The Israeli Wine Industry, a 4 Millennium Old Toddler
The Wine World, David Honig, April 6, 2014
Israel’s modern wine industry was launched by Baron Edmond de Rothschild on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel. In 1890, he founded Bat Shlomo, a small village he built to grow mulberries (for silk production), and grapes (for wine). The Baron, who named Bat Shlomo after his mother, wanted to create a wine industry in Palestine. He built thirteen homes: a synagogue, a mikvah (a Jewish ritual bath), a storehouse, and a kosher butcher – a ready-made village for eastern European settlers. The homes still stand today, much as they were when first built. The vineyards were planted with traditional Bordeaux varieties, but through the early years the winery Rothschild founded in a sister village, Zichron Yaakov, made traditional bulk sweet kosher wine for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and other ceremonies. That would be the direction of the Israeli wine industry for nearly a century to follow.
Today, Bat Shlomo is enjoying a renaissance under the direction of American born high tech entrepreneur Elie Wurtman and his American trained winemaker, Ari Erle. Erle is focusing on producing modern, high-quality wines from new vines he planted in 2010, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. Wurtman is splitting his focus between the vineyard and a new visitors’ center, which will have six guest suites, a tasting room, a below ground winery, and easy access to the country’s best biking and hiking trails, for Bat Shlomo is located in the Alona Forest National Park.
Bat Shlomo’s 2012 Chardonnay, imported to the US and priced at $40, is one of Israel’s best Chardonnays. Erle makes Bat Shlomo’s Sauvignon Blanc in an egg-shaped tank, a first for the Israeli wine industry. It is fresh, bright, and well-balanced, and priced at $30. Offering great promise tasted from the barrel, the 2012 Betty’s Cuvee, made from cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and cabernet franc, is a full-bodied red that offers the best of each of its varietals. Import cost is $50.