Hadar Dor-Onn & His Binyamina Vineyards
Every summer my friend Steve comes to visit from the States, and each time we visit some new wineries.
This year we started with a tour of Hadar Dor-Onn’s vineyards in Binyamina. I met Hadar several months ago (see my posting Wine and Ch…), and we quickly became friends. Since then I have been wanting to see Hadar’s vineyards, and now I finally had the chance.
Actually we started with figs. Hadar has a stand of fig trees adjacent to the grapes, and when we arrived he was picking. Steve and I pitched in and soon we were done. Of course we sampled a few, and of course they were marvelous. Hadar clearly has a strong connection with his fig trees, and he enthusiastically told us about research investigating the anti-cancer properties of fig sap, but that was all paled by his excitement and passion when he started talking about his grapes.
Hadar comes from a long line (for Israel) of vintners – in the 1880s his great grandfather grew grapes on Har Tavor for Carmel. Today Hadar has about 100 dunam of vineyards including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Carignan (44 year old vines), Argaman, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer. (Argaman is a variety developed in Israel. After a slow start and an initial reputation that it is suitable only for low quality wines, Aragman is coming into its own with several award winning varietals.) Hadar’s Malbec and Viognier vines may very well be among the first of those varieties in Israel.
Hadar tells a story about being on vacation in northern Spain 20 or so years ago and meeting with a fellow vintner who gave him some 200 Malbec cuttings. He brought them back to Israel (in strict compliance with all regulations), grafted them to the appropriate rootstock, and planted them in his Binyamina vineyards. He was amazed at how quickly and vigorously the vines grew compared with what he had seen in Spain, and he concluded that Malbec is more suited to Israel’s climate than to that of Europe. He has since had similar experiences with Viognier and Gewurztraminer, and he has started to believe that Israel might just be the origin of these varieties and that he had brought them home. Be that as it may, I can certainly attest that Hadar’s Malbec, Viognier, and Gewurztraminer vines are thriving (as are his other varieties).
Based on the growth of the Malbec, Hadar started experimenting in order to find the best way to grow the vines in Israel. In Europe, vines are generally pruned to maximize the amount of sunlight reaching each leaf. If vines are allowed to grow too much, some leaves will cast shade on others. In Israel, we have more and higher intensity sunlight than most of Europe, so Hadar let his vines grow more, and found that this strengthened them. To keep things orderly, he added a second level of trellis, resulting in a “two story” vineyard. Over they years Hadar has tweaked his methods and he has achieved higher yields without compromising the quality of the grapes.
Theoretically this all sounds very good, but it’s the quality of the wine that really counts, so off we went to taste a few. Hadar does not have his own winery. He sells his grapes to select boutique wineries, and uses their facilities to make some wine of his own as well. We tried three wines, each made at a different boutique winery.
First was a semi-dry white called Floreal Blanc from the Villa Wilhelma winery. This delightful blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling is true to its name with prominent floral and citrus aromas. Strong fruit flavors and the residual sugar make this almost a desert wine, though the sweetness is well balanced by its acidity. For those who prefer sweetness in their whites this is a definite winner – my sister who is about as far as you can get from being a wine drinker – fell in love with it.
In very sharp contrast is the completely dry 2012 Gewurztraminer from the Chillag winery. I have seen reviews claiming there is some sweetness to this Gewurtz, but I can’t detect any. Quite simply, this is the best Gewurtztraminer I’ve ever had. I wrote about it in my posting of the launch event at Chillag, and I’m thrilled that Hadar has a stock that is for sale in his shop.
Then Hadar poured us tastings of his own 2010 Malbec blended with 5% Barbera, which is made at the Dadah winery. The Malbec, which was harvested quite late at brix 27-28, is Hadar’s and I believe the Barbera is from a vineyard in Kfar Yuval. First a disclaimer: I don’t really know much about Malbec. There aren’t many wines of that variety in Israel (varietals or blends), and I believe I’ve tried most of them. Other than Somek’s Mabec-Morvedre blend, I really haven’t been very impressed … until now. This Malbec starts off with a tantalizingly pungent aroma, and the flavors are delicate and well integrated. Velvety soft tannins make the wine a pleasure to drink on its own, and it has a mild spicy finish. An altogether marvelous wine.
Now for a short unsolicited plug. Several years ago Hadar and his family opened a venue at their home called Asambia, where they host private parties and events, and that’s where we sat drinking and talking about the wines. I discovered Asambia at the Wine and Ch… event, and found it so enchanting that we had a small family party there celebrating several important birthdays and graduations. Parents, sons, daughters, and significant others of the Dor-Onn family all took a hand in making this a most successful and tasty party, and I can highly recommend them (also the price was more than reasonable).