December 15, 2010, Updated September 13, 2012

Wine may have been produced in Israel since the 1880s, but in the last decades it’s truly taken off. ISRAEL21c takes a look at the home of Israel’s wine industry.

The town of Zichron Ya’acov, south of Haifa and overlooking the Mediterranean, is the undisputed center of Israeli winemaking.Carmel Winery, Israel’s largest, is located there, as are numerous boutique wineries.

A group of Romanian immigrants to Israel settled in the area in 1882 and were horrified to find rampant malaria, rather than the milk and honey they had been anticipating.

French Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmund de Rothschild, who owned a winery in France, dispatched a team in response to a plea for help. Once it was determined that the area was perfectly suited for vineyards, he sent over cuttings to kick-start an industry that would produce kosher, sacramental wine for export from the Holy Land.

Israel Kayoumi vineyard

An Israeli vineyard in the Fall.

Today the Carmel Winery produces 15 million bottles a year, and one of its kosher wines recently won the Decanter International Trophy, considered the “Oscar” of wine awards.

Representing the boutique wineries is the tiny Somek Winery, on a quiet street behind the owners’ home in Zichron Ya’acov. Barak Dahan and his wife are the fifth generation of the family which sold grapes to that group of Romanians back in the 1880s.

Yatir Wine

The Yatir Winery in Zichron Ya’acov.

Today, the boutique winery produces about 10,000 bottles a year, including a Chardonnay, a Merlot, a Carignan and two blends, all of which that are sold locally to individuals and restaurants. “They come here and taste the wine and if they buy the wine, this is the gold medal for us,” smiles Dahan.

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