Wine & Israel
"And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff" (numbers 13:23).
Grapes were chosen as a symbol of how the land flowed with milk and honey (Today both Carmel Winery and the Israel Government Tourist Office use this as their logo).
The word wine comes [from Latin vinum (source of English vine and vinegar). Ultimately from a pre-Indo-European word that also the ancestor of greek oinos (source of oenophile)].
Winemaking is very much constrained by the grapevine itself, even given the necessary container and the means of preservation. The wild vine is dioecious (meaning it has unisexual flowers on separate plants that must be pollinated by insects). Only the female plant produces the fruit.
Vintage is the process of picking the grapes and transferring them to the winery at the exact time in which the grapes have reached optimal ripeness. The time of harvest is of crucial significance to the quality of the wine. The exact time of harvest depends on many factors, including the amounts and balance of sugar and acid in the berries, their physical condition and the weather. Harvest commences when the winemakers decide that the grapes have ripened to the right stage for a particular style of wine.
Vintage lasts around 80 days, from mid-July to early October. The common vintage order in Israel is, from the first to last: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Emerald Riesling, Semillon, French Colombard and other white varieties. Among red varieties, the first harvested are Merlot and Shiraz, followed by Petite Sirah, Cardignan and Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruit harvested from southern regions usually precedes fruit grown in the northern regions.
Wine is fermented fruit juice. Generally, the term "wine" refers to fermented grape juice; while wine produced from other fruits is labeled with the name of the specific fruit (e.g. apricot wine). Grape wine, as well as grape juice, is subject to specific rules of Stam Yaynam, which dictate that in order for it to be considered Kosher, Torah observant Jews handle all aspects of its production through final bottling.
Any pouring or handling of opened bottles of grape thereafter be handled as any other product. Grape wine (and juice) is the only alcoholic product subject to the rules of Stam Yaynam.
What is a kosher wine?
Kosher is an ancient Hebrew word meaning "fit" or "proper" and many of the rules for food and drink go back to Biblical days. However, modern rules for preparing kosher wines do not make a kosher wine inferior in any way; simply stated:
1. Equipment used to make the wine is used exclusively for the production
of kosher wines, or must be rigorously cleaned before it can be used
for kosher wine productions.
2. The grapes are handled only by observant Jews from crush to serving.
(see the term "mevushal" below)
3. Only certified kosher products (yeast, fining agents, etc.),
can be used in the production of kosher wines.
These factors and these alone, strictly applied, make a wine kosher. Many kosher wines are given one step further - making the wine mevushal. A mevushal wine is one that can be handled by the general public, like a non-Jewish waiter and still remain kosher.
The earliest known evidence of a fermented wine-like drink is from the Chinese village of Jiahu dated from ± 6000 BC. The wine found in jars contained millet, rice, beeswax (from honey) and hawthorn fruit or wild grape. The word wine by itself means grape wine. This terminology is often defined by law.
In Haji Firuz Tepe (Iran) pottery jars were found indicating that wine was produced about 5500BC. It is believed that the name of the Shiraz grape originates from the Persian town of the same name.
In ancient Egypt wine was used for ceremonial life. Although wild grapes were never grown there, a thriving royal winemaking industry had been established in the Nile Delta. The industry was most likely the result of trade between Egypt and Canaan [The region roughly corresponding to present day Israel/ Palestine, southern and coastal Syria and Lebanon].
Winemaking scenes on tomb walls, and the offering lists that accompanied them, included wine that was produced at the deltaic vineyards. By the end of the Old Kingdom (2650-2152 BC) , five wines, all probably produced in the Delta, constitute a canonical set of provisions, or fixed "menu", for the afterlife. Christianity included wine in its rites where it takes the place of the blood of Jesus in the liturgies of Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican Christians. The advent of wine in Europe was the work of the Greeks who spread the art of grape-growing and winemaking in Ancient Greece and Roman times. The Golden Age of wine making lasted until the fall of the Roman Empire, when Islam forbid the use of alcohol and the Middle East wine industry began to wither on the vine. Centuries would pass before wine making saw a comeback, when the first wineries in the area was led by Baron Edmund de Rotschild.
Nowadays wine regions cover all of Israel.
The coastal regions of Shomron and Samson (Dan) are Israel's traditional grape growing areas where vines were originally planted.
This area (Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee and Golan Heights) is generally accepted as Israel's finest wine growing areas because of their cooler climate and higher altitude. The Upper Galilee is a mountainous area of plunging peaks and stony ridges, and the soils are heavy, graveled but well drained. The Golan is a volcanic plateau with basalt, tuff soil. Both have snow in winter.
This is Israel's largest wine growing region, benefiting from the Carmel Mountain range and breezes off the Mediterranean Sea. The main concentration of vineyards is the valleys surrounding the winery towns of Zichron Ya'acov and Benyamina. Soils are heavy, limy and the climate typically Mediterranean.
The central coastal plain (known as Dan) and the rolling hills of the Judean Lowlands make up this region, which is the second largest in Israel. The soil are limestone, alluvial clay and loam and the area has a coastal Mediterranean climate: hot, humid summers and warm, mild winters.
An under developed but quality wine region. The central Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem and the southern Judean Hills have proved to be wine growing regions of the highest quality. The region is characterized by warm days and cool nighttime temperature. The soils are thin limy, stony and the higher mountains receive snow in winter.
A popular area for vine growing in ancient times has recently planted with vineyards in the higher regions. These range from the southern Negev Hills, which is dessert, to the semi and north east Negev Hills. Soils are sandy to loamy (loess). The temperatures range from very hot during the day, with cooler evenings and cold nights. The vineyards are often shrouded in mists during the morning hours.