ROSH HASHANAH EDITION 5778 SECTION B PAGE 10
“Wine touring and tasting in Israel has reached a level of excellence that rivals Tuscany and even Bordeaux, I dare say,” says Amir Katz of My Israel Wine Tours, one of the growing number of tour operators specializing in this niche sector.
“While our Châteaux are nonexistent, and our vineyards a fraction of the size, at the end of the day it’s what’s in your glass that counts the most,” says Katz, an émigré from Boston.
“With such a small country, we must focus on quality, not quantity, and this has been the trend over the past decade.”
Indeed, about 35 commercial wineries in Israel and 250 boutique wineries are producing wines that are reaching global markets and receiving praise and awards for their dynamism and delight.
With all those wineries to choose from, a wine tour of Israel could go on for weeks and weeks even if limited to wineries with actual visitor centers.
To get you started, here are a dozen wineries whose products and visitor centers come highly recommended.
This is just a small sip!
1. Golan Heights Winery in Katzrin offers guided tours ranging from one to three-and-a-half hours. The basic tour covers the production process, barrel hall and tastings. Two-hour options include tastings accompanied by cheeses from a local boutique dairy, or a gourmet meal in the wine cellar.
The vineyard tour takes visitors in an all-terrain vehicle to see the grape varieties, and ends with wine and cheese (kosher). Available in Hebrew, English, Russian, German and Swedish; book in advance.
2. Pelter Winery in Ein Zivan, Golan Heights, welcomes visitors daily from 10-4 (50 shekels per person). Tour the winery and distillery and taste the wines, spirits and homemade goat cheese in the company of winemakers. A meal can be added by prior arrangement.
While the Pelter label wines are not kosher, Pelter’s Matar label wines are.
Amir Katz suggests combining this visit with a drive up nearby Mount Bental, an inactive volcano, “for breathtaking views into Syria and a little history with your Chardonnay.”
3. Adir Winery and Dairy at Dalton Industrial Park in the Upper Galilee offers kosher wine and cheese tastings and light meals in the visitors center and café, as well as wine and cheese workshops for groups of 20 or more. A short video and all activities are available in Hebrew and English.
4. Netofa Winery in the Galilee town of Mitzpe Netofa, welcomes visitors to taste its kosher wines with the founder, French winemaker Pierre Miodownick, who traded his vineyards in Bordeaux for the rolling hills of the Yavne’el Valley. You can book Netofa’s wine room for guided wine tastings, gourmet meals, workshops and parties.
5. Kishor Winery in the Western Galilee was founded in a village for adults with special needs to provide employment opportunities. A new visitor center overlooking the vineyards has a film, tastings and a guided tour. Vineyard visits available in season. On the last Friday of the month, Kishor offers a kosher wine brunch. Book in advance; Sunday to Thursday 10-3, Friday 10-2.
6. Tulip Winery in the Jezreel Valley, established in 2003, is located in Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope), a pastoral village for people with special needs. Tulip employs Kfar Tikva residents in the harvesting, bottling and packing of the kosher wine, and welcoming guests to the Tulip Visitor Center (Sunday to Friday, 9-3).
7. Somek Estate Winery in Zichron Ya’akov offers a 90-minute workshop led by owner and fifth-generation vintner Barak Dahan. Visitors observe the winemaking process in the barrel rooms and taste four wines (not kosher) accompanied by cheeses, breads and olives. Workshops can be scheduled any day for 70 shekels per person.
8. Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya’akov is where Israel’s modern winemaking enterprise was born in 1882. Its Wine & Culture Center hosts tours, workshops and tutored tastings while presenting the story of Israel’s wine industry.
The tour includes a visit to the cellars and a peek at both traditional and innovative technologies used in the production of kosher Carmel wines. Tours are by reservation only; closed Tuesday and Saturday.
9. Tishbi Winery in Binyamina features French Valrhona chocolate paired with wines selected by winemaker Golan Tishbi.
The visitor center also sells homemade Tishbi wine-and-fruit preserves and other fine foods, and the winery has its own restaurant overlooking the vineyards. It’s all kosher.
10. Agur Winery is one of about three dozen boutique wineries in the Judean Hills’ Elah (Ella) Valley area.
“The charming and eccentric winemaker, Shuki Yashuv, instills his wines with passion and some chutzpah as well,” says Katz. “If you’re lucky he may still have a bottle or two of the best rosé in Israel.”
Agur’s unusual kosher lineup includes only blends and no single varietals. The visitor center is open on weekends from 10-4, and by appointment during the week. A tasting charge is refunded upon purchase.
11. Flam Winery in Eshtaol (Judean Hills) is where Israel Flam and his children “come together to make some of Israel’s most fantastic wine, hands-down,” says Katz. You can book a guided tour and a professional degustation.
12. Boker Valley Vineyards Farm has a tasting room and shop featuring its own and other Negev wineries’ products. Stop here to get a map of wineries on the Negev Wine Route.