The Judean hill's secret jewel

Discover Israel's wineries: From wine tasting to seeing the manufacturing process first hand, this is one tour that will not disappoint.

wine barrels 311 (photo credit:
wine barrels 311
(photo credit:
"Oak is the sexiest part," he said.  Who is he and what is he talking about?  His name is Shuki Yashuv, and he is a winemaker; not just any winemaker, but along with his family, he is also the owner and founder of Agur Winery located in the Judean Hills.  What Shuki was talking about were wineries in general.  "Oak is the sexiest part of the winery," he said, "but it's really just the frame of the fruit."
I had the pleasure of meeting Shuki thanks to wine expert, Esther Cohen who recognized a demand in Israel for private wine tours and thus founded her company, My Israel Wine Tours. It was on a tour with Esther that I found myself hypnotized along with my fellow tour goers from the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) by Shuki, his poetry about wine and the winery's unique properties.
Aside from enticing stories, we also got an extensive tour of the warehouse where the wine is made!  Not to mention, we even watched, first hand, the miracle process of moving the readied wine from its barrels to the giant silver basins where it would rest and distill in the final process before bottling.  If that wasn't enough, we then tasted two different wines straight from the basins that each had a mix of deep tannins and yet, young depth to them that was very special to have the opportunity to drink and taste.  Wow is all I could to say - delicious!
After viewing of the premises, Shuki and Esther then brought us back to the tasting table for more drinking and merriness.  While tasting, we compared and contrasted the 2009 just-out-of-barrels Kessem wine with it's predecessor, award winning 2008 Kessem Reserve.  Needless to say, I bought a bottle of the 2008.  Shuki, his winery, and his wine definitely left me with warm and fuzzy feelings as we parted with a hug and l'hitraots (until next time).
Now, you must pardon my beginning our told adventure with Shuki and Agur Winery for it wasn't there that Esther had us start our journey.  Our tour began even prior to us setting foot in a winery.  After the group convened in Jerusalem and we boarded our bus, Esther provided us with a brief history lesson.  She spoke about wine from biblical times to the 1880s to present day Israel and was filled with facts, dates, and knowledge. 
A short ride outside of Jerusalem through the Judean Hills we were met at Kibbutz Tzuba by Paul Dubb, winemaker and viticulturist of Tzuba Estate Winery.  At Tzuba we received a private viewing of where all the magic begins, the vineyards.  Even though it was mid-December with a chill the air, the vines were still beautiful and rich in character.  Out in the field, Paul and Esther taught us a bit of the art of viticulture and the amount of time and energy it takes to plant and maintain the vineyards.
From the vineyards we drove a short distance and got to see another treat, an ancient wine press.  It turns out that the Judean hills are historically recognized as a major wine-producing region since Biblical times and excavations have uncovered a number of these ancient stone wonders from beneath the rocks and foliage in the area.
Don't think we got off easy at Tzuba, naturally, we also got to taste and drink some of the fruits of their looms!  From the comfort of their tasting room we spoiled our pallets with not one or two, but four different wines: a Chardonnay; Merlot; Metsuda 2006 Reserve blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; and finally a 100% Chardonnay Dessert Wine that was a perfect way to end the tasting. 
Afterward we ventured through the Kibbutz to the main dining hall where we were treated to a classic Kibbutz luncheon.  If I'm not mistaken, some of the other tour members were so impressed by the stories and hospitality they were ready to pick up and become Kibbutzniks themselves!
It was from Kibbutz Tzuba that we headed further west and met Shuki at Moshav Agur, which I mentioned earlier.  It was as the sun began to set, with our bellies full and pallets happy, we waved goodbye to our new friends at the wineries and headed back to Jerusalem.  
The combination of events and meetings exceeded my expectations and I look forward to taking another trip to more of the 350+ wineries of Israel again soon.  Of course, with Esther as my guide. 
Esther Cohen is CEO and founder of My Israel Wine Tours.  Post Aliyah, knowing that she wanted to make a contribution to Israeli society Esther moved from Jerusalem to Zichron Ya'akov to work at Tishbi Winery and follow her love and hobby of wine.  While at Tishbi, Esther realized how she would give back and started her company. 

Margot Stern is an olah chadasha living in Jerusalem and is the Marketing Director for Leadel.NET.