In around 1700 BCE, the Biblical patriarch Jacob blessed his son Judah, that his land would produce quality wine. The blessing came true and Judea became the Bordeaux of Ancient Israel. The Prophet Amos (in the 8th century BCE) had his own prophecy: “The mountains shall drip wine and all the hills shall flow with it.” Isaiah’s Song of a Vineyard provides a perfect insight into viticulture and winemaking of the time.
In the 19th century, Sir Moses Montefiore wrote about the Judean Hills: “The mountains are cultivated in terraces and planted to the summit with vines and olives…it would be impossible to travel through a richer or more beautiful country.” He later wrote that olive trees and vineyards should be planted in order “to provide a taste of agriculture.”
When the Kerem Montefiore Winery was founded, one of basic principles laid down was that it would only source fruit from the vineyard slopes on the way to Jerusalem, which Moses Montefiore loved so much.
The Judean Hills, the historic wine region in Biblical times, is today considered one of Israel’s finest quality wine growing regions. The mountains are again dripping wine and vineyards are everywhere. The Judean region in reality encompasses the Judean Foothills, Judean Hills & Jerusalem Mountains.
This area is known in Hebrew as Shefelat Yehuda. It was first planted with vineyards in modern times in the 1950’s and 60’s. Rolling hills rise from the central coastal plain from 50 to 200 meters above sea level. The Latroun Monastery is a landmark in this area, visible from the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem Highway. Soils are terra rossa, loams (clay, silt and sand), and chalky. The average rainfall is 450 mm. a year. Winter temperatures range from 5 to 20°C, and summer temperatures from 15 to 33°C. Humidity is relatively high.
These hills are backed to the east by the mountainous region that rises towardsJerusalem. The town Beit Shemesh is situated where elevations begin to rise sharply from 200 to 500 meters above sea level. Being only 40 km. from the sea, the area is affected by Mediterranean breezes from the west. These have a cooling effect, providing ventilation for the vines, reducing humidity and bringing down average temperatures. Soils are terra rossa or alluvial deposits, usually on a base of chalk or limestone. Vineyards were planted in the 1970’s and 80’s, but the main activity has been since the late 1990’s with numerous new vineyards being planted. It is one of Israel’s fastest growing vineyard areas.
This is the mountainous area west of Jerusalem. Warm days and cool nights characterize this region which rises from 500 to 1,000 meters above sea level. Soils are thin, limestone and stony. The higher peaks usually experience snow in the winter. Annual precipitation is 600 mm. Average winter temperatures are 5 to 15°C, whilst summer temperatures rise from 15 to 30° C.
The Judean Hills and Jerusalem Mountains have some of the most beautiful vineyards in Israel. Some vines are planted in terraces to cope with the steep slopes, whilst others are planted in attractive curved arcs to fit the contours of small valleys. Newer planted vines are trellised in a standard VSP (vertical shoot position), with spacing suitable for mechanical harvesting. This will generally entail there being 3 meters between rows of vines and 1.5 meters between the vines themselves. The harvest will usually take place at nighttime, so the grapes arrive at the winery still cool. The older vineyards are in the goblet, bush vine style. The grapes in these vineyards are picked by hand. The climate is Mediterranean. This means hot summers, and warm wet winters. The main part of the harvest begins in August.