The Golan Heights or the West Bank are not accepted as wine regions by international bodies and are considered “disputed” territories.

There are some people - even Israelis - who might be predisposed to buying Israeli wines, yet might take affront at wines from the Golan Heights and any winery or vineyard not on the “right side” of Israel’s pre1967 borders. Rightly or wrongly, these biases do exist and affect the wineries’ ability to thrive or even survive.

The problems these biases create can be twofold. Selling wine at retail prices at the winery is far more profitable than selling wine wholesale to shops and restaurants or for export, and how many visitors a winery attracts and the reputation and therefore price are directly related to the region’s recognition on a shelf or wine list.

Quality wines from around the world are often associated with appellations. Appellations are official wine regions that include the country of origin, but also more specific regions or even vineyards the grapes come from that have been recognized by international authorities as having something special or even unique to what that area might produce.

Those less familiar with wine might be impressed by a wine simply because it is from France, Italy or California, but the more specific the label is in describing the place of origin, generally the higher the perceived quality of the wine. So, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone regions in France; Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy; and Napa, Sonoma and even Paso Robles in California have become synonymous with being wine regions consumers can rely on. Even smaller subsections exist, so there are thousands of appellations from which wine buyers can choose.

Yet wine drinkers will have a challenge finding quality Israeli wines that are so specifically labeled. If wines are being exported, their labels need to meet international standards, or at least the standard of the country importing the wine, and currently wineries cannot place the Golan Heights or the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, as many Jewish residents call the West Bank) on the label. They are not accepted as wine regions by international bodies and are considered “disputed” territories. Golan Heights wines have settled for being put under a broader Galilee appellation while those from “the West Bank” might just say Israel. Some winemakers seem more involved in the politics and others just want the wine to speak for itself, but life, especially in the Middle East, never seems that simple.

Even though travel to the Golan Heights is fairly easy, it still takes a few hours to drive there from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, so distance might be more of a deterrent than politics for those wanting to visit a winery in Israel’s most northern reaches. For those who do, there are several wineries well worth the effort, and the pastoral views might remind you of regions in Western Europe.

In the town of Katzrin, the major hub of the Golan, is the Golan Heights’ biggest producer, the Golan Heights Winery. As Israel’s third largest winery, it produces over five million bottles of wine a year, most notably under its premium Yarden label. Not only is it prolific, but it is one of Israel’s most respected wineries, producing award winning wines from plantings dating back to 1976.

The Pelter, Odem Mountain, Chateau Golan and Assaf boutique wineries are all great examples of “bigger doesn’t have to always be better”. The Golan Heights has incredible potential for producing amazing wines from many grape varietals and many different styles.

A little more intimidating for some can be traveling to the Shomron or Binyamin regions on “the other side” of security checkpoints separating Israel from unresolved areas north or east of Jerusalem. The Golan Heights, even though still claimed by Syria, has no such checkpoints and also few if any flares of violence to worry a tourist. Generally speaking though, visiting wineries in the Shomron and Binyamin isn’t problematic and I just recently returned from two such trips without any incident.

There are several boutique wineries worth visiting and wineries are very hospitable and appreciative to those who share their love of wine. The Psagot Winery even shares a roof with the Binyamin tourism council and along route 60  or so other wineries dot the landscape on what might be a wine route one day. Further up from Jerusalem are the Tanya and Domaine Ventura wineries, located in the hamlet of Ofra and actually across the parking lot from each other. Possibly the pearl of the region is the Gvaot Winery situated in the midst of its majestic vines just south of Shiloh, the town and the winery bearing the same name. Only ten minutes from Jerusalem, so close that if you missed the checkpoint you might think you had never left, is the Gush Etzion Winery which features one of the only winery-based restaurants along the way.

Sitting at any of these wineries you might easily forget that the sovereignty of the land they reside on is in dispute, but the wines are not forgettable - and that is indisputable.


The Golan Heights or the West Bank are not accepted as wine regions by international bodies and are considered “disputed” territories.


David Rhodes is a consulting sommelier & wine educator living in Raanana. You can contact him with your questions about wine at  

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