Yotam Sharon Wine Business
Last Wednesday I headed south, to the Negev desert. Most of my work is in the northern
part of Israel. While I adore the Galilee, now just turning green after the dryness of summer ended with some rain, I found the desert so calm, yet dramatically beautiful, so I thoroughly enjoyed this drive.
Carmey Ovdat Farm
My first stop was at Eyal Izrael’s Carmey Ovdat Farm, tucked at a creek between barren, rocky hills, with the vinyards flowing along the creek down towards the road. Eyal bought from me a Flexcube aging vessel, and the official purpose of this trip was to see how this was doing. But that’s another story.
Eyal Izrael (photo by Ori Shavit)
Eyal and his wife Hannah were the pioneers of the Negev wine farms, with first plantings dating to the late 1990’s. Though they would have much rather avoided this, they also became the heroes of a typical Israeli farce. The wine farms project was initiated by the regional council and supported by most government bodies, but the Israel Land Administration. The later, supported by green movements, fought Eyal and the other farms all the way to the Supreme Court yet persisting for foggy reasons. The farms won the costly legal battle yet not all is sorted.
In the meanwhile Eyal and his family, through hard work, created a verdant, calm oasis. Other than grape growing and winemaking they offer one of Israel’s unique B&B experiences, in charming cabins inspired by north African architecture. More about it here:http://www.carmeyavdat.com/172430/holiday-in-israel-cabins
Eyal initially planted Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. He later added Petit Verdot, Barbera, Chardonnay and Viognier. Altitude here is at 800 meters above sea level and while the days are very warm, the nights are decidedly chilly. While the Merlot does pretty well and offers some local character, Eyal now sees more potential in whites, and I strongly second that. An evidence was offered by his unoaked 2014 Chardonnay, already bottled! Crisp and fresh, with grapefruit and green apple aromatics, it’s just the wine to drink, well chilled, in the desert.
Carmey Ovdat, with a clear sign of long fought-for recognition (from their site)
Sde Boker Winery
Leaving Eyal I rang Zvi Ramek, the winemaker of Sde Boker Winery. He greated me at the newly furbished store by Ben Gurion’s cabin, at the entrance to Kibbutz Sde Boker. Originally from San Francisco, the winery was created out of his passion for growing vines in the desert and making local wine.
Zvi Ramek, Sde Boker
Initially the vineyard was created as an experiment in irrigation with brackish (lightly salty) water. This didn’t work as the vines simply died after a few years due to salt accumulation. Another vineyard was planted, from which Zvi wine since 1999. We only tasted one wine together, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s light and sweetly fruity; an unassuming, pleasant red. No doubt Zvi could have gone on and keep improving steadily. However the Kibbutz now decided it made no sense to keep cultivating the remaining 10 dunams (1 hectare) of vineyard, and it will be grubbed. Zvi appealed against this decision but was refused. As a kibbutz member, he says, I have to accept it. Yet it was evident how hurt he was by this decision. The winery is to go on, with purchased fruit. So do many wineries in Israel but it does mean the sense of place is lost.
On a brighter note, the wines have some of the most beautiful labels I’ve seen in Israel. Check it out here: http://www.sdebokerwinery.com/#home
Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm
Heading back north I could not resist exiting up the steep gravel road to Kornmehl. Anat and Daniel Kornmehl started here back in 1997 and I used to stop here back from visiting Negev vineyards at my early days at Barkan. The various goat cheeses were amazing, really world class, from the start, and to a cheese lover are worth the trip. The farm now boasts a restaurant, to which I plan to return, with outdoor seating against desert landscape. Anat offered a tasting of the available cheese. Their famed Camembert style (Israel’s best!) will not be back until January, as the goats are now pregnant. I took a little of all that was there – Edna (aged 2 months, hard rind), a young Tomme and another, aged since May (lovely, pungent ripeness). Mental note – to back back in the spring for the Camembert and the restaurant. And all the lovely things around.
Anat crackiing open aged Tomme – just for me!