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Tags - sauvignon blanc
If as what's been suggested that Israeli wine is going through a cultural and technological revolution, how can you tell when the revolution is successful. Maybe it's when the powers to be, the guardians of the status quo, come full circle and agree with their critics. So when the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery by far, admits that it has had a well deserved reputatation for making wines of low regard and little character and lots of it and they've launched a game changing amount of measures to salvage its image by striving to be not only the biggest but one of Israel's best wineries, it deserves the attention of the wine drinking public and wine writers like me.
Carmel's Historic Winery in Israel's most famous wine village Zichron Ya'acov
Now many wine writers tend to shy away from writing about big wineries. It's challenging on several different levels. First, a winery like Carmel in Israel has so many labels there's no way to practically taste them in a day. Second, larger corporate wineries can often lack the charm and romance of "boutique" wineries. Additionally, it can be far more difficult to talk directly to the winemaker or owner of the winery which with smaller wineries is often the same person. A lot of times you get shuttled around by a well meaning Public Relations spokeperson whose knowledge of wine doesn't much exceed that of any internal corporate literture. Additionally, larger wineries often have received so much previous attention what angle does a writer take to make their story fresh, relevant and appealing to the reader.
So Much Wine, So Little Time: David tasting the large portfolio of Carmel
So with some initial trepidation, I went to tackle the task of covering Carmel, not only Israel's largest winery but at about 15 million bottles producted yearly, they're responsable for 30 to 40% of Israel's wine production on any given year. As recently as 20 to 25 years ago Carmel was producing about 90% of Israel's wine. So in writing about Israeli wines, there's no way to avoid Carmel coming up in the context of talking about other wines so it was important at some stage for me to take on the challenge of exploring their portfolio. "On the Road Less Travelled" of wine writing, better sooner than later. That being said if Carmel had been making the same wines they were making ten years ago, I may have found a good reason to avoid this story just the same.
When wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and Decanter & wine writers like Robert Parker and Mark Squires talk about Israeli wines making a revolutionary change in quality, they were talking about in contrast to the lowly regarded 90% of Israeli wines Carmel used to make. Carmel today says they too are part of that revolution but as a student of history I like to see it as a counter-revolution since when you are the wine establishment and one of the last wineries to make drastic changes, it's hard to say you're leading the revolt. To Carmel's credit though, it's been a Herculian endeavor and an investment of ten of millions and ten of thousands of man hours in the vineyards and wineries to have made the dramatic changes that they started almost ten years ago that is just in the last few years starting to show results.
As an example of it's commitment to change, they've managed to halve their production from a high of 30 million bottles to 15 million bottles, a great indicator that "the monster of the Israeli wine marketplace" is reigning in the beast of bulk wine making and mending their ways and is starting to seriously attempt to stress quality over quanity. Much of this transition was enacted by shying away from flooding the kosher wine market with mass quanities of not very profitible "kiddush wine" (sacramentel wine for Jewish holidays and rituals). A de-emphasis on other food products such as grape juice and olive oil also has allowed it's upper management to focus on the task at hand of making better wines. The significance is that if Carmel can redeem an image of it's wines as sweet, syrupy liquid religion to that of a large producer with a wide range of price points with relative quality and value, it's place as Israel's largest producer can only improve the image of all Israeli wines.
Carmel has also made significant changes in it's selection of vineyard location and how it manges the grapes it harvests. First, it's made huge investments in planting new vineyards in the Galiilee, considered onr of Israel's premier grape growing appellations. Historically, they were getting most of their grapes from lower alitude regions that were suitable for high yield bulk wine production. In fact, according to Carmel they are now the largest grower of grapes in the Galilee and this has given them the flexibility to make better wines and a to make awider variety of wine single varietal wines. Their affiliated and renown Yatir Winery with vineyards in the Judean Hills and the Negev, two other respected wine regions, also provides Carmel with choice grapes that weren't available as recent as ten years ago.
Carmel's Well-groomed & Valued Kayoumi Vineyards in the Upper Galilee
Carmel started off and continues in many ways as a collective of as many 250-300 growers with a management team directing winery and marketing efforts. Lior Laxer, the chief winemaker of seven who work at their wineries, explained it was an uphill battle for the wineries management to convince the growers to switch to lower yield grapes for higher qulity wine than the bulk producing yields they had been accustomed to. On e way was to pay per dunam, about a quarter acre lot, rather than pay per ton. another was to pay the grower on the quality of the grapes being produced. This merit system linked what which Carmel series the winemaking team decided the grapes quaified and the higher the value of the wine (and the more the winery could charge) the more the grower got paid. Some of those families have been tending to high-yield vineyards for over 100 years.
Yet, many of the lowland vineyards were more suited to bulk production so new vineyards in the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Jerusalem Hills and the Negev desert (yes, the desert) have been planted and now are producing higher quality grapes. Additionally, much of the wineries equipment was suited for bulk wines so it was a huge expense to invest in equipment that was better suited for smaller higher quality production. Where as recently as 10 years ago Carmel barely made any wines with a smaller production of 50,000 bottles they are often making wines of just a few to several thousand bottles in the top three premium levels (compared to their three entry to mid level wines). An additional winery facility (Carmel's fourth if you include it's premeir sattleite Yatir) gives it the capacity to get the grapes form the field to a nearby winery anywhere it grows grapes. This protects the flavor, sugar, acid, tannin profile the winemaker's expected before harvest that could be disrupted through long hauls from a remote vineyard to one central winery. The additional facities and fermentation tanks allow each single vineyard harvested to get it's own tank and treatment and allows the winemakers the ability to monitor how each field was managed and how that manifests in the wine. This allows for informed changes in future vineyard practices and more refined blending options as well picking the best as special single vineyard releases.
First, let me say that my recent visit at the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya'acov exceeded my expectations on several levels. The only wines I had from Carmel previously were their entry level Selected and Private Collection wines that most people have had, wines many Jews have had at a Sabbath dinner or Passover dinner or Bar Mitzvah. Those "supermarket" wines, at best, may have been considered good value wines but represent what Carmel wants the public to believe were their the bulk wines of Carmel's yesteryear. This day I tasted the wines Carmel hopes will change it's image of being a bulk, Kiddush (Jewish sacremental) and table wine manafacturer to that of a winery that doesn't make just make kosher wines as good as they can but rather great wines that just happen to be kosher. Of course this mantra is now being touted by every kosher winemaker I've talked to in Israel. But with the mass of Carmel's postion in the marketplace, as they change their image for the better they can't help but but bring the image of Israeli wines in general into a more flattering light.
I asked Lior about the one vineyard Carmel has in the Golan Heights since they've invested so much more into the compatible climate of the Upper Gaililee. Carmel claims through recent efforts to have become the largest wine producer in the Galilee when previously their holding were focused on the southern coastal plains near Tel Aviv and the northern coast aaround Zichron Ya'acov. I wondered if the government had been talking to the wineries who are some of the largest employers in the Golan what would happen to their investemets in their vineyards if the Golan is returned to Syria in a peace agreement. Lior confirms my suspicion that "no one in the government has talked about it" and suggests about planting vines and building facilities in the Golan that "it's a big risk." A sentiment that other wine executives in Israel share regardless of their political inclinations whether Israel should return the territory captured in 1967 and recaptured in 1973.
Carmel's Chief winemaker Lior Laxer tasting the fruits of his labors
Late Harvest Gerwurtzraminer
Lior explains about this dessert wine that "it's not the most profitable wine for the winery" because dessert wines in general don't sell as well as table wines and that this wine has such high expenses. The high expenses are mostly due to the low yield of these late harvest grapes are 450 to 600 kilos per dunam (about one quarter of an acrea) compared to up to 5 tons an acre for sone table wines. That's about one-tetn of a yield in just the weight of the grapes. Then Lior explains "there's also less juice that's pressed per ton because so much of the water/juice is already gone. There's so much sugar in the grapes in contrast to juice that you can hear the presses straining to get the juice out".
There's so much sugar that this wine when finished has 120 grams of residual sugar after fermentation compared to as much as only for 4 grahms or less for a dry table wine.
Zichron Ya'acov Telephone: 04 6390105
Rishon Letzion Telephone: 03 9488888
Few, if any wineries, in Israel have gained as much notoriety as fast and widespread as the Yatir Winery at the northeast edge of the Negev Desert. Adjacent to the ancient ruins of Tel Arad, a Canaanite settlement dating back over 3,000 years, the winery lies at the southern base of the Judean Hills while all of it's vineyards, except their Sauvignon Blanc, lie amoungst the Yatir Forest at about 900 meters above sea level. In less than ten years, Yatir has managed what would almost be impossible in more established wine regions, to launch from it's first vintage to be among the first mentioned when critics and winemakers talk about the best wineries in Israel.
The 3,000 year old ruins of the Canaanite settlement of Tel Arad
An initiative by the Carmel Winery since it's inception in 2000, Yatir has operated fairly independently as a unique and distinct brand from Carmel. This was done evidently for at least two reasons. Primarily, even though the weight of Carmel's place as the largest producer of Israeli and kosher wine could help secure Yatir's exposure in the marketplace, Carmel's previous reputation as a producer of principally bulk wines wouldn't tarnish Yatir's lofty and seemingly now fulfilled aspirations to make some of Israel's best and most sought after wine. Additionally, as Carmel attempts to reinvent itself, Yatir was allowed to focus on establishing and maintaining consistently high standards of viticulture in their dedicated vineyards as well operating with it's own winemaker, staff and first rate facilities with a focus on exploring every possible avenue in making the best wine it could from day one.
Conifer trees of the Yatir Forest in the southern Judean Hills
Ya'acov Ben Dor, the manager of the winery and previous manager of the Yatir Moshav, gives a lot of credit to the terroir of the vineyards to the quality and uniqueness of Yatir wines. As he led me on a personal tour from the Negev lowlands up into the Judean highlands, Ya'acov took special care to point out the unique vegetation in this area compared to the other premier Israeli wine regions such as the Golan or Galilee or the northern reaches of the Judean Hills. Here there are many spicy, herbaceous xerophytic (drought-resistent) plants whose intense flavors are a defense mechanism from grazing animals who might find their intensity suitable for a nibble but not a whole meal. Ya'acov implies that this intensity of flavor found in the native flora might be finding it's way to the grapes. The distinctive flavors a terroir imparts can be such a mecurial quality but it's something Ya'acov has obviously considered. As someone who managed many crops in the area (pistachios, almonds, apricots, apples and cherries are grown nearby) there are few people who know this area and it's agricultural potential than Ben Dor. He was one of the original growers who had the foresight to plant vineyards in the Yatir Forest in 1994 that would become the backbone of Yatir wines.
Yatir Forest Cherries
Of course, Yatir's vineyards might never have been planted if the Yatir Forest hadn't brokered the way to show that this arid area had botanical possibilites. David Ben Gurion, Israel's first, most influential and longest serving prime minister was a persistent advocate of developing the Negev and is buried at the Negev's Kibbutz Sde Boker where he had eventually retired and is now buried. It was he who insisted against scientific advice to plant trees in this region. The Jewish National Fund collected donations from around the world to plant conifourous trees in Israel and started planting in the Yatir in 1964 and now it's israel's largest planted forest. As such it plays a part in Israel being the only country in the world to have a net gain of trees in the 20th century.
David and Ancient Wine Press in Yatir Forest:
1) On the left grapes were stomped
2) the juice flowed to the smaller chamber on the bottom and filtered through herbs such as capers, dates and honey
3) the wine fermented in about 5 days and was stored until "bottled" in clay jars, amphorae
Students of history, however, should have known that the Yatir area could have great potential to be a wine producing area. there are over 180 ancient wine presses scattered through the Yatir region that had the capacity to produce 3,000 liters or about 4,000 of today's bottle of wine each. in theory that means if all were operating about the same time, these presses could have been producing 720,000 bottles a vintage or even more if there were grapes like today that had staggered seasons so that if there were multiple harvestings 3-4 times as much is concievable as well. Of course climates can change dramtically in decades never mind millenium so a better indicator of the Yatir Forest's potential for sheltering vineyards would be the other crops that have prospered here. The cherries and apricots, almond and pistachio trees that were succesfuly being harvested here prior to the first modern vineyards being planted here must have given confidence that grapes could do well here as well.
The southern Judeans Hills overlooking the northeast Negev Desert
At 900 meters altitude, about 2700 feet, in the Judean Hills and at the northeast tip of the Negev desert, Yatir's grapes get hot dry summer days and cool summer nights, which has proved an ideal nursery for many of Yatir's planted wine grape varieites. Frequent mountain winds also help keep the grapes from suffering in the sun and the adjacent Yatir Forest which borders their vineyards on all sides helps cool the area by taking in CO2. The trees have had a side effect of leaching off some of the much needed precipitation, only about 100mm year or about 4 inches falls here, so irrigation is required for the grapes to get their fill. The winds, which are valued for their cooling effect, also increase the evaporation rate and increase the need for irrigation. Fortunely for Yatir, Israel has been at the leading edge of drip-irrigation technology and water conservation and Israel has exported this technology worldwide including to other regions such as Yatir that were thought previously unsuitable for wine grape production.
a reservoir in the Yatir Forest with pistachio trees in the distance
Even though Ben Dor comes to Yatir as a grower, it's Yatir's wine maker Eran Goldwasser who overesees the viticulture practices in the vineyard. Having studied Viticulture & Oenology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, Eran is just one several Israelis to have studied winemaking "Down Under". Having returned to Israel from Australia after workering three vintages, Eran credits just being "lucky at the time that few israelis at the time had been studying (winemaking) overseas" and he was hired from Yatir's inception as it winemaker. It's without doubt that few winemakers have succeeded so fast to make a name for himself and his wine. The first wines were released in 2004 and since then Yatir wines have been appearing on every wine writer's list as one of the best wines if not the best wine in Israel.
David & Yatir's Winemaker Eran Goldwasser
Much of what they have accomplished at Yatir is believed to be on how they manage the vineyards before harvesting as much as the special care given to the grapes once they reach the winery.
Yatir Sauvignon Blanc (Negev)
100% Sauvignon Blanc grape
Ramat Arad vineyard in the northeast Negev. A portion of the wine was oaked for 3-4 months in oak barrels.
pale straw with a greenish tinge
"citric grapefruit, (I like to think of as pomelo) and cut grass with a hint of minerality that comes through from it's limited oak agiing " vibrant, epressive and well-balanced with less of a pucker factor than many Sauvignon Blancs.
Yatir Viognier 2008 (Judean Hills) Semi-dry 7 grams of sugar
Yatir Forest vineyards
The grapes that contributed to this 100% Viognier wine had enough acidity that Eran decided not to color within the lines and he created a distinctly balanced barely sweet wine. Alltough, Viogniers in California and Contreau might age in oak Eran is convinced that this can easily overwhelm the varietal flavors of Viognier. Even more succinctly Eran affirms "many of them just don't work". Yatir's 2008 Viognier does work and at 13.5% alcohol (less than the 14-15% Viogniers often exhibit) the lower alcohol level gives room for using some of the residaul sugar to create what Eran believes and I affirm is something special. When discussing how Viogniers have become popular with some of Israel's winemakers, Eran provides a disclaimer that it might be unrealistic to grow Viognier as extensively as French Columbard with great results because "better Viogniers are grown in cooler areas, they're very fussy vines and the grapes can exhibit elusive aromas'."
Expected Flavors and Aromas:
"green apple, apricot, peach and nectarines an almond /marzapan " " refreshing acidity, a lot of body with a pleasantly long finish
Yatir Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet (Judean Hiils) this blend was first introduced as a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz but as Eran says he decided that "if people wanted a big, bold Cabernet Sauviignon I was alreaady making one so I decided with the blend I'd make something a bit different. Eran says the Merlot-Shiraz- Canernet is a brand more than a list of the ingredients and Merlot coming first should give a hint to a softer wine. As well, the Cabernet on the label doesn't always refer to Cabernet Sauvignon as in this case it refers to Cabernet Franc which lends to a more food friendly wine with less tannins and more acidity.
Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon (Judean Hills)
Valued Vines of Yatir's Cabernet Sauvignon
Yatir Forest (Judean Hiils)
Yatir's premier label Yatir Forest after being hand-labeled
Some times the most remote wineries give up the most prized treasures, along the Jordanian/Syrian/ Israeli border intersection along the Golan Heights is an island of vines in the sky, Chateau Golan. Sure it's a bit of an exaggeration to call the Chateau "an island of vines in the sky" yet one of Israel's highest elevated wineries and vineyards gets frequent visits from helicopters shuttling guests up to it's lofty environs, sometimes four choppers a week. In fact there was a helicopter sitting on the front lawn on my first visit.
The distinct design of the Chateau Golan is a harbinger of it's great wines within
Not only does the winery reside in a lofty domain but the winemaker, Uri Hetz, has lofty aspirations for his wines and his winery. Uri seems determined never to sacrifice the quality of his wines in favor of the quanity and profitability of the winery. Not that the crew at the Chateau don't want to make a living but they don't seem to be simply put "greedy". In fact, they hand label their bottles which helps keep two of their workers employed full time instead of part-time laborers even though it would be more cost-effective to do otherwise.
Producing about 70,000 bottles a year, the winery has surpassed the margins at which they feel they can now be a manageble and sustainable winery. Private investors gave the winery a little more liberty to experiment and remain relatively modest in it's commerical aspirations compared to depending on bank funding. That being the case they have no immediate plans to grow and no desire to become a kosher winery that like how mostly every larger Israeli winery started or evolved. They do supplement their income by managing and growing grapes for other larger wineries in Israel.
Chateau Golan exports about 15% of it's wine overseas much of that is individual orders by consumers. The winery has no US importer bringing in large quanities as of yet (hint, hint).
The Chateau also delivers their owns wines throughout Israel which also helps the winery remain more profitable and makes their service more personable with wine shop and restaurant managers and staff. It also serves wine writers well as on my first visit, in a whirlwind of traveling around Israel and the excitement of drinking some fabulous wines, I forgot my cherished MacBook in their breakroom. I was a 2 hour drive away when the fog of that great tasting lifted and realized that my computer was now a four hour round trip away. A phone call later and the manager of the winery arranged to hand deliver it to me the next day at a local wine shop close to my apartment in Ra'anana. I don't suggest this trial of hospitality for the feint hearted but these grand acts of kindness seem routine to Israelis.
One note of warning to those wanting to visit Chateau Golan. There are two routes leading up to the winery best descibed as the southern way and the northern way depending on whether you're coming up from the southern end of the Knerret/Sea of Galilee. I strongly suggest the more northern approach coming up route 789 that turns left to route 98. The southern approach might seem more direct on the map or a more interesting alternative but it's much longer and seemingly perilous coming up what seems a never-ending series of switchbacks at insanely steep angles that my 4-cylinder Daihatsu gasped to overcome. It also straddles the Jordanian and Syrian borders and some tourists can do without seeing all that barbed wire and what I'm told is heavily land-mined vistas. The northern way is quite scenic enough with better views of Sea of Galilee.
That seldomn used section of the 98 coming off the 92 (who would ever go up or down it twice) seemed like one of the top ten places in Israel I'd least like to get stranded at or revisit though I have to admit the angle of ascent provided for some amazing views (though part of me was thinking I should take it in because it just might be the last thing I see). My traveling companion had much more graphic & derogatory commentary on the experience that are best left to one's imagination.
Chateau Golan Winery
Golan Heights 12927
011-972-4-6600026 (from the USA)
04-6600026 (in Israel)
Israel's First White Wine Festival
(from the first night's response this should be the first of many...)
at the Herzliya Marina (located at the far end next to the TV 24 studio)
Wednesday & Thursday July 1st and 2nd 2009 starting at 6PM
The first night of Israel's first White Festival attracted thousands of white wine tasters
The event was organized by Chaim, the Grape Man, notable Israeli wine educator who hosts functions in the artist colony in Old Jaffa
Chaim, "the Grape Man," organizer of the event mingling with tasters
there was thousands who came by the first night and I think tonight even might be busier with the buzz from the first night
there was also vendors of various wine related products including wine fridges, free sparkling water (great earlier on before the sun set) and as a break in between wines, and an incredible backdrop at the marina
several popular restuarants nearby
free parking in the Mall's garage
entrance is free with tasting cards available for a fee for 6, 12 or 18 tastes starting at 39NIS (about $10!!!)
small cheese plates will be availble as one of the tastes
there are plenty of great restuarants within walking distance nearby
Wines being offered will be of the following styles:
Champagne-style sparkling wines
Roses including Recanati's newly evolved and exceptional Rose featuring 80% Barbera grapes and Dalton's newly released 2008 Rose
aged (oaked) whites including Yarden's Katzrin Chardonnay and Domaine de Castel's "C" Chardonnay
dry still whites including several crisp Sauvignon Blancs such as Yatir, Tishbi and Carmel's.
sweet & aromatic whites including several yummy Gerwurtztraminer's such as Yarden's and several imported selections
iced, scrumptious Roses ready to squelch parched palates at the Herzliya Festival
each had their own bar section in the main bar (sculpted from ice) for easier selection
and there are wines from all over the world with about 2/3 from Israeli wineries (including many of Israel's best) and the rest representing wines imported into Israel
Alex Haruni (on the right), owner of Dalton Wines, with a friend enjoying the Festival
call the Grape Man at 03-5180533 for more details
tell them David the Israeliwineguy sent you!!!
Harvesting began yesterday at the Tishbi Winery as they started to bring in their Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the vineyards. For fans of the winery, that also means it's time for their yearly tradition of Summer Musical Evenings. Located in Binyamina, (along Road 652, on the way to Zichron Ya'acov) the Tishbi family will be hosting a series of four distinctly different Summer Music Evenings. For 140 NIS (about $35) the ticket will include wine, appetizers and featured live music.
Thursday July 23rd, 2009 Jazz Singer Karen Friedman presents her vocal versions of American and Israeli Jazz standards.
Thursday August 6th, 2009 Esti & Effi Israeli Folk Music
Thursday August 13th,2009 Avivit-Ezzria old school French and Israeli songs
Thursday August 20th, 2009 Brazlian Music Night
Call 04-6288195 and ask for Tal or Valerie to make reservations. Directions are available at their website at www.tishbi.com
Behind every good winery there's typically a good story. Since the Flam Winery is considered one of Israel's best wineries, it's only natural it has one of the most compelling stories. The winery was started humbly in 1998 by brothers Golan & Gilad Flam. In their first vintage they only made a couple of barrels of wine, one of Cabernet Sauvignon and one of Merlot. Now that's how many family wineries start and many if not most never get too much bigger although this wasn't any average family of vintners.
David Rhodes becomes a fan of winemaker Golan Flam and his wines
After graduating with a degree in agricultural studies at Hebrew University Rehovet, Golan Flam furthered his studies as a winemaker while becoming a Master of Wine in Piacenza, Italy and then while serving a full year's intership at the Carpineto Winery in Italy's romantic Tuscany witnessing and participating in a grapes evolution from the vine to wine. He extended his studies abroad taking a year to spend a full season in Australia at the Hardys Maclaren Winery. Now that's not too unusual. Many of Israel's best winemakers have spent a year or two overseas gathering expertise before coming back to apply their knowledge and experience to an Israeli vineyard and/or winery. Assaf Margalit, Gil Shatsberg, Ido Lewinsohn and Roni Salove, to name just a few, all interned overseas well before they gained recognition as great winemakers here in Israel. And the fact that his brother Gilad started the winery with him applying his acumen and education in business and law to managing the Flam Winery's business affairs isn't that extraordinary as well. What makes the Flam Winery's story unique is the cache the Flam name had when they first opened their winery and why it still does today.
entering the Flam Winery in the Judean Hills
The reason the winery's name had a lot of gravitas when they started in 1998 was that at the time their father Israel Flam was the chief winemaker for the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery. He had worked at the Carmel Winery since 1971 and would continue to do so until 2005, seven years after his sons had substantiated their following his passion for making wine. Israel Flam has been a pioneer in Israeli winemaking in many ways. After serving as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces in the 60's, Israel Flam became the first notable Israeli winemaker to pursue expertise overseas and would become the first of many to study at California's UC Davis, one of the world's most pretigious university programs focused exclusively with viticulture and winemaking.
Wine Pioneer Israel Flam... could I ask for a better tour guide?
Israel served as chief winemaker at Carmel when it was undergoing many of its market shaking changes from being a big bloated giant producing tens of millions of bottles of cooked/ mevushal winery to a winery half it's former size sacrificing quanity to insure better quality. Israel Flam had also been the winemaker when Carmel first launched it's Yatir sattleilte. As well, Israel Flam was at the helm when Carmel's Limited Edition, Single Vineyard and Appellation series of wines started showing a finer side to Carmel. As Carmel attemted to shed the baggage of decades of flooding the market with ton after ton of "liquid religion" and bland bulk wine, Israel capped a 35 vintage career at Carmel with inertia in what almost everyone agrees is an appreciated direction. Considering he was a major player spearheading a reformation towards quality at Israel's largest winemaker (which now produces about 30% of Israel's wine... about 15 million bottles of Israel's 50 million bottles), the Israeli wine drinker and the industry as a whole owe Israel Flam more than most people a measure of gratitude for the amount of quality wine now being produced with "Made in Israel" on the label.
The fact that Israel Flam fathered a pair of sons who would go on to establish one of Israel's most beloved boutique wineries is a testament to him (and his wife) as well. Though Golan and Gilad have surely made the Flam Winery their own triumph in winemaking and marketing success, having their father available as a consultant must have surely provided levels of confidence and experitese that most starting wineries could only envy.
By most measures, the Flam Winery makes some of Israel's best wines. Golan supervises each wine from it's early days as grapes in the ninety plots they contract (in the Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills) to a wine's fermentation, aging and bottling. Most of their vineyard plots have long term contracts with growers insuring they have access for up to 25 years. The growers are paid by managing the production designated per dunam (about a quarter of an acre) rather than by the tonnage of grapes each plot produces. This practice is fairly standard with wineries seeking quality over quanity and it can at least triple to quadruple the cost of the grapes they're pressing into wine by restricting the yield by at least 2/3 to 3/4 or more of a higher yield attempt.
Even though their winery has steadily grown from it's initial 600 bottles to about 95,000 bottles/year, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd say they've sacrificed quality along the way. They've made measured steps each time they've sought to get expand production and by limiting their offering to a select few wines they've added a new offering here and there but haven't ever tried to bite off a bigger bite than they were seemingly able to chew. It's typically at about this level that most wineries have sought kosher certification if they hadn't already. The Flam Winery hasn't but Israel Flam insists that they're doing everything a kosher winery would be doing anyway and that his wines are "kosher but just not certified kosher." Asked if they ever will seek certification, he responded "never say never," but there are no current plans.
Their biggest selling wine is their entry level Classico series. This one wine series is about a 50/50 "Bordeaux blend" of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It's got more New World punch than the typical Bordeaux but not as heavily oaked as a California or Australian 50/50 blend might be. It's become extremely popular as a wine by the glass in trendy Tel Aviv wine bars and restaurants and ages only 6 months in the barrel and then 6 months in the bottle before being released. This wine retails for 74NIS at the winery. The Classico accounts for about 60,000 of the 95,000 bottles/year they're currently delivering to the marketplace.
2008 Flam Classico, 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot
Their second tier wine is their Flam Superiore wine. This wine is typically about 75 % Syrah and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon though it varies from year to year. The intention which might be soon realized is to make this wine an exclusiving Syrah wine. As their French clone vines have matured year after year, they've supported the flavor, backbone and complexity of the wine with older Cabernet Sauvignon stock. The feeling is sooner than later the Syrah will be ready to stand on its own though possibly it might find it's way into a blend with Mouvedre, another red Rhone grape they've been cultivating. This wine matures for 12 months in the barrel before resting another 6 months in the bottle before release.
2007 Flam Superiore Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon
The two top tier wines from Flam are their Merlot Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. These two wines have consistently been two of the best received wines in Israel year after year. The 2006 Flam Merlot Reserve is 90% Merlot from Upper Galilee and 10% Petit Verdot from the Judean Hills. The 2006 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine received 90 points from Robert Parker, a high score for an Israeli wine from an internationally recognized wine critic. In this series of wines, they're aged for 18 months in oak before an additional 6 months in the bottle.
2006 Flam Merlot Reserve
In any given year, red wines typically make up about 85 to 90% of the Flam Winery's production. About 10% of their production is comprised of an immensly popular white wine that is a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend. It's in such high demand that it typically sells out from the winery within two months of release.
This year the winery is also realeasing a 2009 Rose. More and more Israeli wineries are releasing roses. It's a sensible market to explore as warmer regions tend to lend themselves to making better received red than white wines though the heat of summer might tempt one to a chilled glass white or rose rather than a big tannic glass of red wine. Their initial rose will be a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. The Cabernet Franc juice was in contact with the skins for a lengthy six and half hours giving the wine a deep strawberry hue. The Merlot juice was added strictly for flavor and was not left for any time with the skins.
2009 Flam Rose Cabernet Franc/Merlot
Although the Flam name speaks loudly to the last 30 years of winemaking in Israel and all the changes that have happened along the way, their wines being crafted by Golan Flam speak to a rewarding future as more and more great Israeli wineries emerge with an ever increasing selection of interesting and delicious wines.
There are usually unsong heros in most wine regions: winemakers and grape growers whose reputation and reknown haven't yet met the level of their contributions to the scene. One such unsung hero in Israeli wine is Paul Dubb. He's not unknown in Israel among other winemakers but he's not the first name mentioned in wine circles overseas or among Israeli wine consumers when Israeli wine is mentioned. He should be more often than not. Paul is making some impressive wines at reasonable prices at the Tzuba Winery located in the Jerusalem Hills on the outskirts of the "Holy City". Paul has not only has made an impact at Tzuba but has made a ripple in the Israeli wine pond as he's matured as a winemaker and vintner.
Paul was trained as vitaculturist in his native South Africa and helped Kfar Tzuba plant its first vines in the 1997. It was several years later in 2005 that the winery opened on the same named kibbutz (collective farm) its is located on. Paul was managing the vineyards from the start but after a kibbutznik served as the initial winemaker for the first two years, Paul grew into that role and proved to be a great fit. Even though Paul was never formally trained as a winemaker, he had been making dry wines since he was 16 and had always studied periphial studies that led him towards becoming a remarkable winemaker. For instance, Paul's training as a chemist alows him to do all the lab work at the winery and not have to send samples of wines for testing to outside labs. He did a brief stint at the Tisbhi Winery (as many Israeli wine people have including yours truly, Yair Marglait, Adam Montefiore and Assaf Paz...good company to be in) and was the vineyard manager for the Castel Winery from 2000 until 2004 (when he left to become winemaker at Tzuba). Kfar Tzuba actually grows most of Castel's grapes under Eli Ben Zaken's direction. Tzuba grows for a few other notable Israeli wineries so they must be doing something right in the vineyard and as most week geeks know what makes good wine mostly goes in the vineyard. A winemaker can do more harm than good when great grapes are in play. Yet Paul handles his grapes adeptly and he plays a major role getting the grapes ready the way he sees fit to make the best wines from his vines.
The first Tzuba wine that should come into play at a tasting of their wines is their only white dry wine in production, their Chardonnay.
The 2009 Tzuba Chardonnay is aged 50 % in new French Oak barrels for 4 months on the sur lees (the yeast after it has died after fermentation) and 50% in stainless steel. No secondary malolactic fermentation is implemented to avoid the big body and creaminess that can overwhelm the fruit in many Chardonnays. Paul thinks malolactic ferementation in white wines make them too much like a red and strips away what makes a good white wines special: that crispiness that reds lack.
Paul likes the red grapefruit that emerges in his Chardonnay that he fears can be surpressed by over oaking in other's white wines and that's why he only commits 50% of the wine to oak which Paul says adds that classic Chardonnay aroma.
For 79 NIS or about $22 (at November 2010 rates of exchange) the wine is a great deal for one of Israel's best Chardonnays.
Tzuba's Chardonnay is made from 100% free-run juice with the pressed grape juice going towards their Chardonnay fortified dessert wine. This is currently Tzuba's only dry white wine although they've made other white wines in the past. Paul had found making a few white wines too labor intensive and logistically challenging for a small boutique yet wants to maintain at least one white wine in their portfolio to give a full range of wines to Tzuba's loyal fanbase.
Right now, Paul only uses 100% French Oak for all of their wines and maintains that most of Israel's best wines follow suit though he is experimenting with American Oak that is designed to mimic French Oak and is interested in seeing how Amercan Oak can contribute to the complexity of their wines though he doesn't think there's a privation of complexity in Tzuba's wines but as an industrious winemaker he always experimenting on making his wines the best he can. He does concur with me that often the best winemakers are the one who can adaptly stay out of the way of their grapes and act as a midwife to delivering them into the best wine they can be with as little tinkering as possible.
Previously the winery released Semillon, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc in different incarnations but now Tzuba sells off these grapes to other wineries. They do have access to them for future wines as they grow one can imagine they may come back to familiar grapes. Originally, the winery made about 15 wines but under Paul they've culled themselves to 10 wines for now to regroup and focus on quality rather than quanity of labels though they want to continue to increase their production at about 15% to 20% a year reaching 150,000 bottles in about six years from their current 40,000 bottles.
Their 2008 Tzuba Cabernet Sauvignon shows a glimpse toward the potential bliss awaiting a Tzuba imbiber featuring 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with only 13.5% alcohol (14% on the label... laws allow a 1% deviation from the label). 13.5% is significantly lower alcohol for an Israeli red which typically flirt with 15% alcohol levels.
This Cab features 100% free-run juice with pressed juice being used for less expensive offerings. The grapes are harvested at a lower brix (sugar in the grapes before harvest) level to insure lower alcohol level and to avoid prune flavors Paul says become more prevelant in more alcoholic Cabs. The earlier harvest also provides added acidity that lessens the need for tinkering with the wine's acidity at the winery which is fairly prevelant in warmer New World wineries. Its a reasonable 89 NIS (about $25), a more than fair price for a Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality and though Paul thinks the wine might age for another ten years he suggests the wine will be best drunk within the next 4 to 5 years as Paul believes most Israeli reds don't age as long as their overseas rivals as the grapes ripen faster here and don't develop sufficient aging compounds to get longer shelf life. Since most people drink wine the night they buy a wine or at latest within 6 months it should more than adequately satisfy the wants and needs of most buyers. Only about 5% of wine consumers cellar their wines, so having wines that are easier to drink from day one is more of a marketing boon than a bust or at least it should be.
HaMetzuda is Tzuba's top tier wine. Like many other flagship reds worldwide it's a Bordeaux derived grape blended wine. The 2007 Tzuba HaMetzuda featured about 75 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Malbec. This wine features 100% free-run juice and retails at a more than reasonable 115 NIS. It easily meets or even surpasses it's price point's built in expectations by most consumers at this range. It's full-flavored and well balanced with consisitent body from start to finish. Aged for 24 months in all French Oak (60% new and 40% one year's vintage), this wine doesn't present as being overoaked though oak is present in the flavors. Black currant, black and red raspberries and cherries and a dark plum finish meld with some green pepper, fruit cake, mocha, slight tobacco and lingering leather undertones.
The yet to be released 2008 HaMetzuda shows even greater promise commercially than the 2007. Paul aged the 2008 for only 18 months and a lesser reliance on Cabernet in this blend may have paid dividends as well. The fruit shines through ore brilliantly here than the 2007 (though I appreciate the 2007 in it's own right as being different and not inferior in any way other than not as fruity as most Israelis seem to crave. The 2008 is 60% Cab Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine exhibits deeper color than the 2007 partly from being younger and partly to what Paul attributes to the addition of the Cabernet Franc. It's nicely balanced as well and the Cabernet Franc lends a bit of floral aroma to the mix of flavors evident in 2007. The mocha seemed a little less prevelant and maybe less oak and no Malbec contribute towards these ends.
Either way, these wines are great values for buyers who often pay 50% to 100% more for wines of this quality at other Israeli wineries. I look forward to returning to trying the rest of Tzuba's ten wines and future vintages (though trying previous vintages would be a treat as well).
Other wines currently available in their line up include their:
2008 Tzuba Shiraz
2007 & 2008 Tzuba Merlot
2008 Tzuba Sangiovese
2007 Tzuba Pinot Noir
Whichever wine you try from Tzuba be rest assured that they are making great wines for a more than reasonable price and that even though a lot of critics haven't caught on to their wines you can be the first of your friends to sing their praises. After the critics wake-up expect their prices to eventually climb as demand soars.
David Rhodes can best be reached at
052-702-9463 (mobile in Israel)
Davids hosts the world's only English language radio show and podcast about Israeli wines at Rustymikeradio.com and is available for tours, lectures and private tastings about Israeli wines for those living or visiting in Israel.
David also acts a consulting sommelier for restaurants and a cellar consultant and broker for those seeking qaulity wines at the bests prices in Israel.
Mostly every winery has a story worth telling. I'd venture to say that wineries with the most interesting stories often make the most interesting wines. One winery whose story pulls on the heart strings as well as pleases the palette is the Tulip Winery. Located in Kfar Tikva ( Hebrew for "village of hope"), this family owned winery is gaining more and more fans for their wines every year; yet, sometimes their inspiring story overshadows their delicious wines.
Kfar Tikva is a village founded about 40 years ago dedicated to assisted living for disability challenged adults. All residents are over 21 and have employment opportunities in the village. Their primary employer is a Sabbath candle factory although the Tulip Winery also employs 5 residents (or about half their staff) in various roles about their facility.
Regardless of who is working at the winery, purchasing their wine shouldn't be seen solely as a charitable act unless your taste buds are your favorite charity.
Founded in 2003 by the Itzhaki family (who lives nearby) they've secured the services of Israeli winemaker Tamir Arzy.
They currently have about four series of wines (depending on how you count them) and comparitive value can be found at each level.
Their introductory (less-expensive wines) are their Just Series. The Just wines are 100% single varietals so they're great educational tools for wine newcomers who want to learn individual grape varietals. Wine veterans will find this series a good cross between value and quality for everyday drinking rather than raiding their stash of aging premium wines. They're only oak-aged for eight months which allows the fruit flavor and aroma profiles to really shine through.
Tulip's Just Cabernet Sauvignon and Just Merlot at 67 NIS (about $19) a common enough price point for Israeli boutique wines yet there's more there there than many lesser offereing from many other wineries at the same price point.
Their only white wine is White Tulip, also 67 NIS, and is an interesting blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc (which are becoming more popular blending partners in Israel as well as popular single varietal wines). It nicely blends the expected white fruit flavors of Gewurz such as peach, apricot and lychee with citric, grassy, kiwi flavors of Sauvignon Blanc.
Many smaller boutiques don't even make white wines as they require aditional equipment and a different set of skill sets than making red wines. I often refer to white wines as "little princesses" because they tend to show every flaw where the deep dark color and viscoisty of red wines can hide minor transgressions. Most Israeli boutiques that approach 100,000 bottles a year eventually add a white or a few to their portfolio as it gives them better market penetration. Roses also are also more common with larger wineries as well though Tulip doesn't currently offer one.
With their 2010 vintage, Tulip plans to become certified kosher and their grapes and wine from this vintage were handled in a way to prepare for this evoluntionary change. There are added expenses to making wine kosher so most Israeli boutiques don't make this change until they approach 100,000 bottles as the economy of scale helps defray that cost over many more bottles than say a 10,000 bottle/year winery. The 2010 White Tulip which isn't oak aged should be their first kosher release hopefully in time the 2011 Israeli summer.
Their next tier of wines is their Mostly series featuring a Mostly Shiraz and Mostly Cabernet Franc. At 79 NIS (about $22) , it's not staggering leap in price from the 67 NIS (about $17) Just series but an experienced wine taster might find the Mostly wines more expressive, balanced and complex with a longer finish than the younger Just wines. The Mostly Cabernet Franc is 85% Cab Franc and !5% Cab Sauvignon which adds some body, structure, complexity and most likely tannins to the wine. The 85 % threshold of a single varietal is important for labeling wines a single varieatal for potential export to the US and EU. These wines are also barrel aged in French and American oak for 14 months which helps justisty the marginal cost difference with the Just series.
Mostly Shiraz is 65% Shiraz, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. The addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot seeminly add a lot of complexity that is lacking from other bombastic fruity Shiraz's appearing more frequrntly in wine shops. Flavors of Black Cherries, Plums and Blueberries were most evident to me at this tasting.
The most accessable of their top tier wines are Tulip's Reserve series. At 95 NIS (about $27), their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Shiraz are oak aged for 18 months and they have enough fruit to med with the additional tannins and oak induced flavors to age gracefully. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is enhanced with 10% Cabernet Franc which typically is added to add acidity (which often is lacking in warmer region reds) and softer tannins.
The 2008 Syrah Reserve is 90% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Even though Syrah and Shiraz are actually genetically the same grape, different clones exist which emphasize different styles. Often the Shiraz varieties can be jammy fruiit bombs that could remind drinkers of an Australian bottle where Syrah tend to emulate French Rhone or Caliifornia Syrah which can be more nuanced and earthier than wines labeled Shiraz. The wine is as dark and deeply purple as octopus ink which often indicates the intensity of flavor and breath of body in Syrah/Shiraz as well as Petite Sirah. In Petite Sirah though this backbone often overwhelms the nuance one expects or desires from a premium wine although more sophsiticated Peitie Sirah's in Israel and California are becoming more common..
Their highest tier is their Black Tulip wine and at 175 NIS is a typical price point for many wineries' most limited released dry red wine although a few wineries recently launched new "Ultra-premium" wines at almost twice that price. Black Tulip is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 % Merlot, 13 % Cabernet Franc and 7 % Petit Verdot which might be catergorized as a Bordeuax style blend (Malbec being the only possible component grape not present). With only 3,000 bottles made it's scarcity helps justify the cost but it also receives 2 /12 years in oak which is extensive compared to most Israeli wines.
Currently, the winery offers free tasting to the public on Friday and Saturdays (though that might change once the winery is serving kosher wines) and the winery typically gives free tastings of one white and two red wines though more elaborate tastings are available at an additional cost.
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