Wine Talk: Heaven on earth

Tasting, talking about wine is even more pleasurable when done in the vineyard where the wine is produced.

Wine Talk: Heaven on earth (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine Talk: Heaven on earth
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sitting among the vines, glass in hand, with open bottles waiting to be tasted is a dream scenario. Tasting and talking about wine with like-minded enthusiasts is pleasurable enough, but doing so within the vineyard from which the wines are produced, is my vision of heaven on earth.
I travelled to the Bravdo Winery, one of Israel’s best boutique wineries. It is situated in the Judean Plain, which is known in wine law as the Samson Region. After leaving the main road, Route 44, you have to drive over the rough bumpy country road, through vineyards of table grapes until you arrive at the olive groves. After this are the wine vineyards and there lies Bravdo Winery, sitting among its vineyards like a true estate winery.
An estate winery is very rare in Israel. Most modern wineries are situated in industrial areas, disconnected from the vineyards. This is a situation exacerbated by the bureaucracies in Israel which view wine as an industry rather than an agricultural product. Hardly ideal for the tourism industry when wine is the most representative, visual product of Israel today. What other product manages to connect our land, people, religion and history?
There are of course many wineries that own their own vineyards, but precious few where the winery sits within its own vineyards. It was not always so. In early photos of Rishon Lezion Cellars, we see the winery buildings surrounded by vineyards. It was like a real French Chateau. At one stage these vineyards were managed by a very distinguished vineyard manager. He was Levi Eshkol who went on to become Israel’s third prime minister. I suppose the name Eshkol was a clue. It translates to grape cluster in English. However, sadly the idyllic view of the Rishon winery surrounded by vineyards did not last. Real estate proved more profitable than viticulture and housing was built right up to the winery’s boundaries.
Bravdo Winery is situated at the Karmei Yosef Moshav, which translates as Yosef’s Vineyards. It was named after Yosef Sapir, who was a cabinet minister in the governments of David Ben Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. The charming village was founded in 1984 in the Judean Shefelah, west of Rehovot and east of Latrun. The name is well chosen because it is the center of a major agricultural area which includes vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards.
In ancient times this particular area was also a center for wine and olive oil. Many old wine presses or olive presses have been found locally, proving that the current wine boom is only the latest blip in 5,000 years of winemaking. These stone basins sit quietly, undisturbed and almost forgotten. However whenever I come across one, my heart leaps. This is because these connect today’s Israel with the roots of the Jewish people and modern winemaking with winemaking in the Biblical times. This reinforces the view that if France, Spain and Italy is the Old World of winemaking, and California, Australia and Chile is the New World, then Israel, along with Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey, is part of the Ancient World of wine.
The idea of the winery fulfilled the dream of two professors. Professor Ben Ami Bravdo is a faculty member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is one of the leading scientists of modern viticulture in the world, regularly giving presentations in international forums. He is Israel’s representative in the OIV organization, the international body based in France, monitoring and representing wine and viticulture worldwide. He is also chairman of their Expert Group of Vine Physiology.
Bravdo has educated generations of viticulturists and winemakers over many years. His research on the relationship of canopy management and wine quality, drip feed irrigation and viticulture in the arid desert put Israel at the forefront of viticultural research and development. Professor Oded Shoseyov came from a family of growers who have managed vineyards in Israel for over 120 years. He was one of Professor Bravdo’s students. In his PhD thesis he studied the biochemistry of grape and flavor evolution. He is now Professor of Biotechnology, also at the Hebrew University. His expertise is the biotechnology and biochemistry of volatile compounds in plants. He is endlessly fascinated by the processes in vineyards and wineries that effect wine flavor and quality. He lectures at the Wine Academy Course organized by Ramat Gan College.
Together these two professors, friends and colleagues decided to combine the theoretical with the practical and place their vision alongside their expertise. The Karmei Yosef Winery was the result, which is now more often known as Bravdo, after the brand name of the wines. The winery was founded in 2001.
They use only use fruit from their own vineyards, which are owned by the Shoseyov family and Zory Arkin, also a partner, who manages the winery. The vineyards are planted on heavy, rocky limestone soils which have been growing vines for ever.
The winery "tasting room" is a small raised deck amid the family vineyards, covered by a canopy. Simple, rural and rustic. This really gives a sense of Place. The wine was produced here, from these vineyards. This is different from visiting a winery in the center of the country when the vines are trucked from the distant Upper Galilee. How special it is to sit in the vineyards, to enjoy the surrounding tranquility and to take time out from the frenetic lives we live day to day.
Then you have the people behind the wine. The professors may be dry, formal and distant when lecturing to students in the academic atmosphere of university. But here, sitting on the deck with glass in hand and fellow enthusiasts to talk to, they are transformed. The twinkle in the eye of Professor Bravdo and the little boy smile of Professor of Professor Shoseyov, barely conceal the passion and the love of not only the final product but the whole process from vine to glass. They are generous with their time, modest considering their immense knowledge and patient with explanations. In the end they are just passionate wine lovers that enjoy to taste and talk about wine.
The Place, The People and The Wine: This is the trilogy that makes wine tourism special. So now to the wines.
Bravdo Chardonnay 2011
A straw colored wine made 100% from Chardonnay that is part fermented in small French oak barrels and the remainder is cold fermented in stainless steel. The result is a creamy Chardonnay that is not too oaky. It has a tropical toasty aroma with a clean refreshing finish. A high quality wine.
Bravdo Merlot 2010
A well-made Merlot with aromas of plums, blackberries, and a touch of apparent sweetness from the ripe grapes. Well rounded with soft tannins. It was aged in oak for 12 months.
Bravdo Shiraz 2010
Deep colored, intense with bags of fruit and aromas of cherries, black berries and a hint of mocha and leather. The wine was aged in oak barrels for 12 months. This is the most characterful Bravdo wine. 
Bravdo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
A deep colored wine made from 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot grapes all grown in their own vineyards. It has a classic Cabernet nose of black currant and a hint of cedar wood. It has an attractive elegance I like with good acidity, nice tannins and it is well balanced with a long finish.
Bravdo Coupage 2010
This is a real mouthful of wine. Big, full bodied and concentrated with chewy flavor and a long lasting finish. It is made from 40% Cabernet Franc, 33% Shiraz and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon all grown in their own Samson Region vineyards, and aged in oak barrels for 12 months. The wine needs time and maybe decanting is a good idea.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. [email protected]