The Upper Galilee may or may not be the best quality wine-growing region in Israel, but it is certainly the most beautiful. Soaring mountains, running streams, rocky hills and green forests make up the Upper Galilee. This really is the Israeli Tuscany or Provence.
Many high-quality vineyards are situated in the Upper Galilee. They are grouped mainly in the Kedesh Valley, bordering Lebanon, at 450 meters above sea level, or in the foothills of Mount Meron, at more than 750 meters elevation.
The first sign that the Upper Galilee was good for grapes was in the birth of the Golan Heights Winery. Paradoxically, despite its focus on the Golan, where all but one of its vineyards was situated, some of its finest Cabernet Sauvignon fruit came from its Ramot Naftali vineyard. This was the first sign that the Upper Galilee could become a major wine-growing region.
However, until the late 1990s, the Golan Heights was unchallenged as Israel’s finest wine-growing region.
However, in the 2000s there has been a turnaround. The Upper Galilee has become the fastest-growing wine region in the country. The area is now covered by vineyards. Some of the fruit of many of Israel’s largest and best wineries comes from the Upper Galilee, even if the winery is situated elsewhere in the country.
For example, the flagship wines of Barkan, Binyamina, Carmel, Flam, Margalit, Recanati, Segal and Tulip wineries all come from the Upper Galilee.
Today, the three largest wineries situated in the Upper Galilee are Dalton, Galil Mountain and Carmel’s Kayoumi Winery.
Though Kayoumi receives more grapes at harvest than any other Galilee winery, it is basically a crushing and fermentation station, which works in coordination with the Zichron Ya’acov Winery. Likewise, Saslove Winery has a winemaking facility at Tzuriel, which works in coordination with the winery at Kibbutz Eyal.
I am told there are more than 40 wineries dotting the Galilee. Some are fairly small, but all of them make wines with pride, individuality and passion. The wineries I recommend visiting are described below. As always, book in advance.
Ramot Naftaly Winery
This is a fast-improving winery situated on Moshav Ramot Naftali in the Kedesh Valley. Founded in 2003, the winery produces about 10,000 bottles a year. It was the success of the Golan Heights Winery’s precious Ramot Naftali vineyard that encouraged owner Yitzhak Cohen to plant further vineyards. The Duet, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, is my favorite wine of theirs, but they also have Malbec, Petit Verdot and Barbera. These will certainly interest the curious wine lover. Visitors will enjoy the splendid views of the Hula Valley, towards the snow-capped Mount Hermon. This is well worth a visit for the wine, the view and the atmosphere. It is a small domestic winery, set up in a place where the chicken coop was situated, that has made it. From the 2009 vintage, all the wines of the winery will be kosher.
Moshav Ramot Naftali, Kedesh Valley, Upper Galilee. Tel: (04) 694-0371
This was a winery built in 2000 as a joint venture between Kibbutz Yiron and the Golan Heights Winery. It was built and designed with the wine tourist in mind. The visitor can enjoy a well-oiled journey through the winery and learn about the winemaking process before ending up in their shop, which is almost worth a visit on its own. There, wine accessories vie with the hats, T-shirts and, of course, wine. The winery produces just under a million bottles a year from five Upper Galilee vineyards. Its flagship wines are called Yiron, Meron and Avivim. The Galil Mountain Yiron blend is always excellent, the new Galil blends are full of flavor, and its basic range – including an unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – is always good value.
Kibbutz Yiron, Upper Galilee. Tel: (04) 686-8748. www. galilmountain.co.il
This is one of the most well-organized wineries. Dalton was founded by the Haruni family in 1993 in the Dalton Industrial Estate, which lies near the many vineyards of Kerem Ben-Zimra. It has grown from a small boutique operation to become a winery producing 850,000 bottles a year. The wines, once considered “new world,” are becoming better each vintage as winemaker Na’ama Sorkin, one of the few women winemakers, gains in experience. She studied in Australia and California. Her father, Beni Sorkin, is the one of Israel’s most respected viticulturists, who did so much for the Golan Heights Winery over many years. Dalton Winery has good wines at every price point, but best are the Alma range of blended wines.
If I had to select one wine, though, it would be its Petite Sirah, which is a best buy by any criterion.
Dalton Industrial Estate. Tel: (04) 698-7683. www.dalton-winery.com
Founded in 2003, Adir Winery produces about 50,000 bottles a year. This is one of Israel’s finest and most stylish visitors’ centers, situated in the Dalton Industrial Estate. Beautifully designed, it combines the virtues of Adir wines and the produce of the Adir Dairy. If ever there was a place for a cheese and wine tasting, this is it.
You can also enjoy their yogurts and ice creams. While you’re there, don’t miss the excellent short film outlining the story of the two owning families, the Rosenbergs and the Ashkenazis. The drive and perfectionism of Avi Rosenberg, who fulfilled his dream of becoming a winemaker and building the winery, is visible in the design of everything from the labels to the building itself. Their best wine is Plato, which has won awards. My favorite, though, is the new Adir ‘A,’ which is more balanced and represents better value.
Dalton Industrial Estate. Tel: (04) 699-1039. www.adir-winery.co.il
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. firstname.lastname@example.org