Israeli Wine Roadmap

Wine has always been produced in the land of land of milk and honey since times and Adam and Eve. The lands of Canaan and Judea were producing wine over twenty centuries years before Europe. In times of the King David the wine industry greatly contributed to the king’s treasury and wine had significant ritual importance.

Israeli Wine History

The city of Gibeon, Canaanite city north of Jerusalem that was conquered by Joshua, was the center of wine making industry in ancient Israel. In early sixties archaeological explorations discovered ancient wine cellars. Furthermore it has been determined that wine was made and stored saved and preserved at temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius in ancient Gibeon between 600 C.E and 700 C.E.

Michael Bar Yosef writes in his book that through his travels he visited both Gibeon, Israel as well as Champagne. Besides the vineyards’ difference in size (Gibeon being much smaller) Ben Yosef notes absolute similarities between the wine cellars of Gibeon, Israel and Champagne, France as if the same architect was involved in the design and building of the wine cellars despite the fact that the cellars of Gibeon were built 500 years earlier than the cellars of Champagne, France.

After the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 C.E., many vineyards were destroyed, and the remaining vines were torn up during the period of Muslim rule that began in 636 C.E. The Muslim conquest led to a 1,200 year halt to local wine production.

These ancient wines lacked the quality that people have become accustomed to in modern times. They were thick and sweet and had to be seasoned just to make them palatable.

The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux Chateau. In 1882 he supported the new wave of Jewish immigrants by sponsoring their efforts to start a viable wine industry. There were a number of initial setbacks – the soil was stony and sandy, crops did not survive the hot sun & the first vineyards were struck with phylloxera. Rothschild built two wineries, one in Zikhron Ya’aqov and another in Rishon LeZion. Because of high temperatures the wine of the first vintages went sour, so deep underground cellars were constructed at enormous cost.

According to Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (86-volume edition), the region’s export of wine and cognac in 1895 alone amounted to 277,000 Francs.

In 1906 Baron Edmond de Rothschild passed the management of the wineries onto the growers who formed the Societe Co-operative Vigneronne des Grandes Caves and in 1957 his son, James Rothschild, donated the wineries to the wine growers cooperative. Their vineyards covered many parts of Israel, but the main concentration was in the coastal regions of Sharon & Samson. The resulting wines were sold under the brand name ‘Carmel’.

At the turn of the twentieth century Carmel produced the first Israeli wine to win a medal at a wine show (Carmel No. 1 1900 was a gold medal winner at the Paris World’s Fair). It signaled the rebirth of the Israeli wine industry after 2,000 years.

Well into the 1960s, Israel suffered from a reputation of producing wines too thick and sweet to appeal to true wine connoisseurs.

In the 1970s Carmel began to produce Israel’s first varietal wines (Cabernet Sauvignon & Sauvignon Blanc).

Israel’s first serious ‘fine’ wine was Carmel Special Reserve 1976 (released in 1980). The wine, which lasted over 15 years, was a milestone in the production of Israeli wine (the 1979 vintage was also a great success).