Writing about wine - it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I might need to drink a lot of wine just so that this blog is really authentic. Back in the day (and I mean the 70s and 80s, even early 90s) there were very few kosher wines on the market. The wine that was available was sweet and generally meant for Friday nights and the seder. Israeli wine production really started to take of in the 90s. In the year 2000 there about 70 wineries in Israel and today there are over 300. That’s a lot of wine for a little place. And it’s not slacker wine either. More and more, Israeli wines are winning some serious awards. It’s become so intense that one of Israel’s major attractions are its wines and wine tours. Here is a list of some of the bigger wineries that do great tours.
Carmel Winery: The Carmel Winery is the biggest producer of wine in Israel selling over 13 million bottles of wine annually. It’s also the oldest, founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild who owned vineyards in France. He brought varietals of grapes and wine making knowledge to Israel over 150 years ago.
The Carmel Winery has a wine and culture center in Zichron Yaakov where there is a store, restaurant and tasting areas. There are also lots of different kinds of tours available, from a quick taste tour to educational tours and pairings.
Golan Heights Winery - Golan Wineries produce wines under the labels Yarden, Gamla, Mount Hermon and Golan. They export to over 32 countries. One of my go-to wines is a Yarden Cabernet. It’s like that LBD that you have in your closet. You know it works and you can take it out whenever you need it don’t want to think. That’s this wine for me. The winery is up in the Golan and it’s gorgeous. They have private and group tours.
Binyamina - The Binyamina winery has been around for more than 60 years. This is an extremely cool place to visit if you like wine and are also interested in Israeli history. The winery was originally a perfume factory built by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. The village of Binyamina - and the wine - is named after him. David Ben Gurion had to personally intervene to pass a law that would allow Joseph Zeltzer (the original founder of Binyamina winery) to produce independent wine. At the time, all winemakers had to go through the Carmel Mizrachi’s wine cooperative. Binaymina produced liquer and brandy under the label Hard Nut Liquer which was named after Ben Gurion. Apparently he was known as a “hard nut to crack”. You can do wine tasting or wine tours at their visitors center, the site of the once perfume factory.
Tishbi - The Tishbi winery is a bit of a different experience. Tishbi is a family owned business and they don’t just make wine. They have olive trees where they make olive oil and a chocolate factory. So you can actually book a wine and chocolate tasting tour. I don’t think I need to say anything else here. Except that if you are into brandy you should check out the Jonathan Tishbi Brandy. It’s won tons of awards. In all honesty I have to admit that I am not a brandy drinker but post below if you have tried it.
Barkan - Barkan is the second biggest winery in Israel. They have a huge visitors center and if you really want to learn more about wine you can actually book a wine night here. You order food and wine and then eat and drink and learn about wine. Also arrange for a cab or for someone else to drive you back to where ever you are staying. Just opened a bottle of Barkan Reserve Cabernet last night - fantastic.
So basically: Forget Nappa. Come to Israel.