Spring Fair of Homemade Wines at Soreq Winery

This post is from last year. This year’s festival will be on Friday, 29 April from 1000 – 1600. Don’ t miss it.

Soreq Winery, one of the first boutique wineries in Israel, is situated between the Ayalon and Soreq valleys, in a region where wine was produced as early as 3,000 years ago. The Shacham family founded the Soreq winery in 1994. Nir Shaham is the vintner and his parents, Heli and Yossi, are the proprietors. They now produce 10,000 bottles a year from a 30-year-old vineyard as well as a younger vineyard planted on the nearby slopes of the Judean Hills. The winery produces wine from Merlot, Grenache, Petit Verdoux, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Shortly after opening their winery, Nir Shaham, gave courses on winemaking which developed into the Soreq School of Winemaking. This school is attended by amateurs and professionals who are interested in winemaking at home or for those whose dream is to open a boutique winery, which is becoming more and more fashionable in Israel. For the past several years, Soreq winery has organized a homemade wine fair in the spring that showcases their current and past students. Some of their well-known offspring are Avidan, Mond, Nachshon, and Kadesh Barnea wineries.

This year’s fair featured about 40 winemakers, most of whom made only red wines, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz, but there were a few brave souls that make white wines, dessert wines, and even one winemaker who made a decent rosé. One thing most of the home wineries have in common is that their products are not “technically” kosher, a process that costs more money than most of them can justify when the output is still small. Nevertheless, some of them produce wine that in practical terms is kosher, since they are religiously observant or traditional themselves and follow the rules of kashrut.

The enthusiasm of the winemakers was infectious and it made you want to try their wines that they have worked so hard on. Gytot Winery is a good example: Malkiel and Dina Hadari have been making wine for the past three years after Dina gave the Soreq Winery course as birthday present to her wine-loving husband. She told him, “You love drinking wine and talk about it all of the time, why don’t you try making it yourself.” They now have six oak barrels and all of the equipment they need to produce several thousand bottles of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

This was my first time at the fair and I must say that I was quite impressed with the wines on offer, most of which I would buy and happily serve to guests at dinner. Actually, the real difficulty was deciding which were the best so that I could buy some without breaking the bank, even though the average price was about 70NIS (20USD) a bottle.

And if you are worried about drinking too much on an empty stomach, there were also beautiful vegetarian tapas for sale from Maya Ben Tzvi, a caterer who specializes in healthy vegetarian gourmet dishes.

Some of the tapas were grilled portobello mushrooms with a dollop of tomato confit, topped with a miniature potato pancake, stuffed zucchini and eggplant, and bruschetta with various toppings, such as poached pears and Roquefort cheese. They were delicious.

And to close your meal, you could try a delicious and not too sweet Delicate Passionfruit liqueur from the Fishbein family farm at Ein Irron in the north of the country.

Next year, I hope there will be an even bigger selection of wines, especially including whites and rosés; but I better have a hearty breakfast first.

Soreq Winery Homemade Wine Fair
Entrance fee: 55NIS
Moshav Tal Shachar

Tulip Winery: not just a business

Tulip Winery Sign

Tulip Winery, located in Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope), was established in 2003 by the Itzhaki family. The youngest son, Roy Itzhaki, established the Tulip Winery with a family investment. “I come from a family that works in construction and real estate, and we are wine freaks,” he says. “Seven years ago, we visited a wine exhibition at the Scottish House, and we saw someone sell 1,000 bottles he made at home. I started doing some research and found out that for 15,000 NIS, you can make two barrels of wine at home. Because it’s a messy process, I told my parents, ‘Let’s rent a place.'”

Kfar Tikva, which is close to the Itzhaki’s home, was already established as a long-term home for people with special needs, and had a small, experimental winery for its working residents. “The village had financial difficulties at the time, and they were trying to privatize a few of the occupational departments,” recalls Itzhaki. “I went to see it and they told me the winery was for sale. So I discussed with the family and we decided to buy it.”

Tulip Winery’s vineyards are located at Kfar Yuval and below Keren ben Zimra, in the North, where they grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. They have also have vineyards in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem at Moshav Matta and Karmei Yosef where they grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes.

Tulip Winery Exterior

Tulip Winery employs Kfar Tikva residents in harvesting, bottling, and packaging the wine as well as welcoming guests in the visitors’ center. The winery also promotes joint activities with Kfar Tikva, including the sale of crafts made by the community members. During the holidays the winery offers holiday gift packages that include artworks created by the members, with revenues donated directly to Kfar Tikva and its members.

Michal Negrin Tulip Winery Bottles

Notwithstanding the emphasis on contributing to the community, Tulip Winery’s main goal is to produce top quality wine that not only tastes good but also looks good in the bottle: for example, one series had labels designed by the well-known Israeli jewellery and fashion designer Michal Negrin. Even the normal series pay serious attention to the aesthetics of their labels in order to catch the buyers’ eye, something that is now typical of Israeli boutique wineries.

Tulip Wines

The range of grapes that Tulip uses is a little more varied than most Israeli boutique wineries: only a few others, for example, have a Cabernet Franc, a grape that produces wines with a powerful and chunky taste that is difficult to balance. But what’s perhaps more unusual is that in a country where the climate and soil — and habit — make red wine far more popular than white (and where rosé is mainly very new), this winery has also developed what it calls White Tulip, a blend of Gewürtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc that combines the fruitiness of both varieties without the natural sweetness of the Gewürtztraminer and so is suitable both as an aperitif and for drinking throughout a meal.

Tulip Winery Interior

The irony is that although Itzhaki calls himself and his family ‘wine freaks,’ their whole enthusiasm for wine started out of ignorance: his father was dining at a top restaurant in Paris, he told Israeli daily Haaretz in a profile article, and aroused the staff’s disdain by ordering beer. The result was that father Itzhak was given a swift education in drinking wine with gourmet food, and then passed on his newly-acquired knowledge to Roy and the rest of the family. But from the establishment of the winery in 2003, success didn’t take long to arrive: they already received silver medals at the Finger Lake competition in the USA for their 2004 Syrah Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; the 2005 vintages of the same wines were recommended by international guru Robert Parker in the Wine Spectator. Virtue, it appears, does get rewarded, at least when accompanied by skill.

Tulip Winery’s Visitors Center
Open every Friday 10:00-13:00 and every Saturday 11:00-16:00
Now Kosher (as of end of 2010)

Birthday Dinner – Fit for a Baroness

Mr. BT made me a lovely birthday dinner last week. I couldn’t have had any better at a restaurant. My dinner began with my surprise gift. After 45 years of life, I was presented with a dark blue Kitchenaid, something I have wanted for years. It has already made a two honey cakes, whole wheat bread, and some beautiful challah for Rosh Hashana.

Dinner began with a very artistically displayed portobello mushroom framed by grilled asparagus. It looked like the evil eye was protecting me for my birthday.

The next course was grilled fresh barramundi stuffed with a bunch of fresh tarragon and served with a porcini mushroom and shallot sauce. Barramundi is especially popular in Australia and is now also farmed at a kibbutz in the Negev. We buy it fresh from the kibbutz. It is a lovely sweet, white, flaky fish. Mr. BT served the fish with sauteed fresh spinach and steamed rice.

Dessert were two lovely homemade sorbets: Pink Grapefruit-Campari and Granny Smith Apple-Calvados. They were both delicious and the granny smith apple sorbet was like a whole apple orchard in your mouth. It has an amazing appley flavour accentuated by Mr. BT having left the peel on.

We drank a delicious and fruity white wine blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewuertztraminer made by our local boutique winery, Yekev Mond (website only in Hebrew) at Moshav Mishmeret, which is literally a five minute drive from our house. This winery has been producing wines for several years, but only started selling three years ago. Moshe Keren, the winemaker, gave us the grand tour lasting about two hours, most of which was taken up by tasting his wines and liqueurs. We began by tasting grape juice that had been crushed four hours earlier. It already had a lovely fruity flavour. He then gave us a taste of a Shiraz, also straight from the fermentation tank, that had been fermenting for the past 28 hours. It was obviously quite young, but you could already taste the alcohol and it had it a lovely fragrance.

From there we went to the tasting room and tried a Merlot, the white blend (see above), Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend of Merlot and Cab. However, the big surprises were a Muscat Alexandroni that had an absolutely intoxicating aroma of honey, a Port that wouldn’t have disgraced any Portuguese maker (and it’s the first Israeli Port we have tasted that is really worth drinking), a mulberry liqueur, and a mint liqueur. It is just as well the drive home was only five minutes on quiet country roads because we both happily skipped to our car.

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