Israel is a nation possessing a rich past. The turning pages of history find it at the center of the Bible, while present day finds it at the center attention for a variety of reasons. It is the birthplace of three major faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The regional conflicts and the topics relating to the Israelis and Palestinians are centers of much controversy and questions. The economy and cultures are vibrant parts of a true democracy, and as a country known for many things, but wine is not one of them. Going into a liquor store and requesting the finest bottle of Israeli wine isn't something done by many people in Israel or abroad.
The reason for this is because wine, until recently, wasn't something Israel proudly brought to the table. Instead, Israeli wine was filled with a reputation for being a type of drink someone should put a cork in. When people think of Israeli food and beverages they think of Hummus and Pita, Falafel, homegrown fruits and juices and my beloved Shakshouka. Shakshouka (Arabic: ??????â€Ž; Hebrew: ??????â€Ž) (also shakshuka) is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, and adorned with various spices.
Wine production on Israeli lands began thousands of years ago, perhaps even prior to the Biblical era. However, the wines that were made during those times often tasted so bad that bottles shipped to Egypt were garnished with anything that would add flavor. The bottles sent to Rome, though not lacking flavor, were so thick and so sweet that anyone who didn't have a sweet tooth, wasn't able to consume them.
The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate ChÃ¢teau Lafite-Rothschild. Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild (August 19, 1845 â€“ November 2, 1934) was a French member of the Rothschild banking family. A strong supporter of Zionism - a national Jewish homeland, his generous donations lent significant support to the movement during its early years, which helped lead to the establishment of the State of Israel. Today, Israeli wine making takes place in five vine-growing regions: Galil - Galilee,(including the Golan Heights), the region most suited for viticulture due to its high elevation, cool breezes, marked day and night temperature changes, and rich, well-drained soils; the Judean Hills, surrounding the city of Jerusalem; Shimshon (Samson), located between the Judean Hills and the Coastal Plain; the Negev, a semi-arid desert region, where drip irrigation has made grape growing possible; and the Sharon plain near the Mediterranean coast and just south of Haifa, surrounding the towns of Zichron Ya'akov and Binyamina, which is the largest grape growing area in Israel.
Wine Road in Zichron
Israeli wine is produced by hundreds of wineries, ranging in size from small boutique enterprises to large companies producing over ten million bottles per year. A winery is a building or property that produces wine, or a business involved in the production of wine, such as a wine company. Some wine companies own many wineries. Besides wine making equipment, larger wineries may also feature warehouses, bottling lines, laboratories, and large expanses of tanks known as tank farms. In 2011, Israeli wine exports totaled over $26.7 million. Hence it is not a major wine exporter. As of 2012, the Israeli wine industry produced an average of 36 million bottles of wine annually in a variety of styles ranging from red, white, rosÃ©, still, sparkling and dessert wines. There are 35 commercial wineries in Israel, and over 250 boutique wineries.
The industry is fairly concentrated, with 75% of the nationwide production coming from the top five producers.
The United States is the largest export destination for Israel, which has emerged as a driving force for wine making in the Eastern Mediterranean due to its willingness to adopt new technology and its large export market. The country has also seen the emergence of a modern wine culture with upscale restaurants featuring international wines dedicated to an ever increasing wine-conscious clientele.
I enjoyed writing this article as I learned a bit about the Israeli wine industry and the making of wine. The basic wine making steps are:
The location chosen to plant wine grapes is perhaps the most important decision a wine maker has to make.
2. Deciding When To Harvest
The next most important factor in wine making is choosing the right time to harvest (pick) the grapes.The grapes must be harvested in peak condition for their particular variety. Several factors will be considered including sugar levels, color and taste.
It is also important for grapes to be picked carefully so theyâ€™re not bruised or split. Both hand picking and machine harvesting procedures are both used today..
3. Preparation And Crushing
Next, the grapes will be separated from their stems and leaves, usually by a special machine. If left in contact with the grapes too long after harvest, stems give off a bitter unwanted taste.
It is at this point that red grapes will be treated differently than white grapes.
4. White wine grapes are crushed and their juice is separated from their skins.
Most red wines skins will remain with their juice to impart their color, tannins, and flavor to the wine.This is the essential difference betweenÂ red wines andÂ white wines. Red wines owe their color and complex textures and flavors to the time their juice remains in contact with their skins.
Fermentation is the process that converts a grapeâ€™s naturally occurring sugar to alcohol. All wine grapes have some wild yeast present already, but these yeast strains are very unpredictable.Most wine makers today add specialized cultured yeasts to produce more predictable results. Sugars may also be added.
Once the appropriate alcohol content has been reached and fermentation is complete, the yeast and any other particles left behind must be separated from the finished product.
This is done by racking (pumping just the liquid out of the fermenting vat or container, fining (further clarifying the liquid), and filtering if necessary.
7. Bottling and Labeling
The final step in the wine making process is putting the finished liquid into its bottle and labeling it. Some wines will be ready to drink right away. Some (particularly reds) will be aged for a time before they are released to the public.
I am going to end this post with the obvious and expected: The best thing about wine in Israel is drinking it. Two to three times a week I enjoy a glass of red wine at one of the local cafes.