April 9th & 10th, Wine Festival In Zichron Ya’acov

OK, this festival is not exactly going to be in Zichron Ya’acov. But, it’s close enough you might know the difference if someone didn’t tell you otherwise. It’s adjacent to Zichron Ya’acov at Ramat Hanadiv Gardens, possibly Israel’s most majestic private park. It’s situated just south of Zichron Ya’acov, on the road (Route .652)  leading up from Binyamina (about 7 km from the train station). If you’ve never been to the Gardens before it’s a unique opportunity to experience a national treasure and nature preserve and return visitors are in for a surprise as this typically serene setting provides a backdrop for a rare opportunity to enjoy your choice of wines to toast a Mediterranean sunset with a magnificent ocean view.

22 Israeli wineries offers up more wine than one person can taste in one evening
22 Israeli wineries offers up more wine than one person can taste in one evening

The wine festival is now less than a month away, on the Wednesday and Thursday nights of April 9th and 10th, 2014 6PM to 11PM (or 1800 to 2300 in Israeli parlance).

Tickets are NIS 90  (about $25) at the gate or NIS 80 ( about $23 online).

Besides 22 local wineries representing three nearby wine trails. the Ramat Hanadiv Wines & Plenty Festival will be a showcase for local gourmet treats including artisan breads, local cheeses, olive oil, passion fruit liquors and dishes prepared and designed by previous Master Chef contestants that will feature fruits and vegetables from local farmers paired with local wines.

Live Instrumental jazz music will set the mood for both evenings.

The wineries scheduled are (in alphabetical order):

Abaya, Aligote, Alona, Arens, Argov, Asambia, Bat Shlomo (K), Binyamina (K) Carmel (K), Dahdah (K), Mivtsar Atlit, Recanati (K), Reuven, Sadot, Sagi, Saloman, Shfeya, Shirom, Shoshana, Somek, Tishbi (K) and Vortman

Carmel, Binyamina, Tishbi and Recanati are four of the largest producers  of wine in Israel that many might find as familar labels they see in markets but they typically feature their higher tier “boutique” style wines at festivals.

The smaller boutiques which include the 18 (L’chaim) other wineries are far less well known because of their scale of production and marketing. You are sure to find a new favorite winery and varietal or style. Coming early to a festival (closer to 6 than 9 for instance) asures you that you will have more time to talk with winery staff before the larger crowds compete for attention.

A little investigating and tasting and you can find if you have a preference of whites over reds or perhaps the current trend of reds over whites or like me you might learn to enjoy both equally depending on the occassion and menu, if you prefer wines oaked, lightly oaked or unoaked (more typically an issue with whites than reds) or if you like wines dry or sweeter.

Wine festivals are also good to educate your mind and senses to different grape varietals. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are popular international red varietals and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are popular whites and all four are readily available but many of these wineries also feature lesser known varietals such as the whites Gewurztraminer, Viognier,White Riesling, Emerald Riesling, Colombard, Roussanne and Marsanne and reds such as Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Syrah/Shiraz, Petite Sirah and Marselan. Don’t be surprised if there’s other grapes you’ve never tasted or even heard of and if you thought you didn’t like a grape varietal before maybe because its because you haven’t tasted a good enough example before. Here’s your chance.

Jacob’s Dairy and Hashomron Cheeses will provide a wide assortment of local cheeses to sample and purchase for the evening or to take home.

Masik Olive Oil and Yovel Olive Oil will present their extra-virgin olive oils.

Ruach Shtut will feature fresh produce from their local hothouses.

Aunt Bertha’s will feature their locally sourced  fruit preserves, fruit spreads and fruit based salad dressings.

The Passionfruit Man is a popular staple and fan favorite at other wine festivals and will be on hand to with his locally based Passionfruit treats proving not all that’s liquor and tasty must come from grapes.

Noted foodie and popular Master Chef contestant Benny Ben Israel is a culinary adviser for the feastival and will be working with the park’s resident restaurant Mata’im (kosher dairy) to offer inexpenisve yet gourmet “street food” that showcases local fare but also match well with wines. Benny leads culinary trips to Italy and also so happens to be husband of Ruti.

Past visitors to the park might wonder if this setting is too pristine for this kind of festival since they post Keep of the Grass signs but on this one occassion people can squish their toes in the well manicured grass that will host the 1,500 guests expected each evening.The festival is the brainchild of Italian trained sommelier Ruti Ben Israel who’s become a vocal advocate of the region first as the manager of the Carmel Winery’s Visitor center then more recently as the manager of the  boutique Shfeya Winery which provides outreach training for the residents of the Shfeya Youth Village in winemaking, viticulture and winery management and marketing. It’s a one of a kind opportunity in Israel that will not only foster wine appreciation but one would think a good crop of future Israeli winemakers.

The size of the event is large enough to be festive without being so large it’s crazy. It is after all a Memorial Park dedicated to the memory of Baron Edmond de Rothschild who spearhearded the establishment of Israel’s modern wine industry starting in the 1880’s and 1890’s providing jobs for the early waves of Jewish immigrants mostly from Eastern Europe.

Baron Rothschild introduced “international” French grape varieties to Israel and launched the Carmel Mizrachi, the collective of farmers who used one winery and managing and marketing team to produce wines from the grapes and vineyards of many to be distributed as one. The cellar he dug in Zichron Ya’acov actually cost more than his estate in Bordeaux and he sent teams of agriculturists and viticulturists to Israel to decide what was best for the area. The Baron’s related exploits included sponsoring over 30 settlements in those early days of Modern Israel and could fill a book and might make a good movie. Who knows one day the festival will be a backdrop for a now and then retrospective.

Initial efforts in the 19th century to make quality Israeli wines stalled as local and international demand for quality Israeli wines was far outweighed by the demand for “kiddush” sacramental wines. Those days are in the past as many of the wineries at the Ramat Hanadiv festival have been winning accolades by local and international wine critics,competitions and magazines.

Ruti believes the Baron would be proud to see where the industry is today and the festival honors today’s growers of wine grapes and other culinary delights as well as the wineries who feature those grapes as well as paying tribute to all of their ancestors who toiled over the land and the Baron who is one of the brightst examples of those who paved the way for those today who live and prosper in the area.

The festival is 64 km north of Tel Aviv or about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv ( or 37 km south of Haifa) but it is also only 7.4 km north of the Binyamina train station.

A free shuttle will give rides to and from the Biyamina Train Station to the festival so you can hop on a train from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa or anywhere in between and get a free lift for the last 7.4 km.  You can catch the 20 person shuttle at the bus stop across from the train station.


About the Author
David Rhodes is a California-trained sommelier and wine educator who moved to Israel in 2008. David has written over 1,000 articles and radio shows and also has been a political writer since the 1980's. He also has two published poetry books working on his third. David regrets he only has one liver to dedicate to Israel.
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