One day, when Israelis are able to resume taking vacations and excursions across the country, they will be able to take along “Wine Journey Israel Adventure,” a wine journal written by Israeli wine experts Roni Saslove and Guy Haran during the first coronavirus closure, in hopeful anticipation of the future.
“We wanted to create a slightly different reality where people will get to visit wineries again, and wineries get to share with the world what they create,” said Roni Saslove.
Saslove and Haran, fellow wine consultants, along with wine photographer David Silverman and graphic designer Itamar Gur, joined forces to create this guidebook showcasing all the Israeli wineries that host visitors and offer a vineyard experience.
“If it’s a real winery, making more than just bottles for their friends, and accepts visitors, then they’re in the book,” said Haran.
Haran and Saslove wanted to promote wine and wineries as an experience accessible to everyone. They want younger people to know that that a visit to a winery is an affordable experience without the price tag it may have once carried.
“The moment you sit on a Friday afternoon in a winery and have a glass of wine, you understand,” said Saslove. “You’re like, okay, this really works,”
Wine was considered a snooty kind of drink and hobby just a few years ago, said Haran. In the last couple of years, however, thousands of people began showing up at wineries every Friday, the start of the Israeli weekend, and winery visits were up to 30,000 a week, said Haran.
“Wineries understood that part of what they do and offer is tourism,” said Haran. “It’s not just come and buy my wine, but serve food and activities and visit the winery and do a jeep ride or Segway in the vineyards, take a workshop, blend your own wine.”
The book offers an easy entry into all kinds of wine tourism, and it’s an idea Saslove and Haran have thought about for several years, especially as more people travel and visit wineries in Israel and abroad.
“It got to the point where people saw that wineries are a nice place to visit,” said Haran. “They’re beautiful and there’s food and a place for kids to run around. And it’s better to tell your friends you were at winery then at a cafe. And maybe there’s good wine, but that’s not the main reason.”
“Wine Journey” is a guidebook to Israel’s wineries, written with deep background knowledge about local grapes and where they’re grown, a mapping of the terroir, and an overall understanding of what is happening in Israel’s wine world.
“Israel is so unique,” said Haran. “You can start your wine tour day in the Golan Heights and visit a winery in the snowy Mount Hermon and finish your day in the desert. There’s really no other place which has wine agriculture like in Israel.”
Saslove and Haran had the time to write last spring because all of their courses and tours, both in and out of Israel, were canceled in the first throes of the coronavirus pandemic.
The team crowdfunded the book’s planned February 2021 publication on Headstart, aiming to raise NIS 120,000, and offering copies of the book — as well as T-shirts, tours and wine tastings — in return. The book costs NIS 69 in the Headstart campaign, and will cost NIS 96 once the campaign is closed.
The book includes kosher and non-kosher wineries, wineries making vegan wines and natural wines, and wineries in the West Bank, which was new territory for Haran. The book is decidedly apolitical, and they leave the decision of which wineries to visit to the reader.
Their expanded reach allowed them to include wineries like Philokalia, a very small Armenian family winery in Bethlehem whose natural wines are made from indigenous grape varieties.
The wine is so good that chef Gal Ben Moshe serves it in his Berlin restaurant, Prism, said Haran.
While many Israeli vintners started out in the 1990s with heavy, rich wines that had a high percentage of alcohol — “they wanted to impress,” said Saslove — there was a later realization that the local climate is too hot for heavy red wines, and winemakers moved toward slightly lighter wines — “so that you don’t fall asleep after one glass,” said Saslove.
They also improved their entry level wines, she said, with wines that can be purchased three for NIS 100, “which is fantastic. Now you can find something beautiful for NIS 80 and super enjoyable for NIS 30.”
“When I was growing up, it was mainly wealthy men over 60 drinking wine,” said Saslove. “Now you see women in their late twenties going to wineries and really enjoying wine and knowing what they like.”
Saslove, 43, has been working in the wine industry since she was a teen, making wine with her father, Barry Saslove, in their family winery, Saslove Winery, before branching out and working on her own.
Haran started out as a bar owner and then sommelier before branching into consulting with Israeli wineries and wine tourism, mostly in Europe.
The two met through the wine world, and currently host a Hebrew podcast together, Wine is Basic.
As broad as their knowledge is of Israeli wines, their research for the book brought them some surprises as well. Haran found himself back at wineries he hadn’t visited in years, including ones whose wines had improved tremendously over time.
Bottom line, what matters to these two is that people drink wine, hopefully during visits at wineries, and enjoy it.
“I love people around wine because wine takes the thorns off,” said Saslove. “If the book helps and can bring a little more joy into life, that’s what I want to do in my life.”