nomadic tribe that built stone dams in order to redirect rains towards their vineyards. There are more than forty wineries. This dry region that is wedged between Egypt and Jordan can reach altitudes of up to 2,950 feet. These altitudes provide cool nights that keep the acidity.

One of the leaders in the region are Yatir Winery, founded in 2000 as a collaboration between local farmers along with Carmel Winery. Its red wines are surprising vibrant, especially considering the terrain and climate.

Another one that stands out is Midbar The Hebrew word meaning “desert.” A winemaker Shachar Landman wrings astonishing levels of freshness from the soil that is dry for his white and red blends.

Native Grapes

Israeli winemakers have old indigenous varieties like Marawi, Bittuni, Jandali, Baladi and Dabouki, which were long believed to be extinct.

Recent discoveries made by researchers such as Elyashiv Drori from Ariel University have led to the discovery and propagation of these plants. Cremisan Winery, on the border between Israel as well as on the West Bank, is one of the top producers of indigenous grapes. Sales from these wineries support people who are Salesian Monks. The winemaking team is comprised of Italian monks, under the supervision direction of the consultant Riccardo Cotarella.

Ido Lewinsohn MW director of winemaking for Barkan Segal, also works with Marawi and Marawi, while Teperberg Winery uses the native Dabouki variety to make the production of its Inspire White.

Experimentation

After their mandatory military service, a lot of Israelis leave for an entire year prior to returning and begin a new career.

Winemakers will find many things to learn about in Europe and Europe, the United States and Australia, and come back looking forward to trying new techniques for fermentation or grapes.

Yehuda Nahar who is CEO and winemaker at Jezreel Valley Winery, makes wines made from Argaman an ancestor of Souzao as well as Carignan.

Argaman is a Hebrew word that means “crimson” to Hebrew it was invented by Israeli agriculturalists in order to create an intensely colored wine frequently added to blends that are cheap. Yet, Nahar and a few like-minded fellows from the country have produced premium blends and bottlings of varietals using the grape.

In Segal, Lewinsohn has introduced methods such as whole-cluster or native-yeast fermentation. These methods are a part of the traditional method to make wine, they were pushed to the side since winemaking was a industrial process.

wines with a Mission

Consumers are increasingly looking to patronize brands that are giving back towards the local community. a trend that is not ignored by the Israel wine industry. Two outstanding vineyards include Kishor and Tulip both of which help people with special needs.

Kishor can be found in Kibbutz Kishorit Community, which is for adults with special needs. The kibbutz’s members are employed all year round and a team of dedicated employees is brought in during the harvest season. Kishor’s tasting rooms feature baking and cheese products created by members of the community.

Tulip winery was established by the locals of Kfar Tikva, the “Village of Hope” where adults live with emotional and developmental disabilities. Residents are involved and participate at the winery, primarily when it comes to harvesting and the labeling the bottles. Both wineries make a variety of red and white wines.

Sustainability

The leader at the forefront is Golan Heights Winery. Its vineyards were among the first ones in Israel to receive certification for sustainable wine-growing. Its cellars for barrels as well as the bottled wine warehouse , and bottling room are covered with solar panels. According to the winery, two thirds of its energy use comes from the sun.

Tabor Winery, under the direction of its general manager and chief Agronomist Michal Akerman has been working to restore wildlife to the vineyard to improve the ecology through using sustainable cultivation techniques. The logo for the winery’s brand new design includes a barn owl that symbolizes the returning of various wild animals, and their importance to the quality of soil.