Bordeaux. Napa Valley. The Veneto. Rheinhessen. Rioja.
All of these geographic names are recognizable as wine regions. Hear the name, and you immediately know what “wine country” it’s connected to.
Bordeaux — France.
Napa Valley — The United States (specifically, California).
The Veneto — Italy.
Rheinhessen — Germany.
Rioja — Spain.
But when you hear the name “Negev,” wine probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. What you may know is that it’s a desert, and that doesn’t exactly equate with winegrowing.
But amid the harsh desert scenery that dominates the landscape of southern Israel, a series of vineyards have been planted over the last decade by a number of pioneering and dedicated people.
These are idealistic people who love their land and, together with state-of-the-art drip irrigation technology, have grown vines and crafted wines where, just a few years before, the idea would have been unimaginable.
The Negev Wine Route was established with the support of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council and the government, which provided the land on the condition that it would be accessible for tourists and used for tourism-related purposes.
The wineries are part of a bigger series of such farms that stretch across the Ramat Hanegey region, and each offers something for tourists — be it lodging, restaurants, cheese-making, olive-oil making or, of course, winemaking.
The first winery to open in the Negev was the Boker Winery, which began 15 years ago as an experiment led by Zvi Remek, a member of the Sde Boker kibbutz who studied agronomy in California before returning to his home. Having previously worked with the grapevines of the kibbutz, opening the winery was the start of a transition from simply growing produce in the Negev to creating a high-value product from it.
Slowly, the Sde Boker Winery expanded, and today is still modestly housed in the old communal laundry facility of the kibbutz.
The Boker Valley Vineyard not only grows its own vines, but also offers visitors the opportunity to taste many of the other wines produced in the region. It is run by a couple with diverse origins: Moshe is from Eilat, while Hilda hails from the Netherlands.
In addition to wines, they sell local olive oil and olives, and offer beautiful accommodations in the heart of the desert.
Not all of the farms along the Negev Desert Wine Route make wine, but all produce some type of high-quality produce originating from the Negev.
Just north of Mitzpe Ramon and the famous makhtesh, for instance, Carmey Har Hanegev is a farm that produces a wide range of natural desert resources, including olive oils, fruits and liqueurs using the produce of the farm. The farm has camping and cabin facilities for overnight stays, and also sells artwork.
Just like Napa Valley and other wine regions of the world, the Negev is now offering a lot more than wine; it’s offering a “wine country” experience.