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.

Gabi Sadan Photo: Jamie Goode

Gabi Sadan Photo: Jamie Goode

Wine maker dinners are becoming more popular in Israel and especially in Tel Aviv.
Shvo Winery which is fairly young, is not a winery readily available for visitors. The winery is located in the industrial area of Gush Halav in the upper Galilee. While the wines are superb, the winery does not have a visitor center.

Following the October 16′ Wine Spectator article that featured Israel on the cover, we were hired by a U.S wine distributor to show as much of the Israeli Boutique scene in 4 days of touring.

The gentleman who hired us was sitting on furniture that was clearly removed from an old truck as he tasted wines with Gabi. He loved it. When Brut Wine Bar in Tel Aviv had announced that Gabi will conduct a more traditional wine tasting at their establishment in Tel Aviv, I knew we wanted to be there.

The group of 12 tasters consisted of wine lovers,food bloggers and other industry professionals. Because Gabi Sadan is anything but ordinary, the tasting was conducted in a very non traditional manner. We started out with the Shvo Rose which both delicious and unique as it is mostly made with Barbera. We then moved on to 3 French Bourgoin wines that the wine maker chose.  Only then did we move back  and tasted 3 different vintages of Shvo Chenin Blanc and Shvo Red.

Chenin Blanc is a white variety that does have aging potential. There was a consensus around the table regarding the 2013 and 2011 vintages. They were both beautiful and complemented the food that was served next to it. The 2009 was the first Chenin harvest of this winery and while the wine was very much alive, the table was split in half between those who liked it and those who did not. Gabi said that we were tasting 1 of 2 bottles that he had left over and that he knew that this is a wine not everyone will enjoy.

Shvo Red is a blend of Grenach, Syrah , Barbera and Mourvèdre.  All three were terrific, the wine showed it most certainly has aging abilities and I would be happy drinking either of the 3 vintages that we had tasted [09′, 11′, 13′] again.
The evening was hosted by Sommelier Aviram Katz and it was a great time. Thanks Alon for setting this up!

Clos De Gat winery is often considered an “industry secret”. A third of their wine is sold overseas and the winery has been concentrating efforts outside Israel in recent years. Clos De Gat wine is found in top Israel restaurants but as space at wine stores is limited, their wine is not always easily found.

new cellar space at Clos De Gat Winery

new cellar space at Clos De Gat Winery

The winery today is going considerable renovations increasing the overall size of the cellars, adding tasting rooms and offices .Fun fact, the original cellar was used by Yitzhak Rabin as a bunker when he commanded the Harel Brigade in 1967 and therefore is meant for preservation.

The winery is unique for several reasons. 90K bottles a year production, all from the vineyards 200 meters above sea level in the area of Kibutz Harel of the Judean Hills. In other words, all the vineyards are located just outside the winery and the grapes do not have to travel more than 500 meters from the vineyard to the winery. The red wines are produced in an open vat fermentation using only wild yeast found on the grapes As for the beautiful oaked 2012 Chardonnay we tried, the yield is only about 400 KG per dunam. An extremely low yield, one that is not economically viable in most cases.

hibernating vineyards at  Clos De Gat

hibernating vineyards outside Clos De Gat Winery

 

Drip irrigation is in place but has not been used in over 6 years. This winery is clearly substituting quantity with high quality and flavorful grapes. Other wines we tasted included the 2011 Harel Merlot which received 91 points from Wine Spectator. My personal favorite was the 2004 Ayalon Blend which was rich, velvety and concentrated. Beautiful!

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!

It is no secret that Golan Heights stands out from the pack when it comes large wineries in Israel. There are several reasons for that. First of all, they do not produce “mevushal” wine which automatically means they are producing higher quality wines that their colleagues at Carmel and Barkan. Golan Heights is perceived as a large, professional and striving to produce top wines entity even though they are on the large scale of production in Israel. The international wine community feels this way as well, the 2010 Vino Italy Conference has voted Golan Heights as best winery. Israel Wine Tour along with the staff of several top Jerusalem and Tel Aviv restaurants were the guests of Golan Heights winery for a night of harvest, great food and wine tasting September 16, 2014.

We started off with a viewing of a machine harvesting Chardonnay grapes at Bar On vineyard; it is interesting that the Judean Hills are just about finished with harvest while in the Golan white grapes are still being harvested. As we got off the bus it was certainly easier to understand why this is . The temperature in the vineyard was in the 50’s! The machine is passing every row and firmly shakes the vine so that grapes drop and the stems actually stay on the vine. This is quite different than the hand harvest we usually see in visiting boutique wineries.

Harvesting Chardonnay in the Golan

The wine which was served at dinner was 2010 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon It went very well with the different meats that were prepared in a large metal smoker.Following dinner [which began at midnight!] we headed down to the cellar for a tasting that included a new, Syrah based Rose which we personally did not care for,The wines that followed were excellent. 2011 Gamla Syrah was not an ordinary Syrah on the nose but absolutely lovely and it was followed by 2010 Yarden 2T which is a dark, full bodied, blend of two traditional Portuguese varieties, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao which had concentrated flavors and a beautiful long finish, The 2009 vintage of this wine had won Gold Medal at 2014 Challenge International Du Vin Wine Competition in Bordeaux. For the final tasting we had a T2 which is a port style wine made from the same Portuguese varieties mentioned above. An excellent dessert wine.

Golan heights night tasting

Golan heights night tasting

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.

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.