A good friend recently told me that in life, we are all constantly making plans and the all mighty G*d above us is laughing as we do it. I honestly think that it is no stroke of luck that has brought Lori and Shaike Lender to open Zafririm Winery in the area that they did. The Lender couple who combine a vast knowledge in Archeology and Art History, have chosen the Judean Hills, a region wealthy in ancient ruins both above and below the ground, to open up their small family winery. Even the wines they produce are named after ruins that are in close proximity to Zafririm Winery.

Lori and Carey talking wine

What stands out to me, even though this is a family winery, is the fact that the whole family joins forces during peak periods such as harvest time and goes grape picking together. Lori had recently told me about a very special small plot of Petite Sirah that she has access to. She has a small luxury that few wine makers enjoy; she can assemble the men in her life [her husband Shaike, and 4 sons] and go out to pick the grapes that they want on the very same day that she feels that they are at their best. Other wineries in Israel have to wait for the cavalry to show up and help along.

Zafririm Winery has been making Old World wine since 2002, and currently produces 4,000 bottles a year. Although I realize that the wine is not getting enough attention, Lori has been dealing with a good problem to have. The wine is selling out, twisting her arm to decide on a date to release the younger vintages. All the wines currently released into the market are 2009 and 2010, anything older is sold out.

From the current selection that is available for sale, my favorite is the 2010 Lavnin. A blend of 40% Syrah, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 27% Petite Sirah, aged 15 months in American and French oak barrels. This is a wine that is soft and elegant, a terrific effort in my humble opinion.

We all root for the underdog at one point or another. I find myself doing that every time I visit Somek Estate Winery in Zichron Ya’akov as part of our Carmel Region Wine tour. The owner, Barak Dahan is a 5th generation vintner. His great – great grandfather arrived in Zichron Yaakov in 1882. Barak, along with his wife Hila, who studied wine making in Adelaide Australia, have opened a small “Old World” style winery. Somek winery uses a traditional basket press along with buckets and no pumps in an effort to preserve as much color and flavor as possible from the grapes. This effort which has been going on for 10 years now is paying off. Somek produces some of the best wines in Israel.

I am certainly not alone in making this rather large claim. Chef Alon Gonen [Head Chef of the Crown Plaza Hotel Group] recently conducted a blind tasting of Carignan wine. He claims that the Somek 2006 Carignan is the best to have ever been produced in Israel. This is the same Carignan our guests taste when visiting Somek. Other chefs agree with Chef Gonen, Meir Adoni [Head Chef of Katit & Mizlala- both prominent Tel Aviv restaurants] Have been buying wines directly from the winery for over a year.

Only a couple other restaurants in Israel carry Somek’s wine (Tapeo and Unami, again, best of breed restaurants in the Tel Aviv area).The reason so few carry Somek’s wine, is there is simply not enough of it to go around. It would be unjust not to mention in this post that in our opinion, Somek produces one of the best Chardonnays in Israel [currently sold out and only about 800 bottles coming out in the next batch]. Somek only produces 10K bottles a year and is not looking to grow. That is certainly rare for the Israeli wine industry.

The only reason I view this winery as an underdog is its neighboring wineries. Both Carmel and Tishbi, are within a 5 minute drive from Somek. Carmel produces 20 Million bottles a year and both buy grapes from the Dahan Vineyards on an annual basis. The sheer magnitude in which Carmel operates is intimidating to most wineries in Israel. This is not the case with Somek. Barak once told me that he wakes up at 4 O’clock in the morning each day. With a work ethic such as his and the level of wines he and his wife produce, there is no other way but to root for them.