Sip, swish and spit — and blog

Sip, swish and spit — and blog

Wine writers come to taste the 'emerging, almost there' Israeli viniculture

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Sipping the wines at the Flam Winery (photo credit: Noa Magger)
Sipping the wines at the Flam Winery (photo credit: Noa Magger)

It was a sunny afternoon in the Judean Hills, and Gilad Flam was pouring a Sauvignon Blanc, fresh and floral in tone.

The wine critics sipped, swished and spit neatly, marking down anything pertinent that Golan Flam, the winemaker and Gilad’s brother, had to say about his winemaking process.

“I work a lot with dry ice, because the grapes arrive fast, and we sent them immediately to the wine press using dry ice to reduce temperature without reducing the oxygen,” said Flam, who made wines in Italy prior to starting his family’s winery. “This is the fun part of being a pioneer, you get to experiment, to understand the right varietals for the terroir.”

Lots of nods all around from the group, four wine bloggers visiting Israel with Vibe Israel, a nonprofit group that brings bloggers with expertise in different subjects to Israel. This was the eleventh blogger group trip, following trips focused on food, parenting, music and art, among other topics.

“We don’t know the fields of interest, and that’s a good thing, so we have to do our research,” said Joanna Landau, the founder of Vibe Israel. “We’ll look at 20 different bloggers, and consult with journalists, academics and bloggers for their advice, asking them who are the most well-regarded and best known in their areas of expertise. We want people with large readerships, as well as medium-size and more personal bloggers who offer a different kind of take.”

This group consisted of Huffington Post’s Richard Jennings, Erica Duecy from Fodor’s Travel, David Honig of Palate Press and Miquel Hudin, who writes the Vinologue blog.

Wednesday was the fifth day of a week-long trip, and they had already visited wineries in the center and north.

“I’m impressed. It’s been interesting to go to an emerging region,” said Duecy. “There’s a lot of emulating of what exists, but with the Cabernets and Petit Syrahs, you’re getting more of an emerging identity. There’s been a first wave of pioneers here, and now you’re seeing the results.”

That certainly seemed the case at Flam, a kosher, family-owned winery run by the two Flam brothers, their mother and their sister. Their father started them in the business, having worked for the industrial Carmel Winery in Rishon Lezion. They dreamed of opening their own estate winery, and did so 16 years ago, early on in the history of Israeli boutique wineries.

With 22 hectares of planted vines, in the Galilee as well as the Judean Hills, Flam has grapes planted in the basalt, volcanic soil of the north as well as in the clay limestone of the winery’s nearby hills.

Jennings commented that the local reds were less impressive than the whites, but he thought that with time and work, there could be strong interest in the Israeli wines.

“The soil sounds amazing, it seems similar to Sicily,” said Hudin, an American who lives in Spain and researches wines from smaller regions. “The northern Israel wine region is almost there in terms of developing a style, and the Judean Hills region is trying a lot of different styles, but it has to find its path. They’re making good, educated guesses, the quality is there.”

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