Greater Jaffa of the 19th century contained the roots of Israeli agriculture. The Montefiore Orchard bought by Moses Montefiore in 1855 was the beginning of an Israeli citrus industry. It is now known as the Montefiore quarter of Tel Aviv. Mikveh Israel founded in 1870 was the agricultural school founded by Karl Netter. This was the first place to plant European grape varieties. It also trained many of the new wine growers that laid the foundations of a new wine industry. In modern times these areas once referred to as Jaffa, have been absorbed into moderrn Tel Aviv and Holon respectively. Then there is Sarona.
Sarona is an oasis of green amidst the bustle of modern Tel Aviv. It is adjacent to the Montefiore Quarter and is sandwiched in between the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the Kyria military base and the Azrielli Towers. There in the center of Tel Aviv, it is still possible to see the remains of a winery, olive press and wine cellar. The area has been renovated and preserved. The fast growing new towers of apartments grate somewhat, seeming so much at odds with the pastoral atmosphere. However this special space retains its uniqueness and beauty.
Sarona was the community built by the Templers from Germany at the end of the 19th century. They settled there in 1871. They were innovative, being the first to build stone houses, and very advanced technologically. They were one of the first communities in Israel to use agriculture for commerce rather than just supplying their own families. Revealingly, it was engineers from the Templer community who built not only the wineries at Mikveh Israel and Sarona but also the cellars at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov.
They planted vineyards using German varieties such as Sylvaner and built a large winery and distillery. These were connected by a tunnel. Eventually with the founding of Carmel, Sarona could not compete, and citrus gradually replaced viticulture. This resulted in the development of the Jaffa brand for oranges.
To cut a long story short, because the Templers were considered Nazi sympathizers, they disappeared by the onset of the Second World War. As a result Sarona’s fascinating story was almost air brushed from the consciousness.
The new Sarona gradually unfolding before our eyes has thankfully brought back the good memories. Furthermore, in its latest reincarnation, it has become a mecca for wine lovers and connoisseurs.
Claro is a restaurant worth visiting. It operates in the original distillery building which was built in 1886. The distillery was rented out firstly to the Teperberg family and later to the Segals for producing arak, brandy and liqueurs. Neither succeeded in making a success commercially of spirit production at Sarona, but both companies eventually specialized in wine and lasted the test of time. Teperberg is today Israel’s largest family winery and the Segal brand is an important part of Barkan’s portfolio.
The food of Claro is Mediterranean Israeli. Service is easy, relaxed yet very professional. Ran Shmueli, who needs no introduction, is the chef. However what interests me is an unusually interesting wine list. Firstly it is short and therefore easy to navigate. Secondly it is priced very reasonably.
It is divided into innovative sections. Wines are categorized as Spicy, Classic or Funky. Spicy refers to Mediterranean style wines. Classic lists wines made from the noble varieties and the Funky wines are unique, unusual and tempting. The wines I look for on a list are those offering something different.
For instance I recommend the Tabor 652 Sparkling, a rare sparkling red wine. The Cremisan Hamdani Jandali is a must if you have not tasted it. Made from the Cremisan Monastery, it is an authentic Palestine wine, fascinating for wine people, because it is made from indigenous varieties.
The Shvo Rose is a super wine for our climate. The Carmel Sumaka Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a cooler climate Cabernet. Less jammy and concentrated than many Israeli reds. Bar-Maor’s Red Moon is a great wine for the curious. I could go on.
Jajo Wine Bar
Across the way, is the old Sarona Winery, which is connected by tunnel to the distillery. It has now been transformed into one of Israel’s finest new wine bars. Wine lovers will already be familiar with the smaller, intimate Jajo wine bars in Neve Tzedek, but this new branch of Jajo is on a different scale altogether.
It is situated in the vast winery cellar. In shape, size and feel, it is not dissimilar to the cellars I am familiar with at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Winery. Jajo Wine Bar is a place to see and be seen in. It is one of the ‘in’ meeting places in Tel Aviv, but be sure to book far in advance as it is usually teeming.
There is a long bar that runs the length of the cellar. The food is high quality, innovative but it is the wines that are more interesting to me. They have purchased well to provide an interesting list of 180 wines. Culled from this is a practical recommended list of thirty wines that regularly changes.
I recommend perching on the bar, watching the slick bar staff, and ordering a number of different small dishes. Alongside there is the possibility of ordering a few different wines by the glass. Of course, don’t forget to appreciate the atmosphere of being in a nearly 150 year old wine cellar.
However, the most innovative new wine outlet in Sarona is Tasting Room. This is a small new wine bar that has opened in what used to be the Community Center of Sarona. Visitors can taste no less than forty wines at any one time, all kept at the maximum quality and freshness.
They can buy glasses of varying sizes, using a smart card similar to those used in hotels these days. A full glass is 125 cl, but there are also options of a half glass or a tasting measure of 25 cl. Here is a place to taste a wine you would not normally be able to afford. For example the Yarden Katzrin 2008 is offered by the glass.
Seventy percent of the wines stocked are Israeli and some of Israel’s largest wineries and highest quality small wineries are also represented. It provides a wonderful opportunity for the wine guy or tourist to taste, compare and evaluate a number of wines at one sitting.
It is also an innovative place for an evening out or a small event. There is good range of wine bar style food available for those wanting to make an evening of it. Options include bruschetta, charcuterie or a cheese platter.
Tasting Room is the brainchild of Avi (Avshalom) Cohen, who also has his own winery. The smiling face that may greet you is Roni Saslove, ex of Saslove Winery. She is the manager.
This outlet reflects the wine revolution that has happened in Israel. There is no place quite like it. Go there to sniff, swirl and sip whilst you talk wine with likeminded friends.
Of course Sarona is not just about wine. For the thirsty there is also a Molly Blooms Irish Pub and Paulaner beer garden. There is also a Little Italy section where you can thumb your nose at Tel Aviv, fill a picnic basket, sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic with easy drinking glass of Italian wine. The new Sarona is going to be very popular. However don’t forget that the wine tastes better when you take time to sit and consider the fascinating history of this jewel wedged in the middle of Tel Aviv.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine
in both Israeli & international publications.