Zafririm Winery

Lori and Shaike Lender are set to launch their 2015 reds this coming weekend as part of the Judean Hills Wine Festival.  Zafririm Winery is the smallest producer IWT works with.

Although a small producer at just about 8K bottles a year, the blends are very different from one another, going from a Mediterranean “Bordeaux” style wine to New World Lavnin which uses both Petite Sirah[Duriff]  Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc and ending with a more robust Patom series. We feel the wines coming out of Zafririm are getting better each year. Lori’s Rose sells out by August every year.

Agur Winery

Agur is the smallest producer to have ranked a wine over 90 points with Kim Marcus and Wine Spectator in late 2016 , Shuki Yashuv is producing just under 20k bottles these days . Newer wines for this winery include “Layam” which is “Cote De Rhone” style blend of Syrah and Mourvedre and an even later addition is Karka which is 100% Oseletta [Only producer in Israel with this variety] This is a fascinating wine , common in the area of Valpolicella near Verona, Italy. 2014 and 2015 vintages have sold out and Shuki will release 2016 soon. For the 2018 vintage, Agur is producing Blanca for the first time in years. Certainly something to look forward to!

Sphera Winery

Doron and Sima Rav Hon continue  to be one of the best White Wine producers in Israel. The signature touch of this winery is complex , minerally and interesting white wines. The winery uses both French Oak and Stainless Steel fermentations and variety wise they are using , Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon,  Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Riesling

Sphera has been growing steadily and for the 2017 vintage had released 25K bottles. 2018 harvest marks the beginning of a long term project of Sparkling wine for this winery . This is a passion of the Winemaker, one that he is revisiting this time at his own winery.  Sphera sells most of its wine to restaurants and has a strong following for the launch events.

The Judean Hills Wine Festival is set to start at Yad Hashmona Hotel Thursday November 29th with the traditional wine tasting event in which Tzora, Sphera, Agur and Castel are set to participate alongside over 30 other Judean Hills wineries.

Tzuba Winery has gone through re-branding. Paul Dubb is still stirring the ship at this estate bottled winery. The winery has started taking in a darker clone of Cabernet Sauvignon starting at the 2016 vintage and the Metzuda blend which did come out from this vintage is showing a lot of potential. In a recent tasting Paul described the 2016 vintage as “off the harts” in the level of fruit that he was getting.

An additional change for Tzuba is that their Chardonnay that for many years spent time in both Oak and Stainless Steel, is now fermenting and aging in Oak only. The winery is presently producing 60K bottles a year, selling roughly 40% of its wine to the French and the American Kosher Market. As the long term agreement Castel Winery had with the kibbutz was not renewed, this winery will have more fruit in the coming years and will look to produce more.

 

Update for Nevo Winery

In 2018 the winery produced 12K bottles. As the only winery IWT works with that fully did not produce any wine on the Sabbatical year, Nevo had to come up with varieties that would not need as long of an aging process [past vintages of  Cab and Merlot from Nevo were aged for 24 months and upwards]. The winery currently is selling a 2016 straight Syrah, very elegant and with a medium body. Nevo is producing a Rose which sells out and in 2019 this winery will be harvesting its first vintage of Chardonnay.

Winemanship remains high and quantities remain low. This winery sells nearly 75% of its production to the North American market. A recent tasting of 2014 Blend was impressive and with further aging the wine would benefit even more.

It has been a while since we wrote about Tzora Winery. The cliché thing to say would be that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That is tough to keep up when you are considered “best of breed” by fellow wineries in one’s region.

These days, Eran Pick is not only the winemaker at Tzora, he is also the CEO. The winery continues to employ former Petrus Wine Maker Jean-Claude Berrouet and his son Jeff as consultants to the winery and has added Maayan Koschitzky of Atelier Melka and formerly of Screaming Eagle as a consultant for the 2015 – 16 harvests as well.
As for the wine, Tzora has released their 2015 Whites in June and has claimed for the 3rd year in a row the title “Best White Wine” in Israel by the New Israeli Wine Guide for their Shoresh Blanc 2015. We were also pleasantly surprised by Judean Hills Blanc 2015 which this vintage seems to be even more on the mineral side and has a fantastic flavor of white peach.

Rare 2007 Misty Hills

Rare 2007 Misty Hills

While hosting a friend from the U.S last week, we booked a tasting in Tzora. At the end of the tasting, we were offered a tasting from a 2007 Misty Hills. This bottle for some reason was open and available for tasting. This is a bottle which has not been available for purchase for several years now and continues to be sold out. This was most certainly a lucky break. The wine was velvety in texture, deep in flavor and could still remain in the bottle for some time to come. Beautiful!

Tzora wines can be found at Derech Hayaeen stores all over Israel. High end restaurants carry Tzora. In Tel Aviv these restaurants include Taizu, Yafo Tel Aviv, Toto, Kitchen Market and many more.

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.

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.