Negev Desert Terroir

The Negev desert, dedicated to unique desert-based agriculture, is a fascinating and unique region of Israel

As we learn the terroir of the Negev desert, we begin to understand and define it. The origin of terroir is the French word ‘terra,’ defined as soil, yet enveloping all environmental conditions for growing: climate (temperature, solar exposure, wind, humidity, irrigation), slant of slope, plant and wild life. It actually includes all non-human factors. The term is used to describe agricultural areas, beverages and foods, including wine, tea, coffee, cheese, and meat. Professionals can blind taste and identify commonalities between wines from similar areas, and variances between those from diverse regions.

The aridity of the desert presents enduring challenges to wine grape cultivation in the Negev, while unexpectedly delivering significant advantages. In the Negev there are over 300 days of sun each year characterized by high temperatures, merely a few dozen millimeters of rain, and intense solar exposure reflected by the beaming ground, which is rich in salt yet otherwise deficient.  Undoubtedly one of the most hostile regions for growing, the Negev’s hardships carry veiled virtues. Sharp temperature drops contribute to the grape’s ripening, dry air thwarts rotting and pests, and cold winter spells toughen the vine. These distinctive conditions promote ripening of the grapes, contributing to the unique terroir of the wine of the Negev desert—a palpable local typicity.

On the one hand, Negev grapes yield light wines that are pleasant to drink, while also maturing and developing over time. White grapes harvested before the acid in them falls, leave white Negev wines crisp and minerally, with echoes of stone fruit. Red grapes from the region often have thin and unripe skin, yielding a light and cheerful flavor.

Exhibiting how ancient traditions aptly coupled with agricultural innovations can produce fine wines even under the harshest desert conditions, the burgeoning wineries emerging from the majestic desert landscape position the Negev as an alluring global tourism destination and offer a new regional engine for growth. 

Negev Desert Terroir

Negev agriculture rooted in ancient wisdom and technology, directs flood water to hidden cisterns for storage. The minimal rainwater that falls in the area is carefully collected underground and irrigation runs through terraces and shallow channels that prevent erosion, stabilize surfaces, and slow the flow of water so that it can be absorbed more intensely by the agricultural soil.

Today’s Negev vintners and winemakers are not inventing the wheel, but rather unearthing heritage entrenched by early Negev inhabitants over 3,000 years ago during Roman and Byzantine rule. When traveling the Negev, we notice atrifacts symbolic of ancient vineyards – water conservation facilities, agricultural terraces, and numerous wine presses scattered in the area.

In ancient times, wine was an essential commodity in the trade economy. Wine accounted for about one quarter to a third of adult’s caloric intake, and used for its alcohol and polyphenols content, as preventative medicine and to help disinfect drinking water. Regional wines were recognized under an international brand bearing the names of their ports of origin, Gaza and Ashkelon,  and were exported worldwide. These wines were known in Europe for their high quality, as indicated by the remnants of ancient jugs found along the Adrian Wall in England, in the cellars of the Merovingian king – Clavius in Paris, and all ports and cities along the central and western Mediterranean coasts.

With the arrival of Muslim rule to the Land of Israel, the economy shifted. The religion of the new rulers forbade drinking wine and the Negev was no longer the southern border of the Roman-Byzantine Empire. During this period, the wine industry deteriorated and seems to have entered a deep hibernation lasting approximately 1,400 years. Even the water pipes laid in the 1940s and 1950s, following the first Jewish settlers who came to flourish the wilderness, failed to wake it.  And now, after all of these years, the Negev’s time has come. In recent years, the dormant vines of ancient roots are revived as Israeli pioneers lead a new wave of planting, awakening the ancient desert wine region. Today, some 3,000 dunams of wine vineyards grow in the Negev, and more than 30 vineyards of various sizes operate in the area.

קרדיט: פרופסור עמוס הדס, ד”ר שחר שילה, רוני ססלוב, יעקב אוריה, דוד פינטו (יקב פינטו), צור שיזף, מזור יפתח (יולי 2017) והיקב עוד יהיה פורח! איך מייצרים יין בנגב? סגולה מגזין ישראלי להיסטוריה. אוחזר מתוך: לחץ לקישור.