Gva’ot Winery: Bottling an Ancient Story

“In Israel, we have one of the longest histories of winemaking and viticulture in the world — we just can’t tell it yet. Unlike the French Cabernet, we need to uncover our story,” Shivi told me passionately. As the psalmist’s fingers gently plucked the stings of his prophetic lyre, pausing to tune up and sip his royal glass of wine — what kind of wine was he drinking? Was King David decanting a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon? Swirling a fruity Merlot? Chilling a sweet Muscat? Probably not. But imagine we could find out exactly which varietal King David was drinking and create that exact wine today. As the vintner of Gva’ot Winery and a professor at Ariel University, that is precisely what Dr. Shivi Drori plans to reveal.

For the past few years at Ariel University, Shivi has been endeavoring to unearth the original grape varietals grown in Israel some 1,500 years ago. With over 130 already discovered, twenty of which he believes to be appropriate for winemaking, he has already taken huge strides in achieving his ambitious goal. According to Shivi, it will only be a matter of a few years until wineries will be able to produce wines indigenous to the land of Israel.

“I am one person. I can’t be split into a researcher by day and a winemaker by night, ” Shivi explained, “both identities are part of who I am, and each gains symbiotically from the other.” While Shivi’s commercial experience at Gva’ot Winery has enabled several successful companies to be birthed from his research at the university, the winery benefits from the cutting edge biochemical and technological advancements that Shivi explores at Ariel University.

“Wine is not a status symbol in Israel anymore,” Shivi told me. “Now people actually want to drink their wines, not just have it sit on the table as a social statement.” This crucial insight into the changes within Israeli society has guided Shivi over his career as a winemaker and has set Gva’ot Winery ahead of many other producers in the country. Whereas many other Israeli wineries have embraced the hot Israeli climate, picking their grapes relatively late, which causes their wines to be highly alcoholic with strong syrupy flavors, Shivi has no problem picking his grapes a little early if it means making them slightly more palatable. “Several other Israeli wines might be nice to taste, but you would never be able to sit and finish a bottle between two or three friends,” Shivi told me, “they are just too much”.

Growing his grapes throughout the relatively mild Samarian summer, Shivi is able to produce some highly sought-after varietals that could not thrive in the same way in other Israeli microclimates. A perfect example of this success is Gva’ot Winery’s exceptional and highly acclaimed Pinot Noir, which is hard to come by in the Mediterranean.

Like a good wine, Shivi has also developed and matured as a vintner over his ten years of experience at Gva’ot Winery. “When I started,” Shivi told me, “I was neurotic, constantly tampering with the wine to reach complete perfection.” However, over time Shivi has become less controlling, allowing his grapes more freedom to express themselves, understanding that oftentimes small “mistakes” in winemaking can add character and personality to wines that could otherwise be a bit boring.

Shivi recalled a terrible smell that he found coming from one of his wines during a checkup while the juice fermented. He frantically called a colleague over to advise him of what to do with this doomed wine. “My friend told me to stay away from the wine for a month and then go back and try it again,” he retold, “wines don’t like it when people’s nervous energies are in close proximity to them.” Sure enough, when Shivi went back to the fermenting wine one month later, the odor was gone, leaving what would later be one of his best vintages.

Shivi is a high energy personality, constantly looking for outlets for his endless curiosity and excitement. “If I had to spend all day staring at the barrels at the winery I would go crazy,” he confesses, “it’s not challenging enough for me.” Harmoniously balancing his research and winemaking has satisfied Shivi’s drive and passion. As we walked together, strolling across the Samarian hilltop on which Gva’ot Winery stands, Shivi pointed out several ancient wine presses along the way that testify to the long history of winemaking in the region. “Now our job is just to connect the scientific findings to the historical accounts, and we will be on track for a very exciting future for Israeli winemaking,” Shivi announced. Rooted deeply in the past, with his eyes peering brightly into the future, Dr. Shivi Drori virtuously embodies the values and dreams of Israeli nationhood and the return to Zion.

Tasting: Vineyard Dance 2012:
unnamedProbably one of the most well-known styles of winemaking in the world is known as a “Bordeaux Blend” reigning from Bordeaux, France. These traditional wines commonly blend Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with Merlot, and often a touch of Petit Verdot. With the mild summers in France, the Petit Verdot grapes ripen last, and as such, only small amounts are able to be used in a Bordeaux blend, primarily to add color and a bit of oomph. However, because of Israel’s more extreme climate, Petit Verdot grapes ripen much earlier, and are starting to find a spotlight in quality wines across the country.

Like the classic Bordeaux, this bold and vibrant wine also has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. However, in Gva’ot, Bordeaux meets the Mediterranean, training the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to follow the lead of the dominant Petit Verdot, even throwing in a tad of Malbec to the mix. Allowing the Petit Verdot to run the show, Shivi produced an amazingly exciting wine that is very much its own character, akin to its maker, honestly representing Israel’s virtues, and not simply trying to transplant ideas from foreign lands. Open this bottle at a social get together with new friends, but be equipped with another bottle, because it will go down fast. Turn up James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” or Paul Simon’s “Rhythm of the Saints”. Be sure to give Shivi a visit at Gva’ot Winery on Givat Harel, between Eli and Shiloh.

About the Author
Born and raised in Chicago, Uri is now an Israeli farmer, living in Gush Etzion with his wife, Debbie and his daughter, Rakiya. When he is not farming, you can find him tasting wine with good food and even better company. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments you might have at:
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