Wine talk: Very special wineries

The ultimate community winery is one that is born out of a community of people with special needs.

Roy Itzhaki, owner and CEO of Tulip Winery. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Roy Itzhaki, owner and CEO of Tulip Winery.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine is a unique product. Think about it. Each individual wine is a kind of time capsule representing the vintage year. It is also an expression of the place it was made and the person that made it. I suppose if it is a kibbutz or moshav winery, then it may also be said to represent a particular community of people.
The ultimate community winery is one that is born out of a community of people with special needs, who contribute to the production. This is a wine that needs extra respect. There are two unique and special wineries in Israel that fall into this category.
Tulip Winery is a gem situated to the east of Mount Carmel. It is found in a small village called Kfar Tikva, or the Village of Hope, near Kiryat Tivon. The village was founded in the 1960s, designed to help those with special needs. The objective is to care for those people that society sometimes forgets or pretends do not exist. Kfar Tikva allows them to live a full and active life with dignity. It provides each of its residents with a home, a livelihood and the opportunity to contribute to the community.
Everyone is given the chance to reach his or her full potential.
The Yitzhaki family started a winery there in 2003. A cynic may have said in the beginning that it was a good-hearted gimmick, but any thoughts like this have been swept away by the winery’s commitment to the village and its inhabitants, and the seriousness and quality of the winery.
The manager of Tulip Winery is Roy Yitzhaki. He is young, dynamic and good looking. He seemed to start in the wine business as a bit of fun but became more and more drawn in as sales and recognition grew. His devotion to the winery, the principles of the village and his workers is heartwarming. He has built a team in his image and is always looking ahead.
Some of Tulip’s labels are very innovative.
The varietals, made from one grape variety, are named “Just.” So the Cabernet Sauvignon is called Just Cabernet Sauvignon.
The blends are called “Mostly.” This is followed by the name of the dominant variety. It is all very clear and obvious when it is explained, though a little confusing if it is not.
They source grapes from all over but mainly from the Galilee. From the beginning, Tulip’s wines gained a reputation for quality and value. The wines were priced very reasonably, even when the wines were scarce. This was an early sign of Yitzhaki’s wisdom beyond his years. Today, it is no longer a small boutique winery. It produces nearly 200,000 bottles a year.
The winemaker is David Bar-Ilan, who took over in 2012. He is a dreamy-eyed wine lover who initially wanted to do anything connected with wine, even if it meant working in sales. I got to know him when he worked for Carmel Winery in the Restaurant Division.
However, he was always determined to get into the messy side of the wine business.
He traveled to Australia for a harvest and worked at Amphorae Vineyards.
When needed, he has the advice of Arkady Papikian, once of Carmel Winery at Rishon Lezion and Dalton Winery. Papikian has really been the dominant wine consultant in the 2000s, advising a long list of Israeli wineries. He is now the winemaker at Amphorae but spares time to keep a fatherly look over Bar-Ilan’s shoulder.
For Bar-Ilan, to work in wine is the fulfillment of a dream. He is at his happiest when making wine. As a result, he makes happy, consumer-friendly wines that are very good quality and offer great value for money. The world’s most famous wine critic would agree. On three occasions, a Tulip wine has scored 90 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Kishor Vineyards is situated at Kishorit, which is a special residential community for adults with special needs. The community was founded in 1997 by parents and professionals on the site of Kibbutz Kishor.
Members can work in a wooden toy factory, dog kennels, riding stable, organic vegetable garden, a bakery, free-range egg farm or organic goat dairy. Or they can work in the vineyard and winery. In 2007 they planted their first vineyard. In 2010 they harvested their first grapes. They produce more than 35,000 bottles a year from their own vineyards, which are 500 meters above sea level. They are cared for by the members of the community.
The winery represents a fairly new wine-growing region.
When we talk about the Galilee as one of Israel’s finest appellations, the reference is mainly to the Upper Galilee. Most of the vineyards and wineries are in the Kadesh Valley on the Lebanese border or near Mount Meron and the Merom Galil region. Then there is the Lower Galilee near Kfar Tavor. However, Kishor is situated in the Western Galilee, an area already famous for its olive groves but less so for vineyards.
Though new, the winery gained immediate notice because of its very stylish, “less is more” labels. They were obviously designed by someone with a good notion of perception of quality. Yet it is the quality of the wines that has really put them on the map.
The wines are the responsibility of Richard Davies. He is a big guy with a rough beard and a ready smile. He has great experience in agricultural management, particularly from South Africa. He arrived at Kishorit in 2007 and started the vegetable garden and fruit orchard. Now he has the wine bug and manages the vineyard and winery.
He was savvy enough to get good advice.
Itay Lahat, one of the country’s most talented winemakers and a prolific wine consultant, is there to assist when required.
The first quality recognition was almost immediate. In Eshkol Zahav 2014, Kishor had an outstanding result, winning a gold, silver and bronze medal. Eshkol Hazahav (The Golden Cluster) is Israel’s premier wine-tasting competition. Not bad for a newish winery.
Tulip and Kishor both have visitors’ centers (Kishor’s is new), and both are well worth a visit, though it is best to book in advance.
They are both kosher wineries, Tulip since the 2010 vintage, and Kishorit since its founding. If kashrut had an ethical element, then these two wineries would have the highest level of kashrut possible.
Y’shar koach
My favorite Tulip and Kishor wines are the following:
Tulip White Tulip 2012
: A super summer wine made from Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. An attractive, enticing aroma, a touch of apparent sweetness and a refreshing balancing acidity from the Sauvignon make this a popular wine.
Tulip Syrah Reserve 2010: This Syrah and the Mostly Shiraz are arguably Tulip’s best wines. It is a grape variety that Tulip handles really well. The Reserve Syrah is quite a big wine, with aromas of blackberry, plum and spicy notes, a middle palate of chewy fruit and soft tannins. A very good New World style example of this variety.
Tulip Black Tulip 2011: This is not an elegant wine. It is full bodied, powerful, concentrated and oaky, but it is well balanced. It is made from the main Bordeaux varieties, led by Cabernet Sauvignon. Deeply colored, it has lashings of black fruit in a vanilla blanket. Mouth-filling flavor and a long finish.
Kerem Kishor White 2013: One of the most enjoyable young white wines I have tasted recently. It is made from Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. It is grassy, aromatic and very Sauvignon but with a little tropical fruit in the background from the Viognier. A refreshing, high-quality wine.
Kishor Savant Red 2012: A Bordeaux style blend made mainly from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot grapes. The varieties were fermented and aged separately. The wine is elegant with good depth of fruit, an attractive green character that I like and a well-balanced finish.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in international and Israeli publications. adam@