As they did thousands of years ago, residents of Israel’s Negev Highlands area, near the Dead Sea, are making wine. The region, about two hours south of Jerusalem by car, is now dotted with a handful of small farms and wineries. Aside from wine shops, tastings and outdoor farm experiences, many offer accommodations and b and b-style stay experiences.
During a recent trip to Israel, I had a chance to spend the afternoon at the Desert Estate Carmey Avdat winery. The family-run business is located along what is now known as the Negev Wine Route. The winery sits on land that has been used for agriculture and winemaking for almost 2,000 years. The current winery planted its first vines (on ancient vineyards) in 2002 and everything (growing grapes, processing and bottling) is done on-site.
The Negev Desert area of Israel is rich in history. It is very close to the ruined Nabetean city of Avdat, a popular stop on the anicent Spice Route. The Nabeteans, most well-known for their city of Petra in the Jordanian desert, had an active wine making industry. Visitors to Avdat can visit the city’s vast winemaking faciliting including large areas for stomping grapes and collecting the juice, along with storage areas where the juice was fermented into wine.
Located mid-way between Be’er Sheva and the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, the wineries are mostly located along the main highway in the region, Israel Route 40. Although the elevation is low, the “mountains” are less than 3,000 feet above sea level, there is a wide difference in day and night temperatures. This is an ideal wine growing region with very hot days and very cold nights.
About 6,000 bottles of wine are produced at the Desert Estate Carmey Avdat, which is about average for the local small producers. The wines are based on the main varietals grown, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Several reds and whites are produced as a rose and a port dessert wine. Aside from wine, they have begun to produce spirits and liqueurs made from fruit grown on the farm like apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots.
Israel is about the size of New Jersey so it’s easy to get around by car. You can rent a car or take a guided tour of the area. The Negev Highlands area is near other popular tourist destinations like the Dead Sea and Masada so it’s possible to combine everything into an afternoon road trip.
The winery I visited, the Desert Estate Carmey Avdat also offers a group of boutique accommodations. They are small cabins located throughout the beautiful farm property with striking desert views. Some have luxury touches like deep soaking tubs and porches with hammocks and lounge chairs.