The vineyards of Kishor have been planted on Terra Rosa soil in the Galilee in 2007. Although this sounds like a run of the mill beginning to any winery in Israel, This is no ordinary story and certainly no ordinary winery.

The village of Kishorit is a beautiful surrounding to a community of 160 people with special needs who live and work in the village. All the members of the community participate and work in the village according to their abilities. The village owns 80 Dunam of vineyards [20 Acres] and members of the village help take care of the vineyards year round. Other fields in Kishorit that the members work in, include a therapeutic horse farm, a media center that puts out a monthly publication, cheese production, cage free farm for hens and a bakery.

The vintner and Winemaker of the village is Richard Davis who was born in South Africa and resides in Yessod Hama’la. The visitor center which opened in 2014, is beautifully built and offers great vantage point to the scenery around the winery. A generous British benefactor has made a significant contribution to the village in light of the 2nd Lebanese war, both the visitor center of the winery and the facilities within the village are impressive.

The winery currently produces 45K bottles a year, with the plan of growing to about 60K. The wine is Kosher. A special standout wine we tasted was the SAVANT RIESLING 2014 which had beautiful petrol nose and was indeed sweet. A great stop on the trail and well worth visiting!

The wines are available in the USA from Israel Wine Direct

 

photo credit Karmieli.co.il

photo credit Karmieli.co.il

As industry professionals we take the time to attend the different wine festivals throughout Israel. The advantages of attending are numerous. We find out about new wineries that can later become a destination for us to take our guests to, this in addition catching up with other wineries that we have not had the chance to visit recently.

The Judean Hills event is certainly one of the favorites among our friends and colleagues. It is the kickoff event to a month long festival taking place at the wineries and it is a large and important festival that top boutiques wineries in the Judean Hills participate in. Below is a short recap of news that came out of the festival.

Wine Maker Lina Slutzkin of Kadma Winery told us about the use of Saperavi grapes that she was getting into. This is a Georgian variety that can handle extreme cold and is unique because of the red anthocyanin within the grape pulp as well as the skin. A similar characteristic is of the Alicante variety which the winery is starting to use as well. The use of less common varieties is always a good way for a small winery to stand out from the pack.

We also enjoyed speaking to Sandro and Irit Pellegrini who own and operate La Terra Promessa [ if you have not been to their restaurant/winery , you are missing out!] Sandro mentioned harvest was done a bit before Yom Kippur was celebrated in Israel and that this is fairly similar to previous year. The winery is continuing in its path of producing Riesling and blends that include Primitivo, Sangiovese, Syrah and Cabernet Frank.

Finally, a very small winery producing 1500 bottles a year by the name of Samson and Delilah caught our attention. The winery was founded in 2006 and ages all their wines anywhere between 18 to 36 months. We tried a 2009 Cabernet varietal which was impressive. The winery is located in Kfar Uriya.

Judean Hills Wine Festival

The Judean Hills Wine Festival , One of our favorite festivals of the year is taking place in 10 days .This is a good opportunity to talk a bit about the 2015 harvest which is winding down in Israel.

Things started out well. We had a cold winter, with three cases of snow in Jerusalem and five in the Golan Heights. Even the writer of this blog was enjoying 2 meters of snow on Mount Hermon by December. This was followed by a long spring and June & July that were uncharacteristically comfortable.


Mid July and beginning of August,Tzora and Tzuba Wineries in the Judean Hills were early to harvest their whites and happy with the fruit that was coming in. When we started experiencing a 3 week long heatwave in August, news of early ripening of Merlot in the Golan was coming in. With at least one boutique winery harvesting Merlot ahead of its Viognier!

Photo Credit : Ortal Winery

Ortal Vineyard ahead of Harvest . Photo : Ortal Winery

What will certainly be remembered the most from this 2015 harvest year will be the dust storm. We had a 5 day period in which everything was covered in a thick yellowish layer of dust. Speaking to the wine makers in retrospect is quite interesting.

Shuki Yashuv of Agur winery stresses the point that Israel and the Judean Hills are well known for the Diurnal Temperature Variation in the course of a single day. Allowing the grapes to rejuvenate themselves in the evening regardless of how hot the day has been.

Now that the grape leaves were covered with a thick dust, a similar effect to a brick oven was taking place. The heat was being bottled in the plant allowing the sugar levels in some cases to sky rocket in a couple days, and in some cases it lead the vine to understand it was inn deeper stress than it could handle, and for it to shut down sugar maturation all together.

Wineries handled the dust storm quite differently from one another. In the Golan, we saw wineries spraying the grapes and leaves with high pressure water to reduce the dust and cool off the berries. In Psagot, we saw Cabernet Sauvignon that was left on the vine and has only been harvested in the 2nd half of October on behalf of Amphorae, a boutique in the Carmel.

Paul Dubb, winemaker and GM of Tzuba Winery says that half of a specific plot at Tzuba was harvested the day before the dust storm and the other half was harvested immediately after, the difference in flavors between the two was quite large.

Shuki summarizes by saying the 2015 harvest is one of the most challenging harvests he has experienced, luckily for him he had 16 previous harvests to get him ready for this one. “Everyone is reallly interested about: “how was the harvest this year?” But the MOST IMPORTANT of it all is the following: never ever judge the quality of wine by how challenging the harvest was. Wine has its own ways and will always reveal itself a few months AFTER the actual harvest. A good winery should produce good wine in any given harvest. Given that most of Agur’s wine is tasted before it is bought, so if it is good and the price right- go ahead and buy it. In winter when the experienced tasters will get a chance to taste the “en premiere” or “future wine”- rush to buy, because what you can say for sure in this harvest that the quantities will be smaller than usual”

We will revisit the wines of 2015 in two years’ time and it will be interesting to see what attributes the wine will posses.

This small boutique is owned and operated by the Rosenberg family. Yossi Rosenberg studied wine making at Sorek Wine Making School in 2003 and later advanced his studies at the Tel Hai wine making program. The family moved to the village of Beqoa in 2011 with the purpose of planting a vineyard and starting a winery. In 2012 and with the help of their friends, the family planted a vineyard which consisted of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay.

The winery has a lovely visitor center which has an open house on Fridays. When we visited the winery, people were enjoying freshly baked sourdough breads and cheeses, all made on the farm. After sampling them, we must admit that they were absolutely delicious.

Visitor Center at Kerem Barak

Other than wine tasting and pre-arranged meals, the farm offers cheese making classes and baking workshops. As far as the wine is concerned, we tasted several good reds. The 2012 Adom consisted of Cab, Syrah and Petite Sirah aged in oak for 18 months which was very flavorful and enjoyable. The point of uniqueness came from the whites; this is the only winery in Israel to produce an Orange wine! This is 100% French Colombard which fermented with the skins.

 

The vineyard was named after Barak Shmuel Rosenbeg, the son of Yossi and Yael who passed away from an illness back in 2010. Barak was an artist who enjoyed drawing cartoons and the logo of the winery was his creation. The Rosenberg’s are commemorating him on their bottles of wine as well.

Standing out as a boutique winery in one of Israel’s best wine growing regions is no easy task. Superb boutiques such as Pelter and Assaf have made a name for themselves and are very much a “must visit” stop when taking the trip up from Israel’s center. A new comer has emerged in recent years in the Golan Heights and these guys have a lot to be proud of.

Kibbutz Ortal is a shareholder in the Golan Heights Winery. For quite some time, there have been several aspiring wine makers in this kibbutz, an easy hobby for members of an agricultural community that grows quite a bit of wine grapes.

One of these aspiring wine makers is Ilan Zaafrani, now days head wine maker of Ortal Winery. Ilan studied wine making in Tel Hai and initially was making small batches at home, he fell in love with the craft and has proposed to his Kibbutz that they would invest in small, kibbutz owned boutique which will be completely separate from The Golan Heights Winery ownership.

Kibbutz member and Vintner Steve Applebaum with our group

Kibbutz member and Vintner Steve Applebaum with our group

Starting from the 2013 harvest, the winery will be sourcing grapes that were planted on Tel Shifon by the kibbutz and especially for their own operation. This is a young winery with only 4 harvests under its belt, but the wines that are coming out of this Kibbutz are certainly of high quality.

The winery is producing varietal oaked Viognier, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Classic varieties that perform well in the volcanic soil and cold winters the Golan has. Our personal favorite in the tasting we held was the 2011 Ga’ash which is a blend of the two, aged in oak for 20 months. This is certainly a winery that we are happy to visit on our Golan Heights Wine tours.

Yatir Winery prides itself on the fact that all their grapes are coming from Yatir forest. After visiting the forest, one understands their source of pride even more. At a range of 600- 900 Meters above Sea Level this is the largest forest in Israel. No matter in which direction you head within the forest, you are bound to see incredible vineyards, most of which are comprised of wine grapes.

These large, impressive vineyards are in the South of Israel, only a short drive from the city of Arad. This means that temperatures in the summer do rise above 30 degrees Centigrade during the day and that Yatir Winery is irrigating their vineyards. Within the forest, we still have a testament to the ancient wine production that has been taking place in the region 2300 years ago in the form of dozens of ancient wine presses as well as nicely preserved clay Amphoraes.

Ancient olive oil press in Yatir Forrest

Ancient olive oil press in Yatir Forrest

 

Yatir used to be a joint partnership with Carmel Winery and is now owned by Carmel, The largest winery in Israel at 15 Million bottles a year. Yatir only produces 150,000. According to Etti Edri, the marketing manager of this winery one thing that this partnership allows Yatir is to take its time with aging their wines both in Oak and in the bottle. Our tasting was of 2010 and a bit of 2011 vintage. Few wineries in Israel are currently selling these vintages. The boutiques in the Judean Hills are off to 2012 and 2013 for reds, we even tried a Syrah 2014 that is already on the shelf in the past week alone.

A short walk through the winery will tell you a few things, The partnership with Carmel was necessary for this winery to grow and maintain its quality. The tanks are state of the art, matching in sizes and aligned perfectly, it seems that Winemaker Eran Goldwasser is experimenting with some Concrete fermentation tanks as well. we happen to see two that were brought in from Italy.
As for our tasting, We started off with a lovely Rose made from Grenache and Tempranillo, followed by a varietal Syrah, a beautiful Cabarnet Sauvinion and finally the 2011 Yatir Forrest blend which was extremely flavorful as well. Great stop and highly recommended!

 

Alon outside a cave in Yatir

Alon outside a cave in Yatir

On a Southern Israel tour of wineries and vineyards, we surprised our returning guests with a visit to Negev Microbrewery located in the Industrial area of Kiriat Gat, steps away from the large Intel fab. Negev Microbrewery has moved into this current location back in 2008.

Negev has been around since 2005, initially as a home microbrewery and it is currently owned by the people of Norman Porter. The brewery produces approximately 12,000 liters a month. This of course is boutique size, as not too far away in Ashqelon, the Coca Cola Company is brewing 38,000 liters of Carlsberg and Tuborg in a day’s work. Negev beer has gotten recognition in the international website Ratebeer.com both in 2012 and 2013 and is currently being sold in over 500 points of sale throughout Israel.

Negev Brewery - Southern Israel

Negev Brewery – Southern Israel

As a boutique, Negev clearly aims to produce high quality craft beers that are naturally carbonated and taste as such. The same cannot be said of the large breweries in Israel that produce Goldstar and Tuborg. The brewery although small prides itself with 8 types of beers, some of which is seasonal, the latest edition of which is a Negev Blazer beer named after the Israeli Men’s magazine and that was brewed inspired by the writers of the publication. The text describing the beer is very much using the same type of humor as the magazine it is named after.

The vistor center welcomes tours and even has a seasonal pub built just outside the brewery. This is a great stop in the late afternoon for a nice tour and tastings led by Yishai Auman the marketing manager of the brewery.

Beer Tastings - Negev Microbrewery

Beer Tastings – Negev Microbrewery

Midbar Winery is located in what is now a renovated artists quarter outside the city of Arad. Ten years ago, this was an industrial area that had several large factories, one of which was a large towel factory. This area is now slowly being renovated by the city and workshops were basically given away just so they do not stay deserted. The vineyards are all located 800 meters above sea level, a short distance away from the famous Ramon Crater.

The idea behind a winery that specializes in growing only in the desert is one that takes getting used to, even though there is plenty of evidence that shows wines were produced in the Negev Desert thousands of years ago.

There are certainly some advantages to growing wine grapes in such an area. Because the area is arid and gets a lot of strong winds, that significantly lowers the likelihood of any mold or pests in the vines. The desert is well known for the significant drop in temperatures from daytime to nighttime, resulting in natural high acidity for the grapes. As irrigation is not only legal, but expected the Vintner and the Winemaker really have quite a lot of control over how much fruit and leaves will come out.

laid back atmosphere at Midbar Winery

laid back atmosphere and good wines at Midbar Winery

Winemaker Meital Damri, who studied both Viticulture and Oenology in Florence, Italy is currently producing 40K bottles a year at this Southern Boutique Winery.  In 2014 the winery had become Kosher. Harvest is done by hand at night and the winery transports the grapes in refrigerated trucks in order to make sure fermentation does not begin before it needs to. On our wine tour and tastings which were held March 19th, we tried a lovely 2013 Rose and the 2012 Syrah, We ended up buying both to take home. Great stop for anyone who is visiting Messada or The Dead Sea and is heading back to the center of Israel through Arad!

 

Clos De Gat winery is often considered an “industry secret”. A third of their wine is sold overseas and the winery has been concentrating efforts outside Israel in recent years. Clos De Gat wine is found in top Israel restaurants but as space at wine stores is limited, their wine is not always easily found.

new cellar space at Clos De Gat Winery

new cellar space at Clos De Gat Winery

The winery today is going considerable renovations increasing the overall size of the cellars, adding tasting rooms and offices .Fun fact, the original cellar was used by Yitzhak Rabin as a bunker when he commanded the Harel Brigade in 1967 and therefore is meant for preservation.

The winery is unique for several reasons. 90K bottles a year production, all from the vineyards 200 meters above sea level in the area of Kibutz Harel of the Judean Hills. In other words, all the vineyards are located just outside the winery and the grapes do not have to travel more than 500 meters from the vineyard to the winery. The red wines are produced in an open vat fermentation using only wild yeast found on the grapes As for the beautiful oaked 2012 Chardonnay we tried, the yield is only about 400 KG per dunam. An extremely low yield, one that is not economically viable in most cases.

hibernating vineyards at  Clos De Gat

hibernating vineyards outside Clos De Gat Winery

 

Drip irrigation is in place but has not been used in over 6 years. This winery is clearly substituting quantity with high quality and flavorful grapes. Other wines we tasted included the 2011 Harel Merlot which received 91 points from Wine Spectator. My personal favorite was the 2004 Ayalon Blend which was rich, velvety and concentrated. Beautiful!

Ella Valley is one of the largest boutique wineries in Israel and it will be to producing close to 300,000 bottles in 2015. Although this is a sizable amount, Wine Maker Lynn Gold and the Vintner team at Ella Valley are still insisting on hand harvest.This is obviously more tedious, yet allows only the best grapes to make it to the winery. Another element which makes it harvest even tougher is of course the fact that it is conducted at night time. The days in the summer are very hot and all parties involved are interested that fermentation would take place in a controlled environment and not on route to the winery, so picking the grapes when they are cool simply produces better wines.

Tasting Rose at Ella Valley

The vineyards of Ella Valley Winery are located across the street from the winery in the village of Aderet as well higher in elevation in the area of Ness Harim. The winery itself and its vineyards of Petite Syrah are located in the Adulam region of the Judean Hils, This region was in the news a lot this past summer as Oil Shale companies were trying to get permission to dig through , an attempt which was heavily opposed by local farmers and wineries. This area which is seeing growing internal tourism was able to “dodge the bullet” with the help of several environmental groups.

This past summer, Ella Valley released a superb Rose in the Ever Red series which was mostly made with Merlot and a bit of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Their new release Chardonnay has one part that fermented in oak and the other part in Stainless Steel, retaining the crispness and the flavors that are coming out of the vineyards. The visitor center at Ella Valley is beautiful and provides a great atmosphere for tasting their wines and learning about this established winey. Reccomended!