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Scientist to resurrect biblical wines

An Israeli researcher is on a mission to track down the winemaking grapes used in the time of King David in the hope of bringing them back to life for today’s drinkers.

An Israeli vineyard in the Golan Heights. The hope is that the research will allow the native grapes to be given a new lease of life (Photo: Wiki)
An Israeli vineyard in the Golan Heights. The hope is that the research will allow the native grapes to be given a new lease of life (Photo: Wiki)

The project – which is part funded by the Israeli government – seeks to find and use ancient grape varieties native to Israel to create wines identical to those that could have been drank by famous biblical figures.

Under the charge of Dr Elyashiv Drori, researchers at the Ariel University in the West Bank will compare gatherings of indigenous grapes with the discoveries from archeological digs in the region.

“You want to know what this wine looked like, which wine King David drank, white or red,” collaborator and DNA biologist Mali Salmon-Divol told Jewish news site JTA. “We can see if it’s red or white, strong or weak.”

Already three years in, Drori and his team of students have found 100 varieties unique to Israel, of which at least 10 are suitable for wine-making.

One problem that they have faced is that the area’s past Muslim rulers banned alcohol for centuries, and many indigenous grape varieties all but disappeared.

The team are now gearing up to sequence the genomes of the discovered grapes and look at them in conjunction with wine remnants extracted from archaeological digs. One such excavation in northern Israel recently revealed a treasure-trove of ancient containers that still held traces of wine, while another dig just last month unearthed a 2000-year-old winery near Jerusalem that was described as being of an “industrial scale”.

Drori says the project is part of his desire to bring back native winemaking to Israel, where these days mostly imported non-native grapes are used in the country’s wine production.

“It’s not interesting to make chardonnay in Israel because there’s chardonnay that comes from California,” he said.

“But if you can make wine in Israel that isn’t elsewhere and that connects to the history here, that’s much more interesting.”

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