Israel, like many long thin countries, has a surprising number of microclimates. It is possible to ski in the morning on Mount Hermon in the north, and in the afternoon to go scuba diving to see the Coral Reef in the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Likewise, it is possible to be in the Central Mountains at 3300 feet altitude, and a short time afterward to fall away to the Judean Desert, where the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1300 feet below sea level, is situated. One can visit the hot, humid Sea of Galilee, where you will be surrounded by date palms and banana trees. Climb ten minutes on to the Golan Heights and cool climate produce like apples, pears and wine grapes are grown. It is a country of variety, extremes, but all on a small scale. Israel would comfortably fit into New Jersey.
A hiker may walk anywhere in Israel and find ancient wine presses, providing evidence of a long winemaking history. In modern times the original vineyards were planted in the coastal regions and they formed the basis of Israeli wine for a hundred years or so. With the quality revolution, the vineyard areas moved northwards and eastwards in search of higher elevation. This was when the cooler areas of the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills became known for producing quality wines. Today the largest concentration of vineyards is in the north (Galilee & Golan) and the Judean Foothills, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
While the Wine Map of Israel is divided by topography, soil, and climate into six distinct regions, it can be difficult to classify Israeli producers by region. Many locate their winery in one region but produce wines from several or all regions – taking advantage of the fact that grapes picked from any corner of the country can be delivered to the winery within an hour or two.
The Galilee is in the mountainous north of Israel and is considered by many to be the most beautiful vineyard region in Israel. It is divided into the Upper and Lower Galilee sub-regions, which together account for about 25% of Israel’s production.
The volcanic soil of the Golan Heights was first planted with quality wine grapes in 1976. It is the region that first drew the world’s attention to Israeli wines and today it accounts for about 18% of Israel’s production.
The Central Mountains start in Haifa and run down the spine of the country past Jerusalem. The five sub-regions of Mount Carmel, the Menashe Hills, the Shomron Hills and the Judean Hills together account for about 11% of Israel’s production.
The hot and humid Coastal Plain was one of the areas planted by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the 1880s. Although the main growing areas have moved to regions with higher elevation and cooler climate, it still accounts for about 15% of Israeli production.
Lying between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, The Judean Foothills consists of many small vineyards and wineries. The region was known for it’s wine in Biblical times and today is Israel’s largest growing area, with 27% of production.
The Negev Highlands region lies in the Negev desert that makes up half of Israel. Vineyards were first planted in the 1990s, and are a classic example of Israel’s skills in agriculture, and making the desert bloom. The region is responsible for about 4% of Israeli production.
The official wine regions of Israel are Galilee, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and the Negev.
Galilee – Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, Golan Heights
Shomron – Northern Coastal Plain, Mt. Carmel, Menashe Hills, Shomron Hills
Samson – Central Coastal Plain, Judean Foothills
Judean Hills – the hills to the west, north & south of Jerusalem
Negev – the Negev Highlands.
These were decided long before the Israel wine industry took its current shape. There are proposals to change and update these to fit in with the realities of today.