More than 3,000 years ago, the Jezreel Valley was a center of Jewish mystical life. It is also named in the Bible as the location where the “final battle” or Armageddon will take place. Today, the area is blooming with orchards and fields of vegetables. Nestled in Jezreel Valley’s Kibbutz Hannaton is another commodity, both ancient and modern: wine, produced by the Jezreel Valley Winery.

Jezreel competes on the international scene with wines sold in top restaurants in France and in stores and restaurants in the United States and United Kingdom. But its wine is uniquely Israeli, according to its founder, Jacob Ner David.

“We focus on Mediterranean varieties,” Ner David explained during a recent visit to the winery, located on the kibbutz, where cows still graze, chickens lay eggs and the residents collectively planted 30,000 avocados last year.

Ner David said that when people drink Jezreel’s wine they can taste the land of Israel. 

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“People can connect to Israel through the wine and get to know the Israeli wine identity,” he said. “This is not the same as many other wines; we have a distinct style. When people are drinking our wines, they feel that they are drinking the beautiful side of Israel.”

Among the winery’s clients is a group of evangelical Christians in Texas who have a wine club, he said. They do not need to drink kosher wine, but regularly choose to feature Jezreel’s wines. That’s because they say that the wine “speaks directly to what it means to love Israel,” he said.

Of course, this is not just a Zionist wine with a good biblical story, Ner David cautioned. Wine making, he said, is a combination of art and skill, but you have to start with high quality grapes and you have to use the right equipment. 

“On the artistic side, where a winemaker’s fingerprints can be found on the wine is how long it stays in the barrel, and in which kind of barrel. If there is a blend, how much of this and how much of that?” he said. “There is no science in that—that is art. You cannot type into a computer ‘excellent glass of wine’ and get one.”

Wine on the Vine founder Adam Bellos with Jezreel Valley founder and CEO Jacob Ner David. Credit: The Israel Innovation Fund.

Grapes grown in Israel 

From the beginning, Jezreel focused on three types of grapes for its red wines: syrah, carignan and the Israeli-invented argaman. The three together form the basis of their blend, Adumim, which they describe as “complex, rich, balanced and easy to drink.”

Syrah 

The Jezreel Valley single variety Syrah (also the wine’s proper name) is especially unique, said Ner David, in that syrah has never taken off in Israel as a variety people understand. For Jezreel, it is a signature bottle.

The wine is aged in new oak for nearly two years and goes well with heavier meat dishes, such as a good Israeli Independence Day barbeque.

The Wine Enthusiast described it like this: “Dark violet in the glass, this wine has aromas of blackberry and smoked meat. Hefty but not overpowering tannins create a backdrop for flavors of black plum, cassis, toffee, juniper and chocolate covered coffee bean. Fruit flavors and a plush mouthfeel power through the smooth toffee-laced finish.”

Argaman 

Not only made but invented in Israel, this is a complex, balanced and spicy red wine, according to Ner David. 

“This is the Israeli wine story,” he said. 

And for those who like a sweeter wine, Jezreel also makes a Gewurztraminer. Here, they use Germanic grapes grown in Israel. Ner David said the climate and the water of the valley give their  semi-dry white wine its own edge.

A personal passion

Ner David grew up in a religious family where each week they would drink wine together for Shabbat. The Shabbat wine was sticky and sweet like cough syrup, he recalled, which he could not reconcile with the biblical version. 

“I told myself, I have to figure out this wine thing,” Ner David recalled.

Through his in-laws he drank his first cups of quality wine, and then traveled the world to explore the taste of some of the world’s best glasses, bringing what he learned back to Israel. He started the winery 10 years ago and put his first bottles on the market eight years ago—to near immediate success. Today, Jezreel Valley wines are neck-and-neck with some of those produced by the country’s top wineries.

“Jezreel Winery has quickly succeeded in growing Israel’s wine reputation,” said Wine on the Vine founder Adam Bellos. “It is the only Israeli wine in a Michelin star restaurant.”

“You can wax [poetic with] all kinds of terminology, but at the end of the day, either the wine is tasty or it’s not,” he said. “We think our wine is very good.”

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This article is written in cooperation with Wine on the Vine. JNS is proud to partner with Wine on the Vine to bring Israeli wine to your table.

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