More than 5,000 years after winemaking took root in ancient Israel, the Israeli wine industry is the toast of millions of oenophiles throughout the world, delivering a rich variety of flavors to wine connoisseurs and serving as an integral part of Israel’s vibrant culinary scene. From deep reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, to cool, crispy whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and a bold new series of Rose wines entering the market, the Israeli wine scene is generating more and more buzz.
Aided by Israel’s unique terroir – an agreeable Mediterranean climate and geographic diversity – Israel’s wines are truly distinctive and the industry has witnessed significant growth in recent decades. Until 1995, the entire country was home to fewer than a dozen boutique wineries, compared to more than 250 today. From the Negev to the Golan Heights, Israel’s top-flight wineries are increasingly garnering attention beyond its borders.
Exports account for one-fifth of Israel’s wine sales, with $50 million in total wine exports in 2017. North America comprises the top foreign market for Israeli wines, accounting for 55 percent of exports, while western Europe accounts for another 35 percent. The remainder were exported to more than 30 countries on five continents.
Who drinks Israeli wine? Many in the Jewish diaspora consume kosher labels, particularly around the Rosh Hashanah and Passover holidays. Drinkers of Israeli wines in Asia also continue to climb steadily. Last year, the Israeli winery Hayotzer announced an agreement to build an $8 million facility in central China, where millions of consumers are entering the wine market and Israeli wines are regarded as emblematic of quality and excellence.
Naturally, the Start-Up Nation is leveraging its prowess in technology, innovation, and research to grow its wine industry. In 2017, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem launched Israel’s first academic curriculum for wine, the International MSc in Viticulture and Enology. Students drill down on topics including irrigation technology (an internationally renowned Israeli area of excellence); distillation technology; fermentation science; and wine analytics, from taste to aroma.
That winning combination – thousands of years of winemaking history, a unique terroir, along with cutting-edge technologies – promises to propel further growth in the Israeli wine industry – and that’s something to say l’chaim to.