Other

We Found the Next Super Fruit in Israel


Forget blueberries, pomegranate and acai. There’s a new super fruit in town and it has the bible backing it up….seriously.

I’d never heard of the etrog, a citrus fruit that resembles a chubby lemon, until I landed in Tel Aviv, specifically in Uzi-Eli’s juice shop at the entrance to the Carmel shuk (market).

Uzi-Eli a 70-year old gentleman who looks about twenty years younger, is a Yemeni born healer who landed in Israel decades ago.

He claims his juices and herbal elixirs are based on the doctrine laid down by the Jewish Medieval Rabbi, scholar and philosopher, Moses Maimonides and that the sacred fruit is bestowed a place of honor in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. He goes by many titles, among them “juice man” and “spiritual guru.” But he lets people call him Uzi.

When I first walked into the funky little juice shop a beautiful woman, one of three of Uzi-Eli’s children and the only girl, behind the counter offered my very first sip of etrog juice.

If the juice will do anything to make me look like her, I’m in, I thought to myself.

A jittery man nearly shoved me out of the way to ask for his own green juice.

“Excuse me!” I said with annoyance.

“I’m sorry,” he said politely. “I’m just addicted to this juice.” He didn’t look like an addict. he wore a suit and a pretentious bluetooth earpiece. I let him through. Who was I to get in the way of his fix.

The etrog fruit resembles a giant lemon, but with a sexier shape. Indeed it is a good-looking fruit, just one of the reasons it is a symbol of fertility and beauty.

I take a slug of it. It was delicious, tart and sweet with a grassy aftertaste. Did I feel any different? Not really. Not yet at least.

Uzi-Eli will craft a “medicine” for you based on whatever ails you. First he asks you a series of questions about your symptoms, your sleeping patterns, your belly issues, your moods and your emotions. Sometimes he asks you to draw him a picture of how you feel…right then and there.

He claims his concoctions are good for curing chronic fatigue, pain, diabetes, stress, anxiety and infertility. They boost your immune system and can even help bring health and happiness. Some of them even make you look and feel younger. That’s what we call having it all.

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This article was originally published by Jo Piazza on November 12, 2015


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Ancient Grapes Are the Future of Israeli Wine

Three winemakers who are bottling Israel's vinous history.

“Is that the wine that Jesus drank?” This is the near automatic response I receive whenever I express enthusiasm for wine made from Israel’s native grapes. But my geek-like fascination is not unfounded. Although modern winemaking in the country tends to focus on transplant French varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite brought over plantings in the late 19th Century), a small group of winemakers have now gone back to the country’s viticultural roots. Some of these specimens are not only native to the land and country they’re also very old. Ariel University researcher and oenologist Elyashiv Drori has found references to the white grapes Jandali and Hamdani (also known as Marawi) in the Babylonian Talmud dating back as far as 220 A.C. Now, those grapes are slowly making their way into the portfolios of Israel’s wineries. In a place that has antiquity in its DNA, why, I’ve often wondered, was this history ignored for so long?

As an impressionable young sommelier in February 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for IsraWinExpo – the country’s largest wine trade show. I was certain the tasting would be filled with local grapes I didn’t know—Israel’s equivalent of Greece’s Assyrtico or Lebenon’s Merwah grape. Yet I left deflated. Winemakers eagerly extolled their new French oak barrels and international blends. My inquiries about local grapes were met with a seeming sense of shame. The wines I tasted felt a little like imposters: made in Israel but not necessarily from here.

But Drori was already on the case, surveying the indigenous grapevine population from his laboratory in the West Bank’s Ariel settlement. His team has identified a staggering 150 unique genomes from collecting grape samples𠅋oth wild and from growers around the country. Twenty show the most promise for wine. He is working to substantiate the antiquity of these grapes by matching them to plant material found in archeological excavations. “We may have the most interesting wine legacy,” he says, 𠇋ut we need facts to actually support it, and that documentation was neglected here for too many years.”

Drori’s research on a grape called Marawi caught the attention of Recanati Winery’s energetic winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. “I first tasted a Marawi micro-vinification from Drori three years ago and immediately saw its potential,” says Lewinsohn. “It’s my hope that local varieties like this one, as well as more Mediterranean grapes like Marselan and Carignan will help us in our search for true Israeli typicity.” Recanati has since planted its own Marawi vineyards, but finding fruit at first proved troublesome. For its inaugural 2014 Marawi bottling (the country’s first commercial release of the grape), the winery contracted grapes from a secretive source: a Palestinian grower near Bethlehem who requested his identity be concealed. If it were discovered that he sold his grapes for wine𠅊nd to Israel no less—there could be serious repercussions. “We know he grows the grapes on pergola trellises and that the vineyard is dry-farmed,” says Lewinsohn, 𠇋ut that’s all the information we have.”

Olive terraces at Cremisan Wine Estate in the West Bank

© Peter Weltman © Peter Weltman

The wine is low in alcohol (around 12 percent) with vibrant acidity, ripe melon and pear flavors and a rich, textural mouthfeel from aging eight months on the lees. The newly bottled 2015 tastes even fresher, its green melon notes and wooliness reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. The label displays the grape’s name in both Hebrew and Arabic – a subtle hint at its border-crossing origins.

Further inland at Cremisan Wine Estate, head vintner Fadi Batarseh is no stranger to these sorts of geographic complexities. The winery, associated with a Christian monastery, is located in the West Bank. Its property – dramatic rock terraces studded with olive trees and grape vines—lies in what is now considered Bait Jala, Palestine, but that could change with the political tides. Batarseh had previously written his thesis on the native grapes of this land while studying oenology in Trento, Italy. In 2007, he paired up with famed Italian oenologist Riccardo Cotarella to start Cremisan’s Star of Bethlehem series. “The project focuses on the idea of origin,” he says. “We have this unique opportunity not to only be in Holy Land but also to make wine from its original grapes.” One wine from the series, a 2013 Baladi, was the only native red that I encountered. It had plush plum flavors that could rival the best northern Italian expressions of Merlot, accented with Syrah-like coffee notes. Their fifty-fifty blend of Hamdani (Marawi) and Jandali that I tasted next shared a similar green melon note with other Marawi wines but with an extra mintiness and punch of acidity, which could be the hallmark of the even rarer Jandali grape.

I caught up with a man who intimately knows the country’s vinescape𠅏ormer Segal Wines head winemaker Avi Feldstein—over lunch in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market. He just launched his own label earlier this year, and one focus of the new project is Dabouki. Meaning "sticky" in Arabic, this ancient, oblong-berried white grape was widely planted in the 1948 Israeli borders but had long been relegate to use as a table grape or sold in bulk to be distilled as Arak. 𠇊rabs refer to some things as min al-𠆊sr al-rumani, meaning 𠆏rom the time of the Romans,’” Feldstein said. “My point is, Dabouki is from even before that!” He poured a 2015 Dabouki tank sample that was weeks from bottling, made from the grapes of 60-year-old bush trained vines in the Upper Galilee. It had a distinct yellow melon note, which satisfied Feldstein. “We have these melons in Israel,” he said, “so its flavor defends its expression of place!”

True terroir expression—not just of the local soil and climate, but also the local history—was something these winemakers all seemed to be after. And, tasting the wines, I think they&aposve found it. Israel’s wine industry is amidst its most important awakening in thousands of years.


Watch the video: We found ripe PAWPAW. North Americas native TROPICAL FRUIT! (January 2022).