In nearly every biography of small Israeli wineries, there is a turning point in the plot, a time when the muse descends and the vintner decides to make wine. Sometimes the catalyst is a chance visit to a fascinating place; sometimes it is a midlife crisis or a desire to bond with the earth in the midst of a demanding career. Such tales spice up winery tours and often prompt visitors to feel, as they drink the wine, that they too might one day start a new chapter in their lives.
But with the Lewinsohn Winery in Hod Hasharon, the real story isn’t the story behind the wine, or even the garage in which the wine is made. The story here is the wine itself.
Far from breathtaking mountain landscapes, seasonal riverbeds or vineyards, Ido Lewinsohn, 35, produces a white wine and a red wine in his parents’ garage that are considered among Israel’s 10 best. If I have sometimes wondered what makes a winery significant enough to be written about, I received the best answer at the Lewinsohn Winery: You start writing when the wine compels you to.
It is tempting to use a cliche and dub Lewinsohn a “prince” of Israel’s wine industry. When his peers were just beginning to develop their careers, he had already become a winemaker at Recanati Winery. There he worked with Gil Shatsberg, who took over the winemaking from Recanati’s founder and chief winemaker, Lewis Pasco, in 2008. Together, Shatsberg and Lewinsohn spearheaded the winery’s stylistic revolution in the post-Pasco era.
Israel’s wine culture has never been that of Italy or France. For generations, wine was a weekly Shabbat treat. But many Israelis are starting to appreciate the gift of a quiet glassful at the end of the work day — and more and more they’re making this wine in their homes. It would be easy to assume that this trend is limited to young, secular Israelis taking part in the current obsession with maker culture but religious Jews are just as involved, buying grapes from nearby vineyards and making wine in their homes.
I caught the winemaking fever from home-brewing friends whose Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon convinced me that I too could make good wine. 300 kilos of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Reisling grapes, to be exact. I couldn’t have gotten them on my own. I joined a wine club, a Haredi neighborhood co-op organized by a family in Beit Shemesh. Israeli vineyards contract their harvests early in the year, usually to the big wineries, but the co-op organizer had wangled two tons of grapes from a small vineyard. The crates were to be delivered to his building when they’d reached their peak, one September evening.
It was late afternoon when I drove up to the parking lot. A cluster of bearded men in the standard Haredi dress of black trousers and white shirts stood waiting for the grapes to arrive. The rented electric crusher rumbled gently, rigged up to power cord let out from someone’s apartment window. The truck from the vineyard drove in, and the men began unloading crates full of small, juicy black grapes. I was the only woman present; the men jokingly called me “Rebbetzin.”
Twilight drew in. A light bulb cast a yellow light over the figures of the men tipping grapes into the hopper, cleaning stems away, filling barrels. A lightening storm in the distant Judean Hills threw its incandescent forks down and blew a cool wind in our direction. I thought of the stone winepresses carved into those hills, where our fathers pressed the grapes with their own feet in ancient times, and how the trees and cold rain were the only visitors there now. I felt a frisson that had nothing to do with oncoming storm. Those centuries have passed, but we’re still here, still making wine.
For Israeli wines, it has been an uphill battle to gain recognition in the world wine community. But a recent announcement gave it a big leg up. Wine Enthusiast, the leading wine magazine, named Golan Heights Winery as the New World Winery of the Year.
In the late 1970’s a young, ambitious winemaker, Victor Schoenfeld, moved from California to Israel. Schoenfeld received his degree in viticulture from the University of California Davis and worked at the Robert Mondavi Winery and Chateau St. Jean in France before moving to the Golan Heights. Once he arrived, he realized the potential for grapes to grow in the rich soil. He worked with local kibbutzs to plant his first vines for classic varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. In 1983, Schoenfeld was part of the team that founded the Golan Heights Winery.
Today he is still the Chief Winemaker and is one of the most influential leaders in the Israeli wine industry. We chatted with him about his inspiration and his favorite wines.
The most divine interpretation of a blintz we have ever heard of — Orange Ricotta Pillows With Lillet Kumquat Compote. [Food 52]
A great primer on single malt scotch. Just in time for Purim. [Serious Eats]
Borscht no longer comes just in a bowl. Here are some recommendations for beet and dill ice cream as well as a beet-horseradish pie. [Fork in the Road]
Incase you missed Prince Charles’s seminal speech on healthy, sustainable farming last year, you can now read excerpts of it from his new book. [the Atlantic]
This week’s annual Sommelier Wine Expo in Tel Aviv brought dozens of Israeli wineries under one roof at the Nokia Arena. From tiny boutique producers to large companies, and from the northern Golan Heights to the Southern Negev, the mostly Israeli wines spanned a range of styles, offering something for everyone. After somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 wines were sampled, it was found that these five wines represent that spectrum, while standing out in the crowd with a distinctive product. All five are kosher, and most should be available in the United States.
Galil Mountain 2008 Avivim
One of only four white wines from Galil Mountain winery, Avivim is a blend of 25% Chardonnay and 75% Viognier. Although their straight Viognier is a pleasant wine, this blend offers more complexity in each sip. Viognier, which is a grape originally from the Rhone Valley in France, is a white wine varietal that has become quite popular in Israel. Aged for nine months in new French oak barrels, the dry white is golden in color and has notes of tropical fruits and honey with nice acidity. A joint venture between Kibbutz Yiron and the large Golan Heights Winery, Galil Mountain Winery has been producing wine in the Upper Galilee since 2000. It produces 1,000,000 bottles annually, only 10% of which are white. Galil wines are widely available in the United States.
Pair with: Fish or pasta.
Daniel Rogov, who passed away recently, may have gained notoriety for putting Israeli wine on the map, but it was as a food writer that he got his start. And while he will likely be most remembered for his impact on viticulture, his influence on the Israeli culinary scene was no less profound.
“He played an important role in our industry and [for] chefs,” says Jerusalem chef Michael Katz, owner of Adom, Colony, and Lavan at the Cinematheque. “Daniel Rogov was a very controversial person. Some people said he had no idea; some said he is a professional; some said he should have stuck to wine only; some said he had no idea about [being a] food critic; some said he was the best — what I am trying to say [is] that among the professional people there was no one idea or thought about the man…. Our opinion does not really matter [since] the public respected him and listened to him.”
This piece is cross-posted from JTA.
Daniel Rogov, who helped develop Israeli wine and food culture and thrust Israeli wine into the international spotlight through decades of sharply written critiques, died Sept. 7 in Tel Aviv. He was in his 70s, by several accounts, but his exact age has not been made public. In addition, the name Daniel Rogov was a pseudonym and few knew his real name.
Rogov, widely regarded as Israel’s leading food and wine critic, died a revered figure in the world he helped create. A week before his death, Rogov was treated to a celebratory tribute in his honor attended by hundreds of Israel’s leading food and wine professionals and fans at a Tel Aviv hotel.
For the small but budding wine community of Israel (and many local revelers), The Israel Wine Festival at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the pinnacle event of the year. Friends and celebrities — close to 10,000 of them — mingle outside between the museum’s buildings and trees. Wines from around the country were poured, as guests munch on locally made cheeses from places like Jacob’s Dairy.
The festival, which started on Monday and ends tonight, is in its eighth year and was started by owners of two Jerusalem wine shops, by Avi Ben and Smulik Shahar. The winery lineup consists of 40 Israeli wineries. This year’s newcomers included: Bazelet ha’Golan, Kitron, Ella Valley, Katlav, Gva’ot, Har Bracha, Chillag and others. More established wineries like Carmel and Golan Heights were there as well, as was Tishbi Winery and Binyamina Winery. And some of the boutique Israeli wineries like Tzuba Winery, Odem Mountain Winery and Yatir Winery also made appearances.
For serious wine collectors, wine auctions are nothing new. Fine bottles can go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars at auction houses like Christie’s in New York. But for the most part, the kosher wine collector has been left out of this world. This will start to change this summer as Kestenbaum and Company, a New York City-based auction house that specializes in fine Judaica, hosts its first wine auction, showcasing some of more exceptional kosher wines which have been made in the past 15 years.
The inaugural auction will include vintage Capcanes, a Spanish wine made about 100 miles south of Barcelona; a horizontal (wines from the same year) of 2000 Bordeaux, France; and a seven bottle vertical (a single wine tasted throughout a number of vintages) comprising every vintage of Covenant (Napa, California) made. The sale will also include a 1.5 L Magnum of Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Solomon Lot 70, one of only six magnums produced. The Israeli wines that will be auctioned are a variety of exceptional examples of Yarden’s Katrzin and El Rom wines in the Golan Heights, a Carmel vintage from 1976 and an Imperial of 2002 Castel wine.