“I’m surprised you’re able to make such a fine wine,” Amichai teased his friend, a Napa Valley winemaker. “In Israel,” Amichai explained, “we live close to the ‘Source’, so of course our wines are virtuous, but California — that’s the real wonder.”
I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, Amichai can also walk the walk. Like the jacket of a highly decorated navy general, Amichai Luria’s “Shiloh Winery” bears more medals than could possibly fit on the walls of his modest visitor’s center. “The last few competitions weren’t even close,” Amichai boasted confidently, “we swept.” With incredibly high ratings both in Israel and around the world, it’s hard to imagine that this pristine winery started as a mere hobby in Amichai’s backyard.
Amichai immigrated to Jerusalem from America with his family at the young age of four, closely followed by most of the extended Luria family. Fastforwarding a few years, Amichai married and moved to the Shomron where he began working as a home renovation contractor. Although his work days were often long and exhausting, a burning passion for winemaking kept Amichai’s energetic hands busy at home as well. “Because it was just a hobby,” Amichai told me, “I was able to experiment and test different techniques in a fashion that industrial wineries could never dream of.” Amichai believes that, ultimately, it was these explorative and imaginative years that provided him with the tools that would give his wines their unique character years later.
Just as the new street signs directing potential visitors to his garage winery were being cemented into the ground, Amichai got a life changing surprise. Successful businessman, Meir Shomer, met with Amichai to convince him to quit playing around and become the vintner for Meir’s incipient state of the art “Shiloh Winery”. Amichai understood that evolving his beloved pastime into a profession would be a challenging transition. “You can either ruin your hobby or take a chance and bring it to a whole new level,” Amichai explained. Similar to confessing romantic feelings for a friend, knowing you are taking the risk of destroying what was a beautiful friendship, Amichai could not resist the enticing notion that he could do something that he loved as a profession, having his cake and eating it too.
Amichai believes that coming to industrial winemaking from his unique angle gave him a “madness” that set him apart from many other wineries. “When something is your passion and not simply your job, you don’t just do what needs to be done,” Amichai explained, “you do everything and anything you can to ensure perfection.”
Already in their first vintages, Amichai’s wines began stirring up quite a bit of noise in local wine shops and those overseas. “It’s not enough to make a great wine once,” Amichai said, “but to maintain the consistency of producing excellence year after year, that is what we do that is so extraordinary. If you go to a restaurant, and they serve you spoiled food, even if it’s only once, why would you ever go back?” And he’s right. The chore of standing before a shelf holding numerous vintages of a winery, trying to remember which years were successful and from which years to stay away can be exhausting.
It’s not only their reputation of consist excellence that gives Shiloh Winery their stellar name, but also their audacity to introduce interesting varietals and blends to the ever-seeking kosher palate. “I would go crazy if I just had to do the same thing every time,” Amichai declared, “Not just another cabernet, not just another merlot – enough – we want to create something different.”
Aside from his impressively strong nature, I was particularly captivated by Amichai’s tremendous respect for his customers. “Wine drinkers are not suckers. They want reasonably priced quality wine, and that is what I want to provide them with,” Amichai said sternly.
Not only has Amichai developed an extremely reliable brand, but the wine also speaks for itself. Amichai relayed to me that he was recently invited to a swanky wine event at an extravagantly elegant home in the Tel Aviv area. The purpose of the affair was a blind tasting, assessing the different vintages of Golan Heights Winery’s flagship series “Katzrin”. Unbeknownst to Amichai and the rest of the judges, the organizers had secretly slipped one bottle that was not that of Golan Heights’ exorbitant and prestigious series. Once the judges had all unanimously agreed that this particular bottle was the most interesting of the selections, the room went silent as the cover was taken off the bottle, revealing it not to be a vintage of Katzrin but rather that of Shiloh Winery.
At one point or another, we all ask ourselves difficult questions concerning our own ambitions in the workplace, challenging our countless mandatory hours of employment to be self-fulfilling and meaningful, instead of merely a paycheck at the end of the month. Amichai’s quest to take that which he loves and transform it into an end in and of itself — and doing it well — imparts a great lesson to us all.
Tasting: Legend 2011
Don’t be surprised if the shelf stocker in your local store accidentally placed this wine in the spice section instead of the wine shelves, because this piquant bottle has got a real zing to it. Like walking into a quaint chai shop or strolling through a blossoming herb field, the composition of elegance and vigor that this wine contains under its cork is refreshingly distinct. “Fine wine is like a high end cut of steak,” Amichai told me, “once you taste it, there is no going back to the old stuff.” This wine demonstrates Amichai’s message perfectly. It should be opened over a highly flavorful meal with family. Turn up some of Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood”, or Led Zeppelin “IV” while swirling this one in your glass.
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