The Golan Heights was something I knew only from the news – a place where Israel and those countries who disagree with her presence in the Middle East often converge in conflict. I had no impression or understanding other than controversy. I assumed it was a dangerous, war-torn place.
Therefore, I was delighted to spend a day driving through the Golan Heights to witness what a beautiful part of the world it really is. It’s in the north of Israel on the border shared with Syria. The Sea of Galilee is to the west and snow-covered Mount Herman to the north.
The area that I experienced was one of rolling hills, verdant farmland and pleasant little homes. I would compare it to parts of northern France that I visited earlier this year or near the Pine Hills where I grew up in southern Illinois.
Israel’s Wine-Making Region
This is the grape growing/wine making region of Israel. While there are a dozen boutique wineries in the region, the most significant winery in the country is aptly called the Golan Heights Winery. It produces about six million bottles a year, but if you are looking to buy it in North America, it’s marketed under the name of Gilgad.
All of the wines produced here are Kosher, which includes a number of details regarding the year in which the grapes are harvested and who can touch the grapes once they come in from the field. And – I like this – at least 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the wine must be given away to charity.
As we toured the facility, I was delighted to see that a good number of the oak barrels used here came from the World Cooperage in Lebanon, Missouri. Yep, that rocky soil in the Missouri Ozarks makes for oak trees with very tight rings, thus World Cooperage has clients around the world, as the name suggests.
Tours of the vineyards, which were planted in 1983, are available by jeep and horseback, although we had time for neither. We did have time for tasting and I was drawn to the Gamla, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.
As we sipped and talked, we toasted our peaceful surroundings and the beauty of the day. In many western countries, the toast is simply “cheers.” But in Israel, in Hebrew, the toast is “Le’haim,” which translates “to life.”