Remains of ancient wine presses dating back 5,000 years may be found today throughout Israel, from the Galilee to the Judean Hills and the Negev Desert. Archeologists have uncovered hundreds of jars for storing and transporting wine.
In the Book of Genesis, Noah plants the first vineyard and catches the world’s first buzz when he drank the wine (Genesis 9:20–21).
The author of Ecclesiastes says it all: “They make a banquet for revelry; wine makes life merry and money answers every need” (Ecclesiastes 10:19).
Romans in Palestine add spices and scents to improve the existing Jewish wine. They add honey, pepper, chalk, gypsum, lime, resin, herbs and even seawater.
Muslims conquer the Holy Land, ban drinking alcohol, and put an end to the party — and to a prosperous wine industry.
Morocco’s Muslim rulers cede to Jews the craftsmanship and trade of precious metals as well as the making of wine and its sale. To this day, Morocco is the largest wine producer of all Muslim nations.
Almost all of the vineyards of Champagne, France, including one owned by the Biblical commentator Rashi’s family, are under Jewish patronage.
Forced out by the Inquisition, Sephardic winegrowers in Spain and Portugal bring wine making and marketing to North Africa and European cities.
Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore visits the land of Israel seven times between 1827 and 1875. He funds two Jewish wineries in Jerusalem, Schorr and Teperberg, and the first Jewish agricultural school, Mikveh Israel, near Jaffa, which features an experimental vineyard planted with European vines.
The Herzog family winery is named royal wine supplier to the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph, eventually earning Phillip Herzog (1843-1918) the royal title of baron.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is given a bottle of kosher red wine from Palestine. After a few sips, Disraeli, a wine connoisseur, says it tastes “not so much like wine but more like what I expect to receive from my doctor as a remedy for a bad winter cough.”
Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Chateau Lafite contributes 60 million gold francs to develop vineyards and viticulture programs in the Holy Land. He builds two large wineries, one at Rishon le-Zion in 1889, and the other at Zichron Ya’akov in 1892.
A Jewish vintner named Frederick Rosenbaum plants a 16-acre vineyard north of St. Helena. It is now the St. Clement winery.
Rabbi Dov Behr Abramson purchased the passport of a dead man named Manischewitz to gain passage to America. He settles in Cincinnati, Ohio, and begins baking matzah himself in his basement. Then comes wine.
The Schapiro Wine Co. is founded on New York’s Lower East Side with the unlikely name of California Valley Wine Co. The company celebrates its wine’s syrupy sweetness with the famous slogan, “Wine so thick you can almost cut it with a knife.”
Baron Rothschild sets up Societe Cooperative Vigneronne des Grandes Caves-Carmel, better known as Carmel Wine.
Businessman Samuel Flichman is given a Mendoza, Argentina, winery as payment for a debt. In 1947, Finca Flichman creates the first branded Argentine wine: Caballero de la Cepa.
The Russian Revolution, the enactment of Prohibition in the United States, and Egypt’s ban of imported wines virtually destroy Israel’s fledgling wine industry.
Max Schubert joins Penfolds as a messenger boy. He will go on to become the pioneer of the Australian wine industry and creator of Grange Hermitage.
Royal Wine Corp. started by the Pluczenik brothers, is sold to Eugene Herzog, who adds the Kedem name and turns it into the largest producer and distributor of kosher wines in the world.
Marvin Sands begins selling Richard’s Wild Irish Rose, a cheap dessert wine. By 2003, sons Richard and Rob turn Constellation Brands into the world’s largest vintner, which now includes the legendary Robert Mondavi winery and Franciscan in Rutherford, Calif., as well as Buena Vista, Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak, Kim Crawford, Ravenswood, Ruffino and Simi.
Al Brounstein of Diamond Creek comes to Napa Valley. He pioneers the Valley’s focus on a single varietal wine, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Israel captures the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War — territory that within five years becomes the center for the rebirth of the Israeli wine industry.
Marvin Shanken buys Wine Spectator magazine.
Golan Heights Winery hires a California winemaker named Peter Stern, in part because of his Jewish surname. Over the next 20 years Stern will go on to revitalize the Israeli wine industry. But he isn’t, as it turns out, Jewish.
The Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 wins both the gold medal and the Winiarski Trophy as the best wine in the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London.
Herzog wines opens a 77,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art winery in Oxnard, Calif., dedicated exclusively to the making of kosher wines.
Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum and his family move from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to the Bay Area to establish the first Chabad center in Napa. Tenebaum will work with vintners Leslie Rudd and Jeff Morgan to produce premium kosher wines.
Napa vintners organize the L’Chaim to Life event and the “Al Brounstein Meritorious Service Award” to celebrate their Jewish roots and to join together with non-Jews to raise funds for Napa Valley charities.
Judd Finklestein launches “Judd’s Napa Valley Show,” a new live talk show on KVON radio about wine and winemakers. Finklestein’s father, Art, an L.A. architect, moved to Napa in 1979 and bought Whitehall Lane Winery. Now the family runs Judd’s Hill.
“To take grapevines, farm them to produce the highest-quality fruit and then turn them into wine,” Art Finklestein once wrote, “well, this process gets me closer to and more appreciative of whatever higher power there may be out there than anything else.”
Compiled and written by Rob Eshman @foodaism
“The Long Winding Road to World-Class Wine” by Daniel Rogov
(Reform Magazine, Spring 2007)
“5,000 Years of Jewish Wine Making” by John Intardonato (Winebusiness.com, Nov. 27, 2007)