Israel's Good Name

Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

Sadot Winery

In Galilee, Israel on September 18, 2014 at 9:54 AM

With three wineries visited and sixteen wines tasted, we continued on with our wine tour. The four of us – Joel, Les, myself and our tour guide Yakov – popped on over to Sadot Winery, nestled in Sde Ya’akov just across the road from the fascinating Bet She’arim National Park. The newest winery on our tour, this estate winery is only in its second vintage.

The picturesque vineyard at Sadot Winery

The picturesque vineyard at Sadot Winery

Meeting up with Ro’i, the winery owner, we started with a look at his vineyards, sampling from two grape varieties. Even though the grapes are hanging lush on the vine, Ro’i is waiting for the perfect sugar levels before he harvests. What defines his winery as an estate winery is the fact that all his wines are made with grapes grown on the estate, definitely giving us the full behind-the-scenes.

Fruit of the vine

Fruit of the vine

After snacking on some grapes we headed down to his workshop and his rooms. Using a clever, yet simple, concrete structure, the winery’s various stations and the new deck is all in one spot, overlooking the vineyards, a water reservoir and the distant Mount Carmel. Ro’i showed us his latest batches, one just starting the fermentation process, kept in large temperature-controlled metal casks. Using little stepladders, Les and I poked our heads into the casks to examine the crushed grapes.

Peering into the cold cask

Peering into the cold cask

Moving on to the next station, Ro’i showed us the barrel room where his vintages are aging and his freshly picked grapes were waiting. And then, to the storage room where the finished bottles are waiting. With that, we headed up to the deck and made ourselves comfortable. Ro’i brought up his four wines and several bottles of cold water – the first winery to offer such a luxury.

Enjoying some Rosé

Enjoying some Rosé

We started with the Muscat Canelli and then, after some cold water and some discussion, tried the Rosé. After more water and more discussion, Ro’i poured us some Shiraz Tempranillo. And then, finally, the Syrah. After trying the superb Syrah Reserve at Tulip Winery, I saw the potential in this younger vintage. There was that same focused feel on the middle of the tongue, just a little larger – the general consensus was that the Sadot Winery Syrah just needed a little more alone time to fully mature and pack that wonderful punch. All I know is that if I were to ever make a wine that good, I’d be singing my own praises.

Ro'i and us (photo: Yakov Feder)

Ro’i and us (photo: Yakov Feder)

Finishing up our twentieth wine of the day, we thanked Ro’i, got back into the car and had a pleasant drive back to the hotel in Tel Aviv. As we drove we discussed the wineries and the wines. Each winery stood out on their own in some way or another, and their wines were a testament of hard work and fortune here in Israel’s magnificent wine country. This wine tour has really inspired me in the field of wines and I look forward to visit more and more wineries.

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Tulip Winery

In Galilee, Israel on September 14, 2014 at 4:20 AM

With half our wine tour over and nine wines tasted, the four of us – Joel, Les, myself and our tour guide Yakov – headed over to the Tulip Winery to taste seven of their wines. We entered the visitor centre, sat down at the bar and settled in for some serious tasting. But before we tasted the wines, Lital (customer relations manager and our guide) explained to us the importance of the winery and the local village.

Tulip Winery

Tulip Winery

Kfar Tikva (Hope Village) is where this boutique winery calls home, and it is in this village where adults with special needs can become an active part of a community. A groundbreaking endeavour, this village breathed life and hope into those less fortunate and the winery was created with similar passion – producing a “wine that loves people”. Focusing on the good, Tulip Winery was founded in 2003 to bring together the love of people and the love of wine – providing opportunity for those with special needs to realise their potential.

Wine production

Wine production

With this unique factor, the winery takes on a different air – an extra meaning in the increasingly popular wine production. With numerous wine types, producing 220,000 bottles annually, Tulip Winery is the embodiment of hope and success and we were honoured to sample from their vintages. The first wine we tried was the White Tulip, a blend of Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. Next, the White Franc and then we moved over to the reds.

Lital sharing some white wine

Lital sharing some white wine

The first of the reds was the Espero with its very appealing label. Following that was the Mostly Cabernet Franc, with a little bit of Merlot blended in. Despite that we visited after closing, Lital took the time to enjoy the wines with us and it was at this winery that I really voiced my thoughts on bouquet and taste. The strong aroma of blackberries, the hint of peach or pear – and what was that, lychee? I really had a marvelous time discussing the wines with Lital and Yaakov, with Joel and Les chiming in.

Talking with Lital

Talking with Lital

We then tasted the reserve wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the Syrah Reserve. I was quite impressed with the Syrah Reserve and according to the winery’s website it is considered to be one of the three best Syrahs in Israel. After being aged 18 months in French oak barrels, the flavour was rich and clean. I gave my taste note as “focused on the centre of the tongue” and there really was a difference between this and the previous reds which filled the mouth.

Tulip wines

Tulip wines

We finished off with their flagship wine, the Black Tulip. A blend of four grapes and aged 24 to 30 months in French oak barrels, this was a superb wine. Even the modern art label had a story: an art contest with the name “Don’t Label Me!” where the winner was used for the flagship wine’s label. The actual artwork is framed and hanging on the wall in the visitor centre.

Black Tulip artwork

Black Tulip artwork

After tasting seven wines, we talked some more, a bottle was purchased and we headed out, thanking our wonderful guide for the wonderful experience over and over. In my words, the tasting wasn’t: “Here, what do you think?”  It was: “Here, what do we think?”. All in all, my favourite winery of the wine tour. Next: Sadot Winery

Jezreel Valley Winery

In Galilee, Israel on September 10, 2014 at 4:45 AM

Continuing on with our wine tour, the four of us – Joel, Les, myself and our tour guide Yakov – drove over to the second stop, the Jezreel Valley Winery. Established in 2011, Jezreel Valley Winery is an Israeli start-up boutique winery, located in Kibbutz Hanaton. We entered the winery, met Ma’ayan our guide and started with a small tour of the wine-making process.

Ma'ayan explaining the machinery

Ma’ayan explaining the machinery (photo: Yakov Feder)

Just outside the visitor centre room is the labeling and packaging station and then beyond it outside is the initial grape receiving area. We were told that on the previous day one of the grape harvests came in and the winery was abuzz in production, separating and preparing the grapes for fermentation. Growing exponentially with each year, and with the help of some new machinery, the boutique winery is on its way into becoming a real powerhouse in the boutique wine industry.

Yehuda Nahar (co-founder) at the labeler

Yehuda Nahar (co-founder) at the labeler

Our next stop was the barrel room where French oak barrels filled with aging wine, stacked five-high, lined the sides. Recycling some used barrels from larger wineries for their reds – beneficial in keeping oak tastes down – we spotted some familiar names in the Jezreel Valley barrel room. Returning to the visitor centre room, we sat down to try some wines – first up, the Chardonnay. When the bottles came out, one thing that really impressed me was the design of the labels – a nice blend of rustic and modern, and a cute usage of the Hebrew punctuation on the English letters.

Jezreel Valley's barrel room

Jezreel Valley’s barrel room

Following up with the Rosé, my favourite from Jezreel Valley, this was a wonderfully chilled, beautifully coloured wine with strong fruit aromas and tastes. Our third and final taster, the Redblend, a blend of Carignan, Argaman and Syrah grapes. It was with this wine that I noticed something interesting. I didn’t detect this in the initial sniffing, but when just a few drops remained, a wood smell began to develop. It got stronger and stronger, which I had assumed was due to my constant swirling – “opening the wine”. When I asked Yehuda, the co-founder, he suggested it was the wine warming up, releasing the wood aroma. Whatever the answer is, this prompted me to “up my game” in reading the wines via their bouquet.

Ma'ayan pouring the Rose

Ma’ayan pouring the Rose

Thanking Ma’ayan and Yehuda, we head out for our next stop: Tulip Winery

Tishbi Winery

In Coastal Plain, Israel on September 7, 2014 at 3:49 AM

A few weeks back I went on a private wine tour, visiting four different wineries, with my friends Joel and Les from Australia. Taking an early morning train, I met up with them in Tel Aviv and we started the day with coffee and breakfast at the hotel. After being picked up from the hotel by our tour guide Yakov Feder from Israel Wine Journeys, our first stop was the Tishbi Winery located between Zichron Yaakov and Binyamina just south of the Mount Carmel.

Tishbi Winery visitor centre

Tishbi Winery visitor centre

The Tishbi Winery is the largest and most commercialised of the four wineries we toured – the sixth largest in the country – and their history is by far the richest. With the founding family’s move in 1882 from Lithuania to Zichron Yaakov, the family patriarch Michael was commissioned by the Baron Rothschild to produce wine. Fast-forward to 2014 and the Tishbi family is still hands-on in the wine industry, running their Tishbi Winery since it opened in 1984.

Wines and chocolates

Wines and chocolates

We entered the winery’s visitor centre and sat down at the bar, our tour guide arranging the wine and chocolate tasting tour for us. Omer was our server and he prepared six Valrhona chocolates to compliment the six red wines we’d be tasting. First we opened up with the Pinot Noir and the Organic Syrah, trying dark chocolate samples with each glass. Next we had the Merlot and the Ruby Cabernet, one of these came with an interesting chocolate from Madagascar. In retrospect, if I remember correctly, the chocolates went from west to east as we tried them (from South America to Oceania).

Omer pouring us a taster

Omer pouring us a taster

Up next was the Ruby Cabernet and then, finishing with the Estate collection, my favourite, the Barbera Zinfandel. Tishbi’s version of port, this wine was sweet with a fortification of brandy, bringing the alcohol up to 18%. Aged in oak barrels for 18 months, this particular vintage was 2006 – the oldest wine of the tour, I believe.

The winery's cheese counter

The winery’s cheese counter

A little about the Valrhona chocolates we tasted, the original Chocolaterie du Vivarais was opened in 1922 in France and to this day, imports cocoa beans from the world over to produce its chocolates. Similar to Valrhona but on a smaller scale, Tishbi uses grapes from all over Israel to make their wines – from the Negev to the Golan. When we finished our six chocolates and six wines, I tried a white chocolate and then we headed over to the adjacent winery restaurant for a gourmet cheese platter.

The cheese platter

The cheese platter

Not one to revel in fancy cheeses, I tried just the soft cheese in the centre of the platter, spreading it onto the artisan bread baked on-site. After the cheese platter lunch we got back into our tour guide’s car and drove to the Jezreel Valley to visit the next winery: Jezreel Valley Winery

Army Trip: Mount Carmel & Shefayim Waterpark

In Coastal Plain, Haifa, Israel on September 2, 2014 at 5:04 AM

Back in June, the day after Shavuot our entire battalion went on a little trip, visiting two places: Mount Carmel and the Shefayim waterpark. Loading up on buses in the morning, we drove up the mountain not far from the base and parked at the first site, the memorial for the Carmel Fire – the enormous forest fire in 2010 that claimed 44 lives.

Carmel Fire Memorial

Carmel Fire Memorial

The greatest Israeli natural disaster in modern times, the Carmel Fire spread at an alarming rate and as various security forces and firefighters converged on the site, one Prison Service bus got caught in the blaze and 37 cadets and commanders were tragically killed. The fire spread over the next few days and destroyed all in its path. More than 17,000 people were evacuated and nearly 10,000 acres of forest was burnt. The blaze even came close to my base, at the western foot of Mount Carmel. In this aerial photo I found on Wikipedia, my base is obscured by the fire’s smoke (also visible from space and additionally photographed by NASA):

The smoke from the fire in 2010

The smoke from the fire in 2010

We all gathered at the memorial and the battalion commanders spoke, outlining the plan of the day and informing us that several SPNI guides were to be taking the Mount Carmel hike with us (SPNI – Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). After respecting the dead and photographing the memorial site, we head out on our mountainous hike – each company starting a few minutes after the previous one. Not much of a herd follower, I meandered around and took my time, the groups passing me by.

Misty mountain scenery

Misty mountain scenery

What I had imagined would be a simple, rather symbolic, hike was actually a legitimate mountain hike with craggy footholds and sheer cliff edges. One thing that I found interesting was the fact that many of the blackened trees stand exactly as they had several years back. We walked and walked, and then I came upon one of the SPNI guides giving some background on the region’s fauna. When that came to end, I hurried on ahead and climbed the trail’s rocky path, passing too many littered water bottles.

Up we go!

Up we go!

Eventually, with the howling masses at my heels, I finished the hike sweaty and invigorated. I enjoyed a quick snack and then ditched my M16 with the special vehicle and crew tasked with the job. Sitting beside a friend, we set off for our next destination, the Shefayim Waterpark. As this was my first waterpark, I was excited to have the new experience but rather apprehensive at having the experience with an entire battalion. Within an hour we pulled up at the waterpark, just north of Herzaliya, and we disembarked. Slipping into something a little more comfortable, we had lunch and then headed for the water. With so many choices, but so many lines, I first plunged into the main swimming pool. Then a different pool, and then an interesting tube ride. It was on that tube ride that we capsised at the end and lost track of our other friend.

Shefayim waterpark

Shefayim waterpark

Waterparks being waterparks, I don’t know what more to say – rumour is that the army is taking us to yet another waterpark, thanking us for our hard work during Operation Protective Edge.