Domestic wine tours are becoming increasingly popular and after a hectic week at work, Friday morning is an ideal time to visit your favorite wineries. There are also several service providers that organize and offer such tours for groups or individuals, these can be found on line and I am sure that the hotel reception would be able to provide a name or two. If you are an observant Jew and need to prepare for Shabbat, I would strongly suggest completing the preparations on Thursday evening, packing up a picnic brunch and hitting the road early morning, which would leave enough time to taste a few vinos and be back in time for candle lighting.
From north to south, the country is scattered with wineries of all styles and sizes. When planning winery trips, it is recommended to visit no more then 2-3 wineries per excursion. This way you do not have to rush the visit but also ensure that you aren’t too tipsy by the time you reach the last winery on the list. Different wineries have different ways of pricing tours and wine tasting: some are free while others charge a 15-30 NIS fee that is often discounted and credited against future wine purchases. It is also important to check for directions and opening hours. Some of the smaller wineries can be relatively hard to find (even when using GPS) and do not have regular visiting hours. Moreover, most kosher wineries close early on Fridays and are closed on Saturdays.
Following are two suggestions of wineries that welcome visitors, one from the Upper Galilee and the other from the Ella Valley, both wineries are kosher.
After spending several years in France and being exposed to the local wine culture, Anne and Moshe Tselinker returned to Israel and in 1998 established the Yaffo Winery, as the name suggests - in the city of Jaffa (Yaffo). As the winery grew and the Tselinkers felt a need to be closer to the vineyards, the Yaffo Winery relocated to Moshav Neve Michael, situated in the Ella Valley, only 30 kilometers from Jerusalem. After studying agriculture at the Hebrew University, winemaking in Burgundy and gaining some practical experience in Saint Emilion - Bordeaux, Stephan Tselinker joined the winery, and today, this father and son team work together to craft the wines. Production levels are set at some 35,000 bottles per annum (with clear intentions to grow in the coming years), consisting primarily of red wines alongside a Chardonnay based vino. Their Carignan 2009 and Chardonnay 2010 are very enjoyable and colleagues who have sampled an advance tasting of the Chardonnay 2011 indicate that it is quite promising as well. The winery recently released their flagship vino Heritage from the 2008 vintage - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc. Dark ruby in color, medium bodied, the wine is well balanced showing pleasant aromas and flavors of black and red fruits, fresh herbs alongside notes of spices and dark chocolate leading to a long finish.
Or Hganuz Winery
Established in 2005 and situated at the foothills of the Meron mountain in the Upper Galilee, Or Haganuz Winery (a Kabbalic name meaning the ‘hidden light’) is managed and operated by the residents of an Ultra Orthodox cooperative village (similar to a kibbutz) baring the same name. Longtime vintner and winemaker Yehuda Camisa is at the helm and production levels are at some 100,000 bottles per annum with a large percentage intended for exports. Or Haganuz wines are currently released in 3 labels: Amuka Vineyard (3 red vinos), Marom Vineyard (2 red vinos) and Namura Vineyard (consisting of a single Cabernet Sauvignon wine) all are of course strictly kosher. I had a chance to sample several of the winery’s offerings on different occasions, most were pleasant entry level wines, my favorite being a medium bodied Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from the winery’s Marom label that is true to its variety showing distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics – dark berry fruits, cherries, plums alongside dried herbs and a touch of mint. The winery also produces an enjoyable and quite different sweet red wine titled Har Sinai that is definitely worth a try.