By Oren Liebermann, CNN
December 23, 2015
Jerusalem (CNN)The Bible is full of references to wine: Noah gets drunk on it after the flood. Jesus turns water into wine. It is praised in Ecclesiastes and reviled in Proverbs. Yet nowhere in Scripture is the type of wine identified — until now.
A small but growing number of wineries in Israel and the West Bank are trying to recreate the wine of the Bible, combining ancient grape varietals with modern science to identify and produce the wine consumed thousands of years ago in the Holy Land.
“People are very enthusiastic about drinking a wine that King David had on his table, or for the same matter, Jesus or any other biblical figure,” says Eliyashiv Drori, who started a boutique winery near his home in a West Bank settlement. “They all grew here, they all lived here, and they all ate and drank wine here.”
Drori, a wine researcher at the Samaria Regional R & D Center at Ariel University, examines preserved grapeseeds found in archaeological digs to identify the types of grapes used to make wine.
He says there were different varieties of wine in biblical times: red and white, dry and sweet. But he says they likely didn’t make wine from specific grapes, such as modern-day cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
His research has identified 120 varieties of grapes unique to the region, of which about 20 are suitable for making wine.
“For me, reconnecting to that is actually reconnecting to our roots, to our history, to the way of life of our ancestors. That’s a big thing for me,” Drori says.
Ottoman rule, French grapes
Winemaking was strictly limited in the Holy Land for hundreds of years under the Ottoman Empire.
The grapes that survived were table grapes, but not all table grapes make good wine.
When Baron Edmond de Rothschild restarted Israel’s wine industry in the 1880s, he did so with grapes imported from France.
Today, Israel’s 300 or so wineries produce 36 million bottles of wine. Winemakers say imported grapes will only take the wine industry so far. Indigenous grapes bring new marketing potential to local winemakers.
Recanati Winery in northern Israel has started making wine from marawi grapes. The winery makes 1 million bottles of wine a year. So far, only 2,500 bottles are marawi, but the owners hope the new old wine takes off.
“This marawi is our own unique, indigenous species that’s been grown in Israel for hundreds of years. This is our chance to bring something new to the world and to show the world that we are innovative and we have tradition in this industry,” says Recanati winemaker Gil Shatsberg.
Recanati’s bottle has English, Hebrew, and Arabic on the label as a way of acknowledging the different people behind the wine. “Since the grape is Arabic origin and the grower is Palestinian, we gave respect for everybody,” says Recanati CEO Noam Yacoby.
Unique to the region
In the valley between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the cities that mark the beginning of Christ’s life and the end, Cremisan Winery was the first to make wine using only grapes indigenous to the region, starting in 2008.
It uses grapes such as dabouki, hamdani, jandali and baladi. These are not well-known types of wine, but Cremisan hopes that will change. In the highly competitive wine market, offering a unique product can make a major difference.
“To stay strong in the market, you need unique wines such as these,” says Ziad Bitar, sales manager for Cremisan. “We are talking about grapes that were here for thousands of years. We weren’t here, but we can imagine that they drank this type of wine.”
His winemaker, Fadi Batarseh, chimes in: “And we hope that Jesus is happy with our wine!”