[permaculture] Speaking of greening the deserts: The Negev desert wine route, Israel

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Mon Feb 27 15:31:25 EST 2012

Fascinating information about ancient water conservation methods and
irrigation terraces.
The Negev desert wine route
In Israel Food & Drink
27 February 2012 | By Dan Savery Raz, Lonely Planet
Carmey Avdat

The Carmey Avdat Winery is a family-run, ecological farm that
cultivates grapes using ancient irrigation terraces. (Carmey Avdat)

Like most Middle Eastern deserts, the Negev is usually associated with
sand, rock and the odd camel. However, this seemingly dry and arid
region in southern Israel is now home to a burgeoning wine route,
thanks to a group of pioneering 21st-century farmers and their use of
computerized drip irrigation.

The Negev gets less than 100mm of rain per year, most of which is
washed away in flash floods down mountainsides, so the use of
irrigation is not necessarily new. The Nabataeans – the ancient desert
nomads who built their capital in Petra in the Hellenistic period –
were so good at conserving water that their kings used to deliberately
waste it in front of guests to show off. You can still see traces of
their ancient irrigation systems at the ruined cities of Shivta and
Mamshit in the Negev. The Romans, who later controlled this region,
were also partial to a drop of wine. Indeed, the ruins of Avdat even
include an old Byzantine wine press.

But modern drip irrigation uses underground computerized probes and
long plastic tubes to slowly release water over long distances. Today,
this efficient method is used in more than 100 countries to grow crops
using less water, energy and fewer chemicals, including projects in
South Africa, China, India and even for growing tea in Tanzania.

Polish-born Simcha Blass is credited with introducing new "spaghetti
tubes" to Israel in the 1950s, with longer passageways that would not
get blocked by small particles. And now, for the first time in
centuries, grapevines are taking root in soil that was once considered

The wine route started in the late 1990s, when Zvi Remak, who studied
winemaking at California's Napa Valley College, decided to plant a
vineyard on the grounds of the Sde Boker Kibbutz in the northern
Negev. The Sde Boker Winery opened in 1999, and today specializes in
handcrafted red wines made from zinfandel and carignan grapes. The
winery is next to the former desert home of Israel's first prime
minister David Ben-Gurion, and offers tastings in its small shop.

The Yatir Winery, which is close to the Dead Sea and the ancient
3,000-year-old Canaanite settlement of Tel Arad, released its first
wines in 2004. Known for its sauvignon blanc and cabernet merlot
blends, Yatir achieved meteoric success and was the first Israeli
winery to be listed in London's exclusive department store Selfridges.
The actual vineyard is located in the Yatir Forest underneath the
Judean hills, the biggest planted forest in Israel, where you will
find carob, pistachio and pine trees.

Most of the Negev desert wineries are located along Route 40, between
the city of Be’er Sheva and the hilltop town of Mitzpe Ramon. Maps are
available at the Negev Highlands tourist office.

Heading south on Route 40, the Boker Valley Vineyard has an excellent
wine lodge and restaurant, as well as a farm store that sells wines
and olive oil. The vineyard is run by a friendly Israeli-Dutch couple
and offers accommodation in its modern, South African-style wooden
cabins. An outdoor jacuzzi in the desert valley is the perfect place
to sip champagne and watch the sunset.

Further south still, just before the town of Mitzpe Ramon and opposite
the ruined Nabataean city of Avdat , the Carmey Avdat Winery is a
family-run, ecological farm that cultivates grapes using ancient
irrigation terraces. The winery produces fine merlots with a unique,
salty desert taste, and they also offer bed and breakfast in six
luxurious rooms.

Located 60km north of Eilat in the Arava valley, Neot Semadar (“Neot”
means “oasis” in Hebrew) is the southernmost winery in Israel. This
alternative organic farm and vineyard sells its own range of boutique
wines, olive oils, jams, homemade ice cream and cheeses in its rustic
roadside restaurant surrounded by desert terrain.

Dan Savery Raz is co-author of Lonely Planet's Israel & the
Palestinian Territories guide.

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