Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Judean winemakers front up drive for quality recognition

Published:  06 November, 2018

Four winemakers styling themselves as The Judean Hills Quartet returned to London on Monday to mark the anniversary of their collaboration to promote quality Israeli wines.

The central message from the group, which comprises Domaine du Castel, Tzora Vineyards, Flam Winery and Sphera, representing the vanguard of winemaking in the Judean Hills, was the aim to “replace kosher with terroir” with regard to the image of Israeli wines.

Speaking at the tasting, Tzora’s winemaker Eran Pick MW described the volume market for kosher wines as “both a blessing and a curse”, adding that this was the reason that the group initially came together to promote high end wineries in a different light.

“Part of this [initiative] is getting out of the kosher stamp and into the terroir of the Judean Hills,” said Pick, outlining a wholly more focused approach.

“Our philosophy is not to think about variety, but to make the best wines we can in the vineyard, to make wines with freshness and elegance.”

The array of wines shown, ranging from Bordeaux-style blends to a Semillon/Chardonnay by way of a delicate Riesling, helped amplify the message that Judean Hills is capable of producing small scale, high-end wines, with a clear sense of place.

With most vineyards 600-700 metres above sea level and predominantly terra rossa over limestone soils, yet with much local diversity, the breadth of varieties planted in this still young region points to a young industry still learning what works best in a given site or vineyard.

“We could have held this tasting 3,000 years ago,” quipped Pick, referring to a time when this region was regarding as premium winegrowing territory.

“But the renaissance began in 1988, when the first vines were [re]planted… and now growers that sold to the big wineries have increasingly started bottling their own wines.”

However, many challenges still exist for the 30 wineries now operating in the region. These include issues with getting good new vine material into the country due to government restrictions and the permissions needed to import new material, plus a lack of generic backing or government funding to support winemakers and their export ambitions of the winemakers.

“We all export around 20-30% and would like to increase this, so the first important thing is to be recognised,” said Pick of the group’s activities, which have taken them to the US and Asia Pacific in the past year to raise awareness.

Eli Ben Zaken of Domaine du Castel added that while not all of the 30 Judean Hills wineries now operating are currently at a quality level to meet international expectation, the region is still very much a work in progress.

“It’s only been 30 years since [Castel] planted the first vines, so now we have a better understanding of the land, what work best, the vineyards are getting older, and there has been a big improvement in quality of the wines,” he said.

The next step, said Pick, is the likely creation of some form of umbrella marketing body “which is trying to launch sometime soon”. And this, in turn, it is hoped will tap into the growing trend towards emerging and less-well-trodden wine regions.

Meanwhile, while the entry price dictates positioning in the independent merchant and restaurant sector, Judean Hills offers complex, elegant and often good value wines when set against the big ticket more mainstream European regions, plus much else besides. On the strength of this tasting, clearly a region to watch for the future.