Zeev Dunia is a former film maker turned into an artistic, eccentric wine maker who specializes in blends and varieties that we are less used to seeing in Israel. Seahorse Winery currently produces 25K bottles a year and a recent selection to Time Out Magazine’s Israel’s 10 best boutique wineries seems appropriate even though this is not the first time the winery is getting this sort of recognition. The winery has been chosen as top 10 by the late and Great Daniel Rogov as well.


The winery is not Kosher, which basically allows Dunia to stand on top of his barrels and withdraw a tasting of his 2012 Hemingway blend and put it in visitor’s glasses straight away. All the wines of the winery are named after someone, usually a s musician, film maker or poet that Ze’ev is fond of, with the exception of the winery’s white wine, a 100% Chenin Blanc aged in oak named James to commemorate the late Ronnie James, former head wine maker of Tzora Winery who was also Dunia’s wine teacher and friend.

Dunia has chosen to make wines that are off the beaten path and are not being produced by large wineries in Israel. He is producing a Zinfandel varietal, and Cote De Rhone GSM [Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre ] to name a few. When he is asked about what wines he produces, Dunya says he is inspired by great wines abroad. Back home he starts checking feasibility of whether it is possible to produce an Israeli take of these wines.

Most of the tours we conduct year round are in the Judean Hills and the Carmel Region , the wine is superb and the proximity to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem allows an enjoyable day trip to the wineries , vineyards and the historical sites around them. On occasion, we are asked to conduct a multi-day wine tour to the north of Israel and we absolutely love it. These tours enable us to have our guests visit 3 wineries for tastings and yet another for lunch each day.  The vistas of the Galilee and Golan regions are incredible and always add to the experience.  At the end of July, we conducted a 2 day Upper Galilee and Golan Heights wine tour with Ellen and Debbie. One of the 7 wineries we visited and enjoyed was Assaf winery.

Assaf is a family winery in the Golan Heights. The winery has recently relocated and is now just outside Moshav Kidmat Zvi. The brand new facilities are a part of the Kedem wine village, a first of its kind in Israel. The new visitor center has been operating in the past year and offers several tasting rooms as well as a Café in which serves fresh pastries and bread that are baked on premises. Assaf’s daughter, Adi has graduated from the French Culinary institute in NYC and the plan is to open a full restaurant in the near future. The village will also offer wooden Cabins or “Tzimerim” as we call them in Hebrew.

Oren Kedem and guests

On the day on which we visited Assaf winery in late July 2013, we were greeted by his son, Oren who took us around the winery and led our tasting session. Oren spent a year in Sonoma California getting experience at a winery there and is a graduate of the Katzrin College Wine program so in affect the winery has a senior wine maker and a young wine maker as well. He told us that the family has been growing grapes since 1990 and began producing wine in 1997. Unlike many grape growers in Israel, the family does not buy or sell grapes. Under the supervision of wine maker Assaf Kedem, They Kedem family simply produces wine from the grapes that they grow. The current count in production is about 45,000 bottles a year. This village very much seems like the end result of an ongoing effort, even the tasting table was built especially by Oren’s brother.


As far as wines: we tried the Chenin Blanc which was a pleasant surprise, this is a rare variety in Israel and a very nice effort, as well as the Sauvignon Blanc that on four occasions has received 90 and above from the late and Great Daniel Rogov. When it came time to taste the reds, we tried the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Silver, The four seasons Pinotage which was my personal favorite. A blend of Pinotage , Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet franc , and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve which has 89% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cab Franc . This is a wine that aged 18 months and in 2008 has received a 92 from Daniel Rogov. The wines were impressive and the new visitor center is beautiful. Not to be missed on your next Golan heights wine tour!

 

The city of Haifa is well known for its beaches as well as the beautiful Baha’i Gardens. When our guests David and Trisha, requested a wine tour to the Carmel region that would include the city of Haifa, we immediately asked if they wish to visit the first and probably only urban winery in Israel. The couple, who were in Israel for a friend’s wedding happily agreed.
Hai Vortman and his winery have been on our radar for a long time. The wine has been getting rave reviews [even from the late beloved Daniel Rogov] and we certainly knew the view from the winery would be incredible. Vortman, a native of the city of Haifa, has planted his own vineyard in the Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean has been producing critically acclaimed wine for the last 5 years. Vortman winery currently produces about five thousand bottles a year, and is looking to expand in the near future while maintaining the unique qualities of their wine.
As this was a private tour, Hai was kind enough to get us a barrel tasting of his 2011 Shambour blend that was absolutely terrific and showed great promise.


We later sat down at a beautiful grape vine – woven gazebo and tasted the wines that have already been bottled and released into the market. The wines were: 2009 Netiv Ofakim, 2010 Shambour,   and my personal favorite on this warm Saturday morning, The 2011 Shfea Valley blend [Dry White] that has 67% Sauvignon Blanc and 33% Sémillon.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Vortman Winery for winning The Sommelier Gold Medal just last week for their 2010 Shambour.