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Galil Mountain Winery Does Wine Tasting Right

A recent wine tasting trip to Israel provided me with an excellent opportunity to assess current developments in the Israeli wine industry.  While much impressed by the undeniable improvements, both in quality and sheer diversity of wines available, I found that the infrastructure of Israeli wine tourism is still far behind that of other quality wine regions of the world.  One of the first things I discovered is that many Israeli wineries lack tasting rooms or visitor’s centers.  Thereafter, I realized that even those that have thrown open their doors to the public have often neglected to post signs on how to reach them . . . unfortunately, this realization generally came only after I was thoroughly and entirely lost.  Thus, armed only with The Wine Route of Israel – a publication deserving great praise for its comprehensive explanation of Israeli wineries, but a good tarring and feathering for its impenetrable maps - I often found myself scanning the hills of Jerusalem and the Golan for the telltale signs of the elusive Israeli wine-visitor’s center.  Luckily, I am persistent, and so I inevitably unearthed my quarry, yet, mark my words dear wine enthusiasts, whether by inattention or design, the state of wine tourism in Israel does pose a challenge to those seeking to sample firsthand the country’s ever growing viticultural successes.  

A notable exception to the general state of affairs described above is the Galil Mountain Winery of the Upper Galilee.  The drive to the Galil Mountain winery is both scenic and relaxing as road signs at every intersection gently reassure you that the winery is just ahead.  The facility itself is an impressive structure of wood, brick, and metal, nestled amidst majestic acres of sloping vineyards and impeccably maintained grasslands. The walkway leading from the parking lot to the winery provides the avid picture taker with a number of splendid vistas of the surrounding area.  Immediately upon entering the winery, you are ushered into the tasting room where you are able to sample a number of Galil Moutain’s wines.  In addition, the enthusiastic staff provides tours of the facilities, which currently operates at nearly full capacity, and is likely to be expanded in the near future.

While there, I had the chance to speak with Carmit Ehernriech, the marketing manager for Galil Mountain. She led me through the facilities with all the eagerness and pride of a young mother showing off her child. Galil Mountain Winery will create 1,000,000 bottles of wine this year, a fact that she finds somewhat disconcerting as the entire staff still considers the enterprise a small, boutique winery.  Carmit believes that Galil Mountain’s recent vintages, thanks to their new winemaker Micha Vaadia, will be even more successful. “Many people say a winemaker’s character is mirrored in the style of wine he produces. Micha is a very comfortable, easy-going gentleman and his wines reflect his effortless charm.” I must admit that all the wines I tasted with Carmit at Galil Mountain fit that description to the letter: easy-drinking, affordable, well-constructed wines without pretension.

Among the wines I sampled, I was literally bowled over by their 2006 Viognier and 2005 Pinot Noir.  Viognier, a new addition to Galil Mountain’s wine portfolio, is a capricious grape with a tendency toward high-alcohol levels, and it can easily become flabby and unbalanced if not carefully monitored by the winemaker. Despite the fact that Galil Mountain’s Viognier boasts a whopping 15.5% alcohol level, high even for red wines, the wine manages to maintain a beautiful symmetry between fruit and alcohol. The Viognier has an intoxicatingly perfumed nose and a mouthfeel with the same slippery oiliness commonly found in dry Gewurtzraminers.  In this writer’s opinion, Viognier is Israel’s new up and coming grape, and likely a grape that will help establish Israel on the world stage, especially as it provides a great alternative to the ubiquitous Chardonnay.  Galil Mountain’s Viognier provides a glimpse of the heights this grape can achieve when properly cultivated and vinified.

Galil Mountain’s Pinot Noir was also an exceptional treat. For my palate, Pinot Noir is head to head with Nebbiolo as the most captivating red wine grape because of its ability to truly capture the essence of terroir and to improve dramatically with age.  Like Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir is a very finicky grape to grow as its thin-skinned berries are prone to drying out and rot.  Also, Pinot Noir, as the quintessential red grape of Burgundy, is more at home in colder climates and has a tendency to taste of artificial strawberry candies and sucrose when grown in warmer regions.  As Israel is for the most part a hot climate country, very few wineries have tried or succeeded in producing wine from this grape, and I did not approach any Israeli Pinot’s with lofty expectations. Yet to my great pleasure and surprise, Galil Mountain’s Pinot Noir had all the successful attributes of a well constructed Pinot Noir: a nose of tart red fruits with floral notes, tobacco, coffee, and raspberry flavors on the palate, and a lingering finish.

After the wine tasting, Carmit ushered us onto the winery’s stunning patio to enjoy a glass of rose wine and some coffee. She pointed to a flag on one of the nearby hills and explained that this was the last of the Hizbollah outposts that, prior to the war of 2006, had literally dotted all the hilltops in the area.  “That was an exciting harvest. Micha would go out into the vineyards everyday in full body armor to check on the grapes progress.”  She assured me that the situation did not in any way affect the overall quality of the 2005 vintage.  Today, the staff takes comfort in the fact that, in place of a sea of Hizbollah flags on the horizon, the flags of the Lebanese and Israeli army fly atop the hills overlooking their facility.

The Galil Mountain Winery, along with a number of other promising Israeli wineries, is helping to put Israel on the wine-lovers’ world map.  Galil Mountain hopes that its visitor center will help act as an instrument to promote its wines in Israel and the world. “People come here to taste wine, and hopefully, if they like what they try, they go back to their countries as salesmen and ambassadors of our wines.  Instead of only being discussed as a country beset by war, people will praise Israeli wines and other culinary treasures.”  With wines of this caliber it seems only a matter of time before the Israeli wine industry takes its rightful place among the ranks of other distinguished new world wine countries such as New Zealand and South Africa.