Wineland (B’Shvil HaYayin) 2014 Pre-Festival Tour
This year’s Wineland Festival included over two weeks of wine events in the Galil and Golan, starting at the end of May and running halfway through June. It was literally impossible to attend them all, though I tried my best. To get an idea of how much was going on, have a look at the schedule.
But for some of us the fun actually began even earlier, as the promoters organized a promotional tour a week before the opening of the festival for journalists and other “influential” wine people, and I was delighted to be invited.
Our bus was scheduled to leave Tel Aviv at 08:00, and we actually did leave at about 08:15 which is better than I expected. The optimistic itinerary included five wineries, a short jeep trip, and lunch, not to mention quite a few km on the road. That we managed to finish up only an hour or so later than planned, without skipping anything (though we did cut short a few stops along the way), is a credit to our driver and to the organizers who it seems had each visit timed down to the minute.
The wineries we visited were Tulip, Jezreel Valley, Bazelet Hagolan, Assaf, and Lueria. At each winery we heard a brief description of the winery’s history and then we tasted some wines. The most interesting story was at Tulip since the winery is located in the special needs community of Kfar Tikva, and employs some of the residents in the winery. The biggest challenge was getting kosher certification while still employing the residents of the community, but that was also eventually accomplished.
The range of wines we tasted throughout the day was broad and varied, keeping the tastings interesting. At Tulip, I found the White Tulip much more to my taste than previous vintages, being drier and lighter – a most welcome improvement IMHO. At Tulip we were also treated to a variety of marvelous sheep and goat cheeses from the Barkanit Dairy, which I learned is Israel’s oldest boutique dairy.
At the Jezreel Valley Winery, located in Kibbutz Hanaton, we were also given a quick rundown of the winery’s history. I used to visit my sister and her family when they lived in Hanaton many years ago, so this stop was a bit nostalgic. Established in 2011, the first release was 25,000 bottles from the 2012 vintage, which doubled with the 2013 vintage. The forecast for 2014 is 80,000 bottles.
The vision of the winery is to produce wines with a truly Israeli character, and to that end they use grapes from all over the country. The varietals used for their wines – Carignan, Argaman, Syrah, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay – are also those they believe to exemplify that character.
Along with some very nice cheese to nibble, from a dairy in Mitzpe Abirim, we were given four wines to taste – a Rosé, made from an unusual blend of Carignan, Argaman, and Syrah, two whites and a red. My favorite of the lot was the 2013 BlendLavan, made from Riesling and Gewürztraminer, sourced from vineyards in Givat Ada, and Chardonnay, grown in the Judean Hills. I found this wine to be refreshing with a very intriguing contrast between fruitiness and mild sourishness. The Rosé, being too sweet for my taste, will certainly appeal to those who prefer more sweetness than I in their wines. The color of this Rosé is quite vivid. Winemaker Ari Erle explained that after crushing, the juice is removed from the skins gradually, and this undoubtedly has much to do with it.
From Hanaton we got back on the bus for a long ride to the Bazelet Hagolan Winery, located in Moshav Kidmat Zvi in the central Golan. We were greeted with glasses of a very very pleasant cold Chardonnay to sip along with local cheeses and freshly cut vegetables to munch, while watching a new promotional video that the winery had just produced. the video is quite informative and clearly shows the passion that brought Yoav Levy to establish the winery in 1998. For anyone who’s interested, there’s a good history of the winery on Yossie Horowitz’s website.
After the video we were given the opportunity to taste the winery’s flagship reserve wines. I tried three, two Cabernets (2011 & 2012) and a Merlot (2011). All were quite exceptional. The 2012 Cabernet Reserve exhibited medium fruit, full body, good acidity, and well integrated tannins. The 2011 was quite similar and even more elegant in character; I suspect this is a result of the extra year in the bottle. Most surprising was the 2011 Merlot Reserve. In Israel I prefer the full-bodied Merlots from the Judean hills, finding the northern Merlots to be too fruity and rather one dimensional. The Bazelet Hagolan Merlot Reserve definitely does not fall into that category. Here is a light and refreshing warm weather Merlot that is anything but lacking in character. This is definitely one of Israel’s northern Merlots that I will happily recommend.
From Bazelet Hagolan it was just a quick hop to the Assaf Winery, also in Moshav Kidmat Zvi. Assaf Kedem, the vintner and winemaker, started out with Yoav Levy to establish Bazelet Hagolan in the late 1990s, then later split off to found his own winery. Annual production is in excess of 40,000 bottles.
We were greeted by Assaf’s son, Oren, who showed us around the winery and then presented us with three wines to taste, starting with their 2013 Chenin Blanc (100%). Aged for six months in new American oak barrels (made in Hungary), this Chenin Blanc is unusually fruity for the variety, giving the impression of being slightly off-dry. At first I was not terribly impressed, but this wine grew on me with time.
The second wine was a 2011 red blend called 4 Seasons. Dominated by Pinotage (85%), with the remainder comprising Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah this blend presents some interesting flavors, though I’d give it more time for the flavors to integrate.
The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (with 11% Cabernet Franc), is excellent and well balanced.
The Assaf Winery is also in the process of building several cabins as B&Bs. Kidmat Zvi is in a beautiful area, and I would certainly consider renting one of those cabins when looking for a place to stay in the central Golan.
Being rather in need of a break from tasting wine, our next stop was with Jimmy Jeep for a quick jeep ride in the Golan, including a watermelon stop.
Then off to lunch at the family owned and operated Roberg restaurant where we were treated to Roberg’s tasting menu, comprising many very small portions. Some of these I enjoyed, but most weren’t so much to my taste, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Our last stop was at the Tiberias Hot Springs where the Lueria Winery has recently opened a tasting room. This is a rather clever idea as there are always lots of tourists at the hot springs.
By the time we arrived we were somewhat behind schedule so unfortunately the visit was rushed. Nevertheless we were given five wines to taste. My favorite was the 2012 Shiraz. Impenetrably dark in color the wine is somewhat aggressive as young Shiraz tends to be. This character in a Shiraz appeals to me and I think I’d enjoy this one with burgers.
Before piling back on the bus to head home, we had a chance to grab some espresso, which was most welcome as there had been no coffee following lunch. But even with the coffee, there was plenty of snoring on the bus heading south.
All in all a fun but exhausting day.
And this was just the beginning (or pre-beginning) of the Wineland Festival. More to follow.