From ecological practices and sustainable agriculture to higher tech methods of distribution, “cask futures” and a renewed focus on native Israeli grape varieties, here’s a look at hot 2022 trends in Israeli wine.
By Channa Fischer
Despite being one of the oldest wine production regions on the globe, the modern Israeli winemaking industry is still on the up and up and partially considered a “New World” winemaking region. Wineries and distributors across Israel are constantly evaluating ways to innovate. In discussions with various winemakers throughout the country, several trends seem to have emerged in recent years—and are here to stay. Here’s what to look out for:
Ecological Winemaking Practices
Israeli native Michal Akerman of Tabor Winery is one of the winemakers who started the “ecological revolution” of Israeli wine production back in 2012; and Tabor hasn’t looked back since.
“The way we were growing vines in Israel was wrong in every aspect,” Akerman explained. “I decided to reach out to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), and work with them to create an agenda for becoming a 100% sustainable winery.”
Tabor’s sustainability model seeks to increase biodiversity within its vineyards, or, as Akerman aptly described, “We let nature enter the monoculture of our vineyards.” The model has since been adopted by other wineries in Israel, and has made Tabor the regional leader in sustainable winemaking.”
An up-and-coming trend in the global winemaking space is the production of “natural wines,” or wines made organically, without any additives. But according to winemaker Jeff Morgan of Covenant Wines, the term is simply a marketing gimmick—and it’s something that his winery in Israel has been doing for years.
“The greatest wines, in my opinion, are made with minimalist winemaking techniques,” Morgan shared. “These wines are made of native yeast as opposed to commercial yeast … the way it’s been done for the last 3,500 years.”
Morgan explained that the use of native yeast is preferable as it promotes a slower, more complex fermentation. “That’s why we’ve been using native yeast since we began making wine in Israel in 2013.” Additionally, he said that Covenant does not add any commercial ingredients during the malolactic fermentation of its wines.
“Making wines with organic ingredients and being minimally interventionist with the planet is a great idea,” Morgan said. Covenant sources its grapes from a biodynamic vineyard to make its wines under the Covenant Israel label.
Using High-Tech Methods of Wine Distribution
The “start-up nation” moniker that has made Israel famous worldwide for its start-up friendly culture, like a Silicon Valley in the Middle East, is exciting to see in many sectors.
But winemaking has not been as quick to adopt modern methods, said Jacob Ner-David of Jezreel Valley Winery, who himself works in the tech world. He has integrated his love for technology trends into winemaking.
“Some of the things we’re doing are things that have been done in the past, but we’re doing them in a more modern way,” Ner-David shared, referring to Jezreel Valley’s “cask futures” program, where enthusiasts can invest in a barrel of wine that has yet to be bottled. Multiple people can go in together on the investment in what’s known as “cask sharing,” the process is very involved from start to finish.
Because of the hands-on nature of cask futures, as investors typically research and taste wines before committing to a barrel, Ner-David explained that it’s something that has not quite reached the wine market outside of Israel. “Shipping barrel samples is something we are prepared to do, as we did during COVID, but for now this program is for people in Israel. One day, I’d love to expand it abroad.”
What Jezreel Winery does offer the global wine community is something unheard of in Israel: the sale of wine non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. “NFTs are obviously a relatively new concept in general. We launched the first NFT series in September 2021 … essentially, the NFTs serve as ‘digital twins’ of bottles of wine.
The power lies in these digital certificates of ownership, which eliminate the need to purchase physical bottles of wine, like a voucher of sorts.” Ner-David said that because NFTs are secured with blockchain technology, the wine ownership is nearly impossible to hack.
In its first run of wine NFTs, Jezreel Valley sold 600 in a matter of several days, each NFT representing six bottles of wine, for a total of 3,600 bottles purchased. “We had a chat room associated with it, and I could see that the enthusiasm for it has remained,” Ner-David said, adding that Jezreel Valley plans to do another run of NFTs soon.
Though Jezreel Valley is the only Israeli winery thus far to embrace the use of NFTs, Ner-David expressed hope that others will follow suit. “I think it will catch on pretty quickly. It’s like the modern version of a wine club.”
Mediterranean Grape Varieties
Ner-David recalled that this is not the first time Jezreel Valley Winery has done something that the rest of the Israeli winemaking industry has considered outlandish. When the winery first began production in 2011, it announced that it would be sticking to Mediterranean grape varieties, such as syrah and grenache. “People thought we were crazy,” he said. “But now, sticking with local varietals is what everyone is talking about.”
Eli Shiran, who runs Shiran Winery, expressed a similar sentiment when discussing his wine production choices. The small Israeli winemaker has always gravitated towards Mediterranean grape varietals since it began bottling wines in 2013, and avoids using European varieties like cabernet or merlot.
“We choose grape varietals that are native to this climate, and use them in our blends for a lighter, more elegant style of wine. I think this is where Israeli wines are headed,” Shiran shared.
The Rise of the Israeli “Micro Winery”
There’s a reason why Shiran Winery has the freedom to be so creative: Eli Shiran only answers to himself. The winery produces less than 10,000 bottles of wine a year, which is miniscule compared to the major Israeli winemakers, that typically produce 10 million bottles annually.
“We are not bound to a standard set of rules in our production,” Shiran explained. “Larger wineries are committed to producing the same wines year after year, because that’s what people expect. When we make our few thousand bottles, we have the freedom to act on our whim. And we also don’t have to worry about selling large quantities of wine if they are ‘experimental’ in some way … we get to be creative and change it up every year.”
This uniqueness and creativity in production is exactly what attracted KosherWine.com to Shiran Winery for its micro winery distribution initiative. Along with several other boutique wineries, including Gito, Nevo and Herzberg, Shiran made an exclusive deal with the online wine purveyor to distribute in the U.S. market.
According to president of KosherWine.com Dovid Riven, the initiative began back in 2017 with a trip to Israel to meet with more than 40 winemakers. In the end, Riven and CEO David Perelman selected five of these tiny wineries to structure their exclusive distribution program, which helps the wineries get their product out beyond limited brick-and-mortar locations at a fair price.
Riven described these micro wineries as winemakers who typically produce 5,000-10,000 bottles of wine, most of which “have a really good story,” thanks to a personal touch from the “good people” who run them.
According to Riven, micro wineries are a growing trend within the Israeli winemaking industry—and wine enthusiasts can expect to see more of their unique blends in years to come.