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"He makes ...wine that gladdens the heart of man..." Psalm 104:15

16 February, 200916 February, 2009 0 comments Wine Wine


...and wine to gladden the Israeli economy


In its short history, the relatively young Jewish state has shot from obscurity to a recognizable force in the wine industry, a business which has also become a trendy hobby for many Israelis who make a couple hundred bottles a year in their own backyard.


Israel, the Promised Land, has been known for its abundant grapes since the spies scoped out the land for Moses. But it has taken modern-day Israelis a long time to catch on. In 1996, wine consumption in Israel was a mere 3.5 liters a person, but by 2004 the number doubled to 7 liters a person. That is still relatively low compared to a 60-liter plus consumption per person in France and similar amounts in Italy and Spain and 11 liters a person in the United States.


The local market is worth $175 million, according to Israel's Tourism Ministry. A handful of large Israeli wineries account for about 80 percent of the wine exported, most which are kosher. In 2005, wineries exported $13.8 million primarily to the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. Israel has five major, 12 medium-sized, and a host of small wineries.


Daniel Rogov, Israel's premiere wine critic, describes a boom in recent years in boutique wineries, ‘garagistes' (those who make wine in their own home, or garage), micro-wineries and ‘artisanal producers' producing from under 1,000 to up to 100,000 bottles and says they produce a range of wines from ‘barely drinkable' to ‘fine.'


The resurrection of the Israeli wine industry, which took a long hiatus in the land during centuries of Moslem rule, Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore in the 1880s, the roots of the oldest winery in Israel, Carmel. The industry was established at first solely to produce kosher wine.


Now Israeli wines are finally receiving accolades abroad. Kim Marcus, managing editor of Wine Spectator magazine visited Israeli wineries a decade ago and panned the quantity and quality of of the "emerging wine scene." After a follow-up visit to the Holy Land this year he wrote a much different story.


"I came away impressed by the leaps in quality, especially of the red wines, and by the dedication of the vintners," Kim Marcus writes in the magazine's June 10 issue.


Signs that the industry is taking off in Israel is evidenced by the growing number of backyard wineries and the popularity of homemade wine, representing the pioneer spirit that has always characterized the Jewish state. Amateur hobbyists are sprouting up around Israel while some are burgeoning into small businesses.


Zeev Dunie, owner of the non-kosher Sea Horse Winery in Moshav Bar Giora just outside Jerusalem, explains his start when he "got the bug," gave up his film career and started making wines from grapes he likes--zinfandel and syrah--two rare vintages in Israel.


"I don't have investors, I don't com from a rich family," but the pull to make wine was irresistible, he explained. "I was inspired by the rare optimism (at the time) of (US President) Bill Clinton, (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak and (Palestinian leader Yassir) Arafat. I took a mortgage and bought this property."


Dunie is now producing up to 18,000 bottles a year and exports much of his stock.





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