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After over a millenium of Islamic rule, Zichron Ya'acov became the launching point of Israel's resurgence as a modern wine growing region back in 1882 when Baron Edmund Rothschild supported Jewish Romanian immigrants to move to the region to work vineyards for the Carmel Winery, a collective of growers which became and remains Israel's largest winery (producing 15 million bottles of the 50 million bottles or about 30% of what Israel produces every year). The Carmel collective consists of over 300 independant growers and some of them like the Dahan family, owners of the Somek Winery, has gone on to create their own wineries in addtion to grapes they grow that they sell to Carmel or other wineries.
The Somek family has been growing grapes in Israel since 1882
The Somek Winery is located on a residential lot in the center of Zichron Ya'acov ( as are a few other boutique wienries). Their family has been growing wine grapes as well as other fruit in Israel since arriving in the first wave of Aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) in 1882 (many of which were Jews escaping systematic massacres or pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe).
Barak Dahan, the husband, is the fifth generation of grape growers in his family and manages the vineyards for his winery as well as the grapes he grows as part of the Carmel collective.
Hila, Barak's wife, is the winemaker of the family. She met Barak while interning for Carmel while studying agriculture and attaining her Bachelor's Degree in Rehovet. She went on to receive a Master's degree in Australia studying Viticulture and Oenology.
Barak, the vineyard manager and owner at the Somek Winery
the first vintage for commercial release was in 2002 and they're currently producing about 10,000 bottles last year due to a bumper crop that was common across most of israel's vineyards
during harvest and then at the winery, they try to use as little mechanical processes. They harvest all their grapes early in morning, hand picking the grapes and using no pumps while processing the wine.
the winery has no current desire to grow as they want to stress quality over quanity
the wines only go through minimal filtering
your hero, David, in the Somek barrel room
2007 Somek Chardonnay
13.5% alcohol aged one year n oak and another year in the bottle sells for 80 NIS/bottle
they make about 1000 bottles/year and the wine exhibits a lot of tropical flavors which is more typical of warm weather Chardonnays where cooler vineyards might demonstrate more citric flavor
the wine went through a malolactic secondary fermentation and remained on it's sur lees for the full year it was in the barrel
Somek's artisan wine press
2005 Somek Merlot
100% Merlot grape
the Merlot wines in this region are very well regarded by winemakers across Israel. They tend to be quite robust and easliy mistaken as a Cabernet Sauvignon to those not in the know
the vineyards for the Somek Winery is only a short tractor ride away
2005 Somek Carignan
15% Alcohol sells for 90 NIS/bottle
made from 40 year Old Vine vineyards these grapes only yield 400 kilos per dunam (1/4 acre)
exhibits Black Cherry, Cassis, Dark Plum and Cedar flavor
the Someks also grow Carignan from 30 year Old Vines that are used in Carmel's Appelation Carignan wines
in contrast, these plots produce 700 kilos per dunam
besides growing Carignan for Carmel, they also grow French Columbard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay for the collective on the 200 dunams the family owns
they use about only 10% of their grapes for their own wine
2005 Somek Carignan
2005 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv
1 1/2 years in bottle
60% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot 5% Petite Sirah
they blend their wines in a "french style" whereby they blend the wine before putting into the barrel so the different wines have a long marriage together and intergrate more intrinsically than aging seprately than blending before bottling
"the Petire Sirah is so strong with peppery tones that any more of it in this blend would overwhelm the wine"
a barrel of fun...
2004 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv
30 months 2 years in the bottle
40% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot 15% Carignan 5% Petite Sirah
16 Herzl Street
Zichron Ya'acov, Israel
04-639-7982 (in Israel) 972-4-639-7982 (from the US)
As one enter's the wine village of Zichron Ya'acov on Richov (street) Hameyasdim there's a treat for those who plan ahead. The Smadar Winery is small and quaint as well as set back off Zichron's main street with little signage to tell a tourist there's a winery to visit nearby. But it's more than just a winery. For those interested, it's an all encmpassing experience, The winery is adjacent to a spa & a bed and breakfast that the family manages. So not only can you taste their wines (well worth the visit) but you can also stay overnight, swim in their heated pool or get a massage.
The family has been living in this spot since they moved to Israel in 1882 when a wave of Jewish Romanian immigrants oved to the area specifially to works vines to produce wine. The family now is on their fifth genreation of growers and winemakers though commercially having been making wine in 1998. Motti, the owner and winemaker, is the great-grandson of the original growers who settled here and his daughter,Smadar, runs many of the tests in the winery's lab. Motti studied winemaking under Yair Marglait for 1 year in 1998 in Tel Hai.
The family manages 30 dunams of vines, about 8 acres, that are just a few minutes ride from the winery.
The winery only typically makes three wines a year and those might vary from year to year. The 2006 vintage, the latest release, features a single varietal Carignan, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend. The red blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carignan, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc.
The family's bed and breakfast has only four rooms and their quite spacious by Israeli standards. The vaulted ceilings were quite noticeble as many Israeli rooms (and elevators) tend to tests one's resistence to claustrophobia. During the off-season they have deals on rooms during the week. Buy two nights and get a third night free. The rooms are 1000 NIS an evening (about $275/evening).
Whatever way you plan to visit the winery or stay in one of their rooms, it makes a lot of sense to call ahead.
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