The Jew And The Carrot

Wine Tourism Comes to the Holy Land

By Katherine Martinelli

  • Print
  • Share Share

Although winemaking in the region dates back thousands of years, modern Israeli wine has gotten a bad rap and in the past visitors rarely traveled to Israel thinking of vineyards. But the times they are a-changin’, and Israeli wine is gaining its place alongside other respected New World regions like California, South Africa and New Zealand. Along with the improvement in wine, a small but passionate wine tourism industry has sprouted in Israel in recent years.

Travelers looking to sample wine grown on land as old as the Bible have been able to indulge their wine interest with short trips to wineries on grand tours of the country for the past couple of years. But until recently, dedicated foodies and curious oenophiles had nowhere to turn for wine travel in the holy land.

That changed with the start of the start of My Israel Wine Tours, led by Boston native Esther Cohen. Since launching in January 2010, Cohen’s company has taken nearly 500 individuals on tours of some of Israel’s 380 wineries.

“It just took off and there’s a huge demand for it,” she explains. Still, wine tourism is “very much in its infancy stage in Israel,” and is popular primarily among the tourist and Anglo community in Israel. Cohen estimates that 80% of the people who plan tours with her are foreign tourists and the remaining 20% are English-speakers who live in Israel.

One of the reasons organized tours are such a boon in the country is that it is much harder to visit wineries on your own in Israel than in more developed wine tourist destinations like Napa or Bordeaux. “In Israel a lot of wineries are in people’s homes, there are no signs, or their English is no good,” she notes. “I’ve figured all this stuff out, which wineries are worth going to, where they are, and the language isn’t a problem for me.” Although the language barrier isn’t an issue, navigating wineries in Israel can even be tricky for native Israelis for all the other reasons.

Cohen, who made aliyah at 25, was originally unsure of her career path when she arrived in Israel. Having developed a passion for wine while studying abroad in New Zealand, she took a job giving tours and waitressing at the country’s fifth largest winery, Tishbi.

“I learned a lot about the Israeli wine industry through Tishbi,” recalls Cohen. After eight months she realized a need for organized tours and began planning her company. She built a Web site and quickly started getting hits and people enquiring about tours. Today she leads customized tours of any of the five wine regions of Israel, and has recently expanded into the West Bank as well.

Typically Cohen visits three wineries per tour, each of which offers something different. “One winery is usually a big winery; we tour the facility and I explain the process, the oak barrels, and so on. The second is usually a boutique winery. The third is usually something unique, like the winemaker is also a chef, or it’s in an awe inspiring location,” Cohen explains. Of course, they also taste wine at each location, usually three to four per winery.

When asked which wineries are Cohen’s favorites, she replies, “It’s hard to pick out favorites. There are certain things I love about each winery.” When pressed, Cohen is able to point out a few top picks. Somek Estate Winery, which produces 10,000 bottles a year, has been making wine since the first aliyah in 1882 when Baron de Rothschild taught the family how. The winemaker “is still making that same French style wine in his home,” shares Cohen. “It’s like you just stepped back into a little French villa.”

She also says that the Psagot Winery (with “one of the most beautiful visitor’s centers in Israel”) offers “good value for the quality,” and Domaine du Castel “has a reputation for being the best quality wine in Israel.” And, hearkening back to her days working at Tishbi, she of course loves the Tishbi Shiraz.

In the end, it’s all a matter of personal preference. “Who says what good wine is? You,” argues Cohen. “You know your palate. No one can tell you what’s better.”

For more information on Esther Cohen and My Israel Wine Tours visit www.myisraelwinetours.com.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Wine Tours, Tishbi, My Israel Wine Tours, Esther Cohen

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.