April 7, 2014

Despite Robust Wine Industry, IsraelÕs Jews are Still not Heavy Wine Drinkers

TEL AVIV - Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s major dailies, revealed the obvious. Despite its new position as a major wine producer, Israel’s Jews (or Jews in general) are just not heavy wine drinkers. Says Avi Ben-Ami, who runs the Hebrew-language wine website, Sommelier: ““Wine makes its way to the Israeli dining table on Rosh Hashanah and Passover. People have this psychological block that wine is confined to a certain segment of the population or for specific days—or that it can only be drunk out of crystal goblets and not with a lunchtime sandwich or out of a disposable cup.”  

Israelis drink an average of about four to five liters a year, much less than the average 20 liters consumed in the United States and Australia. Israeli imbibing is a pittance compared to consumption rates in European countries, such as France, Italy and Portugal, where people drink between 40 to 50 liters a year. Says Ha’aretz: “It looks like most Israelis still need an excuse to open a bottle of wine. As a result, nearly half the wine purchases in the country are made just prior to Passover and Rosh Hashanah.” 

While they may not drink, that does not stop them from buying.  According to the estimates of the Israel Wine and Grape Board, which represents Israel’s vineyards and wineries, the local wine industry generates revenues of about $259 million a year, of which about a fifth is exports. There are an estimated 280 wineries in Israel, but most of the country’s wine is sold through two major wineries, Carmel and Barkan. 

“While food products as a whole have become more expensive, wine has remained unchanged,” says Ben-Ami. “Four or five years ago, thousands of additional dunams of vineyards [a dunam is a quarter acre] were planted amid optimism that something big was going to happen in the industry. These vineyards have been producing grapes for a year or two, but per capita wine consumption has not changed in Israel, meaning that large warehouses have millions of additional bottles destined for the supermarket shelves.”