When I was in England, I was known for being Jewish. Having come to live in Israel, I instead became known as the ‘Brit’ or ‘Anglo’, which is short for Anglo Saxon. An Anglo covers anyone from an English speaking country. Considering the English speaking countries are highly involved in producing wine or selling it, it is surprising that there aren’t so many wineries here with an Anglo influence.
There is of course the legendary winemaker from the Golan Heights Winery, Victor Schoenfeld, who hails from California. Paul Dubb from Tzuba Winery is from South Africa. Sam Soroka, winemaker of Jerusalem Wineries, and Barry Saslove once of Saslove Winery, are from Canada. Then there is Alex Haruni from England, whose Dalton Winery has just enjoyed its 20th year anniversary, and it continues to thrive. It is a great success story.
Dalton Winery was the first commercial winery in the Galilee and they were forerunners of a trend. Fast forward until today and there are many Galilee wineries. Someone once told me there were has many as sixty, taking into account wineries of all sizes.
Also the Galilee has become an area where many wineries, even from the center of the country, planted vineyards. The result is that today the Upper Galilee in particular, is covered with vines, which intermingle with the forests, stony ridges, plunging mountains and running streams. It is Israel’s most beautiful wine region. The Galilee and Golan combined, has in the last 20 years become the largest vineyard area in Israel.
Finally, the very Industrial Estate where Dalton is situated, has itself become the heart of the Galilee Wine Region. Apart from Dalton, Adir and Carmel also have wineries there along with other smaller wineries. Furthermore Recanati are building there too. So Dalton really were the pioneers. They were there first.
Alex Haruni was born in London from a family with Indian roots that dealt in precious stones. He first came to Israel as a 24 year old in 1991 to learn Hebrew. When his father Mati Haruni, was looking to invest in Israel, he specifically chose the Galilee. He wanted a business connected to the land, which would involve tourism and showcase the benefits of the Galilee. It was primarily a Zionist project, tinged with the usual business objectives.
They slipped into wine. Armand Maman had an established vineyard and as was the new trend of the time, he had started making his own wine. He needed help and this was the opportunity. Now the Harunis knew nothing about wine. They were whisky drinkers. However they dived in, learning about wine as they went along. They learnt by trial and error with all the ups and downs.
Building a winery is not easy and returns are far slower than in most business. At some times Mati must have thought it would have been more profitable to sell mineral water, Coca Cola or Johnnie Walker. Sometimes they must have wondered what on earth they got themselves into. However they persevered. They had worked out that they needed to reach 300,000 bottles to be profitable. In 1995 they produced 30,000 bottles.
I remember some of the original bottles were very flash and the labels slightly garish. I say this because with development over time, when Alex Haruni absorbed himself in the business, Dalton was to become one of the most stylish, best marketed wineries in the whole country.
Alex Haruni is very measured and cerebral, talking slowly to be sure of what he is saying. Rather like a seasoned veteran in the diplomatic service. However when someone ruffles him, he can respond with a surprising sharpness that shows the passion flowing within, even if it usually held carefully in check.
It is fair to say that Dalton was the winery that his father built, but it was Alex that filled it with content. His father was very wise at the outset to employ a consultant, something only the Golan Heights Winery did in those days. They started a long relationship with flying winemaker John Worontschak that continues until today. Worontschak is an Australian living in England, and advises wineries all over the world. He still comes here three times a year.
Alex Haruni is one of the most interesting people to talk to in the wine trade, because he has learnt at the sharp end. He is knowledgeable enough to act as a judge in international competitions. It is not a ‘look at me’ winery, and Alex is not a ‘look at me’ type of owner. He manages in a very modest way but he is innovative, and everything he does is stylish and well thought out. I call his a ‘less is more’ approach, and the winery is reflected in this image.
Dalton Winery today produces just under a million bottles a year. The entry level wines are called Canaan. Then there are the Dalton varietals, the D series, the Alma blends, Reserve label and the Single Vineyards. The Homage label of a red and white wine is the prestige label that honors his parents, Matatia and Anna, who invested and persevered. The result of their effort can be seen not only in where Dalton is today, but also where the Galilee is today as far as both wineries and vineyards are concerned.
Alex Haruni is a supporter of new talent. He did not hesitate to appoint a Russian Oleh Hadash (new immigrant), Arkadi Papikian, as a winemaker. His next winemaker was a woman, Naama Sorkin. In those days there were very few women winemakers. His latest appointment is Guy Eshel, which shows confidence in new blood. Eshel is young, with impeccable credentials but as yet untried. One day, if not already, Eshel will thank Haruni for his support and the opportunity. Mind you Haruni will also be grateful for gaining such a young talent for the winery’s immediate future.
As far as wines are concerned, they have also shown innovation. The red Zinfandel was for a time a rare serious attempt at a quality wine from this variety. Their wonderful Petite Sirah shows they are not just tied to the famous grape varieties. They were also the first winery to introduce Pinot Gris and to revive Semillon as a quality variety and amongst the first to produce Mediterranean style blends.
Haruni is a great fan of Shiraz. He believes it grows particularly well in Israel and shows Israel at its best. He likes varieties such Albarino from Galicia in Spain and Gruner Veltliner from Austria. He also has hopes for Jandali, the indigenous variety here, which he believes could develop in to something worthy. Like all of us, he wishes wineries would work together better to market Israeli wine abroad.
So congratulations are in order. We should thank this Anglo for bringing us twenty years of growth and stability in the topsy-turvy world of Israel wine. Under Alex Haruni’s wise stewardship, even better years are ahead of them.
The Dalton wines I tasted are as follows:
Dalton Alma Vin Gris 2015
An onion skin colored pale pink rosé made from Grenache and Barbera. Very delicate fruit notes with great acidity. Refreshing. Vin Gris (literally grey wine) is the terminology often used in France & Morocco for a pale rosé. PRICE: 75 ILS
Dalton Pinot Gris 2015
Crisp, fresh and fruity, with citrusy notes providing a refreshing finish. One of the first releases of this variety in Israel. PRICE: 65 ILS
Dalton 20th Anniversary White 2014
Limited edition wine made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It has a tropical fruit nose balanced by green apple. It is rich, oaky and flavorful. It shows good complexity as it warms up. Don’t serve it too cold. PRICE: 90 ILS
Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013
A smooth & deep red, with black berry fruits notes, hints of ripe plum and sweet vanilla. Full of flavor, with a silky texture and a broad, tannic finish. PRICE: 110 ILS
Dalton 20th Anniversary Red 2013
Limited edition. A blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz with small amounts of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Merlot. A full bodied, powerful wine with a bold black fruit nose, velvety texture and prominent oak flavors of vanilla. It has a long balanced finish. PRICE: 200 ILS
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years. He is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wine’ and the ‘English voice of Israeli wine’. He is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post.
PHOTOS: David Silverman & Michal Cohen