A large number of Israeli wineries are open to the public and increasingly popular wine-routes are developing throughout the country. Among the country's larger wineries, those of Carmel-Mizrachi, the Golan Heights and Binyamina are especially well equipped to greet visitors. So popular is the activity that more than 100,000 tourists now visit the Carmel winery in Rishon Lezion every year. Carmel, which invested $1.2 million to reconstruct their old cellars, build old-style tasting rooms, train guides and remodel the buildings originally built by Baron Edmond de Rothschild 115 years ago, has ensured that tours of their wineries will be at least as pleasing as those that one might take in France or California.
Tours start off in a well designed reception hall, continue to the cellars where visitors can see brandies and wines aging in oak casks, and then go on to a tasting. Multimedia audio-visual displays trace the history of the winery and the wine-making process, guides are equipped to answer all questions and each group of visitors is treated to a guided wine-tasting session. Time is also allowed for those who wish to purchase wines. Tours at the Carmel wineries in both Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya'akov charge a symbolic fee and are conducted during the daytime hours, and in the evenings groups or individuals may also visit the winery's popular wine and singing club. For further information and reservations, phone (03) 966-8379.
The Golan Heights Winery, near the town of Katzrin on the Golan Heights, also has excellent facilities for visitors. Tours of the winery start at the comfortable visitors' reception center with a welcoming talk and an audio-visual display. The tours continue with a stroll through the ultra-modern facilities following the entire wine-making process, and end with a tasting and the opportunity to make purchases. During the spring, summer and early autumn, tours are conducted on a regular basis from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m., and during the winter months, until 4 p.m. A nominal charge is made for the tours and the winery suggests phoning in advance of one's visit to (06) 696-8420.
Located in the charmingly rural area of Binyamina, the visitors' center of Binyamina Wineries is also worth a visit. In a fully remodeled country-style building, the program here includes a stroll around the winery, a brief talk by a guide, an audio-visual explanation of the wine-making process, and a wine and cheese tasting. Of special interest is an exhibit relating to the 6,000 year old relationship between wine and Judaism. A symbolic charge is made for the tour, which is available from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. During the evenings, wine courses are offered by the winery's winemaker, and the center is available for private events and tastings. For reservations or further information, phone the winery at (06) 638-8643.
Three boutique wineries, Tzor'a, Soreq and Saslove, also offer opportunities for visitors. These wineries have small delicatessens attached, and in addition to guided tours of their mini-wineries, also have picnic facilities. All offer tastings and some offer wine courses. For information, phone Tzor'a at (02) 990-8261, Soreq at (08) 934-0542 and Saslove at (09) 749-2697.
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry and Rogov's Ramblings. Reprinted with permission.