Winery Hopping on the Judean Wine Trail

Last Friday, Mr. Baroness Tapuzina and I drove to the Judean Wine Trail with our good friend Mimi from Israeli Kitchen. Mimi and I decided to both write about the trip, as a kind of joint venture, and you can read her colorful aspect of the trip on her blog which is linked in the previous sentence. We are planning to do these joint blogging adventures from time-to-time.

Mimi is a great person to bring on wine hopping adventures because she is an amateur winemaker herself and I can attest that she produces some very nice and in some cases some very interesting wines. We just opened her delicious Tomato wine, which is a nice crispy wine that is excellent with fish and chicken. We are also great fans of her fruit wines, made from apricots, peaches, strawberries and other fruits. These are not dessert wines, they are fruity white wines that are a compliment to any meal.

The Judean Hills has become home  to one of Israel’s most important wine producing regions, stretching from the coastal plain to the Jerusalem Hills. Over the years, more than 25 wineries have consistently proved that they produce wines that are able to compete with the best in the industry world-wide, winning awards both locally and internationally.

I love driving along the winding roads with their lovely forests and vineyards. The wide curves and narrow turns carry you into deep valleys and along steep hillsides, as panoramic vistas spread out all around you. It really reminds me of our trip to Provence, except that a lot of the hills are planted mainly with pines, instead of the original mixture of trees (for example, oak, pine and chestnut) that were mainly deforested up to the 19th century.

Our first stop was to Tzora Vineyards Winery, founded in 1993 by Ronnie James, which is located in Kibbutz Tzora. This winery, which produces about 60,000 bottles of wine a year, was the first boutique winery in Israel to use all the grapes from their own vineyards, instead of buying grapes from elsewhere.

We tried several of their wines:

  • Giv’at Hachalukim Rose 2007
  • Judean Hills 2006
  • Single Vineyard Shoresh 2005
  • Dessert Wine – Or 2006

Giv’at Hachalukim means “Pebble Hill” and is named for the alluvial pebbles that have been washed down by the seasonal rains over thousands of years and which capture the suns heat during the day and release it to the soil at night, adding quality to the grapes.

I really enjoyed their fruity & floral Giv’at Hachalukim Rose, and the fruity & spicy Single Vineyard Shoresh, which is made with Merlot grapes.

Kibbutz Tzora was founded in 1948 by former Palmach members. Its name was taken from the Biblical Book of Judges (13:25); “And the spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Tzorah and Eshtaol.” One of the mainstays of the kibbutz economy is Tzora Furniture Ltd., which began in 1957 as a metal factory.

The kibbutz is beautifully landscaped.

The next winery we visited was Mony Winery, which is  located on the grounds of the Dir-Rif’at Monastery at the top of the hill above Tzora, and is owned by the Artoul family, an Arab-Christian family originally from the Galilee town of Mghar. The monastery’s church, is famous for having  “peace”  written on the structure’s ceiling in 340 languages.

Visitors can taste and purchase the vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, as well as its olive oil, olives, honey, and goat cheese. We tried their kosher and non-kosher Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. We preferred the non-kosher wine.

The winery is named for Dr. Mony Artoul who tragically died of a heart condition in 1995.

The winery is located in tunnels dug 120 years ago by clergy from the church. One tunnel stores the wooden casks and the second tunnel houses an enormous table around which festive events for up to 50 people can be held.

We had planned to visit the Katlav and Seahorse wineries, which are in neighboring moshavim in the hills further towards Jerusalem, but they were both closed. Both of these wineries produce excellent wines.

After our unsuccessful trip to Seahorse winery, we decided it was time to stop for a picnic at a little picnic ground laid out at the entrance to Moshav Bar Giora (the whole of Israel is dotted with picnic areas like this with picnic tables rough-hewn from the local trees). Our picnic consisted of Mimi’s delicious vegetable soup, basil bread sandwiches with natural peanut butter and apple & pear jam, potato chips, olives and cucumbers.

We didn’t get to go this trip, but one of Mr. Baroness Tapuzina’s and my favourite wineries in this area is Flam winery. It is set back from the road among olive groves, in an ochre-stuccoed building that could have been lifted straight from Provence or Tuscany, apart from its modern architecture.

Golan Flam, one of the two brothers who runs the place, was born in Stellenbosch, South Africa, while his father Yisrael, who was the wine-maker of Carmel, was studying there, and wine has flowed in his veins ever since: he did his first degree at the Hebrew University’s agriculture faculty in Rehovot, went on to a second degree in oenology at the University of Piacenza in Italy, carried on learning on the job at Greve in Chianti (poor chap), worked for a couple of years at Hardy’s in South Australia, and went on from there.

Okay, don’t tell Mr. Baroness Tapuzina, but another reason I love this winery is because Gilad is a good example of a handsome Israeli man.

Golan and Gilad founded the winery in 1998 at Moshav Ginaton, a few miles from Ben-Gurion airport: then, like now, they bought their grapes mainly from farmers in the villages of Kerem Ben-Zimra and Dishon in the central Galilee; they also buy from farmers at Karmei Yosef and other vineyards in the plain west of Jerusalem.

We like most of their wines, but our favourite is Flam Classico, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.

Now all we need is a pretext to go on another trip.

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