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The Jerusalem Wine Festival: The Social Event of the Season

Considered by many to be the Jerusalem’s premiere social event, the Jerusalem Wine Festival is essentially the full package: free tastings of wines of all kinds from all over the country, good food, a refined crowd and live music, all set against the backdrop of the charming Israel Museum Art Garden.

“The Jerusalem Wine Festival is such an incredible event — unlimited wine, tons of people, great weather, and awesome environment. It’s to the point where I’ve actually reevaluated friendships with people who didn’t attend,” comments Shlomo Wiesen, a local wine aficionado originally from New York.

While not a wine expert per se, Wiesen wrote a well-received, tongue-in-cheek review of last year’s festival for the Times of Israel Blogs and is looking forward to another round in 2015.

He’s not alone in his excitement for the festival. Deb Houben, a 30-something graphic designer, wine-lover and former festival-worker still marks the date on her calendar every year.

“It is such an amazing time,” says Houen, who also works for the local wine shop that organizes the festival. “There is such diversity of people; some people come every night! It’s not just to taste the wines. After the store closes, I go there because of the specially created atmosphere.”

Launched 12 years ago by Shachar Wine Shops owner Shmulik Cohen and Ron Toren, who owns a wine shipping company, the Jerusalem Wine Festival has become a sort of microcosm of Israel’s wine culture and a reflection of its past and present as a wine region.

The Old Testament contains 221 verses with the word wine, tracing the history of viticulture in the land of Israel back to the time of Noah. Meanwhile, today there are over 200 commercial and boutique wineries in Israel, more and more of which are achieving global acclaim.

Meet some of the wineries that will be filling your glass all night at the Jerusalem Wine Festival >>

The wine festival is a gathering point for the diverse crowd of Israeli wine-lovers, according to Ariel Ariav, who does public relations for the festival.

Not only is it the only event where you can meet with so many wineries in one places, but “here you have religious and non-religious, young and old, mix together in a special atmosphere, a happy place. This is really Israel and all the flavors of Israel are blended,” Ariav says.

Indeed, the festival brings out around 20,000 people over the course of 4 days, all of them clamoring for the unlimited wine tastings (with the 85 NIS admission) offered by some 40 wineries from around the country, as well as a few from abroad. This year’s festival will take place August 17-20 in the Israel Museum’s Art Garden.

In addition to the wine, festival goers can purchase snacks from food stands, such as specialty cheeses from Yakob’s Farm or hand-made chocolates from Kibbutz Ein Zivan, among others.

Each evening, there is also one band that plays in the background to enhance the atmosphere and another band later in the evening — after everybody has had their fair share to drink — playing livelier music for festival-goers in the mood for some dancing.

The only thing to watch out for, Wiesen advises, is pourers with a light hand.

“Even though it’s essentially a perfect event, I can’t help but feel angst when particular pourers seem to make a point of purposely giving me a miniscule amount,” he says. “It’s like the meat cutting station guys at weddings – do you really think I’m going to be satisfied with two slivers of meat? And I only have so many times where I can work up the gumption to ask for more.”

The good news, however, is that you can always go back for more at the Jerusalem Wine Festival.

“Wine that maketh glad the heart of man,” the Bible tells us, so why not?

Sybil Kaplan is a seasoned foreign correspondent, journalist, food writer, book reviewer, and cookbook author. She comes from Overland Park, Kansas. She leads the weekly Shuk Walk in Machaneh Yehudah in English. Her husband, Barry, is her photographer. You can contact her by email at syb1023@aol.com.

Spencer Ho contributed to this article.

Photos:  Barak Aharon