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It's less challenging to write about a winery no one has heard of rather than one that comes up as one of the first in any serious conversaton about wines. In Israel, Domaine du Castel is one of those well discussed and written about wineries and at the top of most critics lists for having some of Israel's best world class wines. Now writing about a well written winery does make it easier during initial research on your subject but the tricky part is how to make it fresh and interesting in the final proof for a reader who may have read a previously published article and still engage a novice who remains one of the few and fewer who've yet to become acquainted with the winemaker and his craft.
I was anxiously awaiting my return to Castel as locals call the winery. It had been about a year since I first visited as a producer/interviewer with a TV crew from NTDTV, an international TV network out of New York that broadcasts throughout Asia and North America by sattlelite in English and Chinese mainly to Chinese expatriates (there's 100's of millions as it so happens). We had spent two days filming and hours each day doing interviews so we each had an opprtunity to become very familiar with each other. At that time I had creditials as a journalist and a wine expert but not too much as a wine journalist and the piece we did with each other probably opened up more doors for me than for the winery. Who knows Israeli wineries are selling more and more wines to Far Eastern markets every day.
Since our time together, I started this column for Travelujah.com and have written over 50 articles. Also, I became the regualr wine writer for ESRA magazine (the bi-monthly English Speaking Residents Association magazine for English speakers living in Israel) and I've starting writing and being featured on a weekly 10 minute radio segment on israeli wine on Rustymikeradio.com which at the time of this writing I've recorded and aired 18 episodes available as podcasts. I say this as a matter of disclosure to thank them for helping me open up doors in the Israeli wine trade and also to display my affection for the folks at the winery as much as I have for their wines.
Back to Castel, after all, this is an article more about them and their wines and less about me (except for my observations that is). The Castel Winery only releases three wines for sale to the public every year. From just three labels they produce about 100,000 bottles a year. The three wines are their Grand Vin, Petite Castel and "C." The C is their Chardonnay recognized not only as one of Israel's best Chardonnays but as one of it's best white wines. That's quite an accomplishment from a winery at 33 degrees latitude since at this latitude most quality wine that will emerge are reds where closer to 40 towards 45 degrees and even 50 degrees the finest whites are to be found (with vineyards in the middle latitudes having the most flexibility between being ideal for red or white wines).
The reason being is that cooler areas bring out acidity in wine grapes that lend themselves to making the best and most sought after white wines like the prized Rieslings of Germany. Warmer areas tend to create riper fruit that produce more sugar that result in more alocohol but less acidity that can produce fruit bomb reds but unremarkable white wines. The higher than average alitude of the Castel Winery and it's vineyards (above 700 meters) in the Judean Hills provides for cooler nights in the growing season that add that tiny bit of needed luster to what other wise might otherwise be a lesser than ideal white wine offereing if produced at lower altitudes at this latitude. As I like to say altitude gives you latitude to want grapes you can grow and what wines you can make well.
A winery only producing three labels might be satisfied with having just one it's wines being heralded as one of it's country's best but as good as the Chardonnay is Castel's Gran Vin is the wineries most talked about wine. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon it's a classic Bordeaux blend.Including, Cabernet Sauvignon each year the perfect combination of Bordeaux red grapes is attempted typically with great applause by critics and consumers. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are typicaly always added to contribute softer tannins and acidity as well a greater spectrum of flavors. Petit Verdot and Malbec aren't added every year and the exact % of what grapes are decided as winemakesr Eli Ben-Zaken and his son Ariel deem warranted.
The Petite Castel is more of a Right Bank Bordeaux than the Gran Vin with its blend using any of the five Bordeaux grapes that the Gran Vin does but with Merlot taking the lead role. Though it may not get the press of the Gran Vin many other wineries would be pleased to have a wine of it's quality as their flagship wine.
Each of the red grapes after harvested are fermented and then aged seperately for their first year so that Eli can gauge how to best blend the components of the Gran Vin and the Petite Castel. Once decided the wines are split between new and one year and two year old French Oak barrels.
When you visit Israel, explore the idea of trying out the local wines. Israeli wine has been undergoing a revolution lately and have received great reviews by many internationally recognized wine magazines (such as Wine Spectator in the US and Decanter Magazine in the UK) and critics (Hugh Johnson, Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson). One affordable way to try several Israeli wines is to have a personal tasting at your hotel or during a dinner along your travels here in israel.
Having a tasting at dinner or at your hotel can help you save time to visit other historical sites while in Israel (as there are so many) and can allow you to try some of Israel's best wines that don't have vistor centers.
Another option is to travel to a winery or two or three here in israel. There's over 256 although many don't have interesting visitors centers some do and I have many relationships witht the wineries to get you VIP treatment on these visits.
If you enjoy wine and want to make it part of your trip. Let's explore how we can do it together.
You can listen to my weekly wine show on Israeli wine on Rustymikeradio.com as well as listen to my more than 30 podcasts.
Or check out my over 50 articles on wine here on Travelujah,com
Did you know the first recorded mention of a wine in the world was that of Noah planting a vineyard in Genesis?
Did you also know that in Robert Parker's new wine book there's as many pages about Israeli wines as South African?
David Rhodes worked at wineries in California & Israel, hosted over 100 wine parties.as a sommelier & adviser for the SDSU Business of Wine program. He speaks weekly about wine on Rustymikeradio.com & writes for ESRA magazine. Israeliwineguy@gmail.com