Israel's annual three-day wine festival at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem features wines from 33 different Israeli winemakers.
In all, Israel boasts more than 250 wineries. Together, they manufacture 33 million bottles annually. Of these, 150 are so-called boutique wineries that produce fewer than 100,000 bottles a year. Ninety percent of these smaller wineries were built in the last 15-20 years.
The Israeli wine industry is a $224 million business, employing thousands of workers in the vineyards, cellars, and offices.
Throughout the Country
"Our wineries are dispersed throughout the country, making it easy to put them on the itinerary." There are wineries in the immediate area around Jerusalem as well as to the south, north, and west of the city.
"Up north, in the Galilee and the Golan, the list of wineries to visit is practically endless." But you can also tour wineries in the Judean Mountains and the Negev. Each place has its own particular wineries and all of them should prove interesting to tourists looking for something different.
Two recent additions to the wine route are the Psagot Winery just north of Jerusalem and the Adir Winery located in Dalton near Safed. Both Wineries boast great wine and beautiful new visitors centers to enjoy the wine tastings on your visit there. At the Adir Winery, an additional bonus is the opportunity to taste the goat cheese and yoghurt ice cream which they also produce on the premises of their dairy.
The maturation of Israel's wine industry in recent years has led the Tourism Ministry to consider developing an Israeli wine route, similar to the ones found in the Napa Valley in California or the Stellenbosch district in South Africa.
Good for Tourism
Rabbi Weiss is convinced that promotion of such a route would be a draw for international tourists in addition to helping develop local businesses.
Last month, Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov visited the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya'acov, and came to the same conclusion reached by Rabbi Weiss. Mr. Misezhnikov said that after visiting the town and the surrounding area to learn more about the wine industry and its tourism potential, he was sufficiently impressed to call for a plan to implement the idea of a national wine route.
Zichron Ya'acov is located 22 miles south of Haifa and just 15 minutes north of Caesarea. Nestled at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range, overlooking the Mediterranean, it was one of the first Jewish settlements in Palestine. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and named in honor of his father.
Rabbi Weiss said Zichron Ya'acov, with its wineries dating back to the 19th century as well as high-tech 21st-century models, is the perfect place to open a wine route.
"There are big commercial wineries like Carmel next to boutique family-owned micro-wineries," he said.
According to Rabbi Weiss, wine tours are becoming popular in Israel and he is one of the country's tour operators who offers such tours of Israel's wine regions to interested individuals and groups.
"The differences between the various wineries and the personalities of the vintners make the tours informative and interesting. In each area, you really get a local feel, and the winemakers reflect that, he said.
In addition to offering wine tastings, many wineries offer tourists the opportunity to enjoy superb dining.
"There are all sort of wineries, ranging from rustic to high-tech modern facilities. When you combine the wine with quality food, you are in for a really great time," said Rabbi Weiss.
Off the Beaten Track
Wine tours often take visitors well off the beaten track, away from the established hotel regions on the coast and in Jerusalem. That can mean finding local bed-and-breakfast options, which is when a tour guide can come in handy.
"It's also good to have a driver if the tourist intends to spend the day sipping wine," says Rabbi Weiss.
According to the Tourism Ministry, the new wine route will provide maps for bike and walking tours as well.
Not Just for Kiddush
Israel's wineries seem quite ready to accommodate a new influx of tourists bound for a national wine route.
Adam Montifiore, development director for Carmel Wineries, said his company's transformation symbolizes the change in the Israeli wine
industry as a whole. Once a producer of a limited range of staple wines, used mostly for Jewish rituals and holidays, Carmel now operates five kosher wineries across the country, each with distinct features and characteristics.
Aside from its two 120-year-old wineries in Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya'acov, Carmel also owns a state-of-the-art boutique winery near Arad, a five-year-old winery in the Upper Galilee, and an experimental micro-winery, also in Zichron Ya'akov.
"Israel is no longer a producer of mostly sweet kosher wines just for kiddush. It is gaining a reputation for mature wines enjoyed by sophisticated drinkers. Fortunately, many of them are still kosher," said Rabbi Weiss.
In Zichron Ya'acov, Carmel recently opened a new wine culture center, an upscale version of a winery visitor center, where guests are treated to a 90-minute wine workshop and extensive tasting, led by an Italian-trained sommelier.
A wine tour can be either the main purpose of a week-long visit or a fun day-trip for a family looking to spend time outdoors.
"Whichever you decide, a trip to a kosher winery is always a fun experience."