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.

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!

Nevo Hazan created this winery by himself but is thankful for “intervention from above” in his words that has helped create Nevo Winery, A tiny yet beautiful 7K bottles a year winery in the Village of Mata, Judean Hills.

The story of how this winery was started is certainly out of the ordinary. We meet passionate and hardworking wine makers all the time but in this case the story is a bit different. It all began 15 years ago. Nevo who was finishing the building of his house was moving out of the wooden cabin that was next door, had found out that his aunt has fallen ill. The aunt who was living in the north, had been scheduled to start treatments at the Haddassa Ein Karem Hospital, and he invited her to live in his now vacant cabin a short distance away from the hospital. At the time, the land the house was on was re-measured and the Hazan family found out that an old bomb shelter that was no longer in use was now a part of their property as well. This shelter would later become a wine cellar.

According to Nevo, his aunt is no ordinary lady either. In the process of Chemotherapy and Radiation treatments this lady had the energy to climb the trees near the house and pick olives to make olive oil from, fruit to make Jams etc. When Harvest time came around, Nevo’s aunt had asked him to get some wine grapes so they can make wine together. The wines were terrific. Nevo’s aunt got better and after about a year she headed back home. Nevo told her before she left that he would continue making wine from that point onwards. He then started building a tasting room outside the family’s house. According to Nevo, no architect or engineers were involved and the tasting room has been built by him alone. This in my honest opinion is one of the most beautiful winery tasting rooms I have ever been to. Outside the tasting room, Nevo also built a brick oven to bake bread and roast lamb for a long period of time, yet another trick he learned from his favorite aunt.

Nevo attended the 2 year program at the Soreq wine making school in the Judean Hills and is now producing wines from grapes in Mata, some of which are from his own vineyards. Last year as a pilot Nevo produced a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Rose which has been a great success and will be produced on a larger scale this year. In addition, Nevo winery produces a crisp, non oaked Viognier as well as red varieties of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which have been aged 18 months in French Oak. One final blend is of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The wines are lovely and so are Nevo and Ifat who will welcome you at the winery.

Paul Dubb, the son of a South African Kiddush wine maker from Cape Town has been a kibbutz member for 18 years now. He is of course the Head Wine Maker of Tzuba, nowadays a 50K bottle a year boutique winery in the Jerusalem Hills.
Kibbutz Tzuba has been blessed with great wine growing conditions. It is located 730 meters above sea level and possesses Terra Rossa and Limestone soil. A mere 10 minute drive outside Israel’s capital, The kibbutz has ample agriculture land growing apples , nectarines , pears and yes, a considerable amount of wine grapes.

The story of how this came to be is as following: Domaine Du Castel, one of Israel’s most prestigious wineries in the nearby village of Ramat Raziel needed more grapes to expand production. The owners reached out to the kibbutz 13 years ago asking for them to grow on behalf of Castel. The kibbutz realized that growing wine grapes was significantly more economical than growing any other fruit; they simply require one tenth the amount of water than other fruits grown in the area. These days, the grapes that comes out of the Tzuba vineyards is very much sought after. Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes from Tzuba are sold to various wineries throughout Israel and since we have visited many of those wineries we can attest to the fact that they take great pride in the fact that they are buying their grapes from the grape grower crew of Kibbutz Tzuba.

The winery produces a well-known Cabernet based blend named Metzuda as well as varietals such as a Merlot, 100% Syrah , Cabernet Sauvignon and what we feel may be one of the best Chardonnay produced in Israel. It is a unique, dry, guava aroma Chardonnay which always takes our guests by surprise. Paul is always humble and leaves us to explain that this is a wine that has won medals and awards some as recently as Terra Vino 2012 Gold Metal. I personally participated in the competition as a sommelier and I can attest that the competition in this category was a heavy one.

One more varietal that Tzuba produces and one does not see often in Israel is the Pinot Noir. This is a thin skinned grape that is very difficult to grow in the Israeli sun. Tzuba goes through the trouble of producing it. Very little stays here in Israel and Royal/ Kedem buys pretty much the whole batch. There are North American Jews who are happy to buy a good Kosher Pinot.

 

 

The story in which Yossi recalls his first wine making experience under the tutelage of an elderly Persian woman [a mother of a friend] is a funny one. Persian Jews used to produce wine at home in Iran before the fall of the Shah and when Yossi had been asked to supply 400 KG of wine grapes to the woman back in Israel, he said that he would do so but would be interested in making the wine together with her.

On the specified day, anxious to begin the process, Yossi washed the grapes before the lady arrived. As soon as his teacher walked in the room, he understood that he made a mistake. The lady was “blessing” him with an entire arsenal of cuss words that would make anyone who understood Farsi, blush.

The following day, Yossi brought new grapes, this time he did not wash them, and made his first batch of wine alongside his teacher. Fifteen years have passed since Yossi made his first wine and realized that this was his calling. He then planted his own vineyards in the hills of Nes Harim, overlooking Jerusalem.

Katlav Winery is currently producing between 20 – 25K bottles a year and Yosi Itach is both the Vintner and the Wine Maker of this winery. Yosi is using an old world systme to cool his barrels of wine. There are 5 manmade caves at Katlav, all of which are insulated from outside temperatures. Keeping the barrels cool and conserving energy throughout the aging process of the wine.

On the day we visted Katlav winery as a part of our Judean Hills Wine Tour , Yosi treated us to a barrel tasting of his 2012 Cabernet Sauvinion well as the two special blends that are already available in the open market. The first is Nes Harim 2010 which is a blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot in equal parts. This is a unique blend for this winery and a great overall t. The 2nd blend we tried was Wadi Katlav 2010 which has a Cabrnet Sauvinion base [50%] as well as Merlot [25%] Petit Verdot [15%] and Cabernet Franc [10%], a wonderful wine that I simply had to take home.

When I was climbing the 800 meter slope of Manara to an altitude of 460 m above sea level It was like visiting a foreign European country, the view of the Hachula valley, the Golan Heights, and the white mountain top of the Hermon seem like a view one would see in Switzerland. The high ground dark soil and rocks are covered today with large fruit plantations and beautiful vineyards.

In full disclosure, Itzhak Cohen, owner and wine maker of Ramot Naftaly and my Father have known each other for over 40 years. Cohen’s family arrived to the Upper Galilee village Ramot Naftaly when he was 14 years old. The Cohen family has been involved in agriculture since then, mostly dealing with fruit and vineyard plantings. The old vineyards were able to sustain for such a long time since this village is adjacent to the Kedesh valley of the Galilee, where some of the best vineyards in Israel are located. The ideal Terroir rich Tera Rosa soil and high temperature differences between nights and days along with low precipitation combine for an ideal growing area that many wineries in Israel compete for. It was a lifelong dream of Itzhak Cohen to open his own winery. This dream took shape in 2002 when he attended Wine Master classes in Northern Israel. He was no stranger to the wine industry before then, in 1989 Cohen was the CEO of an “unknown” winery by the name of “Golan Heights Winery”. In the following year after finishing his wine studies in Israel and in Italy, Cohen already had a 1000 bottle batch of Merlot and Cabernet of his own creation.

Today Ramot Naftaly has a large state of the art winery with a beautiful visitor center. The winery was designed to receive 70 tons of grapes a year producing over fifty thousand bottles a year, but similarly to the Somek Winery, Ramot Naftaly decided to stick to quality as opposed to quantity and produce only 10K bottles a year. In a smart business move, they are providing logistical assistance to other boutique wineries in the area and by doing so using the large facilities, machinery and storage area they had built.

Multi winery bottling line at Ramot Naftaly

What makes Ramot Naftaly wine special? This is an easy question to answer, first of all the Barbera wine this winery is producing has not only received high critical acclaim and prizes in Israel, almost the entire annual production is exported to Italy. This is a big deal, Barbera is an Italian variety and the fact that the Italians are buying this wine from Israel speaks louder than words. If you are still curious, I will tell you that” Wine & Gourmet Magazine” in Israel called the 2009 Ramot Naftaly Barbera “ Unique and Impressive” and gave the wine a score of 90 in a blind tasting.

The Ramot Naftaly Duet, (blend of Cabarnet and Merlot) has won best value two years in a row at the Sommelier competition in Israel. In these times, this is certainly a category a winery can pride itself on wining. This is a terrific wine by a superb winery.

Saturday night of Hol H’Moed Sukkoth I was challenged for a Kosher Winery Tour for 8 VIP in three days (Tuesday the fifth day of Hol H’Moed.)
Considering myself professional, I called 3 great wineries and booked a very special visit. At one winery I booked the VIP room and asked to have it set up for us including plates of cheeses, bread and olive oil. At the second winery I set up a privet appointment with the wine maker and asked him to lead the tour in the winery. I also called a kosher restaurant, made sure it has a Sukka and made reservation for a Kosher lunch.
On Tuesday morning I meet the minibus driver at the King David Hotel lobby and together we waited for the guests to show up. A bit later then agreed the group showed up. The gentleman who called me for the challenge approached me and asked “are the wineries we are going too all have a Sukka?” I froze, “no” I answered. I didn’t know that in order to visit a winery and just taste its wine we will need a Sukka, I answered. I knew from previous Kosher wine tours during Sukkot that the Sukka is necessary just for the actual meal! “Forget it then“, said my client. “Find us a good kosher winery that has a Sukka.” As everyone started to clime the minibus I was going over my contact book to stand up for the new challenge and fine that “good winery with a Sukka”… lucky enough I got it! I called Psagot Winery and got a hold of Ms. Naama Berg, owner and wife of Yaakov Berg the winemaker. Naama was super understanding and eager to help me. Alon, she said “although we have about 250 people visiting the winery today, Yaakov will accept you for a VIP tour! Thank God I thought and instructed Gady the driver to head toward the Psagot Settlement. I had forty minutes (the length of the drive to Psagot) to talk about the history of winemaking in Israel and the counties excellent Terroir (growing conditions especially for grapevine.)
The boutique and Kosher Winery of Psagot is located at a height of 900 meter above sea level at the Psagot Settlement some twenty five kilometer north of Jerusalem. The meaning of the word Psagot is “Tops of mountains”. The Berg family started the winery in the year 2003 with a production of 2000 bottles. The original idea was to produce wine for personal consumption; however the demand for their wines was so strong that the winery doubled its production every year. This year Psagot winery will produce some 80,000 bottles. The winery produces 6 different dry red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Edom Blend and Shiraz.) One dry white (Viognier) and a Port style. All of the wineries’ grapes grow at the Jerusalem Mountains on a lime stone, Terra Rosa soil at heights of 650 to 960 meter.
We got to the winery Parking lot and found Yaakov waiting for us. Instead of taking the regular pass to the entrance of the winery’s visitor center Yaakov opened the door that he uses to bring the grapes in to the winery and he led us to the production area. Yaakov took the time and explained us the wine making process from the minute the grapes arrive to the winery up to the packing the bottles. We were very lucky to be the only visitors allowed to enter the production area! We even got to taste two tank samples (one of them was Merlot from BRAHA Mountain.) Next we crossed to the huge cellar that contains more than 300 oak barrels. The beautiful and aromatic cellar has a see-through ceiling which is the floor of the winery’s visitor center. At the cellar we got two barrel tastings from two different wines. Following the touring part of the winery we made our way up to the beautiful and big! Sukka for some real wine tasting! The group had a six different wines guided tasting with Yaakov. We started with the “Viognier 09” which was very nice refreshing wine and was just what you can dream of in the very hot day that we had. Next was the Cabernet Franc which had an amazing vanilla finish. “Edom” a very well balanced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. We then tasted the Shiraz 08, the Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard 07 and the Prat (a port style wine). We ended our tasting with some good coffee and cakes.
The group bought several cases of wine before heading back happily to the hotel.

Ya'akov at his Psagot Winery