Whether they are quoting verses from the book of Jeremiah or poems penned by socialist Israeli pioneers, just about every vintner between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River theatrically describes their work as “Zionism”. As that same exhausted cliché’ left Yoav’s mouth, I impulsively let out a yawn and my eyes rolled to the back of my head in boredom. But man, how I was mistaken — this guy is the real deal.
Located in close proximity to both the Lebanese and Syrian borders, Yoav’s Bazelet HaGolan Winery sits amongst a plethora of Israeli army bases filled with young and veteran soldiers cloaked in olive green IDF uniforms. As a former soldier himself, Yoav recognized the absence of private places in the area made available to Generals and Majors of the IDF to hold private meetings. Yoav decided to open his visitor center to the IDF as a place for decorated commanders to discuss strategies in the constant struggle to maintain quiet on Israel’s unpredictable northern border. “I just leave them the keys, they light a barbeque outside and have a nice meal,” Yoav explained casually. “All I ask of them is to clean and lock up before they leave.”
Bazelet HaGolan Winery is not just a quiet meeting place for army officials, but also a location open free of charge to all soldiers looking for a place to celebrate the completion of boot camp, advanced training, or any other special event. “We have over 1,000 soldiers pass through our visitor center every year,” Yoav said, pointing towards the door of the tasting room.
Yoav’s dedication to all things Israeli runs through almost all facets of production in the winery. “We buy ‘blue and white’ even if it’s more expensive and even if it’s of lower quality,” Yoav told me proudly. Bazelet HaGolan Winery also partnered with an urban cooperative initiative in the southern development town of Mitzpe Ramon, where they planted several acres of vineyards. Yoav blends these grapes from Mitzpe Ramon with his grapes from the Golan, creating a “Negev-Golan” line of Chardonnay. The profits are used to further social and educational efforts in Mitzpe Ramon. This “Negev-Golan” bottle is uniquely sealed with a cap decorated with an Israeli flag. “This is not an exclusive Bazelet HaGolan cap,” Yoav announced, holding the blue and white screwcap in his hand. “I want to invite and encourage all wineries in Israel to showcase their wines with this cap.”
Aside from his passionate nationalism, Yoav also has a unique approach to winemaking in Israel. The delicate balance between acid and sugar in the grape before harvest is what will eventually determine the alcohol levels and character structure of the wine after fermentation. While many other Israeli wineries do somersaults in the air attempting to prolong their grapes time on the vine without the sugar levels going through the roof, Yoav is not looking to pick a fight with the beaming Mediterranean sun. Warmly welcoming high sugar content in his grapes, Yoav produces wines that have more alcohol per volume than most other Israeli wines.
“I like bold, acidic, fruity wines,” Yoav declared. “The two weeks before harvesting provide flavors to my wines that are worth waiting for, even if it risks a spike in the alcohol levels.” In this intricate dance with Israeli climate, Yoav allows nature to take the lead, as he sidesteps his way into the spotlight of quality Israeli wines.
Yoav’s passion is as personal as it is national. He spends almost every free moment at his winery. “This building is like my home,” he said, “the tasting room is my living room, my favorite place to be a host.” Bazelet HaGolan employees try to keep Yoav as far away as possible from visitors. “He has a tendency to give away gifts instead of selling his wine,” one of Yoav’s workers told me, only half joking.
Tasting: Magma 2012
“Restaurants want wines that are gentler so that people dining order two bottles instead of one,” Yoav complained. While, generally, he purposefully crafts his wines with a trademark bold and heavy style, with this new line, Yoav decided to succumb to the pressure and produce a more easy drinking wine. This Cabernet and Merlot blend, although more reserved than Yoav’s other bottles, will still take you for quite a ride with its full fruit and deep almost black color. “What is most important about wine is who you drink it with,” Yoav tenderly explained. “No matter how good a bottle is, if you are sharing it with someone you can’t stand, you will not enjoy the wine. And vice versa. Wine needs to be consumed in good company.” Take Yoav’s advice, and bring this bottle to as a gift to a dinner party — but only if the hosts are folks you really enjoy spending time with. Turn up Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut album or Cat Steven’s “Teaser and the Firecat” while drinking this wine. If you are up in the Golan, fit a visit to Kidmat Tzvi into your plans, and enjoy the great company of Yoav and his lovely staff as you taste the distinct wines of Bazelet Hagolan.