Wine Talk: Roam the Judean Hills

This holiday, tour the Yoav Yehuda Wine Route, just a short drive from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Castel Winery (photo credit:
Castel Winery
(photo credit:
The Yoav Yehuda Wine Route was the first organized wine route in Israel.
This really covers the central coastal plain through the Shfela and foothills that lead to the Judean and Jerusalem Hills. It is an area bursting with wineries and vineyards and is a popular stomping ground for visitors because it is the nearest wine route to both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
This is an area that houses many of Israel’s finest small wineries such as Castel, Flam and Clos de Gat. It also hosts some larger wineries like Teperberg. However, I have made recommendations of some other wineries to capture your interest. As always, to avoid disappointment, take the time to book in advance.
The Eretz Israel Museum is a good first stop to begin any wine tour. The museum grounds house a collection of winepresses illustrating the winemaking process in different eras. It is rare to be able to compare different styles of winepress in one place.
There is also the Rothschild exhibit, which details the life’s work of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. As he was the founder of the modern Israeli wine industry, it is a must for wine lovers. The museum therefore encapsulates both winemaking in ancient times and the start of a modern industry at the end of the 19th century. This is the perfect introduction before visiting modern wineries.2 Haim Levanon Street, Ramat
Barkan Winery, which produces both Barkan and Segal wines, has opened an outstanding new visitors’ center, which is branded as the Barkan Experience, covering all the senses. It overlooks the largest vineyard in Israel. It has an innovative 50- seat, 180-degree auditorium for screening a film in the round. The center will offer basic tours, catered events and wine tastings.
Barkan and Segal are, respectively, the country’s specialists for Pinotage and Argaman, but they also have many good wines at all price points.
Barkan Winery is the second-largest winery in Israel. It was founded in the Barkanit industrial area not far from Ariel. In the mid 2000s, Barkan was bought by Tempo Beer Industries, Israel’s largest brewery and second-largest beverage company. In recent years, Barkan moved to a new state-of-theart winery at Kibbutz Hulda, not far from Rehovot. As far as the Visitors’ Center is concerned, welcome to the Napa Valley in Israel! Well worth a visit.Kibbutz Hulda, Tel: (08) 944- 7790. LATRUN WINERY
Domaine de Latroun is a winery situated at a Trappist monastery not far from the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway. The monastery was founded in 1890. Most of its wines are sold on the premises or exported. They produce quite a few wines from all the famous French varieties, including Pinot Noir. They also produce brandy, arak and olive oil. The calm, pastoral scene is bolstered by the agricultural produce growing around the monastery.
These include fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, olive groves and vineyards. You must have passed Latrun so many times traveling to or from Jerusalem. At one point, it is worthwhile to visit the winery shop. Interesting to speculate the importance of the church’s part in protecting and nurturing the some of Europe’s finest and most famous vineyards in Europe during the Middle Ages.Latrun Monastery, Tel: (08) 922-0065
This is a small estate winery that pays acute attention to detail. Everything – the labels, the winery brochures and the crafting of the wines themselves – is stylish, with an emphasis on quality and the pursuit of quality. The winery began as a pioneering kibbutz winery pursuing a local terroir, in the hands of legendary founder Ronnie James. It continues to bring credit to Israeli wine and to the Judean foothills and Judean Hills regions from where it receives all its grapes. The winemaker is the modest but extremely talented Eran Pick. A tour or a tasting is very worthwhile as is a visit to the winery shop. If you want to be impressed, try the Shoresh – a full-flavored red wine.Kibbutz Tzora, near Beit Shemesh, Tel: (02) MONY WINERY
This is one of Israel’s fastest improving wineries. The winery is owned by an Israeli Arab family and is named after Mony, a son who died. The winemaker is Canadian, Sam Soroka, one of Israel’s most experienced winemakers. Since Soroka came to work there, a quality revolution has taken place. The winery, which is overlooked by the Deir Rafat Monastery, produces kosher wines. Look for its exquisitely balanced Chardonnay, its mouth-filling Shiraz, its wonderful homegrown Souri olives or, best of all, its spicy aromatic olive oil. I am also a fan of their fresh, fragrant, good-value Colombard. It is worth visiting for the wonderful view alone, overlooking the vineyards.Sorek Valley, near Beit Shemesh, Tel: (02) 991-6629.
This winery was opened in 2000 in the place that made David and Goliath famous. The winery is justly proud of its immaculate vineyards, and the winery is attractively designed of wood and stone for the visitor. Wines I have liked in the past are the creamy Chardonnay, the rare Petite Sirah, which is a monster, and the ever good value Ever Red. They are now in the capable hands of a young new winemaker, Lin Gold, who studied in Australia. It will be interesting to taste the stylistic changes she makes.
Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Heh, Tel: (02)
Tzuba Winery is located in the most picturesque area, nestled in the Jerusalem Hills, surrounded by pine forests, and not far from the Belmont Crusader castle. The grapes come from its own high altitude vineyards, which are situated at 750 meters above sea level. The first vineyards were planted in 1997 to supply other wineries. In 2005 they founded a winery to make use of their own high-quality grapes. Paul Dubb is the South African-born winemaker/winegrower, with a passion for letting the vineyard speak in his wines with minimal intervention.Kibbutz Tzova, Tel: (02) 534-7678.
If ever a winery was in the image of its winemaker, this is it. It is a small garagiste winery that is distinctive, idiosyncratic, inventive, playful and creative. This is a description of the wine and the winery but also the owner/winemaker, Zeev Dunie. He is warm, generous, artistic and always interesting. His Chenin Blanc is special but rare, and his Mediterranean blends, particularly those including Syrah and Petite Sirah, are worth a visit on their own.Moshav Bar-Giora, Tel: (02) 570-9834.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.[email protected]