Fancy fermentations

The holidays are a busy time for home winemakers

Gitot winery 370 (photo credit: Miriam Kresh)
Gitot winery 370
(photo credit: Miriam Kresh)
A glass of good wine satisfies both body and spirit. And since a blessing over wine marks every Shabbat, holiday and joyful occasion in Judaism, many Israeli families are making their own. Neighbors and friends get together to buy grapes. Local homebrew suppliers offer all the equipment needed.
Then it’s a matter of waiting for the word from the vineyard. The days before Rosh Hashana are almost frantic for religious home winemakers as they dash into processing their vintage with only a day or two’s advance warning.
The organizer has already negotiated with a vineyard and contracted a ton or two of grapes. At least once before the grapes are delivered to the house, he will have visited the vineyard to measure the Brix (sugar content) in the grapes. When the grapes are deemed ripe enough, all the partners involved drop what they’re doing and dash to the designated spot where the grapes will be crushed, usually at the organizer’s house or even in the parking lot in front of his building.
David Fox in Ramat Beit Shemesh runs what’s known as a wine club, where several families make an informal co-op to make wine that will see them through the year’s holidays. In the late afternoon, the truck loaded with crates of grapes stops in his driveway, and a chain of householders forms, passing crates from hand to hand to Fox’s patio. An electric grape crusher stands there, rumbling to a start. A bucket is placed at its side to catch the stems as they separate from the bunches. The grapes are weighed, so much to each family as ordered, and the crush begins as the men load the fruit into the machine’s hopper.
Children run around, chasing away flies and wasps that inevitably gather when the sweet grape juice starts flowing into buckets. Each householder adds sulfite to preserve the juice, now called “must.” Fox provides wine yeast for those who want it, or each may bring his own.
Barrels full of crushed grapes and juice are sealed shut, and each family takes theirs home to press and bottle.
The evening comes on, and the work draws to a close. The ground is thick with the leavings of crushed grapes, the kids are getting tired, and the men, whose white shirts and hands are stained with must, take their barrels home. Fox hoses down his patio and wheels his barrels into a sturdy plastic shed fitted up with air conditioning.
“About 25 individuals and families are making their own wine in Ramat Beit Shemesh,” says Fox. “They’re becoming more educated about different grape varieties and dry wine.”
Signs of wine culture among the haredi crowd were already evident at the Jerusalem kosher wine festival this spring, where men in black hats, and their wives in modest skirts and head coverings sipped and commented and bought bottles.
“This year, I organized Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes,” says Fox.
There’s no need to hire a kashrut supervisor for these neighborhood wine partnerships. The wine is not for sale to the general public, and every person involved is religiously observant.
IN HOD Hasharon, another kind of home winemaking happens at the Gitot Diem home winery.
Walking around the front garden down to the basement, you’ll find Malkiel Hadari’s industrially chilled fermentation room. There Dror, the family’s youngest son, lifts crates of Petit Verdot grapes into the crusher, adds sulfites as they pour out, then dumps the sticky, juicy mass onto a stainless steel table, where Hadari’s wife, Dina, and two nieces stand patiently picking off any stems or green grapes that escaped the crusher. The must drains into a runoff cache equipped with a spigot.
Dror collects it in buckets to pour into steel fermentation tanks.
The entire facility is housed inside the home.
“Friends joke that I have a house inside my winery, not the other way around,” says Hadari with a smile.
Hadari works full-time as senior solution expert for a resource management enterprise. Dina bought him a course on winemaking as a birthday gift six years ago.
“I’ve always liked wine, always invested in good wines,” says Hadari. “Dina came with me to that first course, but I went on to take other courses in winemaking, boutique winery management and tasting. Wine just appeals to me, spiritually. I also enjoy the challenges involved in producing the very best wine, and the creativity.”
As fits a hi-tech expert, Hadari runs his winery in an entirely scientific way.
Efficient and systematic, he dedicates every Friday to the work. At harvest time, he hardly sleeps, driving home the crates of grapes from northern vineyards himself, rushing to crush and press them before the fruit begins to ferment on its own.
When I arrived, he was in the laboratory, measuring the must’s total acid and pH to determine how much tartaric acid to add. Behind the lab is the storage room, where wine-stained French oak barrels rest on the floor, and the delicious scent of hibernating wine fills the air. Shelves of bottled wine line the walls, and big glass demijohns fill up the corners. The fermentation room and lab are entirely businesslike, but here is where you feel the romance of winemaking.
Gitot Diem is kosher under the supervision of the rabbinate of Hod Hasharon. On the lab door is a notice: “This room is kosher for Passover! Forbidden to bring food or drink in here!” Home winemakers have a hard time getting good grapes because the large companies contract most of the best vineyards. Hadari acknowledges that it’s his biggest problem.
“I’m extremely particular about the quality of the grapes,” he says. “I don’t buy grapes by weight – so many kilos or tons.
I contract a vineyard’s harvest by the dunam [quarter acre] and follow the development of the grapes all year around. I visit the vineyard regularly, and before harvest sometimes twice a week. To do business with me, the vineyard owner must agree to my requirements: a clean, healthy crop, a certain yield. When there’s a good synergy between the vineyard owner and the winemaker, good things happen with the wine.”
Hadari makes dry red wines, among which are Merlot, Petit Syrah, Shiraz and Sangiovese, but the winery’s specialty is port made of grapes dried in the vineyard and harvested at a very high Brix. The home winery produces 2,500 bottles a year, compared to boutique wineries which can produce 50,000 to 150,000 bottles yearly. Rather than expand his home operation for bigger sales, Hadari concentrates on quality. He aims to enter competitions this coming year for the first time.
And the meaning behind the winery’s unusual name? Hadari laughs. “It’s a mixture of Hebrew and Latin words that translates into ‘wine presses of today. ‘ The Diem hides my wife’s initial and mine – Dina and Malkiel. Dina is my partner in everything I do.”
In the fond glance that passes between the couple, it’s evident that the good synergy between the winery’s founders lends all the romance that the wine needs.
Malkiel Hadari may be reached at 054-227- 7521 or at  to fix a time for tastings and purchase.