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Joshua London

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Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 5:51 pm

Hi all,

One of my favorite wine writers, Andrew Jefford (who also wrote a brilliant if slightly overlong book on the whiskies of Islay), once posed an interesting philosophic question that keeps coming to mind as I read through other recent discussion threads.

Citing the [Nazi-Philosopher] Martin Heideggar's view that philosophy begins with one fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. Jefford posits that, "the wine world has an equivalent. It may, indeed, have occurred to you when visiting wine regions. Namely: why is there a vineyard here and not there?"

In parts of Europe, the answer is obvious - as Jeffords puts it: "because it would be a waste of time and money to plant anything else. You could graze sheep in Chambertin, but fourteen centuries of growing vines there has proved – in the glass, and in the account book -- that this particular piece of earth insists on being a vineyard. Move just a little way away into the Hautes Côtes de Nuits, though, and it’s a moot point whether or not some of the existing vineyards would be better off filled with blackcurrant bushes or wheat. To the innocent eye, that difference is puzzling: the two places are so close and look so similar, yet the differences are so stark....They [many Southern Hemisphere vineyards] are there because someone wanted to have a go, and happened to own a particular piece of land. Most vineyards are, in a word, experiments. When the experiment works, via the litmus of glass and account book, the vineyard stays. When it doesn’t, the vineyard goes...It would be comforting to think that the purest considerations of terroir were the major factor in deciding vineyard vocation, but of course they aren’t: the account book matters more....Nowadays, the eddies of fashion and skilful marketing are probably as important as fundamental vineyard aptitude...Remember, though, that every wine atlas is provisional." See the rest of his brief but thoughtful 2009 article here: http://www.andrewjefford.com/node/596.

It could be an exceedingly long time before such questions can be definitively answered regarding Israel's vineyards, but it makes for interesting contemplation.

Any thoughts?

[If there are still any Israeli winemakers or Viticulturalists active on the forum, it’d be interesting to hear their views too.]

All best,
Josh
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Yehoshua Werth

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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Yehoshua Werth » Mon May 07, 2012 6:10 pm

One thought jumps in the air on a nice overview of what each place can attain in its prime:

Europe has seen almost non-stop Wine-Culture for how long?
Israel has jumped to a place of conversation in 25 years.

Yes the Wines and the idea of winemaking in modern times in Israel as we know them are about 100 years old; yet the level and push for the Reserve, Select, Single vineyard or otherwise is about again 25YR's.
For us to even have this conversation in such a short time is nothing short of a Miracle.

Most of the land that is now planted was left to waste until the growth of this country as we know it starting around the early to mid-1800.
By the time of this new beginning Europe had a map of the Terrier and names for regions set in place, Scotland had laws for distilleries, the French west-indies has rules for Rhum (yes spelled that way) and on and on.
Israel for being in its general youth is showing amazing signs of reaching levels where others had 500 years to grow into.
Technology helps; yet this I hope will be given the time to see the growth and creativity thru.

Love be with your day
Yehoshua Werth, Manager
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Alexander F

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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Alexander F » Mon May 07, 2012 6:52 pm

Experimenting has a long way to go and discover new areas, but we don't need centuries for that. With all the technological base, the experimentation with new growing areas has more chances for success. And the area is not that large as well.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Craig Winchell » Mon May 07, 2012 8:28 pm

Great wine is made in the vineyard. Really quite good wine can be made by winemakers. Acidulate, deacidify, concentrate soluble components, concentrate particulates or pseudoparticulates, flash detente to remove green and underripe flavors, add, remove, blend. With every potential operation at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a bad wine. Israelis are typically among the first to adopt available technology. How does a consumer separate vineyard from winemaking, as far as contribution to the success of the wine? Typically over many years and many winemakers and many vineyard managers, one can potentially perceive trends, mere glimpses into true quality of vineyards. To a winemaker, the best vineyard is the one which can consistently come closest to specifications.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 11:25 pm

Craig Winchell wrote:Great wine is made in the vineyard. Really quite good wine can be made by winemakers...To a winemaker, the best vineyard is the one which can consistently come closest to specifications.

Forgive my drifting a little from my own topic, but is that perspective universal, or does it reflect UCDavis/New World training?

After all, what of natural or terroir wine proponents? [Not the fundamentalist perversion of these difficult ideals, but those righteous souls who are prepared to champion the ideal of naturalness with flexibility and intelligence, and who eschew the crutch of abusive acidification, chaptalization, tannin-addition or de-alcoholization of wines from unsuitable varieties in relatively distinguished sites. Obviously there is lethargy and fundamentalist abuse, but it ought to be a crime to abandon one's palate entirely and claim that ideological purity equates to organoleptic pleasure.]

Surely great wine is difficult, not easy! Everything worthwhile is difficult, rather than easy!

Can real beauty and singularity be achieved anywhere that fruit can be sourced that meets technical specifications, or is there something real about terroir?
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 11:27 pm

In parts of France, for example, it seems clear that there is something real about the essential nature of specific terroir. Surely, the insights of precision viticulture come as no surprise to any serious gardener (something I’ve come to appreciate better with British in-laws). Once a “site” is reduced to a block, or a few rows, or just half-a-dozen vines within a row, or even just to the environment around a single vine itself, differences become apparent -- it simply requires enough close scrutiny to get a handle on.

The real challenge, of course, with precision viticulture is working out what you can usefully and economically do with such insights. Processing costs tend only to rise, and quickly. Respecting any site fully surely means, ultimately, abandoning farming for gardening – which is arguably what Bordeaux’s garagistes demonstrated back in the day.

For Israel, this is a premature conversation in some respects. But then I often find myself knocking my head against just such walls anyway. For example, I’ve been trying to work out why it is so difficult, on a tasting basis, to pick out differences between many of the supposed “terroirs” in Israel’s more praised wine regions.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 11:30 pm

I find it difficult, for example, to discern intrinsic, duplicatable generic contrasts as yet between Upper Galilee sourced wines or between Judean Hills sourced wines. (There are, obviously, strong contrasts between the wines of different wineries, but that is for a bundle of reasons well beyond the essentials or fundamentals of terroir.)

Part of me assumes, simply, that it is because the vineyards all lie on roughly the same latitude, and at roughly the same altitude. Hence the climatic parameters for each are close, sometimes identical. And climate, as I understand it, is the fundamental driver of terroir. And the key axis of terroir within any defined region in most parts of the winegrowing world is surely latitudinal, not longitudinal.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 11:31 pm

To illustrate from an “Old World” geography [and borrowing heavily from the likes of Andrew Jeffords and Hugh Johnson]: Burgundy begins in northern Chablis and ends in southern Pouilly-Fuissé: pretty substantial difference. The Rhône begins in northern Côte Rôtie and ends in southern Châteauneuf, Lirac and Costières de Nîmes: again, big difference. It’ll take you three maybe four hours to drive from Minervois to Sommières: no difference -- and you are moving from west to east. Spain and Italy fit this too by and large.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 11:34 pm

Even Australia. Most of Western Australia’s and South Australia’s geographical indicators are articulated from north to south, and show clear differences (though contrasts in altitude are important there too). Victoria, by contrast, has a slew of geographical indicators at near identical latitudes. Speaking out of my tuchis for a moment, though I take this on good faith from those who can and do actually drink these wines regularly (and it fits my theory so I’m running with it), but from what I gather it would take a genuine super duper taster who could guarantee to distinguish wines from, for example, the Grampians, the Pyrenees, Bendigo and Goulburn.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 11:36 pm

Oh, and Craig, before your or anyone else points it out... This theory, admittedly, goes to hell on the Pacific coast of North and South America, as proximity to the coast seems more important in terroir declension in both California and in Chile than latitude [the effects, which are profound, of the cold California current, flowing south towards the equator, and the cold Humboldt current, flowing north towards the equator.] But then every rule needs an exception. Right?
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Gabriel Geller » Tue May 08, 2012 10:00 am

Israeli terroirs... Like I've said in the other thread, while being a very small country, Israel has many micro-climates and the wines often reflect that clearly. A Cabernet Sauvignon from a Golan Heights vineyard is very different than one from the Samarian and Judean Hills.

Try for example to do a comparative tasting between a Yarden CS Yonatan Vineyard and a Psagot CS Single Vineyard. A Yatir Forest shows also a distinct personality and profile than a Castel Grand Vin. The Tzora wines also demonstrate well the impact of the terroir. And yes, we're talking about very short distances. Josh, you mention altitude and latitude but I believe that soil types are also important factors, something which has been demonstrated the more or less by the Tabor Winery in its Adama series. The average humidity rates should be taken in consideration as well as the impact that has lack of irrigation on some grape types such as Carignan or Petite Sirah as shown by Carmel and Recanati in their Judean Hills old vineyards. I'm not sure if such unwatered old vines would do that well in the other regions, I'm neither a viticulturalist nor a winemaker so I've no idea, just a thought.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Tue May 08, 2012 1:14 pm

Hi Gabriel,

At the risk of further making this "discussion" more of a monologue than a dialogue -- or even just a soliloquy (?), there is no question but that the characteristics you mention have an essential role. I did not mean to suggest otherwise, but merely to focus on climate, since that is surely the driving force. I was meandering on the thought that latitude was mostly more significant than longitude in distinguishing terroir -- but, then I probably have too much time on my hands for such pondering. :'-(

A key element in the determination of terroir, of course, is also time. Every vineyard is an experiment; every vintage is an experiment. By the end of 2012, the sum of knowledge about Israel’s vineyards will be greater than it was in 2011. If something doesn’t work, it eventually comes to an end. If it works well, it likely stays (and will likely get company and others jump on board). Europe has enjoyed and benefited from something like 2,000 years of this sort of sorting and sifting. The final outcome of aroma and flavor in wine is a complicated equation, and since vineyards give one result per year, reading or deciphering a landscape takes time. A bit of chutzpa helps the whole process on its way, particularly over the long haul. There will undoubtedly be surprises ahead. Hype is little more than smoke and mirrors. Overtime, wine growing evolution blows the smoke away. The only vineyards which last are those which belong. Tradition is an invaluable guide where it exists, but where it doesn't, experimentation, insolence and audacity must lead the way.

But enough from me on this -- I already know what I think. I guess I failed to attract much interest from the forum. Oh well.

All best,
Josh
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by ChaimShraga » Fri May 11, 2012 1:11 pm

Joshua,

Are you asking whether people can at this time discern between, say, Galilee and Judean terroir - or (which is what I think you were asking) if and why certain vineyards in the same region in Israel are better/different than others?

I'd like to address some of the points you raised in regards to French terroir.

1. France is a colder climate with no lack of rains in the classical regions (Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Loire, Rhone) so drainage and exposure to sunlight are key. Burgundy borders on the edge of being able to actually grow vines, so it doesn't take a lot of changes in drainage and exposure to make big changes in quality and style. In Bordeaux, the drainage factor is king, as most vineyards have the same exposure, although the distance from the rivers and Atlantic coast is also a big factor.

2. The North and South Rhone are totally different wine regions that I think shouldn't have been lumped together in the first place. If you look at the North Rhone, it's obvious that the three big regions have specific local characteristics that allow the Syrah grape to ripe better than in the lesser AOCs. Cote Rotie has steep slopes, Cornas has its 'heat bowl' and Hermitage has the great exposure due to the Rhone River making a 90 degree turn. The South, as far as I can figure out, is all about blends and whatever can ripen to monstrous degree due to the way the big stones (forgot the name) that capture the heat of the sun. Maybe there are other factors, but I tuned out of the South Rhone long ago.

3. Israel has none of those issues - no lack of sunshine, no drainage issues - and furthermore all the vines are youngsters compared to the French vineyards. In Israel, if you wanted to designate a wine Old Vines, you'd be talking about 20-30 year old vines. So if you look for vineyard differentiation, you'd be talking about different soil types and differences in day/night temperatures. But I don't know whether you can find such differences within the same region.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Alexander F » Fri May 11, 2012 6:52 pm

ChaimShraga wrote:So if you look for vineyard differentiation, you'd be talking about different soil types and differences in day/night temperatures. But I don't know whether you can find such differences within the same region.

Chaim,
What do you say about Barkan Altitude series then? I'm not sure, but aren't they from the same region, yet they're quite different.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by ChaimShraga » Sat May 12, 2012 12:27 pm

Alexander F wrote:
ChaimShraga wrote:So if you look for vineyard differentiation, you'd be talking about different soil types and differences in day/night temperatures. But I don't know whether you can find such differences within the same region.

Chaim,
What do you say about Barkan Altitude series then? I'm not sure, but aren't they from the same region, yet they're quite different.


You're right. I forgot about these. But that's one of the few cases where someone bothered to make an attempt to experiment like that (and no, the Yarden SV's don't count).

Let me clarify. I believe enough in terroir to believe differences exist. I'm just not sure the differences are as dramatic in Israel and that enough wineries care to highlight them (besides Barkan, Tzora come to mind).
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Joshua London » Sun May 13, 2012 4:49 pm

ChaimShraga wrote: ...I'm just not sure the differences are as dramatic in Israel and that enough wineries care to highlight them (besides Barkan, Tzora come to mind).


Hi ChiamShraga,
Yes, you got my question completely - sorry if I was opaque. I think you make some very interesting points, providing some food for thought. Do you think there are no wineries in Israel beyond Barkan and Tzora that try to give expression to vineyard differentiation? I unfortunately have not been to Israel since 2005, and so for anything more recent am limited to what get's exported to the US and the UK - but would love to know of any boutique's or non-export producers who try to take terroir seriously in this way.
All best,
Josh
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by ChaimShraga » Sun May 13, 2012 6:07 pm

I'm not sure. A lot of wineries say they're treating terroir like that, but I don't see them actually keeping the faith. But you have to bear in mind that I don't taste Israeli wines extensively and a lot of times I just buy wines made by people I like (which, by the way, is not a bad strategy if they know what they're doing. What I'm always after is the combination of terroir and personal expression and it's nicer to experience the personal expression of people I happen to like).
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Yossie Horwitz » Sun May 13, 2012 6:15 pm

As indicated, the best example is obviously Tzora, where they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to ascertain the best varietal for each plot of land. Barkan's Assemblage and Altitude series are also examples of a winery's attempt to showcase terroir. While GHW has a number of single vineyard releases with apparent differences between them, I am not convinced that these differences are a result of terroir as opposed to talented manipulation in the wine making. That said, there are clearly qualitative differences between wines from the Elrom and Kayoumi vineyards and a easily recognizable difference between wines grown in the Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills (again, discernible mostly among the less "manipulative" wineries.
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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Yehoshua Werth » Sun May 13, 2012 7:12 pm

Had many people say they like the similar style across the board at the Hevron Heights winery.
From Judean Heights up to the Armageddon. Have had more than 10 people say it just has some sort of thing they get from drinking the wines.

Negev is showing Unique thru Kadesh Barnea.

Adir in Kerem Ben Zimra and Heard the Kerem Ben Zimra winery shows very simlar in style of fruit.

Barkan single vineyard Pinotage S. many feel is as good as the best South African Pinotages.

Galil + Oak = very consistent Cab's and Merlot... If this is the best they can do... Well I think they will get better as the vines get older.

Odem Mountain is just the perfect example (even if this does not please the masses we can see the potential of terrier. Shiraz with a power spice, Chardonnay that is a fruit bomb...
These are what I see as the not normal what we call predictable things in other parts of the World for these grapes and as with Carignan, Petite Verdot, Pinotage and as Single Varietals(Dalton Wild Yeast Vionier!!)..

Time again will tell,
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Isaac Chavel

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Re: Israeli Vineyard Existentialism

by Isaac Chavel » Sun May 13, 2012 9:24 pm

among the less "manipulative" wineries


Yossie, have you a casual informal, if incomplete, list off the top of your head? I emphasize the "casual informal" so that are you are not subject to litigation over any particular choice or omission. :)

Isaac

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