Ramat Hanegev Wine Route
In recent years the number of wineries in the valleys and hills between Mitzpe Ramon and Be'er Sheva has grown tremendously. These vineyards mark the first attempts to nurture grapes in the Negev Highlands since the ancient Nabataeans made wine at Shivta and Avdat. Using both Nabataean technology and computerised watering systems, today's winegrowers have managed to turn some of Israel's most arid land into lush vineyards.
Located on the kibbutz of the same name, the Sde Boker Winery was established in 1999, in association with the Hebrew University's School of Agriculture in Rehovot, to test the possibility of growing wine grapes with brackish water. Winemaker Zvi Remak, who hails from San Francisco, concentrates on making handcrafted, barrel-aged red wines from cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes. You can taste his wines at a stand in the visitor centre next to the Ben-Gurion Desert Home.
Nestled in a valley richly planted with olive and other fruit trees, surrounded by stony Negev slopes, the family-run Carmey Avdat Winery was built on the ruins of an ancient agricultural settlement. Founded in 1998, it now produces rosé, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend. Cheeses and other local products can be purchased in the shop. This is also a lovely spot to spend a few nights (double US$156 to US$237). The six rustic cabins – four with gravel floors – come with fine desert views, a kitchen and a private dipping pool. Breakfast is delivered to guests.
At the the Boker Valley Vineyards Farm, run by a friendly Israeli-Dutch family, the heady aromas of red wine permeate the cooperative wine cellar, where you can taste seven local wines for 25NIS (free if you purchase a bottle). They also grow wine grapes, olives and fruit (for jams) and sell local products, including cheese. Five rustic but comfortable wooden cabins (doubles US$165) are scattered on a rocky hillside, each with space for two to five, a hammock, a small kitchenette and an outdoor barbecue area. Guests love the spa-bath hut and the lavish home-cooked breakfasts. Situated 5km north of Kibbutz Sde Boker on Rte 40, on the west side of the highway between the Telalim and Halukim Junctions.
Other local wines to sample include those produced by Ashba, Derech Eretz, Nana (try its impressive chardonnay), Ramat Negev, Rota and Rujum. For more information about visiting the Ramat Hanegev region, go to www.negevtour.co.il.