Wine Talk: The master educator

Canadian-born Barry Saslove has become an integral part of the local wine revolution in recent years.

Vineyard (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The master educator of Israeli wine, Barry Saslove, recently celebrated his 65th birthday. He was born in Ottawa in 1946. He came to Israel as a volunteer in the Six Day War in 1967, and decided to settle here. He became an electronic engineer, gaining great experience in the computer field.
Twenty years ago, he surprised those around him by making a total career change. He left the secure surroundings that he was familiar with, and entered the world of wine. Since then he has become an integral part of the Israeli wine revolution. He began his journey as a wine lover and developed into a connoisseur.
Saslove became a wine collector with a temperature-controlled cellar. He flirted with the roles of importer and author, before becoming the country’s best wine educator. He finally became the owner and wine-maker of one of Israel’s finest boutique wineries.
The first sighting was that of a passionate wine lover, whose enthusiasm for wine was apparent during tastings and food-and-wine evenings he organized.
His enjoyment of the culinary experience was clear to all, and his boundless enthusiasm infected those around him.
He wrote an educational book, An Introduction to the World of Wine (in Hebrew), which was brimming with information. The first edition was published in 1993. In those days books about wine in Hebrew were extremely rare, so it became an invaluable source of information.
Always the pioneer, he was for a short time an importer, bringing in the wines of Rosemount from Australia to Israel. This was just before the importing boom started. As usual, Saslove was ahead of the game.
He then went into wine education.
Up to that time, a wine educator would lecture in a dry fashion and students would leave intimidated.
Saslove introduced a new style of wine course. He strove to teach people how to enjoy wine by meeting them at their own level and encouraging their participation. With passion, creativity and innovation, he changed wine education in Israel forever.
He then became a wine-maker, producing the first Saslove wines. His education gene did not allow him to rest, so he also organized the first practical wine-making courses in Israel. This was a totally new concept in wine education, which helped to fuel the boutique-wine revolution.
Owners of many of the new wineries cut their wine-making teeth on one of these courses.
In 1998 he opened the non-kosher Saslove Winery at Kibbutz Eyal, east of Kfar Saba.
This became his new baby, and he continued to innovate. His was the first Israeli winery to close its wines with synthetic corks. Today this is a lot more commonplace, but when Saslove made this decision, it was a pioneering move.
The labeling of his wines was different and unique. All the wine descriptions, traditionally on the back label, were incorporated into the design of the front label. He was the first Israeli winery to choose striking black colored labels.
In 2003 he decided to make a kosher wine at a large kosher winery, which he called K by Saslove. It signaled an idea of how a non-kosher winery could supply wine to the kosher consumer.
Like all Saslove initiatives, the idea was creative and original.
During the early 2000s he was joined by his daughter, Roni, who had grown up with her father’s passion for wine. She absorbed some of it too. She is now an internationally-trained wine-maker, but has also managed to inherit her father’s gift of communication and enthusiasm.
In 2007, Saslove opened a small wine-making plant, or custom crush center, at Tzuriel in the Upper Galilee.
The idea was to have the wine-making facilities as close as possible to his vineyard. Today the crushing, pressing and fermentation takes place at Tzuriel, but the barrel aging room and visitors’ center remain at Kibbutz Eyal.
This makes great wine-making sense, but is revolutionary for a small winery.
Saslove the wine lover and winemaker soon became Saslove the wine grower. He understood that in the vineyard one grows wine, not just grapes. However when he developed his vineyard, he went the whole way and is in the process of gaining organic certification. From the 2010 harvest all his wines will be kosher.
Saslove’s wines come in three labels.
Aviv is the entry-level label, full of mouth-filling flavor. Adom is the midlevel series and the high-quality Reserved wines are complex with the ability to age. The first kosher wines from the 2010 harvest are called April and Lavan.
It is hard to find something about wine that Barry Saslove does not like. He may be a strict perfectionist in the vineyard and winery. However, with a glass in hand, he switches into the master educator that he is. He enjoys life to the fullest.
Fortunately for us all, he also enjoys sharing, giving and teaching.
■ Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both international and Israeli publications.

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