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.
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.
Where Is the Golan Heights Wine Region in Israel
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 or near the Shawnee Hills where I grew up in southern Illinois. That’s not surprising. All are grape growing/wine making regions. I felt quite comfortable, quite safe.
Israel’s Wine-Making Region
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. However, if you try to buy Golan Heights Wines in North America, look for the Gilgad label. I don’t know why. Something to do with international laws.
All of the wines produced here are Kosher. Although I am Christian, I understand a bit about Kosher preparation of foods. However, with Kosher wines, we were told this 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, they told us, 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.
That’s not the first time I’ve been out in the world and found oak barrels from World Cooperage. They use them at some wineries in La Rioja Spain as well.
Tours of the Golan Heights 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.
What to Eat and Drink in Israel
In addition to great wine from the Golan Heights, I loved the food I experienced in Israel. Tel Aviv was the first place I tasted shakshouka, and now I eat it everywhere. Salads in Israel, I learned, are not so much about lettuce, but include lots of shredded carrots, turnips, cabbage and more. Every breakfast buffet had so much fresh fruit, so many delightful cheeses that I had never tasted before. The seafood was so fresh and amazing.
That beautiful afternoon in the Golan Heights, as we sipped wine and talked with new friends, we toasted our peaceful surroundings. In many western countries, the toast is simply “cheers.” But in Israel, in Hebrew, the toast is “Le’haim,” which translates “to life.”
To Life – in all places of peace and beauty.