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Naomi Hochberg
August 12, 2014 | Naomi Hochberg

Wine in Ancient Israel

Hello winos! We hope you have been having an amazing summer and drinking your fair share of wine to keep cool. This month, we’re kicking off a new series of blog posts, writing about the history of wine making in Israel. We are constantly asked about how long Israel has been producing wine and the answer may surprise you. Wine production in the Holy Land has been happening for over 5,000 years! That’s long before any Bordeaux was ever produced. In fact, the earliest wine pits were discovered in the Middle East and dated back to the Stone Age, around 8,000 BCE. Indeed, the Middle East was the center of wine production for over 2,000 years before the grape vine ever reached Europe; you can find evidence of its presence all throughout the Bible and in archeological digs all over Israel and the Middle East!       

One of Isarel's oldest winemakers, Carmel Winery's emblem depicts the Joshua and Caleb returning to Moses with a grapevine so large it took both of them to carry it.


Starting with Noah and continuing on into the New Testament, wine is frequently mentioned in the Bible. It was used for religious, medicinal and social purposes and praised as a Godly gift that could be enjoyed or a dangerous intoxicant that could corrupt. The Old Testament records first viticulturist, Noah who, following the deluge, planted grapevines and tended to his vineyards. His relationship with wine, however, turned sour after a drunken night, but that is another story.



Medieval manuscript depicting Noah in his vineyard and again, making wine.                      


In the Book of Kings it is written that King David, had so many vineyards and such a large wine cellar that he had 2 court officials to direct them, one to oversee the vineyards and the other to be in charge of his cellar; the first recorded sommelier!


In the New Testament Gospel, the Book of John, Jesus created proved his divinity with miracles involving wine, by turning the pitchers of water at a wedding into wine. In another gospel, the Book of Luke, Jesus recounts a story where thieves attacked a traveler on the road to Jericho. A Good Samaritan healed the traveler, pouring oil and wine, a remedy commonly used in biblical times, to clean his wounds.



 Detail of Wedding at Cana                                       The Good Samaritan 

by Paolo Veronese, 1571-72                                    by Unknown Netherlandish Master, 1537


The time of the Second Temple was when wine making was at its height however, after the Romans destroyed the Temple, the Jews dispersed and wine production in Israel stopped. During their time of success, however, the wine production flourished; its evidence can be found all throughout Israel in the excavation of its archaeological sites. Aside from oil, wine was the biggest agricultural industry in Ancient Israel. Wines made from the first harvest were the highest quality, later harvests were sweeter, while the last harvest included the skins and seeds were the lowest quality. Then, like today, grapes were picked at their ripest, towards the end of summer. The grapes were first treaded on by men or boys with bare feet, so as not to crush the seeds, which would make the wine bitter. The juice would be collected in a special treading floor that would lead to a collecting vat. The remaining skins were then squeezed in a winepress located near the vineyard to preserve the freshness of the grapes.


Graphic of a winepress in Ancient Israel


From there, wild yeast was added and the juice was left to ferment for approximately three days. Once the fermentation stage was completed, the wine was strained and poured into amphorae to age. Older jars were preferred over newer ones, as they did not absorb as much of its contents. Amphorae were then sealed with stoppers, even cork, and were inscribed with the vintage, the grape, and the name of the winemaker, implying that the source of the wine was just as important in ancient times as they are today!



A Roman glass wine jug found in the Judean Moutains                  2nd Century Amphorae



These discoveries are super interesting and very important and the best news is that they are happening even today! In 2013, archaeologist Eric Cline of the George Washington University and his colleagues from Tel Aviv University discovered a wine room in an ancient Canaanite palace in Kabri, Israel. The discovery was huge and will hopefully lead us to better understand the winemaking culture in ancient times! You can read more about the dig by following the link below!


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