Wine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Israel, but the country is now home to many world-class wineries. Find out about the country’s ancient wine industry and plan a tasting tour of the Holy Land.
With five wine-growing regions — each with their own climate and soil — the range of Israeli wines is quite remarkable for such a small country (it’s about the size of New Jersey). Regardless of where you decide to visit on your trip to Israel, there’s bound to be a winery nearby.
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Israel’s lush north is not what most people picture when they think of the Middle East. But mountains, forests, rivers and a decent annual rainfall mean that the climate is moderate and the landscape beautiful. Some of the country’s best wineries (as well as getaway options) can be found in the north, which encompasses the Galilee and Golan Heights. Check out the Galil Mountain Winery, which produces about 1million bottles annually, or the Golan Heights Winery, which produces wines under three labels (Yarden, Gamla and Golan). For a uniquely Israeli taste, don’t miss the Rimon (pomegranate) Winery, which produces a variety of pomegranate wines that make an exceptional souvenir.
The center of the country, from Tel Aviv on the shores of the Mediterranean to Jerusalem in the center to the Dead Sea all the way east, is where most tourists will find themselves. Luckily, there are plenty of wineries in the area to choose from. Not far from Tel Aviv, the town of Zikhron Ya’akov is home to the first winery in modern Israel, Carmel Winery. They are also the biggest with a production of 15 million bottles of wine every year. Nearby Tishbi Winery is worth a visit as well. Both wineries have very welcoming visitors’ centers, complete with tasting rooms and restaurants. Tishbi recently added a Valrhona chocolate and wine tasting center, which has become popular for good reason.
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Although the southern part of Israel, made up mostly of the Negev Desert, is the least populated part of the country, by land mass it is the largest. And while it may come as a surprise that grapes can thrive in such an arid climate, the ancient wine presses that can be found throughout the region prove that it’s been done for thousands of years. To combine history with wine tasting, check out Sde Boker, the kibbutz that was the summer home of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. In addition to housing his memorial and museum, the kibbutz also produces wine, which you can sample on premises. Farther south, Carmey Avdat is a lovely boutique winery that produces just 6,000 bottles or so per year.