I was recently privileged to participate in a WSET (Wine, Spirit, & Education Trust) Level 2 course here in Israel, and I just received news that I successfully passed the exams! Ten years ago, I knew nothing about wine. But since coming to Israel for the first time, I have slowly begun building my knowledge about grapes, wine and the vineyards of Israel. When I started the course, I quickly realized that my level of knowledge in this area was still quite miniscule.
Old World Wines vs. New World Wines
WSET is a UK-based school of learning that is internationally recognized for training sommeliers and wine experts.
Over the 5 weeks of the course, I began to have a revelation about the wine industry around the world, and the recent comeback of wines here in the land of Israel. I hope you’ll find this idea as fascinating as I did.
When discussing world wines, the terms “old world” and “new world” are used to describe the well-known regions around the world. Most of Europe is considered old world, with France generally being cited as the top region for many wine varieties. Places like North America and Australia are generally considered new world regions. The vineyards of Israel are not even mentioned in the course, being still relatively small and so new to the wine stage.
The Best Wines are Known by Region, Not the Winery Name
High quality wines from old world regions are many times known by their geographical location, and not necessarily the winery where it is produced.
In French, there is no word for “winery,” and many high quality wines are labeled according to their region, village, or family vineyard. For instance, if you see a wine labeled “Chablis,” you know that this particular wine will be a very high quality Chardonnay, and will come from the region of Chablis, France. A “Pouilly Fume” labeled wine must be from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and come from the region of Bourgogne, France.
In contrast, new world wines sometimes depend on the winemaking process for the reputation and quality of their wine. For new world wines, the winery is often more famous than the vineyard from where the grapes come.
Typically, when speaking of high quality wines, old world wines are considered to be some of the finest in the world.
The World’s Best Wine in the Time of Jesus
Thirty years ago, there were no vineyards in Samaria. Even though the entire region of Judea and Samaria is dotted with ancient cisterns, wine and olive oil presses cut into the rocks, and even wine aging caves, until the early 1990s, grapes were not grown here.
In Samaria alone, there have been over 300 ancient wine presses discovered! Because of the archaeology, and the permanent reminders engraved into the rocks on these hills, we know what once was – that Israel was a major competitor in the world for the wine industry 2,000 years ago.
Because Samaria is just north of Jerusalem, and Judea south, we can also judge that much of the wine made in these hills would have been used in the offerings in the Temple, and would therefore have been some of the finest in the world.
However, after the destruction of the Temple, these hills in the heartland of Israel lay desolate for 2,000 years. Even after the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948, for nearly 50 more years, hardly anything was grown here.
Then in the early 90s, a few brave farmers decided that what the prophets once spoke must come to literal fruition.
A Miracle Comeback for the Vineyards of Israel
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.Amos 9:13
Against the advice of the agricultural experts, farmers began to plant. On the Mount of Blessing, several brave farmers planted a few acres of wine grapes in 1997.
Just a few short years later, their first harvest came in. They managed to secure a contract with Carmel Winery – the largest winery in Israel – to buy their grapes, as they had not yet started making wine themselves.
The story goes that when the very small harvest of grapes reached Carmel that year, they immediately realized that these grapes were of a higher quality than their usual purchases, and they decided to separate them and make a wine with just the grapes from the Mount of Blessing.
Since then, grapes coming from the Mount of Blessing are considered a very high quality and are sought after all over Israel.
Today, wineries and vineyards have sprouted and taken flight all over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Wines from these regions have won dozens of gold, silver, and bronze medals in top international competitions, competing with wines from around the world in blind tastings.
The prophecy of Amos is truly coming to pass.
Where is Israel on the World Wine Stage?
As I went through the WSET course, I realized that Israel is so new on the wine stage, that they’re not even referenced in the traditional material. If they are mentioned at all, it is in the context of “new world” wines.
After pondering the history of winemaking as well as the phenomenon of so many vineyards and wineries cropping up and taking their place amongst world-renowned wines, I realized that it is only a matter of time before Israel is restored to its rightful place as an old world wine region, and referenced as some of the highest quality wine in the world.
World-renowned wines were made here 2,000 years ago – the evidence is etched into the rocks on these hills.
And to the astonishment of viticulturists and soil analysts, the vineyards of Israel and their wineries have grown by an exponential amount in just 30 years. And not only have they grown, but the number of wines winning international medals in blind competitions has reached a staggering number.
The Future of Israeli Wine
I’m looking forward to the day when labels like “Mount of Blessing”, “Shiloh,” “Psagot,” and “Mountains of Judea” will be known as specific, famous wines all around the world, with reputations to match.
As Amos’ prophecy comes to fruition, I suspect this time is not too far away. It’s all part of the greater restoration of God’s Kingdom happening here in the land of Israel, and we can all be a part of it.
If you’re interested in coming to see the vineyards of Israel for yourself, taste the wine, and be a part of this miracle story through volunteering, click here to find out more.