Eran Pick, at the Tzora Winery in the Judean Hills, has a UC Davis/California Bachelors in Oenology and Viticulture and is among a prestigious group of Israeli winemakers with UC Davis credentials including Israel Flam (former chief winemaker at Carmel), Gil Shatsberg of Recanati, Lewis Pasco (formerly of Tishbi & Recanati and now the Lewis Pasco Project) and Dr. Yair Margalit (the "wine professor" founding winemaker at Tishbi and founder of Israel's first boutique Margalit). I recently got to visit with Eran at the winery and Tzora's Shoresh vineyard.
Eran started at Tzora joining founder Ronnie James, also known as "Dr. Terroir, who without any formal training still became an influential catalyst for promoting the terroir and appellation of the Judean Hills and Eran took over in 2008 after James' passing. Eran talks about him with deep affection and admiration and he's held in high esteem by other winemakers as well. At the nearby Seahorse Winery, a Chenin Blanc named James has become a popular tribute.
Eran is a personable lanky fellow who with a rockabilly haircut with long side burns that looks like he could play bass guitar in the Stray Cats as much as making wine for discriminating connoisseurs. Luckily he's grounded happily with a wife and kids because otherwise his swooning admirers might become a distraction. His main distraction if you want to call it that has been studying with fellow Israeli winemaker Ido Lewinsohn for an elusive Masters of Wine and they've both entered their second year of attempting to pass that formidble exam that only a few hundred have ever mastered. It's passing rate of only 15%/year is enough of a deterrent that only the most serious apply and even then it often takes most several attempts to suceed if they can endure the cost in wine and time it takes to study and taste and acquire a boat load of wine.
Yet, its a testement to a good winemaker that Eran wants to always learn more and test himself. Each vintage will do that on its own yet the Shoresh Vineyard (a 15 minute ride from Kibbutz Tzora) is less challenging and more rewarding than most vineyards. It features one of the most majestic views of Israel with sweeping panoramic windows of vines, trees and sharp slopes that contribute to cooling breezes that protect the grapes through Israel's long warm summers.
Situated 600-700 meters altitude the 300 dunams(75 acres) of Shoresh allows Tzora to sell about 30 % of their grapes often to other wineries. This surplus of grapes gives them the first choice from many different plots and rows within plots of what grapes are best every vintage although prospective buyers have an abundant selection of good rows to choose from. They also are planting new and uprooting old vines at about 8%/year to introduce new varietals, new clones of existing rootstock or to replace exisitng vines that are no longer vialble for various reasons.
As another sign of Eran's humility, once a year for a week Tzora hosts Jean-Claude Berrouet who consults for the winery. Berrouet is best known as the winemaker for Petrus (one of the most famous Boredeux wineries with wines easily selling for $1,300 or more a bottle) from 1964-2008 (44 vintages). Now at 72, Berrout had started a new project in the early 80's, Dominus in Napa, which gave him the warmer region experience more relevant to Israeli winemaking while his son has taken over the reigns at Petrus. Coincidently, Dor James, son of Ronnie James, took over as the viticulturalist in the Shoresh vineyard.
2013 Tzora Judean Hills (13.5 % alcohol) NIS 100 (92 points) is 86% Chardonnay/14% Sauvignon Balnc that is aged 70% in used oak and 30% in stainless steel tanks but both are sur lees (left with the spent yeast after fermenting) without a secondary (malolactic fermentation)
The non-malo Chardonnay offered to me crisp yellow apple and brown pear notes while the Sauvignon Blanc added herbal,citric and slight tropical notes. The varietal specitivity is a bit lost to the blend but the sum is well balanced, vibrant and clean and refreshing with a nice round mouth feel contributed by the sur lees and likely Chardonnay.
2013 Tzora Shoresh Blanc (13.5% alcohol) NIS 130 (93 points) 100% Sauvignon Blanc that was 100% sur less in stainless steel tanks and large old 500 liter barrels. Varietal specific aroma of cut green grass and herbs and fresh citric salad that in the mouth is greener pomelo, lemon and lime zest (rather than grapefruit) with gooseberries and pineapple with a rounder than normal mouth feel from its sur less and time in oak which also delivers the typical acidity with a lingering but gentle finish.
2012 Tzora Shoresh (13.8% alcohol) NIS 130 (93 points) 69% Cabernet Sauvingon 28% Syrah and 3% Merlot. Aged 16 months in French Oak. Cassis, blackberry and blueberry with hints of plums and dark cherries and oak infused cigar box enveloped with a bit of spiciness and black pepper that is smooth start to finish and ideal as a "restaurant red."
Although this wine could age well for another several years, Eran believes it's best served within 1-2 years after release (so 3-4 years after vintage or 2015-2016 for this vintage) yet I contend its quite accessible now but wouldn't suffer from some decanting even if in the glass.
2010 Tzora Misty Hills (14.5 % alcohol) NIS 210 (94 points) 55% Cabernet Sauvingon & 45% Syrah. Aged 19 months in French Oak. Black cassis, black raspberry, blackberries, anise, forest floor, darker and denser, more concentrated flavors and aromas. Intense and earthy, yet balanced between fruit, oak, alcohol and acidity with a robust but smooth body that makes this big red a great choice to accopany roasts of bbq beef or lamb, the juicier the cut the better.
The"fossils" plot which is on the sharpest slope within Shoresh consistently delivers Tzora's best grapes with a thin layer of terra rosa on top of a deep layer of limestone and was the source of this Misty Hills. Rocks sport visible fossils that make this site as valuble to a biologist as much to a viticulturist but lets be thrilled the latter gained the land first. The blend of grapes in Misty Hills is open to change each year depending on the harvest ich grapes each vintage make the best blend and this wine was the result of a super low yield of 400 kilos per dunam though the greater Shoresh vineyard typically is harvested at a still modest 500 kilos per dunam delivering concentrated fruit and aromas typical of world class wines.
2012 Tzora Or (12% alcohol/180g/liter sugar) NIS 120 /375 ml. only sold at the winery (92 points) 100% Gewurztraminer. This dessert wine delivers classic white fruit notes of canned peaches, apricots as well as clove honey, dates, lychee, ginger well balanced with healthy amounts of alcohol and acidity. Seems a natural pairing for creme brulee, cheeses and foie gras. The price of this wine refects not only its quality but its rarity, how labor intensive it is as well as the loss of about 50% of the potential juice due to freezing to make it in an ice wine style.