Adam S. Montefiore
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ETHICAL WINE

In a praiseworthy development, Tabor Winery has created the first ecological vineyard in Israel by fulfilling the guidelines laid down by the Society of the Preservation of Nature, over a three year period. Furthermore, they intend to extent this policy to 90% of their vineyards.

An ecological vineyard is more known as self-sustainable in wine terms overseas. This fits in to a range of environmental friendly standards in the vineyard, which are good for the health of the surroundings, the quality of the vines and also the soul of the practitioners. Sustainability is all about maintaining an ecological balance between nature and the vineyard. Putting the morals back into vineyard growing, if you like.

For those that want harmony with nature, there are a number of buzz words like organic, biodynamic and natural. Firstly there are organically grown vines. In this instance the wine is not organic, but the fruit is grown organically. This is achieved by avoiding synthetic pesticide or additives. An organic wine is made without adding sulfites at the winery.

Biodynamic farming is similar to organic, but takes into account astrological and lunar influences, and is practiced by believers with an almost religious fervor. There is almost a mystical quality to the beliefs. Burying a cow horn filled with dung is one thing they do, but before you pooh pooh it, some of the finest wineries swear by it.

Then there are Natural Wines, a broad church without official definition, which basically means making wine in the laisser faire method without additions or unnecessary interventions in winemaking. Some kosher wines will be suitable for vegans and vegetarians, depending on the fining material used.

There has been organically grown wine (like the Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay) and even an organic wine, Bashan, which was founded as a kosher and organic winery in the 2000’s, but it unfortunately did not last. However in Israel we are behind the curve in production of ethical wines.

Planting a vineyard to produce wine is in itself a peaceful act. In ancient times, it was considered important enough for a soldier to stay home and look after the vineyard rather than go to war. However in terms of nature protection, creating a vineyard is a violent act because of the necessary preparation of the land. It creates a scar of disturbance to the local flora and fauna.

So Tabor Winery decided to attend to this issue in their Ramat Sirin Vineyard. This is a large vineyard site, which is kept immaculately, with its own unique terroir. It is situated in the Lower Galilee on a soil of volcanic tuff and basalt stone, at 400 meters altitude with a view of Mount Tabor, Mount Hermon and the Sea of Galilee.

They allowed a cover crop to grow, planted 400 trees within the boundaries of the vineyard, created nesting areas for birds, and placed piles of stones and boulders to encourage the return of wild life. The flora and fauna that settles will create its own ecosystem and a new order of things in which the natural balance of nature is respected and encouraged. The results were recorded and monitored over a three year period.

Michal Akerman is the person responsible for this initiative. She is tousle haired with a perky smile and large, bright eyes. She is a peculiarly Israeli blend, with grandparents from Syria, Morocco, Poland and Germany and a father from Peru! Her work on a kibbutz gave her a love of the land. She worked with dates, mango, avocado and citrus. After the army, again on kibbutz, she first became responsible for a vineyard, but it was for table grapes. She then travelled to South America and found herself working in vineyards in Chile and Mendoza, just to earn pocket money. Almost without realizing, she slipped into a career as a viticulturist.

Whilst studying at the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot, she joined Barkan Winery. After finishing her first degree, she worked in South Africa for a year, before returning to Barkan as Chief Agronomist in 2004. Barkan was then in a campaign to become the largest winery in Israel and by the time she left, they had 8,000 dunams of vineyards, many developed on Akerman’s watch.

In 2009, she was head hunted by Tabor. She was happy to go to a smaller winery where her decisions would have a greater effect. She was also delighted to work for a grower CEO, who understood how important vineyards are to the final quality of the wine.

She is a great one for balancing the old and new in agriculture. She likes to deal with the hand provided by nature with the added assistance of new technology. She keeps her finger on the pulse by receiving all kinds of statistics from weather stations transmitted in real time to her cell phone, but is most at home sniffing the earth by visiting a vineyard. When we met, she just had to visit a vineyard on the way, to touch base, and show the vines she had not forgotten them.

Michal explained to me: “The new practices become a way of life. We can’t control everything and have to be part of nature.” What impressed me most, was her insistence on also tasting the wines with the winemakers, even from different plots. This is certainly someone who believes she grows wine, not grapes.

Under Michal’s management, the vineyard area has grown from 550 to 2,400 dunams. Tabor as a winery is situated in the Lower Galilee, and the majority of its grapes come from the Galilee and Golan, however Akerman has the flexibility to find the best fruit which takes her all over Israel. During her time she has also brought new varieties to the Israeli wine scene like Roussanne and Tannat.

Tabor Winery was founded in 1999 by four grape growing families of Kfar Tabor. The winery is today managed by Oren Sela, the younger generation of one of them. The winery is owned by the Central Bottling Co., the country’s premier beverage company responsible for producing or representing mega global brands such as Coca Cola, Carlsberg and Johnnie Walker. The wines are distributed by IBBLS, the importers & distributors of Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company.

However for all that hype and the association with big brands, the winery is managed by one of the founder growers, with the attention to detail in the vineyards of a small boutique winery. The winemaker is the same as when the winery started on its way. It has grown for sure. It is now the fifth largest winery in Israel producing two million bottles a year.

What is interesting is that the success of the winery is not just in the good value stakes, where you would expect Tabor to shine, but also the highest quality arena, where their wines compete with Israel’s finest. Their success across the range is very impressive.

In the recent past, the Har ‘Mount Tabor’ Chardonnay was selected in the Top 100 Best Value Wines of the Year by the Wine Enthusiast, one of the important wine magazines in America. It is extremely rare for an Israeli wine to be on this list

The Adama Merlot scored 93 points in the Wine Enthusiast, then the highest score ever, for any Israeli wine given by this magazine. The Adama Roussanne was recommended by Oz Clarke’s Wine A to Z and the Sufa, a red wine blend, was recommended in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

The prestige Limited Edition received the top score of any Israeli wine in the Wine Spectator last year, and Tabor Winery was the only Israeli winery invited to the New York Wine Experience, the world’s most prestigious gathering of the finest wineries in the world.

And that is abroad where tastings are blind, and labels don’t carry the baggage they do here. In Israel, Tabor has also excelled. It was the leading winery with no less than five gold medal trophies in the Best Value Competition 2016, for wines up to 79 shekels. Even more impressive, it was also the leading Israeli winery in the Eshkol Hazahav 2016 competition, the Israeli wine Oscars, with four gold medal trophies. The Adama Sauvignon Blanc is a banker, seeming to wine gold in both competitions year after year.

I always think that kosher as a concept would be easier explained to the non-Jewish, general market, if accompanied by self-sustainable vineyards. The two really seem to go together. So I applaud this pioneering initiative by Tabor Winery, and hope their lead is followed by other wineries.

Regardless of sustainable practices in the vineyards, it is also a winery with proven and sustainable quality at every price point. It seems that those that care about vineyards and the environment, also make wines with good karma. What goes around, comes around.

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the jerusalem post

SUSTAINABLE QUALITY

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NOTHING NEW UNDER SUN

There is nothing new under the sun in winemaking. When at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars, I would pass the large barrels on display, and explain that “they were used to ferment the wine 125 years ago.”

In fact, it was so hot in July and August in 1890, pre electricity, that they had to import a special ice machine from Cairo, and large blocks of ice were lowered in bags into the barrels to reduce temperatures during fermentation.

In about the 1920’s, when Soleh Boneh was founded, cement tanks replaced the large barrels because they gave more capacity. Originally they did not line the cement tanks, and the wine became tainted and had to be poured away. Then the cement tanks were lined with glass. Think how expensive that must have been.

Twelve years ago I would show these cement tanks as museum pieces explaining “this is how we used to make the wine.” Fast forward to today. Big barrels are back in. Carmel Winery has introduced a fleet of new fourdres (5,000 liter barrels) into its cellars. These provide gentle oxidization, without imparting too much oak flavors.

Likewise cement tanks. The new winemaker liked the results of wine stored in cement tanks. The wine drops bright better in cement than in stainless steel, it is good for temperature retention and the cement produces an oxidation mid-point between an inert stainless steel tank and a small oak barrel.

So a number of small Italians, were employed from a company specializing in revitalizing cement tanks, to restore the cement tanks one by one. Today they are lined with epoxy and used with pride. Cement is back in throughout the world. Who said progress is only looking forward & not looking back

However large barrels and cement tanks is looking back in years counting in the hundreds. This pales into insignificance when you compare making wine in Kvevri . These are large oval, egg shaped earthenware vessels used for fermenting and storing wine. They were used for winemaking up to 8,000 years ago. Later the Greeks and Romans called them pithos and dolium respectively.

They are enormous containers, made from terra cotta, red clay, which are fired in an open fire. They are sometimes larger than a person, and always handmade, so each will vary slightly in shape. Kvevri are used again and again. Some in Georgia go back centuries. They should not be confused with amphorae which were used later, more for storage and transportation.

Hugh Johnson relates in his ‘The Story of Wine’, how in Georgia, you would visit a family winery and the family would have a private cellar, yet there were no out buildings housing barrels or tanks. The only clue was a series of molehills in the ground nearby where these large containers were buried.

He writes that the family would hollow out a log, slop the grapes from a harvest into it and stamp on the grapes until all the must or juice had been released. Then the juice, grape skins, pips and all, would be scooped up and placed in these massive containers, stoppered up and buried deep in the soil.

The temperature of the ground would be cool, and the wine slowly fermented over a long period. In the spring the family would ladle the wine out into another Kvrevi, this time leaving the skins behind and the wine was stored this way until it was drunk.

Delightfully there are still families making wine this way in Georgia and some modern winemakers in Friuli, Slovenia and Georgia, believing in tradition, nature and retro, have also returned to making wines this way.

Why not in Israel I hear you ask Well, one enterprising family has introduced Kvevri to Israel. This was under the direction of Lina Slutzkin who founded her Kadma winery in Kfar Uriah in the Judean foothills in 2010.

She was an engineer who worked for Intel for twenty years. The Slutzkins then bought a farm and she got an itch and decided to do something completely different.

She wanted a winery, but was determined to be different from everyone else. She sought encouragement, but most people lacked her imagination and thought she was crazy. One encouraging beacon was Nir Shoham, owner of the Soreq Winery Winemaking School. He taught, encouraged and advised her. That was enough to send her on her way.

She had made Aliyah from Georgia as an eight year old girl in 1972, and adopted Israel without feeling the slightest sentimentality to her mother country. She is quite adamant that when she came to Israel, she shrugged off her Georgian past forever. She explained that she did not look back but then said wistfully: “but those who think France has the best cuisine in the world, don’t know Georgia!”

Anyway to make her dream come true, she returned to Georgia for the first time in 36 years and went in search of some Kvevri to bring back to Israel. Making these is an ancient and rare artisanal craft, passed down in families over thousands of years, but it is a declining art.

She had to find the few remote villages where these large containers are still made. That was the easy part. Then she had to pack them safely and ship them to Israel. Drama and no little determination was the order of the day, but, wonder of wonders, they arrived safely.

Unfortunately the soil temperature in Israel was too warm for the Kvevri to be buried in the Holy Land as they are in Georgia, but nothing was to prevent Lina from achieving her aim.

The winery sought advice from winemaker Dr. Arkadi Papikian, one of the leading wine consultants in Israel, and Professor Amos Hadas, author of ‘The Vine and Wine in Archaeology of the Land of Israel’. Professor Hadas explained that pottery containers used for fermentation were never buried in the soil in Ancient Israel.

Eventually they decided to stand the earthenware vessels in a cold storage room. Cold maceration, fermentation and malolactic fermentation all take place within these containers making them the only winery in Israel that makes wine in this way. Then the wines are aged in oak barrels in the usual way.

Lina explained that they wanted to combine these ancient vessels with modern techniques to make wine in a country with such an ancient winemaking history.

The benefits of the Kvevri are that fermentation is longer and more even and the narrow conical base means less prolonged contact between lees (sediment) and wine. It is moving and exciting to see these vessels of winemaking history in use here in Israel. Well worth a special visit.

Another reason is to taste the cheeses, cut vegetables and the delicious Georgian paste from a secret recipe and the scrumptious bread baked by Reuven Grafton, a local baker. You need another reason Maybe it is to meet Vlad, Lina’s husband from St. Petersberg. He is a fascinating walking encyclopedia of wine information from ancient history until today. Unfortunately he works in Hi tec by day, but if you can catch him helping out on his days off, you are the winner.

Future dreams Maybe, to bring the Georgian variety Separavi, to Israel, to ferment in her Kvevri. Now that would be interesting!

Modern winemaking technology here may give the impression Israel is in the New World of winemaking. The return of cement tanks and large barrels reminds us of our Old World roots. However Slutzkin’s Kvevri, the discovery of a very large 3,600 old wine cellar at Tel Kabri in the Galilee and the hundreds of old limestone wine presses that decorate our landscape, help to remind us that our true beginnings are in the Ancient World. It seems what goes around, comes around.

The wines I tasted were as follows:

Kadma Chenin Blanc 2014
A white wine with a blowsy, tropical fruit aroma. Its sweetness is quite apparent, but is offset somewhat by a clean finish. It will be popular amongst those who like semi dry wines. Price: 90 ILS

Kadma Gemino 2013
This was my favorite wine, made from a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. It has a cherry berry aroma with an earthy, peppery backdrop. It has medium weight, with a refreshing finish.
Price 70 ILS

Lirae Kadma 2013
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with aromas of blackcurrant and ripe plum. It has a full flavor with a vanilla coating.
Price: 80 ILS

Copia 2013
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. The wine is full bodied, fruity with black fruit dominant and exhibits a certain mouth filling complexity. Good finish.

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the jerusalem post

Georgia Judea