The Rosh Pina Municipality just hosted on May 2nd and 3rd, 2013 their 4th Annual Israeli Wine Conference and Festival at the Rosh PIna Cinematheque and nearby Rothschild Gardens. The symposium had as its theme this year Sustainability (in vineyards and wineries) and was hosted at the Cinematheque attracting about 200 Israeli wine professionals from across the country and the festival featuring about 30 wineries from the Galilee and Golan started as the conference ended in the Gardens in to the evening on the 2nd and the next day ending before the Sabbath started attracting locals and tourists from within Israel and from overseas.
Throughout the year, the Cinematheque serves as a focal cultural center in northern Israel as the only movie theatre in the north outside of Haifa and also hosts a local dance company and musical performances among other cultural happenings, the theater proved to be close to full of Israel’s most famous winemakers who travelled from all over Israel to not only hear the speakers but also show their support for the annual conference even though many of the attending winemakers weren’t poring their wines later at the festival.
A who’s who of Israeli winemakers were in attendance and for me it was more noticeable who didn’t attend than who did but since I don’t know everyone’s schedule and commitments its not for me to judge why some chose not to attend but to commend those who did for it does show a certain level of professionalism, intellectual curiosity and camaraderie to spend a day away from their winery and vineyard responsibilities. I’ll also commend the handful of wine writers who attended the conference which is far less glamorous or indulgent as most events wine writers attend for spending a day listening more than tasting wines. Retired Golan Heights WInery managing director Shalom Blayer, who had been instrumental in the world wide acceptance and success of their Yarden, Gamla and Golan brands was awarded the Conference’s first time Lifetime Achievement Award to the exuberant applause of his former peers in the industry.
Among the winemakers in attendance was, in no particular order, Victor Schoenfeld of the Golan Heights Winery (whose winery also was just recently awarded Best New World WInery by WIne Enthusiast Magazine in the US) and which is the largest northern vineyard winery in Israel producing between 5-6 million bottles/year making it the third largest winery in Israel. Chief winemaker Ed Salzberg and winemaker Irit Boxer were attending representing Israel’s 2nd largest winery, Barkan who is based in the Judean Hills but has substantial holdings in the Galilee including the vineyards that produce their three Cabernet Sauvignon wines in their higher tier Altitude series. Winemaker Naama Sorkin and owner Alex Haruni attended from the Dalton Winery, the first commercial winery to open in the Galilee. The other major commercial winery from the region, the Galil Mountain Winery was represented by its chief winemaker, Micha Vaadia and his associate, winemaker Boaz Adam. The affable Shlomo “Shiki” Rauchberger from the Teperberg WInery, Israel’s 4th largest winery (across the road from Kibbutz Tzora in the Judean Hills) is always easy to pick out in a crowd and speaking of Tzora, its winemaker, the well respected Eran Pick was present representing their well regarded boutique Tzora label. The innovative winemaking team of Gil Shatsberg and Ido Lewinsohn from the Recanati Winery were also in attendance the day before hosting their yearly open house the next day at their winery in Emeq Hefer.
There was quite a few other larger and mid-sized boutique wineries represented. Eran Goldwasser probably travelled the farthest coming from the Negev’s Tel Arad’s Yatir Winery, one of Israel’s most well recognized wineries here in Israel and overseas. Professor Bravdo of Hebrew University who is a pioneer in Israeli wine made the trip from his Karmei Yossef vineyards. The charismatic & highly capable winemaking team of Barry and daughter Roni Saslove who depend almost exclusively on northern vineyards for their Saslove Winery was one of the oldest boutiques represented. David Bar Illan, the newest winemaker, of the prolific and pleasantly proficient Tulip Winery, a sentimental favorite for those who know their history (and who enjoy their wines), drove up from the inspirational village of Kfar Tikvah. One of Israel’s most charming characters, winemaker Shuki Yashuv, was also attending from the Judean Hills. It’s debatable who has more character Shuki or his Agur wines but most enjoy the company of both immensely. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Canadian born journeyman winemaker Sam Soroka from the Mony and Montefiore wineries in the Judean Hills. From nearby Rosh Pina, or at least relatively to some of the others attending was Yitzhak Cohen of the Galilee’s Ramot Naftaly, who has released some awarding single varietals that have inspired others to experiment with Petit Verdot, Barbera and Malbec. Gaby Sadan, formerly of Galil Mountain, was a guest speaker on sustainable winemaking and viticulture based on his relatively new Shvo wines including a Chenin Blanc which is helping that grape make a resurgence here in Israel. The trendsetting Uri Hetz who has been a leader promoting Rhone varietals and more nuanced wines came down from the beatific boutique Chateau Golan.
It was nice to see a few smaller boutique winemakers in attendance as well demonstrating their seriousness in their craft in contrast to those who might be more hobbyists. Of those I recognized, who also made a long trek was the husband and wife team, Shaike and Lori Lender from the Zafririm Winery whose wines seem to getter better year after year (maybe there’s attending these symposium can help your wines, it can’t hurt, can it?) and former architect Rami of the Rami Bar Maor Winery, a one time intern of the Margalit Winery, who is one of the most intellectually engaged and curious winemakers I’ve met, was for me not a surprise attendee.
One reason there might have so been so many winemakers in attendance was the featured speaker of the day. Dr. Jamie Goode, who has PhD in botany, but is better known as a well read and respected wine writer in the United Kingdom was flown in to give two one hour presentations including one on the conference theme, making sustainable wines, and the second on what he terms authentic wines and how sustainable practices can contribute to more interesting and unique wines. I’ll save a review of his discussion for a future article or three but I think its important to note for readers that all of the winemakers who attended are making an effort to go beyond and above some others to make their Israeli wines the best they can be and something we Israelis can enjoy as well as be proud to have represent us and our emerging wine industry overseas.