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.
What could be more sacred than water? It is essential to all life, refreshing to drink, and beautiful to behold. In May of 2013 we celebrated our marriage with a carefully crafted and lovingly personalized Jewish ceremony. When it came to designing the Kiddush for our wedding, the blessing traditionally said over wine, we chose instead to sanctify water. Neither of us drink alcohol and so the decision to leave out wine was an easy one. We had been using water for our Friday Night Kiddush since we moved in together nine months earlier and it felt like a natural extension to have it at our wedding.
We feel that it is important to make Jewish ritual our own rather than doing something simply because it is how people have done it in the past. We truly believe that the Mitzvoth, Jewish good deeds and ceremonial actions, are opportunities to connect with God and the world in a deeper way. They are rich with meaning and potential but sometimes if they don’t speak to us initially, it takes just a small change to have them feel just right. We both see Judaism as an evolving pathway and feel empowered to adapt ancient wisdom and customs to fit our life circumstance and hearts’ call.
The Chief Rabbinate has issued a warning that wine produced by the first Israeli winery to be supervised by the Masorti Movement, as the Conservative Movement is called in Israel, is not kosher.
“The Conservative Movement is forbidden by law to authorize kashrut,” the Rabbinate wrote on the page devoted to kashrut updates on its website. “[These] Products … should not be sold in stores under the supervision of the local rabbinates. Let the public know and be warned.”
A month ago, Haaretz published the story of Rujum, a tiny boutique winery in the southern town of Mitzpeh Ramon that had decided to challenge the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut supervision, and specifically, the very strict laws that pertain to winemaking.
Rujum does not claim that its wines are kosher by Orthodox standards; its wines do not bear the kashrut label of the Rabbinate, which is the sole authority recognized in Israel on the matter.
The Masorti Movement requires that all ingredients used in wine be kosher, and most of the commandments specific to produce grown in Israel are observed.
For more go to Haaretz
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.
Misconceptions about Israeli wine that remain isolated to Manischewitz should only happen to those living in a vacuum. Israel is definitively part of the emerging new world winemaking scene. Making sun baked and ripe wines still constitute the majority of wines from the Holy Land, but from big companies on down, it is clear that some Israeli producers are looking the other way. They are now beginning to define their wines by freshness and restraint.
On June 4th, 2013, fifteen Israeli winemakers descended upon Manhattan’s City Winery for an intimate showcase of their portfolios. After attending IsraWineExpo a few years ago in Tel Aviv, I was excited to taste new releases of familiar bottles, while hoping to find new producers and styles.
What set the tone was a transparent pre-tasting discussion between Alex Haruni of the Upper Galilee’s Dalton Winery, and Josh Wesson, founder of wine retail empire Best Cellars. Through his humor and gentle quips at kosher wine stereotypes, Josh was able to inspire Alex to speak on behalf on the Israeli industry as a whole. Alex’s openness regarding winemaking practices exhibited the kind of confidence one gains over time. “Eighteen years ago, we were making the best wines we knew how,” Alex said, “and over the last five years our wine making is now less interventionist.” Older vines, understanding terroir, and honing techniques have allowed the winemakers to do less manipulation and yet yield better results.
Here’s a roundup of oenophile-tested, rabbi-approved picks for this year’s Seder table:
The granddaddy of wine publications has picks for all budgets, from a $13 Baron Herzog Zinfandel to a $150 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon. Look for more options using their online Wine Searcher. [Wine Spectator]
Kosher wines from South Africa and the Pacific Northwest, including a mevushal (pasteurized) selection that can be poured by non-Jews. [The Daily Meal]
It’s all about reds, according to these New York wine professionals. [The Wall Street Journal]
Wine critic Eric Asimov reviews a dozen options (two mevushal) starting at $16. [The New York Times]
A look at five mevushal varieties from Napa Valley’s Hagafen Cellars. [Palate Press]
Maple Leaf Jews are covered with 20 picks under $20. [Canada.com]
A focus on Israeli wines under the Yarden’s umbrella. [The San Francisco Examiner]
Four non-mevushal picks from Israel, Bordeaux and California. [The Wine Cellar Insider]
Recommended bottles from $9 and up. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
On Tuesday, I had an evening that would make the proverbial bubbie plotz (and with credit to my Bubbie, when I told her where I was, she kind of did). I left my Brooklyn apartment while it was still dark, and boarded the train from Penn Station to Washington DC, the sun was rising out the window. By noon, I was surrounded by a room full Jewish men; lawyers to be precise. The whole place was full of them, dressed in suits, making small talk. If you’re quiet, you can hear the sound of bubbie plotzing!
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.
About 30 miles outside of downtown Portland, Oregon in the heart of the Willamette Valley, is the AlexEli Vineyard and Winery, home to Oregon’s only kosher wine producing vineyard. Vintner Phil Kramer, 28, who co-owns the vineyard with his mother, Anita, purchased the 18-acre estate four years ago and has been producing wine ever since.
This October, he bottled his first kosher variety, a Pinot Noir. Inspired in part by his extended family, who keep kosher, Kramer said he has been thinking about producing a kosher variety for a couple of years, but wanted to get a good bearing on wine production before he started.
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.
While wine is a crucial element of Jewish religious practice, kosher consumers are not known for their expertise in vino. The stereotype is that Jews prefer sweet wines to the more sophisticated dry wines favored by oenophiles. And, according to Beckey Richards, sommelier at Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, Calif., there’s some truth to that.
“I was surprised when I started working here to see the demand for sweeter wines,” she said. Herzog Special Reserve (the company’s higher-end label, which includes more aged wines) sells three versions of late harvest wines, which are made with sweeter grapes — a Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel and Riesling. Usually, wineries will make just one late harvest variety.
“But I do think there’s a lot of interest in experimenting more,” Richards said. “We sell a Chardonnay and a Cabernet a little hint of sweetness. I call them ‘training wheel wines.’ They get people to transition from sweet into drier wines.”
Going to be in New York on Christmas and looking for a break from Chinese food? Eater NY gives us a list of 22 restaurants where you can enjoy a delectable meal. If you’re afraid to stray too far from the classic Chinese feast, they recommend trying Brooklyn’s Mile End Deli’s interpretation. [Eater]
‘Tis the season for brisket. It seems brisket recipes are everywhere at the moment. The Kitchn supplies us with a recipe cooked in pomegranate juice from James Peterson’s new book “Meat: A Kitchen Education.” [The Kitchn]
Former JCarrot contributor, Jeffrey Yoskowitz writes in the New York Times Dining Section of the first Hebrew language pork cookbook, “The White Book” and the varying opinions surrounding the topic of “the white steak,” or pork, in Israel.
J. Weekly announces a new Adamah fellowship on urban Jewish farming to start next summer in the Bay Area.
JTA launches Chocolate and Kalamata Olives a food blog focusing on food and cooking in Israel.
Today The Jew and the Carrot brings you two beverage stories for drinks to enjoy in your sukkah. The first installment explores Kosher wines and this afternoon, check back for the second installment to learn how to infuse rye for the holiday.
In past years, most oenophiles have looked at kosher wines as something to be endured out of respect to family members or in honor of a holiday. But the days of overly sweet [Concord grape Malaga , or tasteless, boiled mevushal wines are thankfully behind us. With the introduction of new techniques like flash pasteurization and the ability to “cook” the wine to a lower temperature the process of producing kosher wines has been made easier and more palatable to wine makers around the world.
With 55% of kosher products being purchased by non-kosher consumers because of perceptions of purity and quality, many wine producers are finding it worth their while to take the extra step of producing a kosher product. Some importers also commission a special run of quality wines from Spain, Italy, France, Australia, Chile or Portugal, made according to the laws of Kashrut.
Nathan will also be answering questions about cooking for the holiday on the Times’ Diner’s Journal.
No longer just Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and McIntosh – The Wall Street Journal reports on new (but pricey) apple varietals like Honeycrisp, Zestar and SweeTango in time for the New Year.
In Vino Veritas: Mark Oldman at Tablet suggests pours some suggestions for vino to accompany your holiday meal.
-The LA Times brings us a piece on the symbolic foods Jews around the globe eat for Rosh Hashanah and provides [recipes] for the holiday, along with photos to make your mouth water.