The culture of wine came to ancient Israel from the region of Anatolia, which is in today's Turkey, during the Cananite period, some 2,800 years B.C.E. In Biblical times the culture surrounding wine flourished, as indicated in phrases such as "wine gladdens the heart of man". Wine was then particularly prominent in customs of the table, leisure and religious rituals. Also, the vine has an honorable place among the Shivat Haminim (The Seven Species) with which Eretz Israel is blessed. The fruit of the vine appears in the Bible story of the spies who entered ancient Israel and brought back a bunch of grapes to Joshua Bin Nun as a symbol and proof of the prosperity and affluence of the Promised Land. After the exile of the Jewish people to the Diaspora, viticulture in Eretz Israel ceased to exist. This was mainly because the area was conquered by nations who forbade the drinking of wine. Merchants and conquerors took the vine and wine industry in the beginning to North Africa then later to Southern and Central Europe.
The birth of the Eretz Israel wine industry was due to the readiness of Baron Edmond de Rothschild to help the Jewish agricultural settlement in Eretz Israel. After visiting Eretz Israel in 1887 the Baron decided to seriously develop the wine industry so that it would be based on good quality wines produced from high standard grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Semillon. In order to avoid damage by pests that plagued in the French vineyards, the first vines were imported from Kashmir, India. The massive planting of vineyards, supervised by the Baron's experts, took place in Rishon Leziyyon and Rosh Pinna. In 1890, building commenced on the large winery in Rishon Leziyyon and later on in Zikhron Yaagov. A glass factory was set up in Tantura for the production of wine bottles at the time of the establishment of these wineries.
Already in 1896, a wine from Eretz Israel was exhibited in an international exhibition in Berlin and in 1900 Eretz Israeli wines participated in a large exhibition in Paris -and won a gold medal.
In 1906 the management of the Rishon Leziyyon and Zikhron Yaaqov wineries and the ownership of the vineyard were transferred to the wine growers who founded the Wine Growers Cooperative, "Carmel Mizrachi". At the same time, a number of private wineries were founded.
10,000 dunams of vineyards and approximately 14 wineries existed at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. Viticulture then spread to other areas of the country such as the Northern Negev, the Judean Hills, Adullam and the Galilee. The waves of immigration brought changes in wine drinking habits. Whereas, in the past most of the wine was sweet and used mainly for religious blessings, in the sixties the trend veered towards dry and semi dry varietal wines. At the beginning of the eighties the wine industry entered a difficult period. Many vineyards were barren and abandoned. However, in the second half of the eighties new vineyards were planted and new types of grapes were introduced from North Ramat Hagolan and Upper Galilee, to Mizpe Ramon and Ramat Arad. Since the end of the eighties the wine industry in Israel has experienced a technical revolution. Today, table wines of international standard are produced by leading wineries in Israel and have been highly complimented by international awards and acclaim. In Israel today, there are four main wineries, some medium-sized wineries and about 20 "boutique wineries".
Agronome - Oenologue