Winemakers revive ancient Negev Wine Route

Published on Friday, 04 October 2013 by Webmaster

Winemakers revive ancient Negev Wine Route
Hannah and Eyal Izrael founded Carmey Avdat, one of nine Israeli vineyards established along the path of the old wine and spice routes in the Negev Desert highlands. These farms have brought back to life ancient grape-growing terraces from a forgotten civilization.

“During our travels through the Negev, we came upon a hidden riverbed with remains of an ancient farm and vineyard. We instantly fell in love with the place and decided that we would establish our farm at the site, which had been a vineyard during the Nabatean period more than 2,000 years ago. We established the Carmey Avdat Farm there in 1998,” recounts Eyal Izrael.

They and eight other families were able to realize their dream of cultivating grapes and bottling wine with the help of the Wine Route Project of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, which provides the land and access to agricultural expertise.

Mother Nature helps, too: Wine grapes thrive on the winter flash floods in the Negev mountains, as well as the winter cold and summer dry heat.

"In ancient times, there were farms growing grapes for the wine industry in the city of Avdat, and there they found the remains of a winery and cellar," Izrael tells ISRAEL21c.

"They'd harvest grapes in the nearby vineyard, put them on the backs of camels and bring them to Avdat, where they would stomp the grapes and store the juice in clay jars in big cellars underground to keep out the heat. They exported some to Europe and some to Petra, so this was actually a known wine region."

The Izraels used to work for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. After deciding to start a farm where they could also grow fruit and host guests in cabins they built, Eyal learned the art of winemaking at Ben Shoshan Winery on Kibbutz Bror Chayil and at the Soreq Winery in Tal Shachar. They began with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, harvested by hand.

"We are producing 6,000 bottles a year," says Izrael. "We have also planted some Chardonnay, Petit Bordeaux, Vilana and Barbera grapes, and will start producing white wines this year for the first time."

The Negev vintners meet periodically to share ideas about making a living off the land. In addition to Carmey Avdat, the wineries include Kadesh Barnea, Ashba, Rota, Sde Boker, Nana, Sdema,Rujum and Derech Erez. Visitors can tour and sample the wines individually, or all in one wine cellar at Boker Valley Vineyards Farm, run by Merlot grower Moshe Zohar.

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