Trying to explain kashrut in wine to the non-kosher market is difficult. Some things sound almost voodoo to the non-Jewish ear. I have always thought that selling the kosher concept would be easier if our vineyards were self-sustainable. Caring for spirituality and the environment goes together, and in my view one strengthens the other.
I sometimes explain kosher is like a glorified ISO system, where the origin and source of everything used in the winemaking process has to be documented and verified. That sounds understandable. In the same way there are those that believe vegetarianism and veganism sit well with the spirit of kashrut and Jewish ethics, I also believe sustainable viticulture is a natural partner.
To my regret, Israel so advanced in many ways, has not adopted what I call ethical viticulture in a major way. No doubt there are a few ‘organically grown’ vineyards though, (to differentiate from ‘organically made’ wine). The best example is the Yarden Chardonnay from Odem vineyard on the Golan Heights. The chardonnay is grown organically, and the wine has won many awards.
There are only two Israeli wineries producing organic wine, Lotem from the Galilee and Neot Smadar, near Eilat. The paradox is that whereas the end consumer is prepared to pay more for organic vegetables, the same is not true for wine, especially if the general wine consumer is not enamored with organic wines. I suppose I agree. If making organic wines is a means to an end, rather than the end itself, it is pointless if the result does not produce better quality.
The efforts and commitment by Tabor Winery to convert its vineyards to sustainable viticulture is extremely encouraging. This is a praiseworthy initiative and statement of intent by a large winery and their example should be followed by others.
In another encouraging move, a small group of wineries have formed ‘Netto Wine’ which is a self-regulated consortium espousing something approaching natural wines. Their slogan is ‘less additives, more transparency’. This group was founded by Rami Naaman of Naaman Winery and wineries of the caliber of Bar-Maor and Sea Horse are part of it. However apart from wildly cheering the initiatives by Rami Naaman, Tabor Winery and Odem vineyard amongst others, we can’t say that there is a deluge of new thinking in Israeli wine.
For external inspiration, I was therefore pleased to come across the wines of the pioneering Salcheto Winery from Tuscany in Italy. Of course, the first thing I met was the wines. If I had not thought they were good, I would have investigated no further. What they did in the winery & vineyard would be irrelevant for me if the wines were no good. However the wines were enticing. I only later learnt of the way the wines were made. After all it is the objective of every winemaker to make quality wines. It is slightly missing the point to be a holier than the Pope winemaker, only to find the wines are undrinkable.
Salcheto Winery is situated in the village of Montepulciano in Tuscany, 75 miles south east of Florence. The word Salco means willow tree, which are often to be found near water. Over the years, the branches of the willow were used to bind vines. Salcheto is the name of a stream that springs from the town of Montepulciano and traverses through the valley of this wine country. The stylish labels of Salcheto’s wines feature a loan willow tree.
The winery produces 300,000 bottles a year from organically grown and bio-dynamic vineyards. The grapes are harvested manually, vinification is sulfite free and only indigenous yeasts are used. Combining tradition and modernity, the wines are aged in combination of botte (large oak casks usually made from Slovenian oak) and small oak barrels.
The winery was born thirty years ago and Micele Manelli became involved in 1997 and has since then plotted and experimented to both improve the expressive nature of the wines, but also to make the vineyards and winery cathedrals to preserving the environment. He wanted to save the planet but believed in starting at home.
Micele Manelli is the unlikely looking hero of this story. He does not look like someone out to save the world. He has long hair in the way the Beatles were thought to have long hair in the sixties, and a drooping, unkempt Mexican style moustache. An Italian Frank Zappa would be a good description! His dark rimmed glasses give him a slightly apologetic, scholastic air. He has the constant diffident look that he is about to shrug his shoulders French style. That is at least until you hear him speak and his beliefs come out in a torrent.
You should never judge a book by its cover. This unassuming person has had the drive to create a revolution first in the vineyard, then at the winery. However this was not enough for him, because he is encouraging and leading others to follow in his path and spreading the word to other like-minded wineries in the region.
Today the winery is a model of environmental efficiency and technological innovation. They function totally off grid (disconnected from any power distribution) and use 54% less energy than conventional wineries. The cooling, heating, water and energy supply are all catered for by the winery’s internal operation. There are no light bulbs at this winery. All energy is created on premise, including the necessity for cooling and they collect and recycle all their water needs. Even the stainless steel tanks have been designed to preclude the need for pump overs.
The winery is a blur of science and innovation, but the aesthetics of the winery convey beauty, authenticity and tradition. The Salcheto Enoteca, (the Italian word used to denote a quality wine shop), is situated in the heart of the cellar. No kashrut restrictions here. Visitors are encouraged to see everything. They can taste whilst enjoying a brunch using only local and seasonal ingredients.
Then there is the Salcheto Winehouse. This is a 13th century farmhouse, which was once a watchtower of the surrounding valleys. There are nine rooms allowing guests to enjoy the Tuscan experience and the beautiful countryside. Hot tubs are available in the garden, powered by natural wood heat of course. Agritourism, made famous in Italy, at its best.
Winewise, it was important for Manelli to make wines that showcase Sangiovese at its best and make wines that celebrate the variety. He wanted to avoid the thin, harsh, tannic, acidic wines of yesteryear and the over ripe, high alcohol, oaky wines brought to Tuscany by the New World ideas, Parkerisation and international varieties. In his words he looks for wines that are “fresh, fragrant, accessible and soft.” He also had a similar message for consumers. To simplify the marketing, the wine names were simplified from the long Italian traditional names to the more succint ‘Chianti’,’ Rosso’ and ‘Nobile’. Even a newly designed bottle has been unveiled. The bottle shape is reminiscent of the history of Tuscan wine, but it is also the lightest and most ecological on the market. A blend of history, innovation and quality.
How does our environmental hero, with greenhouse gasses and carbon footprints on his mind, spend his spare time? Revving up his motorbike, which is his other passion in life, and riding fast through the vineyards! This is his outlet and I can’t think of many better ways to see and enjoy the most beautiful wine region on earth! As this farmer- artist- scientist explained to me: “The world is big, but life is short!”
Three Salcheto wines have been newly imported to Israel and are as yet are only available in restaurants. They represent a refreshing innovative choice to enliven the meal experience and make the wine selection both better value and more rewarding.
They are an example that wines from organically grown and biodynamic vineyards, made organically in an environmentally friendly winery, can be high quality. An inspiration to us all!
The wines available here in Israel are as follows:
Chianti, Chianti Colli Senesi 2015
Mainly made from Sangiovese with a small amount of local varieties Mammolo and Caniolo, but the taste is very Sangiovese. The wine has aromas of sour cherry, strawberry and plum with an earthy character, prominent tannins and good refreshing acidity. This is a great value wine for those looking for the essence of Chianti.
Rosso, Rosso di Montepulciano 2015
Made from Prugnolo Gentile, the local clone of Sangiovese balanced with a little Caniolo and Merlot. It is soft, fruity, quite plush, with a fruit driven finish.
Nobile, Nobile de Montepulciano 2013
Also made from Prugnolo Gentile. Aged in a combination of large and small oak barrels. The wine is deep with aromas of bitter cherry and blackcurrant. It has a mouth-filling chewy mouth feel, with a well-defined balanced finish. A classy wine.
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years.
He is known as the ‘ambassador of Israeli wines’. A similar version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post.