Wine is the culmination of the time and the place where it was made. Like a time capsule it tells a story of the soil, the weather and the climate.
What is “Terroir”?
The origin of the word terroir is from the Latin word ‘Terre’ which means earth or soil. The terroir includes the type of soil and also all the climactic conditions in the region: climate (temperature, wind, humidity, precipitation...), slope, plants and animals, basically, everything except human influence.
Where was the term ‘Terroir’ born?
In France the term and its descriptors started when a difference was recognized between different grape growing regions and sometimes even within the same vineyard. Today the term terroir is used in production of tea, coffee, cheese, meats, chocolate, and of course, maple syrup.
In the French wine growing region of Bourgogne monks researched the many wines grown throughout the region and determined the influence of the environmental conditions on the flavors of the wines. In France, not only is there a recognition of the influence of terroir on the wine, there are strict rules regarding grape growing and wine production. The first French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) was designated to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley, in south-east France. By 1923 the body controlling this wine making region, set restrictions limiting the grape varieties which were permitted to grow to only 10 grape varieties, the wine must have more than 12.5% alcohol and low yield vineyards (368 gallons of wine per acre of vineyard, half of what is allowed in Bordeaux).
The first modern wine growing region in the world to receive a wine appellation was Tokaj, Hungary. But regional differentiation and reputation was evident from ancient Greece.
In the same time in Israel
The first viticulturist noted in the Old Testament was Noah, who, around 2000 BC left his ark and started planting vines. Israel has always been one of the natural habitats of grapes. During the periods of Muslim control grapes were grown solely for eating, raisins and the making of juice. Wine consumption was forbidden and existing wine grape vineyards were uprooted, throughout Israel.
In the 19th century the Baron Rothschild brought French grape varieties to Israel such as Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan. His reasoning for choosing these varieties was based on the similarity in terroir between the Rhone Valley, in south east France, and that of the Carmel mountain range.
During this period, the German Templars also brought wine grapes with them from Germany but none survived today because the hot and dry climactic conditions in Israel were too extreme for the grape varieties that thrive in the cold. It is speculated that Silvaner was variety grown.
Although the ‘king’ of wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, arrived in Israel in the late 1880’s it did not become popular until the 1970’s. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns again as the King of Israeli varieties. Merlot was introduced to Israel in the 1980’s and in the 1990’s Syrah arrived. In the last two decades there has been a rush to learn which additional grape varieties are suitable for Israel and specifically which regions within Israel are best suited. Today you can find many interesting grape varieties such as Malbec, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and even Pinot noir. We even developed our own grape variety- Argaman, a hybrid of the French Carignan and the Portuguese Souza.
Today in Israel
Today, there are over 13,500 acres of wine grape vineyards from which about 45 million bottles of wine are produced annually. In modern day Israel more than 40 different grape varieties are grown, of which 20% are Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% are Carignan and 13% are Merlot.
The subject of mapping the different winegrowing regions and determining which grape varieties best suits them has been an ongoing process for many years. Israel is a young country with many versatile sub-regions, to declare a perfect match between a grape variety and a specific sub-region would be hasty. At this time we are adventurous in the varieties we plant and the specific location in which wine grapes grow.
Israel is blessed with excellent growing conditions for wine grapes. A small country in Asia between Europe and African, part of the ancient “Fertile Crescent” with diverse climate conditions. In general, winter is cold and wet and the vines are dormant, spring time the vines awaken and the weather is moderate, the summer is dry and blessed with sun and the fall, harvest time, is cooler and still dry.
In the past every home made wine for personal use and ceremonies, wine was drank instead of water. Today the average Israeli drinks only 4 liters of wine a year but that number is growing. In Israel there are about 350 wineries and every day we hear of a new one popping up.
The different regions of Israel:
Golan Heights (North East)
An elevated tilted plateau.In the north of the Golan Heights, at elevations that exceed 1000 meters, basalt stone is predominant. In the South Golan Heights at an elevation of 300m the soil is mainly comprised of lime stone. The summer days are hot and dry, nights are cool. During winter snow is not uncommon.
Upper Galilee (North)
Hills of over 800m above sea level with deep and narrow valleys. Lime stone forms the base soil followed by basalt and ground cover of terra rosa. The summer days are hot and dry, nights are cool and during winter it is cold with some snow on hill tops.
Lower Galilee (North West)
Similar to the Upper Galilee but more moderate climate. Hills up to 500m above sea level. Lime stone is very common soil followed with some basalt and terra rosa.
Carmel Mountains and the Coastal Plain
Some speculate the origin of the name is “Gods vineyard” (Carem=vineyard, and El=god) because of the abundance of vineyards and fruit trees. The Carmel region has steep slopes with limestone soil. The elevation is up to 500m and because of the close proximity to the sea the climate is moderate. Summer is hot and humid, winter is moderate with heavy rainfall.
the Judean Hills are part of the Eastern mountain range reaching elevation of over 1000m above sea level. The soil is mainly lime stone and dolomite but also clay and terra rossa. Summer nights are cool and snow falls on the mountain tops at winter time.
The Central Plains
This is the region between the Judean Hills (on the east) and the coastel plains (on the west) with some elevations reaching 200m above sea level. The soil is soft limestone, clay and some red loam. The climate is hot and humid will little winds and moderate rainfall.
A desert region with less than 300mm annual rainfall. This is a fascinating region for growing wine grapes, especially white varieties, because of the cold night and very low humidity. Most of the soil is loess and sand, poor in nutrients, tends to flood during heavy winter rainfalls and sometimes with high salinity. It has the southernest vineyard in the northern hemisphere.