The Fruit of the Vine: Winemaking in Israel

Israel is a country that was famous for winemaking in ancient times. The mention of grapes as one of the “seven-species” in the Hebrew Bible illustrates how significant the winemaking industry was in the region. Israeli wine was considered a fine wine and trading ships exported it all the way to Europe.

The first major change in modern days was in the 1880s when Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the famous Château Lafite-Rothschild from Bordeaux, planted vineyards of French grape varieties in Israel. It took about 100 years until the next big advancement in Israeli winemaking when Professor Cornelius S. Ough from UC-Davis visited Israel in 1972 and gave his opinion that the Golan Heights area was best suited for wine grape growing. His advice led to the founding of the Golan Heights Winery in 1983. This was the first Israeli winery that received international recognition. Today, Israel has over 300 small- to medium-sized wineries crafting high-quality wines that can compete with some of the great wine regions of the world.

winery in the golan heights region of israel
The Golan Heights have become a destination region for wine lovers with some vintages being produced there garnering international awards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Home winemaking has been a hobby in Israel for many years — especially amongst the religious sector of the population who enjoy using their own wine for Shabbat. However, most of those winemakers make wine using “natural” methods and don’t use modern equipment and techniques.

Home winemakers utilizing specialized equipment and knowledge on the topic are a relatively new phenomenon in Israel. It is still a new field so there are no figures or data that can tell us about the scope of hobby winemaking in Israel but it is clearly growing in popularity.

There are very few courses being offered to study winemaking here. There is not one book in Hebrew that specifically covers the topic of winemaking and the information available online is limited. All my information was attained from English language sources such as WineMaker magazine, which was a great help. Unfortunately, when I began this hobby I was not fluent in English so there was a steep learning curve, especially with the technical jargon. Today, I can say that it was well worth the effort.

There is not one book in Hebrew that specifically covers the topic of winemaking and the information available online is limited.

In Israel there are no winemaking kits, frozen must, or juice concentrates. The only option is to make wine from fresh grapes. Winemaking supplies are also few and far between. Most of them are from one source — a large supplier in Haifa that imports equipment for commercial wineries and also carries a nice selection of high-quality, Italian home winemaking equipment. So, for example, instead of carboys we use Italian demijohns.

Obtaining items such as yeast, enzymes, etc., is even more complicated as most of these materials can be purchased only in bulk packaging suitable for commercial-scale operations. There are a few suppliers willing to repack in smaller sizes, especially for some of the more important ingredients and additives winemakers might want.

Personally, I am working now on developing a blog in Hebrew at https://homewinemaking.ovh, where I share my knowledge and experience on the topic of home winemaking. I hope to help other people in Israel to enter this amazing hobby easily and to inform those already making wine at home in Israel to use more advanced techniques that will help them to make great wines.

Shalom and L’chaim from Jerusalem.