Winemaking in the Land of Israel Goes Back Five Millennia, So Why Do Israelis Keep Planting French-Style Varieties?

The Bible makes frequent reference to wine and to the promised land’s suitability for viticulture, and archaeologists have evidence of wine production in the Levant going back at least to the beginning of the third millennium BCE. Yet oenologists long assumed that the Muslim conquest in the 7th century CE put an end to the wine business, and modern Israel’s many wineries uniformly rely on European varieties of grape and styles of wine. Kevin Begos wants Israeli vintners to revive indigenous varieties:

Today, cabernet sauvignon is the most-planted variety in Israel, followed by a long (and typical) list of French and European grapes, few of which are really suited to the hot climate of the Levant. . . .

[Contrary to what was once believed], Middle Eastern Christians and Jews were always allowed to make wine under Islamic rule. Aren Maeir, an Israeli archaeologist, wryly notes that assuming no one drank wine because of the Quran is a bit like suggesting that Christians always follow the Ten Commandments, or that no Americans drank during Prohibition. Numerous historical records confirm that winemaking continued in the Holy Land throughout the Middle Ages, though certainly on a scale smaller than pre-Islamic times. . . . The northern Israeli city of Safed had a thriving Jewish community in the [late] Middle Ages, and . . . a visitor in 1818 described five kinds of wine there, including some for the rich that were fifteen-to-twenty years old.

But in the 1880s, the founding father of Israel’s modern wine industry had a cultural blind spot. The Frenchman Edmond de Rothschild invested vast sums to expand agriculture [in the Land of Israel], and wine production in particular. Yet he ignored advisers who saw potential in native wine grapes and instead began planting European varieties. For more than 100 years, those decisions influenced the whole industry.

Then, around 2008, a few people noticed that Palestinian Christians at the Cremisan monastery and winery, located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, were using local . . . grapes: jandali, hamdani, and dabouki. A few years later the Israeli scientist Shivi Drori launched a comprehensive search for native wine grapes. . . . Drori found about twenty varieties with winemaking potential, including the ones Cremisan uses. DNA analysis confirms that some of the local Israeli grapes are older than the famous French varieties, and perhaps linked to grapes from the Caucasus Mountains, where winemaking began roughly 8,000 years ago.

Read more at Tablet

More about: History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli agriculture, Israeli Christians, Wine

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria