Ari Erle, Bat Shlomo's winemaker is Napa Valley educated. He brought to Israel the latest methodologies and technologies in winemaking. Ari tells us about his methods and passions below.
Our vineyards are a little bit different from other vineyards in Israel; I brought a lot of technology and Napa methodology to Israel. For instance, you can see the spacing is much tighter: 1x2.4 meters, we have 415 vines per acre and in Israel it is more common to have 222. I imported special cross arms on the posts. I use them because they give a lot of space for the shoots to grow and provide more sunlight to the canopy and dappled sun to the fruit, affecting the photosynthesis and therefore the quality berries.
We use a sustainable method of growing. We are not certified organic, but we heavily minimize the use of spraying. We grow a cover crop letting the weeds between the grapes grow to promote a full ecosystem in our vineyard. The predators eating the pests, along with erosion control, means we have to spray considerably less. We also let clovers and wheat grow, and they add nitrogen to the soil. Every other year we'll work them back into the earth to create a natural compost that organically fertilizes the soil.
We work very hard to balance the vines through pruning, shoot thinning and green harvest. In late winter, we start pruning the vines. We prune very late and use mostly shoot pruning – which means we renew the cordon, the extension of the trunk that lies on the wire, every year. It increases growth and helps us control polarity. Also, I believe that having a new budding arm every year is better for vine health in the long term. This method is unique to our vineyard since it's rare to do it this way in Israel.
Green harvest is where we drop extra green clusters for unified growth. We aim for a balance between canopy and fruit. This helps mature the grapes adequately and gives more concentrated fruit. It allows for big concentrated flavors with lots of fruit, aromas and mouth feel. The vine needs a lot of energy to do this. If you have too many, the vine spreads out its energy over all the clusters and you don't get very good maturity and flavor.
Then the veraison period begins. We start monitoring maturation and drop clusters that haven’t matured. We take samples to taste and test the sugar, pH and acidity in the lab. The tasting, along with the lab numbers, helps me decide when to harvest.
We harvest all the grapes quickly early at dawn. At the winery we press the grapes; sometimes whole clusters. We do 2-3 day cold settle and then we transfer to fermentation; 2/3 custom stainless steel tanks, that I designed, and 1/3 concrete egg. I use a low oxygen method with emphasis on lees contact. We blend and then we stabilize the wine before bottling. It all takes about 6-8 months. I call it an Israeli style Sauvignon Blanc; somewhere between a California and a New Zealand wine since we don't use any oak. We want a strong framework, strong acidity, very refreshing and clean. The Sauvignon cleans your mouth out, goes well with foods.
We make the Rosé differently, depending on the year. This year (2013) we did it in a saigneé style (meaning: bleed). We bleed off the juice after 2-6 hours with the skin contact and use 100% stainless steel. We do an old fermentation to preserve the esters and aromas. With the Rosé, we are also looking for a clean, crisp, refreshing, fruity style; high acid, not too round, and buttery.
We do the Chardonnay in an opposite style from the Sauvignon. It is big, aromatic, round, buttery, creamy, malolactic aromas, smoky aromas, pear and apple. The chardonnay is barrel fermented. We move it straight from the cold settle to fermentation in the barrel. We use the surlees method of stirring, which creates a creamier fuller mouth feel. We use 80% new barrels, all of which are 100% French oak. The grapes go through both alcohol and malolactic fermentation in the barrel. After 10-12 months, we bottle the wine.
With the Cuveé, we de-stem the grapes with a gentle crush. After 4-5 days of cold soak the fermentation begins. We taste every day to make sure we get the right tannins and to know when exactly to press off the skin so that we get the full maceration, colors, flavors and mouth feel that we believe are adequate. We do a malolactic fermentation in the barrel with very little racking. At the end of 20-24 months, we bottle the wine. Then we wait about 6-12 months before we release it.
The advantage of the concrete egg is that the wine is always in contact with the circulated lees which is encouraged by the egg shape. The concrete tank has excellent insulation so the fermentation is very steady, a very long, cool fermentation. The concrete offers a different mouth feel and aromas because of the concrete itself, it breathes a little more than the steel, and you get some minerality.
We use glass corks for the Sauvignon and the Rosé. The glass cork prevents cork taint and oxidation. It is also a cool, high-tech and classy closure which can be used with the bottle over and over again – giving you a Bat Shlomo water bottle (or other beverage).
I buy the barrels based on how long they were toasted for. We use 4-7 French coopers. I like using different coopers for flavor complexity.
Before blending I do barrel tasting where I take the same wine from 6-10 different barrel types and taste to figure out which is better for our wine and vineyard. I taste for the smokiness, the aroma, and the tannins. Based on the results, I decide which cooper to use the following year.