After Carmel, I turned east and headed to the northern heartland of Israeli winemaking—the Galilee region and the Golan Heights. Along the way, I visited wineries in various settings, from industrial facilities, to those stylized to match the Mediterranean feel of the land, to those in converted agricultural support buildings.
The vast majority of Israeli wineries are not located amid their own vineyards, but get their fruit from various regions throughout the nation. Indeed, it is difficult, if not impossible, for wineries to own their own land and establish true estate operations in the conventional sense. This is due to the nature of Israeli land ownership. All the land is technically owned by the state and provided to residents on a long-term lease basis. This is done to preserve Israeli ownership. In essence, it means that most vineyards are located on kibbutzes and moshavs, and the best are cultivated by exclusive agreements with wineries. This also contributes to the fact that there is a vineyard and grape shortage throughout Israel—it’s a slow process for vintners to just convince the traditional holders of the land to grow grapes, let alone instituting the reduced yields needed to produce quality fruit.
One of the most unique wineries I have ever visited was one called Tulip (named for the wine glass shape, not the flower). It's located southeast of Haifa, in rolling countryside that's made green by the winter rains, and surrounded by fruit orchards. Founded in June 2003, it's one of the dozens of smaller wineries that have been launched in the last decade. The winemaking apparatus is situated in the former dairy production facility of a kibbutz.
The driving force at Tulip is the young and articulate Tamir Artzi (he's just 31 years old). I must admit that it takes a while to get used to the completely different lexicon of Hebrew wine names. I found that I had to ask at least twice to get them down correctly. But I like their style: direct and heroic sounding, but with a Thomas Pynchon twist.
Tamir’s most impressive wine was a lush-tasting ’05 Syrah that was filled with delicious blueberry and dark fruit flavors that turned very silky, with fine-grained tannins. It ranks as one of the best wines I've tasted on this trip, and could go easily head to head with a better Santa Barbara County Syrah. But what (or should I say who) was perhaps even more impressive was the person who helped Tamir during tasting. I got a big handshake and effervescent smile from a winery worker named Daniel on my arrival. He was gregarious, well-mannered—and developmentally disabled. That’s because the kibbutz where Tulip is located was founded to help disabled people work and adapt to the rigors of life. Tamir was gentle and caring with Daniel and another worker who sat down with us during the tasting.
“They are like my children,” Tamir said with a smile. He interacted with them in a manner that was not condescending, but showed true affection and understanding. Truthfully, I had to fight a little nervousness that Daniel would disrupt the tasting, but he quietly attended to his task of bringing the glasses. At one point, Daniel and the other worker had to leave to attend a class, and Tamir continued the tasting, a range of Cabernet Sauvignons that showed particularly well. Tamir is trying to keep his unique crew working, a tough task because he would like to go kosher, and the special needs workers wouldn’t qualify for roles in a kosher facility. But if it came down to a choice between going kosher and keeping Daniel and his peers at the winery, Tamir said he would stick by them. And that's an inspiring sense of dedication quite unique in the world of wine.
Jason T Pett — Baltimore, — March 2, 2008 4:53pm ET
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