The Judean Hills terroir has been a recognized wine country for over 3300 years

The archeological evidence found in nearly every corner of the land leaves no room for doubt – grapes grew on these grounds and wine was made here. Even historical sources reveal that the Judean region was recognized as wine country from the dawn of our known days (“Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise;”, Genesis 49).

From the very beginning, to this day, we continue to plant our vineyards, cultivate our grounds, and study the unique terroir with a vision of quality as our guide. All our vineyards are located in the Judean Hills, by our winery, at an average height of approximately 750 meters above sea level.

In the mid 1990’s we partnered with Tzuba, a kibbutz located near our original winery in Ramat Raziel, to plant approximately 200 acres of quality vineyards, which are tended to by the kibbutz members, in accordance with our specified protocol. In 2010, we came to the realization that we should also be winegrowers ourselves – we partnered with another kibbutz, Ma’ale HaHamisha, and to this day have planted approximately 200 acres with them, where we work the land.

בשנת 2018 התחלנו את המעבר לחקלאות אורגנית במטרה
להעביר את הקרקעות לדור הבא במצב טוב יותר משקבלנו אותן

Two plots of land, from the mountains of Jerusalem westward

The aerial line between the two plots is approximately 3 km. Our vineyards, planted in the mountains of Jerusalem and facing the Mediterranean Sea, enjoy a combination of hot summers and chilled sea breezes. During the winter, precipitation is well above average (about 700 mm). Some snow may fall during the winter in this area, but there are no actual snowstorms. Professor Amos Hadas, award winning author of ‘The Vine & Wine: Archaeology of The Land of Israel’, placed our vineyards much further north of their actual location, as per the microclimate in the region. Our soil is a combination of terra rossa, clay and limestone: a rocky and airy soil that allows water to seep through it with ease, an important attribute as most of the vineyards are planted on a slope.

This is the soil of a truly ideal “wine country”, very similar to the grounds of some of the best vineyards in the world.

During the summer, the average temperature is much lower than that typical to our geographical latitude, and it is accompanied by a frequent northwest breeze. The nights are damp and chilly, while the days are very dry: these are ideal conditions that prevent mold from forming on the grapes. The temperature fluctuation between day and night is approximately 10 degrees Celsius, and can reach even 16 degrees during the months of ripening. The climate in the region is especially favorable for reaching the right amount of phenolic maturity and acidity in the grapes.

Our 40 hectares are divided as follows, according to vine variants: Cabernet Sauvignon – 14 hectares; Merlot – 14 hectares; Petit Verdot – 4.5 hectares; Cabernet Franc – 1.5 hectares; Malbec – 1.5 hectares; and Chardonnay – 4.5 hectares.

High Density x Low Vigour = Low Yield

Standard planting density in Israel is 2200 vines per hectare. 76% of the vineyards of Domaine du Castel are planted at a density of 6700 vines per hectare and 24% at 4400, yielding an average of 50hl/h.

The vines were grafted on different types of low vigour root stocks to spread the period of maturity over several days and prevent having all the grapes ready for harvesting at the same time.

Most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand, canopy management – pruning and thinning – and after a cluster count in June a number of green clusters are harvested to reduce the yield. Also all lateral growth of stalks is eliminated to clear the cluster area and allow more sunshine on the grapes. We use drip irrigation very sparingly (the equivalent of an average of 40mm of rain) to manage the water stress and to achieve the kind of maturity that make great grapes. The harvest is done by a team of 20 to 30 harvesters.

The unique connection to the land

Eli Ben Zaken was one of the very first to plant in these mountains in our modern era, when the Judean Hills were still considered “forgotten” historical wine country. His choice to brand his first wine bottles, back in 1992, with the name ‘Haut Judee’ (the mountains of Judea), paved the way for many. In 1996, the kibbutz of Tzuba planted a substantially sized vineyard.
Eli and his family had previous experience from their smaller plot in the valley of Ramat Raziel, which gave them the confidence to proceed down a path that has proven, over the years, to be the right one. Today, thousands of acres of vineyards, belonging to a range of small to large wineries, can be seen along Highway 1, on the mountains surrounding Jerusalem.