Category Archives: Wine

Archaeology in Israel Tour

I’m delighted to announce that Dan McLerran at Popular Archaeology and I are creating a phenomenal tour of archaeological sites in Israel that I will be guiding October 2013.
I invite you to join us on this adventure, 12 days of touring in Israel, where we’ll cover the famous sites like Megiddo and Hazor and uncover some of the less well-known gems like Sussita-Hippos, one of the Decapolis cities overlooking the Sea of Galilee that was destroyed in the earthquake of 749CE and never rebuilt.

Sussita excavation

We’ll start by going back 6500 years to the Chalcolithic period and tour up on the Golan Heights to learn about burial at that time. We’ll see dolmens, the megalithic tombs consisting of a flat rock resting on two vertical rocks that mark a grave. We’ll hike to the cultic site of Rujm el Hiri – is it a site that is connected to the calendar or to burial? At Ein Gedi we’ll see the ruins of a Chalcolithic temple. We’ll see artifacts at the Israel museum, examples of clay ossuaries and fine bronze castings of ritual objects.

We’ll follow in the path of the Kings from 1000BCE to 586BCE by traveling from Dan where a piece of a basalt victory stella in Aramaic was found mentioning the kings of Israel and the house of David. We will explore the City of David, the walled Jebusite city on the ridge between the Kidron and Tyropean valleys. We’ll walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel that brought the water of the Gihon spring to the Siloam pool inside the walls. From there we will follow in the steps of pilgrims to the Temple mount. Part of the 650m distance will be in Jerusalem’s drainage channel until we come out right under Robinson’s Arch. We’ll see the Broad wall, the remains of an 8 meter high wall that protected Jerusalem from the north in the time of the Kings.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

We’ll explore the walled Judean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, with two gates and hence identified as Shaarayim, situated on the border of Judea facing the Phillistines.

We’ll learn about the Second Temple Period, specifically the time of the Hasmoneans and King Herod who ruled under the auspices of the Romans. We’ll check out Herod’s impressive building projects. At Caesarea, we have the temple to Augustus, the protected harbor, the palace as well as a theater and a hippodrome later used as an amphitheater. At Sebaste there is another temple to Augustus. Josephus writes that Herod built a third temple at Banias. It’s unclear whether the temple was at Banias or nearby, perhaps at Omrit. We’ll visit Herod’s palaces at Masada, the Western palace and the 3 tier hanging palace on the northern end of the site. We’ll explore the palace and administrative complex at Lower Herodium and the palace/fortress on the top of a manmade mountain where the base of a mausoleum was discovered by Prof. Ehud Netzer in 2007.

Herodium Palace:fortress

We’ll visit the newly opened exhibit at the Israel museum Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, artifacts from Herodium on display for the first time. We’ll also visit the Second Temple period model that displays Jerusalem at its peak just before its destruction at the hand of the Romans. We’ll visit the Shrine of the Book that houses the Dead Sea scrolls and other artifacts and combine that with the archaeological site of Qumran by the Dead Sea where the scrolls were found.

We’ll focus on the architecture of sacred space and check out various churches, in the basilica and martyrium form from the Byzantine period (4th to 7th century) and synagogues from the same period. We’ll see some amazing mosaics by visiting the  museum at the Inn of Good Samaritan, the archaeological sites of Sepphoris/Tzippori, and the synagogue at Beit Alfa. We’ll visit sites off the beaten path like the Kathisma church on the way to Bethlehem and Samaritan site on Mount Gerizim.

Synagogue mosaic floor at Israel Museum

Besides the Western wall, Judaism’s holy site, we will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity and go up onto the Haram el-Sharif to see the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site to Islam.

We’ll travel around the Sea of Galilee stopping at sites important to Christianity like Kursi, Capernaum and Magdala. We’ll even go up to the Golan Heights to the Jewish city of Gamla, the Masada of the north.


For anyone who enjoys taking photographs, there will be plenty of opportunities and as an special incentive to join the tour, participants will be able to submit their best photographs from the tour to a special Pinterest site and will have a chance to win up to $1000. for the “best photo”.

If you’re interested in participating in an archaeological tour of the Holy Land, contact  me.

Red Canyon

Rather than driving all the way down to Eilat on highway 90 you might want to consider a detour, taking a right onto highway 13 and then a left onto 40 which follows the Israel Trail. After 38 km you’ll come to Shizaphon Junction where you’ll find an organic, vegetarian restaurant run by the folks of Kibbutz Naot Smadar, a lovely place to take a break.

At the Pundak you can also buy products from the kibbutz, artisan goat cheeses, bread, jams, fruit leather, dates and wine – everything you’d need for a picnic. I highly recommend that you try their goats yoghourt ice cream with the homemade apple cake. Mmmm, delicious.

From the junction if you continue on highway 40 you’ll come to the kibbutz itself, like a magical kingdom appearing out of the desert. Many of the kibbutznikim are artists and they’ve built a studio space and gallery that you can visit.

Afterwards retrace your steps and take highway 12. After about 3 km there will be a dirt road to your left that will take you to Shaharut where you can sleepover and go on camel trips. Afterwards retrace your steps and continue on highway 12 south for about 50 km until you see the cutoff for the Red Canyon – Wadi Shani on your left. Follow the dirt road to the parking area.

From there you follow the green trail markers and descend into the small canyon, no more than 3 meters in width with a height of up to 30 meters, created over years by water erosion of the sandstone.

Red Canyon

The dominant color of the rock is red with shades of pink and purple. It reminded me of a smaller version of the canyon at Petra. The hike is suitable for families. To return either retrace your steps through the canyon (if there aren’t a lot of people) or climb up out of the canyon where the streambed widens and take the path with a great view of the canyon below. The Red Canyon is one of the places that I recommend to people who are interested in a tour focussed on photography.

If you are continuing to Eilat there are 2 lookout spots that are worth stopping at: Har Hizqiyahu at 838 meters for a view east to the Edom Mountains in Jordan and west to Moon Valley in Egypt and Mount Yoash at 734 meters from which you can see 4 countries on a clear day: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.



Katlav is the Hebrew name of a striking, red-barked evergreen shrub or small tree native to the Mediterranean region (grows as far north and west as France and Ireland), the Strawberry tree or Arbutus Andrachne. The bark is smooth and sheds during the summer, leaving a pistachio green color, which changes gradually to a beautiful orange brown. The small red berries, tasting a little like tart strawberries, ripen in November.

There is another related tree, Arbutus unedo, that also grows in this region. The leaves have a saw-tooth edge and the fruit is bumply, orange-red when ripe. The name ‘unedo’ is explained by the Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, as being derived from unum edo “I eat one”, which seems appropriate as most people find the fruit bland and mealy.

One advantage of hiring a local guide is that you get the opportunity to get inside, to be initiated into what the locals do, things that most tourists never experience. In and around Jerusalem there are some very special hikes and one in particular is Nahal Katlav in the Judean Hills, named for the abundance of strawberry trees growing there. There is also the possibility of hiking to a maayan, a natural spring that fills a pool cut into the rock, that is just the perfect solution to a hot summer day. Before we head out we will pick up some artisan bread, cheese, salads, etc. for a picnic, drive into the hills, hike to our destination and enjoy. These are outings for the whole family.

Nahal Katlav is a tributary of the Sorek river which is biblical Hebrew for a choice grapevine. Over the years, this region was known for its grapes, and today there are a number of fine boutique wineries in the Judean-Yoav region. For those interested in wine, these outings can be combined with a visit to a winery in the area. There is even a winery called Katlav.

It is very impressive to stand in the presence of an ancient tree. Near Kibbutz Tsuba are 2 very old trees, a 1200 year old olive tree and a 800 year old oak. Although I am not aware of such an old strawberry tree there is a magnificent specimen that is about 80 years old at the Jerusalem War Cemetery on Mount Scopus.

Katlav in cemetery

Negev desert

The Negev desert, shaped like a 4700 square mile inverted triangle in the south of Israel, makes up more than half of the country’s land area. I can arrange to make a visit to the Negev part of your itinerary, you have to experience the desert to understand its importance.

Geographically the Negev can be divided into 5 areas: the northern, western and central Negev, the high plateau and the Arava Valley. This article focuses on the high plateau area, Ramat HaNegev (Negev Heights). The plateau stands between 370 metres and 520 metres above sea level and has extreme temperatures in summer and winter and significant differences in temperature between day and night. Even though the area gets only 100 mm of rainfall per year and the soil is poor and quite salty, Israel is successfully growing olives, pomegranates, pistachios and grapes for wine.


Here are some places to add to your itinerary as you explore Ramat HaNegev.

  • Kibbutz Revivim is growing 5 varieties of olives using brackish water and selling the olives and olive oil in an upmarket boutique dedicated to their products in Tel Aviv.


  • Park Golda includes a lake and picnic tables to eat your lunch or for an unforgettable desert experience, try Beduin hospitality in a black goat’s hair tent followed by a camel ride.


  • The Large Makhtesh is one of 3 craters in the region, a unique formation to the Negev, where the inside of a mountain is eroded by water, leaving the outer shell.
  • Visit the tzrif on Kibbutz Sde Boker to get a glimpse of how Ben-Gurion and Paula lived. The Ben-Gurion Institute, a research facility for the study and the dissemination of his writings, offers visitors a multi-media program about the man and his vision.
  • You can visit a string of family farms along route <40> for wine and cheese tasting and even sleep over in one of their cabins under the desert stars. On farms that are growing grapes and making wine, the vines have been planted on the same 1500 year old terraces that were prepared by the Nabateans and take advantage of runoff from the winter rains. These farms are also a symbol of Israel’s pioneering spirit in the 21st century, composting their waste, recycling their grey water and generating electricity using solar photovoltaic panels.


  • Hike into the canyon at the Ein Avdat National Park with springs, pools and waterfalls, an oasis in the desert or from the Roman bath house (below Avdat) supplied with water drawn from a well tunneled 70 meters through bedrock hike north along the Israel Trail to the Ein Eikev spring that flows year round.
  • Visit the remains of the Nabatean city of Avdat which was probably the regional capital. Located at the crossroads that join Petra in Trans-Jordan to Eilat and to Gaza, Avdat controlled the passage of the caravans from India and Arabia. Conquered in 106 CE by the Roman Emperor Trajan, it lost its importance when a road was built between Eilat and Damascus. Avdat adjusted by adopting agriculture, particularly the production of wine, as its means of subsistence. Numerous terraced farms and water channels were built throughout the region in order to collect enough run-off from winter rains to support agriculture in the hyper arid zone of the Negev. At least five wine presses dated to the Byzantine period have been found at the site showing us how important wine-making was in this region. In the Byzantine period (5th and 6th century) a citadel and a monastery with two churches were built on the acropolis of Avdat on the ruins of earlier pagan temples. The town was totally destroyed by a local earthquake in the early seventh century and was never reinhabited.

Golan Wineries

When you are planning to do some touring up in the Golan it is worth including a visit to some of the vineyards that have been planted in the volcanic soil that is unique to this area in Israel and learn about how grapes are grown and harvested. Follow up with a visit to a winery to learn about how wine is made. If you are really into wine I am happy to arrange a wine tour for you.


Golan Heights Winery

I think it’s fair to say that the Golan Heights winery founded in 1983 in the town of Katzrin, high up on the Golan Heights changed the world’s impression of Israeli wines and placed Israel firmly on the international wine map. Unique to Israel, the winery is owned by 4 kibbutzim and 4 moshavim. They manage 16 vineyards on the Golan (and one in the Upper Galillee), from Geshur and Nov which rise above the Sea of Galilee to Odem and El Rom below the snow-capped Mount Hermon, processing 6,000 tons of grapes and producing 6 million bottles of wine annually at 3 levels: Golan, Gamla and Yarden. They are also the parent of Galil Mountain Winery with Kibbutz Yiron.

I can arrange a tour of the facility including a visit to the oak barrel cellar, viewing of the bottling line (when in operation) and of course wine tasting.

Pelter Winery

Tal Pelter established his boutique winery in 2002, after studying enology in Australia, on the grounds of the family farm in Moshav Zofit near Kfar Saba where he produced four vintages of wine. During the summer of 2005 the winery was transferred to Kibbutz Ein Zivan adjacent to Merom Golan and resulted in a production of approximately 24,000 bottles. Pelter produces a sparkling wine in the traditional way, as well as 3 white wines, a Sauvignon Blanc, an unwooded Chardonnay and a Gewurztraminer, a first of this varietal for Pelter, described as “Sweet peach, liche, melon, citrus on a lively acidic background”. He also produces a series of red wines at two levels from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz grapes grown on the Golan Heights and the hills of Jerusalem.

At the end of August 2005, Pelter supervised the planting of a new vineyard on the Golan, that he calls Vineyard of the Wind with a view of Mount Bental and the Hermon, 35 dunams (8.75 acres) of vines. Pelter is pursuing his dream of a quality winery on the Golan. I can arrange a visit to the facility for serious wine afficionados.


There are other small wineries on the Golan. In the midst of an ancient oak forest at Odem is the Odem Mountain Winery. Next to a natural spring is the Bazelet HaGolan winery and not far, the Assaf winery. Farther south you’ll find the Bashan Organic Winery and the Chateau Golan Winery. For a complete and up-to-date overview of the wine industry in Israel, I recommend Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines available at bookstores and the Internet.

Golan Vineyards and Wineries

I was on the Golan this week near Har Avital. It was delightful – the weather was superb, the wheat was golden, there were still poppies, the grapevines are blossoming. You can feel the broad expanse of the Golan, it lets you breathe.

We visited vineyards on the Golan, one growing in a caldera, a large crater caused by the violent explosion of a volcano that collapses into a depression. The caldera creates a different micro climate from the surrounding area. We visited an organic vineyard at Odem and learned about how the growers control aphids and grapevine fan leaf virus using natural methods. We visited vineyards growing around Tel El-Makhfi right beside abandoned Syrian bunkers. The Golan Heights Winery has 16 vineyards on the Golan and 1 in the Galil.

We ended the day with wine tasting (Yarden Blanc de Blancs, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah and a Heights wine, their version of iced wine for desert) at the Golan Heights Winery in Katzrin.