Walking into Shuki Yashuv’s Agur Winery while he speaks about his wines, is like obnoxiously peering over an artist’s shoulder as he paints a masterpiece. There are no questions permitted. In fact, he finds any form of talking quite irritating. Anything that might encumber the passionate, free flowing stream of consciousness that erupts from Shuki’s mouth is simply unacceptable. Like a prophet relaying the word of the heavens, Shuki speaks, and you sit with your mouth open in awe of the man who stands before you. Generally, I don’t like writing with exclamation marks -I find them cheap and undescriptive. That being said, I’ll try my best to do this colorful character justice, but if at any point you think he might have said something tame or moderate, trust me, add an exclamation mark.
Shuki was one of the modern day firsts to crush grapes in the now prestigious wine region of the Ella Valley. Before moving to the region, Shuki worked as a skilled carpenter in Jerusalem. Touring around the room together, Shuki pointed out the different wood workings he fashioned, including the beautifully constructed bench on which we both eventually sat. After leaving metropolitan Jerusalem for the rural “moshav” life, Shuki started Agur Winery with an all-star cast of winemakers, who have all since gone on to establish their own renowned wineries in the area.
“I am a one man band,” Shuki explains, “the production, marketing, and distribution is all done with my own two hands.” This is no easy feat, especially in an industry that is flooded with boutique wineries and profitability dropping rapidly. Yet, Shuki is a man of many trades and interests. Shifting swiftly between commerce, philosophy, and psychology, while mixing in his objections to the kosher wine industry, Shuki relayed to me with extreme frustration how he is no longer being permitted to discuss eroticism with the tourist groups visiting the winery. “Sexuality is deeply rooted in religion, and wine is pure romance,” Shuki explained. “How can I speak about wine without speaking about lust and desire? Then you wonder why pornography has become so prevalent.” I’m not sure I would normally want my child to learn about the birds and the bees from an Israeli winemaker, but maybe from this one.
Shuki restlessly shifted positions on the bench while casually weaving between languages, carefully selecting the dialect in which he could best express himself, like a painter choosing the perfect brush. With a few words in one of the languages of love, Shuki explained how he attempts to imbue his 20,000 bottles a year with the character of the Italian-style wines, largely known for their drinkability. “Wine is meant to be drunk,” Shuki proclaimed. “I want my wines to be drinkable.” Shuki defines a good bottle of wine by one’s ability to finish it in one sitting. “It’s the F*#@ing drink of the land,” he exclaimed passionately, “I want people to drink.”
Throughout Shuki’s impulsive discourse, humility was gracefully paired with immense pride. He described wine as “fermented grape juice”, his job as “transporting liquids from one place to another”, and his craft’s philosophy as “working hard, and simply waiting for miracles to happen”. Yet, in the same breath he adamantly insisted that his wine is undoubtedly of the top 1% Kosher wines in the world.
Israeli wine grapes are often fierce and aggressive, and the art of the winemaker “is to hold them back, to tame the grapes,” Shuki explained with erratic hand gestures. This is the most puzzling and amazing part of Shuki’s craft in my eyes. Shuki is just about the most uninhibited person I have ever met. He truly speaks his mind, and is not afraid of offending anyone. This style of communication is not simply an attempt to be comedic, but it is how Shuki thinks things must be – raw, real, and authentic. Yet in his winemaking, Shuki embraces a seemingly opposite approach, attempting to withhold the grapes, trying to teach them to behave. It is not that he wants his grapes to be modest, quiet, and boring, God forbid, rather he seeks to infuse his wines with subtleties, suggestiveness, and irony like an artist aspires to do with his brush and canvas. Shuki is truly a poet of winemaking and by far one of the most interesting people I’ve ever come across.
Tasting Layam 2012
Shuki vented in frustration about how people use meaningless adjectives to describe wines. “Wine doesn’t taste like plums or berries,” he shouted, “it tastes like love, it tastes like passion.” He continued, “In Homer’s Iliad there is no use of adjectives – only metaphors. The sea is described as ‘wine dark’ not ‘black’.” It was from a mixture of this frustration and Biblical inspiration that Shuki chose the name for this wonderful half mourvedre and syrah blend. In the book of Job, God describes Himself as He who “shut up the sea (‘yam’) behind doors when it burst forth from the womb.” As God sets limits to the uncontrollable sea, so too, Shuki attempts to restrain the irrepressible Israeli wine grape.
In respect of Shuki’s deep conviction of how wine should be experienced, I will attempt to describe Layam in a way I think he would find, at the very least, inoffensive.
Among an orchard of lush almond trees blooming at dusk
Her mischievous gaze enticed our eyes to meet
As I advanced, she silently concealed herself
Seductively dropping rose petals after her for me to follow
Every daring stride I took through the dew filled enchanted grove
Tangled me even deeper into her inebriating aroma
I warily neared as she reached out to gently stroke my hand
Her touch delicate like finely blown glass cloaked in royal velvet
When I looked up to embrace, she was already gone
Leaving but a lasting imprint of her tightly braided hair
I recommend drinking this wine indoors with the sunset coming through a window while softly playing Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” or Joni Mitchel’s “Clouds” in the background. Feel free to email me about your wine drinking experiences and with any questions you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.