Zafririm Winery

Lori and Shaike Lender are set to launch their 2015 reds this coming weekend as part of the Judean Hills Wine Festival.  Zafririm Winery is the smallest producer IWT works with.

Although a small producer at just about 8K bottles a year, the blends are very different from one another, going from a Mediterranean “Bordeaux” style wine to New World Lavnin which uses both Petite Sirah[Duriff]  Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc and ending with a more robust Patom series. We feel the wines coming out of Zafririm are getting better each year. Lori’s Rose sells out by August every year.

Agur Winery

Agur is the smallest producer to have ranked a wine over 90 points with Kim Marcus and Wine Spectator in late 2016 , Shuki Yashuv is producing just under 20k bottles these days . Newer wines for this winery include “Layam” which is “Cote De Rhone” style blend of Syrah and Mourvedre and an even later addition is Karka which is 100% Oseletta [Only producer in Israel with this variety] This is a fascinating wine , common in the area of Valpolicella near Verona, Italy. 2014 and 2015 vintages have sold out and Shuki will release 2016 soon. For the 2018 vintage, Agur is producing Blanca for the first time in years. Certainly something to look forward to!

Sphera Winery

Doron and Sima Rav Hon continue  to be one of the best White Wine producers in Israel. The signature touch of this winery is complex , minerally and interesting white wines. The winery uses both French Oak and Stainless Steel fermentations and variety wise they are using , Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon,  Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Riesling

Sphera has been growing steadily and for the 2017 vintage had released 25K bottles. 2018 harvest marks the beginning of a long term project of Sparkling wine for this winery . This is a passion of the Winemaker, one that he is revisiting this time at his own winery.  Sphera sells most of its wine to restaurants and has a strong following for the launch events.

The Judean Hills Wine Festival , One of our favorite festivals of the year is taking place in 10 days .This is a good opportunity to talk a bit about the 2015 harvest which is winding down in Israel.

Things started out well. We had a cold winter, with three cases of snow in Jerusalem and five in the Golan Heights. Even the writer of this blog was enjoying 2 meters of snow on Mount Hermon by December. This was followed by a long spring and June & July that were uncharacteristically comfortable.


Mid July and beginning of August,Tzora and Tzuba Wineries in the Judean Hills were early to harvest their whites and happy with the fruit that was coming in. When we started experiencing a 3 week long heatwave in August, news of early ripening of Merlot in the Golan was coming in. With at least one boutique winery harvesting Merlot ahead of its Viognier!

Photo Credit : Ortal Winery

Ortal Vineyard ahead of Harvest . Photo : Ortal Winery

What will certainly be remembered the most from this 2015 harvest year will be the dust storm. We had a 5 day period in which everything was covered in a thick yellowish layer of dust. Speaking to the wine makers in retrospect is quite interesting.

Shuki Yashuv of Agur winery stresses the point that Israel and the Judean Hills are well known for the Diurnal Temperature Variation in the course of a single day. Allowing the grapes to rejuvenate themselves in the evening regardless of how hot the day has been.

Now that the grape leaves were covered with a thick dust, a similar effect to a brick oven was taking place. The heat was being bottled in the plant allowing the sugar levels in some cases to sky rocket in a couple days, and in some cases it lead the vine to understand it was inn deeper stress than it could handle, and for it to shut down sugar maturation all together.

Wineries handled the dust storm quite differently from one another. In the Golan, we saw wineries spraying the grapes and leaves with high pressure water to reduce the dust and cool off the berries. In Psagot, we saw Cabernet Sauvignon that was left on the vine and has only been harvested in the 2nd half of October on behalf of Amphorae, a boutique in the Carmel.

Paul Dubb, winemaker and GM of Tzuba Winery says that half of a specific plot at Tzuba was harvested the day before the dust storm and the other half was harvested immediately after, the difference in flavors between the two was quite large.

Shuki summarizes by saying the 2015 harvest is one of the most challenging harvests he has experienced, luckily for him he had 16 previous harvests to get him ready for this one. “Everyone is reallly interested about: “how was the harvest this year?” But the MOST IMPORTANT of it all is the following: never ever judge the quality of wine by how challenging the harvest was. Wine has its own ways and will always reveal itself a few months AFTER the actual harvest. A good winery should produce good wine in any given harvest. Given that most of Agur’s wine is tasted before it is bought, so if it is good and the price right- go ahead and buy it. In winter when the experienced tasters will get a chance to taste the “en premiere” or “future wine”- rush to buy, because what you can say for sure in this harvest that the quantities will be smaller than usual”

We will revisit the wines of 2015 in two years’ time and it will be interesting to see what attributes the wine will posses.

The answer to the question above could easily be answered with two words: Shuki Yashuv. Shuki is the owner and wine maker of this 20K bottle a year hidden gem of a winery. He is an eccentric, colorful and both an artist and  a farmer. This leads to a unique wine tasting experience each and every time.

Shuki suffers from somewhat of an attention deficit disorder and he is very candid with his guests about it. Because he is well traveled and very well read, the topics of conversation as the tasting is going on will always mix bible , philosophy and history with a lot of humor to top it all off. Physically the winery is in a serene and beautiful spot, well hidden from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv yet only an hour away from both of them.

Let’s talk about the wines Agur winery produces. Shuki makes blends only. He is the student of the late Ronnie James, a person who very much believed in the overall Terroir of the Judean Hills. Shuki believes that the best way to extenuate the overall spice of the region is to blend varieties that grow in this very region.

His 2012 Rossa, a Rose made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre was snatched off the shelves in the beginning of summer and has been called the best Rose in Israel by several critics. Shuki also produces 2 Bordeaux blends called Kessem and Special Reserve which although they are produced from the same varieties, these are completely different wines. The grapes arrive from different plots and the extraction is done quite differently as well. Finally Kessem is aged for a year while the Special Reserve for a longer period, resulting in a red wine that resembles the flavors of Red fruit as opposed to the considerably darker and heavier Special Reserve.

And finally there is the baby. Shuki’ s newest creation is a Syrah Mourvedre blend called Layam which he started to produce only in 2010 a mineral yet fruity Cote De Rhone blend which is produced at very small batches and is not to be missed. Much like the opportunity to sit in with its wine maker.