Memories of Golan Heights Winery with a Side of Meatball Shakshuka Part 1 #WinePW

Wines from Galilee in general, and the Golan Heights in particular, proved to be some of my favorites during a wine trip to Israel a couple of years ago, and an excursion to the area completely fascinated me. Here I share some memories and pairings from a trip to Golan Heights Winery.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Israel on a press trip to get to know their wine industry. I didn’t know what to expect, but I came away really impressed with the overall quality of the wines. I was also surprised at the vast number of grape varieties being grown and the styles being made. While I’d had the opportunity to try some Israeli wines before this, I had no idea of the extensive range of wines being made there.

I got to try literally hundreds of wines coming from all of the country’s different regions, and I started to find that the wines from the Galilee region (or the Galil, as it’s referred to there) tended to speak to me. They certainly weren’t the only ones, as there were beautiful wines being made in all of their wine growing areas, but I noticed that a high proportion of the wines that grabbed my attention were from this region.

Galilee essentially makes up the northeastern tip of the country and can be subdivided into Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, and the Golan Heights. (I sometimes see the Golan Heights separated out as its own region, and I’m not certain if that’s a change based on how things are evolving, but these subdivisions are unofficial anyways.) To callback for a sec to previous posts from earlier this year about wines from the Ancient World, the story of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, is thought to have its origins in this area.

Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, in particular, are indeed recognized as being among the country’s premier vineyard areas. They’re rocky and mountainous, with lots of varied soils. There’s a high percentage of volcanic soils in that mix in both of these regions (the Golan Heights sits on a volcanic plateau), which tends to bring rich structure and minerality to the wines. Those high elevations as well help preserve acidity in the grapes, in a part of the world that you might otherwise assume would be quite warm seeing as it’s right next to the Mediterranean Sea.

Me on a very foggy, rainy day in the Golan Heights.

I got to visit the Golan Heights as part of the trip and it was also quite chilly when I was there in January. It had actually snowed the day before we arrived, and it was rainy and blanketed by a THICK fog. I was a little nervous when we went out for dinner because you couldn’t see more than a foot or two in front of the car in the darkness. These factors are all a benefit to the grapes though because it helps preserve the freshness without which you might end up with flabby wines. (The vines were dormant at this time of the year, but it speaks to the region’s climate in general.)

Dormant vines in Golan Heights Winery's vineyards in January.

I was fascinated by the area and loved all the wineries we got to visit. Among them, we spent an afternoon at Golan Heights Winery, touring the vineyards and learning about their wines, which fall under four brands - Yarden, Golan Heights, Gilgal, and Mount Hermon. The winery was initially established in 1983 by a total of eight Israeli settlements – four kibbutzim and four moshavim (cooperative communities). The winery has since grown to become the third largest in Israel. The facilities were very modern, but what really impressed me was their commitment to research and sustainability. 

Among their research projects is a partnership with ENTAV-INRA, a French company that is a world-leading provider of grapevine plant material that happens to have the world’s oldest bank of grapevine raw material. Around 2006, the winery had started to realize the extent of the problem of certain diseases in Israel’s vineyards and began to focus on ameliorating the problem. Through their collaboration with ENTAV (which is also in cooperation with Israeli agricultural authorities)  they have developed propagation systems that focus on developing better, more disease-resistant clones and rootstocks. (You can read more about this partnership here.)

Victor Shoenfeld, head winemaker at Golan Heights Winery, walking us through the vineyards and explaining their practices and initiatives.

Their commitment to sustainability was also clear and impressive. Among their vineyards is the first and largest organic vineyard in the country. They have a solar power system that is building towards producing about 50% of the winery’s needs, as well as a wastewater treatment facility.  Interestingly, they sought and received the accreditation from LODI RULES for both Golan Heights Winery and its subsidiary Galil Mountain Winery, as they saw it as one of the most comprehensive sustainability programs in the world. Their two wineries were the first international wineries to receive the certification. (Read more on their sustainability practices here.)

This view overlooks the demilitarized buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

As you might guess though, given the precarious nature of Israel’s political situation in the Middle East, there are challenges. Moreover, the areas where these wineries and vineyards are located is right along some tricky borders. Upper Galilee is bordered by Lebanon to the north and west, and next to it, the Golan Heights has Syria to the east. The area is definitely remote, but because the winery’s facilities and vineyards were all very modern and state of the art, it was sometimes easy to forget just where we were –– almost as if we were in some more secluded corner of California wine country. Then a truck transporting UN Peacekeeping forces would drive by, or some other similar reminder would pop up, and provide a jolt of the reality of the situation. The challenges are very real, but the Golan Heights Winery and the other wineries of the area seem to find ways to navigate them to make beautiful wines.

My initial impression of the wines overall after tasting through them at the winery was that they were very classic and approachable, using international varieties, but they also expressed the unique terroir of the region.  I’ve now had the chance to enjoy wines from Golan Heights Winery’s various ranges several times as part of meals as well. 

The first occasion was shortly after our afternoon at the winery. We had the pleasure of having dinner with Victor Shoenfeld, head winemaker at Golan Heights Winery, at HaBokrim Restaurant, a beautiful steak house located on Kibbutz Merom Golan. We had the 2014 Yarden Syrah from Galilee (average price $26). Predictably, the spiced blackberry and peppery notes in this wine worked beautifully with our steak feast. 

I brought home a bottle of the Yarden’s 2011 Sparkling Brut Rosé Galillee and enjoyed it as an aperitif with friends one evening. (I think this was a sample, but not certain. Average price $39.)  It’s a 70/30 split between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and it was very classic with spiced strawberry tart notes.

More recently we had the Galil Mountain Winery Sauvignon Blanc Galilee 2019 (sample) with some homemade pesto pizza topped with prosciutto and goat cheese and the combo worked out very well.

Seeing as this post is getting a little long – I tend to get carried  away when I get excited about things – I’m going to go ahead and split this off now into two parts. Next up, we’ll be exploring their Galil Mountain Winery Alon Upper Galilee 2014 paired with a shakshuka meal inspired by one of my favorite food memories from my trip to the Golan Heights.

Photo by Greg Hudson.

In the meantime, check out these previous posts related to Israeli wines:

And if you need a full breakdown on Kosher wines, check out: 


A few other members of the Wine Pairing Weekend Crew (#WinePW) are also exploring wines from Golan Heights Winery's various lines. Be sure to check out their posts:

Additional resources used for this post:

Wines of Israel
Wine Searcher

This post contains affiliate links, including these Amazon Associate links, from which I might receive a commission at no cost to you.



  1. Was great to hear your perspective from your travels there. There is nothing like being there.

    1. Thanks -- and really, such a cool and special region.

  2. So enjoyed reading about your press trip there! And I will seek out the sparkling wine you've mentioned. It sounds delicious, so do your food pairings!

  3. Sounds like an interesting visit! I wouldn't have guessed those pictures were from Israel, with all the fog and greenery. I guess the hummus post is still to come?

    1. A wonderful visit! And part 2 with the hummus is up!

  4. Great travel picture! Also the Yarden’s 2011 Sparkling Brut Rosé Galillee seems to be very delicious with the spiced strawberry tart notes.


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!