October 23, 2017

Soaring Israeli Wineries Emerge as Centers of Tourism

Kibbutz, Hulda - by Menachem Lubinsky - Israel has emerged as a leading producer of some of the best wines available, receiving many awards in international competitions. Although its per capita consumption of 3.5 liters per person is still well below European and American standards, the domestic market is only part of the story for the 300 or so wineries that now dot Israel with its diverse climates that allows for grape growing in all seasons. For many of the wineries, exports account for as much as half or more of all sales. The Barkan Winery, which produces more than 60 million bottles of wine annually, is one of Israel’s largest wineries and a major exporter to the US (Royal Wines, the major importer of all Israeli wines). It is a particularly attractive destination for tourists who wish to see first-hand the process of making wine from the neatly lined sprawling grapevines to the modern state-of-the art facilities including its huge inventory of wines aging in barrels. Its large Visitor Center and concert hall makes it an ideal location for events like Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and is even a venue for large concerts, one which took place here over Succoth. Nami Van den Bergen, WSET-Trained Sommelier, who heads the wine department, explained what is behind some of the latest award-winning wines that are now the leading sellers in the US kosher market. She shows off the three versions of Altitude (presumably the altitude where the grapes are grown) and explains the virtues of the Altitude 720 made famous when it was served to Pope Francis by El Al Israel Airlines on his trip from Tel Aviv to Rome on May 26, 2014. She challenged her audience to discern between the different Altitude Wines. She also guides her eager audience to learn to do the smell test for corks, which could signal whether a wine “has turned.” In addition to its production of such wines as Gevukstraminer (which it does not export), Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and other popular wines, Barkan is also one of the largest producers of Grape Juice.

Most wineries are not the size of Barkan, but are also popular tourist sites. The Gush Etzion Winery, beyond the Green Line is one such boutique winery. Founded by the Rozenberg family, the winery grows all the popular grapes. Although their wines have been mostly for domestic consumption, they are hoping to soon expand to the US market. Its small Visitor Center is extremely charming and is also a great place to taste some great foods as well as wines from their catering department. It is no wonder that a US couple from near Washington had spent nearly 10 days in Israel just visiting the wineries. Israel’s wine industry has certainly come of age.