Israel is a nation possessing a rich past. The turning pages of history find it at the center of the Bible, while the present day finds it at the center of conflict. A country known for many things, wine is not necessarily one of them. Going into a liquor store and requesting their finest bottle of Israeli wine isn’t something many people do.
The reason for this is because wine, until recently, wasn’t something Israelis brought to the table, proudly placing between the rolls and potatoes. Israeli wine had a reputation as the type of drink that should be permanently corked up. This, however, wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of Israeli viniculturists.
Wine production in Israeli lands began thousands of years ago, perhaps even prior to the Biblical era. The wines from these times often tasted so bad that bottles shipped to Egypt were garnished with anything that would add flavor. Stopping just short of adding RediWhip, people tossed in everything from honey to berries to pepper to salt. Centuries later, the wine sent to Rome, though not lacking flavor, was so thick and sweet that anyone who didn’t have a sweet tooth or a spoon couldn't consume them.
The wine was of such poor quality that when Arab tribes took over Israel in the Moslem Conquest of 636, disappointment didn’t exactly ferment when local wine production stopped for 1,200 years.
In the late 1800’s, wine production began again in Israel. A Jewish activist and philanthropist of the era named Baron Edmond de Rothschild began helping Jews flee oppressors, and eventually helped them adapt to their Palestine settlements. Determined to let Israeli grapes have their day in the sun, he helped these settlers plant vineyards. Because of this, he is known as a founder of Israel’s wine industry.
But the kind intentions of even the most good-hearted of men wasn’t enough to save Israeli wine from the roots of its ancient reputation. Because Israel's lands and climate were not ideal for viniculture, the wine produced was often of poor quality. Too coarse and too sweet to be consumed, Israeli wine was looked on unfavorably until just a few decades ago.
With the adoption of modern equipment, the importation of good vine stock, the encouragement given to viticulturists, and the planting of vineyards in microclimates found in mountain ranges, near lakes, and in flat areas, Israeli wine has recently been much more appreciated for its taste and variety. As sweet red wines have been replaced with lighter, dryer red wines and champagne, the wines of Israel have finally begun to climb up the vine of greatness.