Do you ever think about the historical evolution of wine?
Who made the first wine, what methods did they use, and what type of grapes was it made from? This may have never crossed your mind, but now that it has – do you wonder what type of wine was produced in Biblical times? Wine appears in the Bible as early as Noah, who planted a vineyard after the Flood and is found throughout the Bible for ceremony and celebration. Most of us are accustomed to wine made from European grapes. If you trace the history of wine back to Biblical times, there must have been vineyards in Ancient Israel. What happened to them? Dr. Shivi Drori of Ariel University and his team set out to find out.
Dr. Shivi Drori lives in Givat Harel, a small community near Shiloh. Shivi and his wife were among the founders, and what began 20 years ago with just three families has grown to 70 families, Shivi and his 6 children being among them. Givat Harel features abundant agriculture and is known for its olive orchards and vineyards. Shivi has his own winery which he began as a hobby, but now he sells wine all over the world under his label Gvaot Winery. Shivi is the winemaker – creating the blends himself. He learned wine-making on the job and by visiting wineries all over the world, but his academic background also helped with that. But we’ll get there soon enough…
While studying for his MA in the Faculty of Agriculture at Hebrew University, it quickly became clear to Shivi Drori that he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. He transferred to the direct Ph.D. track and received a doctorate in Plant Science. He now had to decide what to do with his degree, and he chose to be involved in wine technology and grapevine genetics. He started a lab in Ariel University, and later on he became faculty in the chemical engineering department. Today, he has his own lab, and over the last 8 years or so, he has been trying to discover the identity of the wine grapes of Ancient Israel.
Dr. Drori’s research is considered revolutionary and is attracting attention from all over the world.
His story began when he discovered old grapevines near his vineyard in Givat Harel near an ancient wine press. This got him thinking – what grapes are indigenous to the Land of Israel? What grapes did King David make wine from? Israel’s ancient wine production came to a halt when the Jewish People were exiled and the land was largely inhabited by Muslims, who do not drink, let alone make wine.
According to Dr. Drori, a natural process occurred – the Muslim and Druze farmers were growing crops that they could use and sell. Wine grapes were not useful to the Muslim community, and so they focused on cultivating the delicious table grapes found in Israel today – they are larger with soft skin, less sugar, and less acid.
Drori and his team began the search for the long-lost wine grapes of ancient Israel. They looked around Muslim and Jewish vineyards alike, surveying the country top to bottom, hiking and exploring anywhere they might find grapes. Due to the resilient nature of grapes, they hypothesized they might find some ancient survivors.
So far, Drori’s team has found at least 82 unique varieties of grapes indigenous to Israel that are not found elsewhere in the world. Out of those 82 types, 20 are good wine grapes, and this team is experimenting with these wines, measuring alcohol potential, color potential, aromatic potential, and more. Wineries all over Israel are trying to get their hands on these potentially Biblical grapes!
The question is, how do we know exactly which grapes were used in the times of the Bible? From which grapes did they create the wine used in the Tabernacle in Shiloh? In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem?
Dr. Drori works with archaeologists throughout Israel searching for remnants of ancient grape seeds. He has examined seeds from the southern wall of the Temple Mount, Masada, Timna, Herodian, Shiloh, and other significant ancient Biblical sites where rituals took place. They found leftover grape seeds, or perhaps raisins. They are then analyzed first by their structure – each variety has a unique seed structure. High-resolution scanning can identify ancient seeds and they try to make a match to existing varieties from their collection of samples. Next, they can extract DNA from ancient seeds and try to match it to a sequence that they have already. This method is more difficult, but this fascinating research has attracted international attention from the likes of the New York Times, CNN, and more. Everyone wants to hear about how this team is renewing an ancient practice and reviving ancient wine!
Dr. Drori’s team found ancient grapes that no one had ever found before, and so they were able to name them. For example, they named the white wine grapes “Gendel” because that is the name of a wine found in the Talmud dating back to the Tabernacle.
Each year, Shivi’s personal winery, Gvaot Winery, produces 50,000 bottles of wine. Of those, he bottles 2,000 of the ancient Biblical grapes, which are quickly sold before even reaching the shelves. People love Shivi’s wine not only for the taste and quality, but also because they feel they are drinking the wine of the Holy Temple.
Unfortunately, people have been boycotting the products of the Settlements, but even those boy-cotters admit to loving this quality wine. They have won every contest they have ever entered, including contests throughout Europe. The wine is also sold throughout the United States. The winery has plans to expand – they hardly have enough room on the walls for all of their medals!
Gvaot Winery is located right near Ancient Shiloh, where in recent digs they uncovered 60 burnt barrels with grape seeds at the bottom. They were able to test these seeds, which dated back to the exact date that it says in the Book of Judges that the Tabernacle was destroyed. Because of the historic emphasis on the wine, all of the labels are named after fortresses in Israel such as Massada and Gofna.
There is a commandment in the Bible to keep an agricultural cycle of seven years in the Land of Israel. Every seven years, one must take a year of Sabbath and not work the land.
“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest . . . And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female servants, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you… “ (Leviticus 25:3–6).
Many farmers find loopholes to avoid having to give up working their land – and therefore their livelihood – during the Sabbath year. Other vineyards think that Shivi is crazy, but every seven years, he refrains from working his land for an entire year. Logically, no business can survive without working for an entire year, but the belief is that God will bless those who keep the Sabbath laws in the eighth year. Shivi says that he feels God’s blessings in every way – all of the awards he has won, all of his successful research, and watching prophecies come alive with the land of Samaria in full bloom.
Shivi invites everyone to come and visit Ancient Shilo, the site of the Tabernacle and then cross the ancient road and come taste the exquisite ancient wine at the Gvaot Winery.