02 Oct Truth in Wine Two Harvests, Two Continents
When Leslie Rudd and I decided to make wine in Israel back in 2013, we did so not only because we felt connected to our spiritual homeland as Jews, but also because we had tasted some great Israeli wines. Now, into our fifth Israeli harvest, we are more convinced than ever that Israel is one of the most exciting “new” wine regions in the world.
It’s not surprising, of course. 2000 years ago, the Romans gave extra praise to the wines coming from Israel (then called Judea). With its iron-rich red soil and limestone gravel, much of Israel—particularly the Galilee—reminds us of the Rhone Valley, where Syrah is the king of reds. But we also see many similarities between Israel and California, where the climate, soils and topography very much resemble each other. In Israel, our main focus is on Rhone varietals like Syrah and Viognier; while in California, we produce many varietals ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and even Pinot Noir.
Needless to say, it’s been a full-court press this harvest on two continents. In both California and Israel, an early growing season gave way to early picks, particularly with the whites. We harvested our white grapes at somewhat lower sugar levels this year to maintain better acidity and structure. And we think it’s paying off, too. At the least, it helps us get a head start on things!
All the white grapes on both continents are currently in tank or barrel and pretty much dry. A heat spike in early September (curiously in both California and Israel) set off some serious ripening, which led us to believe we’d get too many red grapes in at once and not be able to handle it. But the heat tapered off, and cool weather slowed things down. The early reds (like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel) have finished fermenting, and the later ones—like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah—are just coming in now. They taste very good, and we have every reason to believe that this will be another excellent harvest in California and Israel.
OK, we did have a few snafus. Like the wild boar that ate half our Syrah grapes in my favorite Israeli vineyard. Bummer. And they knew just when to eat—the day before we were set to pick! Oh yeah…. those 115-degree days up in the Napa and Sonoma vineyards were challenging. But we gave the grapes a big drink before the heat hit, and they did nicely. Right in the middle of things, as I was preparing to catch a flight to Israel, surprise deliveries of grapes and a new tank showed up at the winery. The cellar crew was working the flash détente in Sonoma. But I managed to commandeer the fork lift and unload everything…and still make it to the airport on time!
2017 is our fourth harvest at the winery we built in Berkeley in 2014. Both the crew there and our equipment have been working well—really dialed in. It’s been a blessing having our own space, and now we’ve really grown into it. Our cellar crew—Josh and Eli—are typically behind the scenes. But without them, we couldn’t do what we do. And this is our 14th vintage working with Jonathan. What a pleasure to watch him grow from a 24-year-old cellar rat into the fine winemaker, husband and father he is today!
Back in Israel, we are working at a new facility in the Galilee: Adir Winery. Our Covenant Israel production team–Ari and Bat-El—have brought all our grapes in as of this week. Fermentations look great! And we managed to take over the entire Viognier block at Manara Vineyard in the northern Galilee. Last year’s wine from this vineyard proved to be outstanding; and we plan to continue making Viognier from these grapes. Regarding those wild boar: Fortunately we source our Syrah from four excellent vineyards. The other three were “boar free.”
Looking forward to sharing our 2017 wines with you in the future. Meanwhile, I better get back to the cellar!
From L to R: Jeff Morgan (Winemaker, Co-owner), Jonathan Hajdu (Winemaker), Eli Silins (Cellar Master)