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Posted: June 24, 2009

It’s a mitsve: Israeli wine revolution

Sales of Israeli wines hit $140 million in 2007

Cathie Beck—The Wine Wench

Google “Israeli wine” and you won’t find much. There’s an “article” about a vineyard that’s actually an advertorial. There’s a Wikipedia entry. There’s not much more.

But the fact of the matter is that, in a country about the size of New Jersey, 130 wineries have sprung up in Israel since 2001. Sales of Israeli wines hit $140 million in 2007 and, according to the Israel Export Institute, wine exports topped $21 million in 2007, up 42 percent from the previous year.

So something’s happening.

One of those things happening is a mammoth Israeli wine marketing push. The country’s launching a five-year, multimillion-dollar campaign designed to reach into America and promote Israeli wines of varying quality and price points. Included in the effort is the goal of mitigating the stereotypical Jewish, kosher labels often assumed to be the only choices in considering Israeli wine.

There are over two dozen wineries producing wines in Israel, most of them boutique. The issue with the smaller vineyards is a universal one: They make small amounts of wine and must charge significantly to produce a profit. However, Yatir, Margalit, Flam and Domaine du Castel are some of the largest producers, with Golan Heights Winery considered the king pin. Golan Heights enjoys hills, plains and altitudes ranging from 1,200 to 3,600 feet. (Watch a video interview with Gil Shatsberg, head winemaker at Recanati Winery, who recently visited Denver.)

Located at about the same latitude as San Diego and the U.S.-Mexican border, Israel has two primary seasons: a hot, humid summer season from April to October, with little precipitation, and a cold, rainy winter from October to March.
But one (Jewish) wine aficionado and wine writer recently wrote, “Judging from the Israeli wines I taste all year, on a bell curve, the industry's winegrowing summary knowledge-and-insight level has surpassed B.A. and M.A. status and has moved into the Ph.D. zone.”

Improved quality and quantities notwithstanding that $5 million marketing push has yet to reach local wine shops. One popular Denver boutique shop wrote, “The only one we have right now is Barken Chard. We have more around the holidays.”

Another up-and-coming midtown wine shop owner e-mailed, “We carry the Yarden white and the red when available. Also we have Recanati cab.”

So it would appear, for now at least, that getting one’s hands on the good Israeli wine is a still a bit of an effort. But it likely won’t stay that way for long. And if you’ve had a chance to try some of the Golan Heights or Yatir samplings, you’ll understand why it’s not a stretch to say that bringing the best of the Israeli wine production to the States is, truly, a mitsve for wine drinkers everywhere — in every sense of the Hebrew word, which means "good deed" in the most universal sense.

Word o’ the Week

Mevushal — or “flash pasteurization” is a process whereby the wine (or often the juice pre-fermentation) is brought quickly up in temperature to approximately 180 degrees and then quickly cooled.

Wines processed in this manner can be handled by Jew and gentile alike and still maintain their kosher status, whereas non-mevushal wines can not be handled by non-Jews lest they risk losing their status as kosher.

Under Jewish law, non-Jews can uncork and serve them to observant Jews. Views differ on whether this instant heating-and-cooling process impairs wine.

One winning wine tasting

The Monet Garden in the Denver Botanic Gardens will be the setting for Alliance Française de Denver’s French Summer Soirée 2009. Savor unique flavors from some of Denver’s finest French restaurant kitchens, including Brasserie Felix and Le Central.

Wines and foods from different French regions will be served and an art auction, live music and beautiful gardens promise to delight attendees. All proceeds go to the Alliance Française de Denver’s scholarship fund and ongoing artistic endeavors. Admission is $55 for Alliance Française members, $65 for non-members and $75 at the door. Phone 303.831.0304 for further information.

Coming July 10

They’ve got funny accents and are known better for their agriculture, fishing and forests, but New Zealanders have also, since the 1960s, come of age in winemaking.

Ten regions dominate New Zealand’s wine industry and it’s a large lot of land. We’ll examine whether the New Zealand wines are still young and budding or whether maturation has moved this massive country into the global winemaking mainstream.

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Cathie Beck, a/k/a The Wine Wench, can be reached at: Please forward any and all wine events, wine-related news items directly to her.

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Readers Respond

Whoa. Ms. Beck's wine expertise is international in scope! I visited northern Israel in 2000 and never had an opportunity to sample their wines. This, and the fact that I'm partial to plum wines, will definitely have me checking out the Recanati brand. Love those "Wine Wench" videos. Keep 'em coming. By Pam Burrell on 2009 06 26
Hi Cathie...and thanks for writing about Israeli wines. Beyond the "mitsve", I think buying Israeli wines would provide a pleasant surprise and a treat for those who pick up a bottle! Also, hoping to clear some stuff up, you used the number 130 and then two dozen when referencing Israeli wineries. At latest count that number is said to be well over 250 wineries, but the majority of them are of the backyard/boutique/garagiste variety. That 2 dozen figure probably more accurately describes the number of wineries producing more than 10,000 cases. "Yatir, Margalit, Flam and Domaine du Castel" are said to be producing some of the best (and most expensive) wines, but are certainly not the largest. Carmel, Barkan & Binyamina are amongst the largest not mentioned. If I can help provide you or any of your readers with further information please do not hesitate to write! And thanks again for letting people know about the tremendous strides Israeli wines have made in recent years!!! By Gary - Wine Tasting Guy on 2009 06 25

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