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.

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

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

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!

It is no secret that Golan Heights stands out from the pack when it comes large wineries in Israel. There are several reasons for that. First of all, they do not produce “mevushal” wine which automatically means they are producing higher quality wines that their colleagues at Carmel and Barkan. Golan Heights is perceived as a large, professional and striving to produce top wines entity even though they are on the large scale of production in Israel. The international wine community feels this way as well, the 2010 Vino Italy Conference has voted Golan Heights as best winery. Israel Wine Tour along with the staff of several top Jerusalem and Tel Aviv restaurants were the guests of Golan Heights winery for a night of harvest, great food and wine tasting September 16, 2014.

We started off with a viewing of a machine harvesting Chardonnay grapes at Bar On vineyard; it is interesting that the Judean Hills are just about finished with harvest while in the Golan white grapes are still being harvested. As we got off the bus it was certainly easier to understand why this is . The temperature in the vineyard was in the 50’s! The machine is passing every row and firmly shakes the vine so that grapes drop and the stems actually stay on the vine. This is quite different than the hand harvest we usually see in visiting boutique wineries.

Harvesting Chardonnay in the Golan

The wine which was served at dinner was 2010 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon It went very well with the different meats that were prepared in a large metal smoker.Following dinner [which began at midnight!] we headed down to the cellar for a tasting that included a new, Syrah based Rose which we personally did not care for,The wines that followed were excellent. 2011 Gamla Syrah was not an ordinary Syrah on the nose but absolutely lovely and it was followed by 2010 Yarden 2T which is a dark, full bodied, blend of two traditional Portuguese varieties, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao which had concentrated flavors and a beautiful long finish, The 2009 vintage of this wine had won Gold Medal at 2014 Challenge International Du Vin Wine Competition in Bordeaux. For the final tasting we had a T2 which is a port style wine made from the same Portuguese varieties mentioned above. An excellent dessert wine.

Golan heights night tasting

Golan heights night tasting

Much like Tzora winery was a dream come true for the late Ronnie James, Galita Chocolatier is a dream come true of Galit Elpert, a young woman who has spent 3 years in Belgium studying chocolate and ice cream making. After returning to Israel and producing chocolate Pralines at home for her friends and even selling them in pop up stores around Tel Aviv, Galit stumbled across her old business plan from the time she was still studying to become a chocolatier.

The plan was to create a magical chocolate farm that will include a Café, a chocolate workshop area and a small movie theater. Today the plan has become a reality with 2 beautiful branches located in Kibutz Tzuba, close to Jerusalem and well within the Judean Hills and in Kibbutz Degania right by the Sea of Galilee on the Kinneret. The chocolate farm on the Kineret has been open since April 2007.
The Judean Hills branch of Galita Choclates is one we visit more often than the original store by the Kineret and is certainly a stop that our guests, both young and old appreciate a great deal.The “chocolate farm” as it is referred to by Galita employees, serves as a decadent Café, a chocolate and Praline shop and a chocolate workshop where both kids and adults can complete different project suited for their age and abilities. The Farm has a movie theater where kids learn about how chocolate is made, an outdoor sitting area for the Café and a work space that can accommodate up to 60 guests.

The nice thing about doing a chocolate workshop as a part of a wine tour in the Judean Hills is the fact that everyone can participate. Children have several options of which project they choose and the staff at the farm is more than happy to help along. Adults get to choose their projects as well, guaranteeing a great time and a sweet souvenir to take home.