It is no industry secret that most of our guests are North American Jews visiting Israel.  Last week, we were touring with a Brazilian Judge and her husband, a Public Prosecutor. When we started emailing, the lady mentioned she is a big fan of white wines and has spent time wine touring in several great regions in France.

We figured since the 15′ wines of Sphera have sold out a while ago and the launch event of the new vintage is scheduled for May at the winery, this would be a terrific opportunity to taste some of the wine ahead of the public.

Sphera’s core market is the Tel Aviv restaurants. In fact, 80% of their wine is sold there. The abundance of top level establishments in Tel Aviv which serve small plates, or dishes with an Asian flair that would benefit from a well-crafted, crisp and minerally Israeli white wine next to them, puts Sphera in the big leagues of Israeli boutique white wine.

Sphera Winery Novemver 16′

Markerting wise Sphera is also hitting it straight on the nail. Sima Rav Hon, Doron’s wife deserves a lot of credit here. The winery is now a part of the Judean Hills Quartet along with Tzora, Domain Du Castel and Flam. Smart decision for all sides involved. The winery itself is pristine white and has rotating art work presented along with recreating their image for a Sphere year after year. Their newest edition will be presented at the May launch event they are holding.

I will be the first to admit [even when the wine maker is listening] that I am not a big fan of Chardonnay.  The varietal 2016 Chardonnay that Doron Rav Hon created for the White Concept Series took me by surprise.  60% fermented in stainless steel and the wine was crisp, fruity and not oaky at all.  I liked the Riesling a lot as well and what stood out the most I think, was how different the First Page [blend] was from previous years.  Doron mentioned that he needed the Riesling for the Varietal batch and in the First Page that meant that the Semilon would have a bit more presence.  The result was a nice complexity and some anise flavors as well.  It is a fantastic winery and a must if one is a fan of white wines.

Tours and tastings at Sphera Winery can be offered as a part of our Judean Hills Wine Tour. Availabilty pending schedule approval of the winery.

 

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

A few months ago, Israel Wine Tour staff was lucky enough to attend a Winemaker dinner with Ariel Ben Zaken, son of Eli Ben Zaken, the owner and founding Winemaker of Domaine Du Castel winery in the Judean Hills.
Castel winery is one of the oldest boutique wineries in Israel and certainly the oldest in the Judean Hills. It remains an Estate Winery and interesting enough, the winery still produces only four types of wines, an oaked Chardonnay, a small batch of Rose and 2 reds, Petit Castel and Grand Vin.

One note Ariel made that we found interesting was on the process of making his “C Blanc Du Castel” Chardonnay. He said that when pressing the grapes, Castel’s methodology is to throw in a few stems into the soft press. By doing so, Ariel feels that additional “green” flavors are added to the juice. That was a surprise for me as the Castel Chardonnay is most certainly an oaked, woody, full bodied wine, so learning they still wanted that type of freshness was news to me.

Another comment that I found interesting was when a barrel tasting of the 2012 Grand Vin was poured, People loved the wine and were wondering how Ariel felt it compared with the 2010 Petit Castel Magnum bottle that was opened earlier that evening. Ariel said he was happy that people were excited about a future wine and any mixed feelings about a wine that is sold out are fair.

Scheduling a tasting at Castel is not the easiest of tasks. The winery does not have a visitor center and tastings are led in a small tastings room compared to those of neighboring wineries. The wine is wonderful and although Castel is producing more than 150K a year, they constantly sell out all of their wines. Robert Parker, Mark Squires and Serena Sutcliffe have given this winery its fair share of recognition, but a simple tasting of the wine ultimately speaks for itself.

I have known Doron Rav Hon for a long time, and he is one of the most respected Winemakers in Israel. After studying in Burgundy, Doron was chosen to be the Head Winemaker at Ella Valley Vineyards and he stayed there from 2002 until 2011. Two years ago, He was finally able to follow his dream of opening his own winery, the name which was chosen for it is Sphera Winery White Concepts and the idea was to open a small but highly proficient winery which will revolve around white wines only.

Wine Tasting at Sphera Winery – Judean Hills Wine Tour

After getting to know quite a few winemakers in Israel and spending time with a lot of them, I can tell you that what matters most to them is not necessarily to “go on their own” but actually going back to basics. In large kosher wineries the winemaker is more of a consultant who cannot really touch or handle the wine he or she is making. In a smaller operation such as Sphera, a Winemaker such as Doron has the opportunity to once again, be the wine maker that he is and to handle the wine making task himself.

So why write about Sphera now? That is because of a recent surprise visit we paid to Doron as a part of our Judean Hills wine tour. We were fortunate enough to end up at his winery and taste some of the amazing white wine he has been working on. Sphera is located in kibbutz Gat which is just a few Kilometers south of the Judean Hills. The winery shares the same roof with Laterrapromessa winery, which is known for the great restaurant it houses (yet another wonderful reason to visit). The winery was especially designed for white wine production with special high capacity cooling tanks, Heavy duty large press machine and special barrels for white wine

During the visit, we tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and First Page (a blend of Semillon, Pinot Gris and Riesling) all from the White Concepts series and all from 2012 vintage. The overall perception at the end of the tasting was that Doron produces excellent, balanced and harmonious wines that are tasty and refreshing especially in the hot summer days of Israel.

Dr. Harold Caballeros is the Rector of Universidad San Pablo Guatemala and his daughter Andrea studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Hertzelia. After spending few days on a business conference in Tel-Aviv, Harold decided to stay in Israel two more days and spend some time with his daughter. A fantastic way to do that is by touring the country and tasting some of the great wines it has to offer.

We left Tel Aviv in the morning and drove north about an hour toward Kiryat-Tiv’on. While driving we talked about Israeli boutique wineries – a recent phenomenon that has grown immensely in recent years. The two admired the changing view as we left the Coastal Region and entered the region of Lower Galilee. Our first stop was at the Tulip Winery one of the most interesting and award winning wineries in Israel.
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