Wine Maker Yaakov Uriah is an odd bird. A religious man born in the US and grew up in Bnei Brak to an Ultra-Orthodox community. A winemaker, one of the most unique Israelis in this profession, a gentleman who shows up late at night at the very non-Kosher Brut Wine Bar late with a plastic bottle of his latest creation looking for feedback from friend and owner of Brut, Chef Yair Yossefi and the wine loving staff.

Uriah is a winemaker with very little formal education, yet an incredible ability at projective tasting, and a keen thirst for knowledge and experimentation.  A story that I had found astounding is that early in his career Uriah operating Assif as a ‘’Winery Negonciant’’, was making up possible blends in his head, having tasted mid-range wines at several different wineries. Today Uriah is the head winemaker of Psagot, having worked at Midbar and Ella Valley [to name a few] and is still producing his own line of wines.

Yaakov Uriah – photo: 93fm.co.il

This desire to search and test things out, led to some fantastic wines. Wines that have an incredible aging ability [we tasted a 2009 Semillon and 2008 Viognier in the course of the evening] Another thing that took me by surprise is that Uriah is completely open minded with his style of winemaking. At some point in the course of the evening, the very astute Hilik Gurfinkel who hosted, got Uriah to discuss the notion of using Oak chips in wine while in process. For some wineries, this is a total taboo and they would even be insulted if someone asked them whether they ever take part in such methodology. Uriah simply replied that the way he sees it, the same way that it is ok for a wine to be in an Oak barrel, He is not willing to rule out having Oak chips in a wine if the conditions requires such practice.

One more interesting thing about Yaakov Uriah’s wines, in the past he made the decision to pay homage to other wine regions in the world, most of which never having been there. The Hebrew naming for the 2009 Semillon is Hunter’s Valley and in a couple of red wines we had Uriah had said to his clients even before he obtained the fruit, that he would make a homage to Rioja by producing a Rioja Reserva style wine. The later two were my favorite wines of the night.

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