Wine was always part of life in ancient Israel, mentioned many times in the bible. Indeed wine is part of Judaism itself: it is used to begin and end Shabbat (Sabbath) and is an integral part of the Passover meal and Purim celebrations. There is a widely held belief that the Crusaders brought Chardonnay grapes back to France from the Holy Land (Chardonnay possibly derived from the Hebrew Shah Ad-onay, or gates of G-d) .
In modern times, the wine industry was started in the late 1800s by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. Today, Israeli wine-making takes place in several areas of Israel, where the cool, semi arid conditions in winter are ideal for growing grapes. The range of wines produced in Israel increases annually and the quality is unarguable, as more and more Israeli wines win international awards.
Israel’s excellent wineries include larger businesses such as Golan, Tishbi, Barkan, Yarden, and Binyamina, as well as dozens of smaller boutique wineries. Most are Kosher although some, particularly those run by monasteries in the Judean hills, may not be. Many of the wineries have visitor centers and offer site tours and tastings, some of them take this to a very high level. Tishbi for example, which is a few minutes drive from the Roman city of Caesaria and the modern Israeli town of Zichron Yaakov, has a restaurant with an open-plan bakery producing sour dough breads where I’ve enjoyed several fine lunches. It offers comprehensive and enjoyable tours which end in wine tasting sessions (spitting optional!).
Whichever winery you visit, you’ll need to book your tour in advance and confirm they have an English speaking guide available at the times you wish to visit.
It is not rare for groups to spend a day or more touring just Israels wineries, and this can really be an interesting experience. Even if your group decides one winery is enough for them, this should definitely be on your itinerary. The range of options of wineries, from small to large; with or without restaurants and geographically locations ranging from near Jerusalem, in the Negev, in the Galil or in the Golan, means that this should be something you can easily slot into your schedule.
Enjoy the wonderful wine scene throughout all of Israel! We know you will love it. LeChaim!!