In the past two decades, maybe because wine has become a premium item for which quite a lot of money can be charged, we have been witnessing a worldwide phenomenon of vintners switching from growing grapes for sale to becoming independent wine producers. This is happening in Champagne, in a new and welcome wave of growers’ Champagnes, and it’s happening in Israel too. In both cases the same principle is at work: If I have grapes that are good enough to be in demand among respected wineries, why not make the wine myself?
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Eyal Miles, owner of the Miles Winery in Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra, near Safed, embodies this transition.
In 2001, after the grapes they grew at Kerem Ben Zimra – a geographical region which probably constitutes the first attempt in Israel to "brand" a local terroir – developed a reputation that turned them into a sought-after product, Miles and his wife Amalia decided to start their own winery. Then as now, it wasn't important if the lion’s share of the harvest was sold to other wineries.
“At the time I sold grapes to small wineries like Har Meron and Alon,” recalls Miles, “and I felt that I was producing the best raw material. I simply learned over time how to produce good grapes, and that led to my desire to make wine.”
The process of starting the winery at Ben Zimra and producing wine from its first harvest was accompanied by wine consultant Arkadi Papikian (today at the Amphorae Winery); after Miles learned the ropes, he began running the winery by himself. In the past two years, after over a decade of totally independent work, he and his wife have been assisted by wine consultant Yotam Sharon, formerly of the Barkan and Trio wineries.
The Miles facility has all the charm that can make a small winery (a boutique one, if you prefer) into an attraction for those who want to escape an alienated and industrialized world. Although it sounds like a cliché, this really is a small, romantic and modest winery, whose location in the moshav overlooking a Galilean landscape turns it into a classical spot for wine tourism. When you add the hosts and the warm and friendly treatment in the tasting room, you get a refreshing stopover on the way to a vacation in the north.
The wines we tasted are clean and well made, which attests to a good hand on the steering wheel. But in terms of genre, at least as it relates to the red varietals, there is no news to report at this stage, since these wines cannot escape the cliché properties of Galilean wines from the start of the millennium: a tendency to be very ripe, with overly abundant and dominant plummy aromas.
Israel still has a large clientele that likes this genre, but as opposed to the romantic boutique description mentioned here, I find it less welcome, mainly in light of the fact that some local wineries have proven in recent years that it’s possible to do things differently. But still, I remained optimistic after I concluded my visit.
The local fruit really is excellent, there is a constant desire to improve, and now it will be interesting to wait and see how the imprint of consultant Sharon, which is yet to be felt, will affect the future development of the charming Miles Winery.
The Miles winery. (Eyal Miles/courtesy)
Sauvignon Blanc 2014: This Sauvignon Blanc demonstrates a restrained, tropical character along with the fragrance of green apples. Its fruit flavors are masked to a great extent under a cover of sweetness that somewhat flattens the drinking experience and takes it in the direction of off-dry. The final result is tasty, all in all, but that’s not really the point of dry Sauvignon Blanc. Grade: 85 (80 shekels, or $21).
Gewurztraminer 2014: A semi-dry wine that demonstrates generous fragrances of lychee and ripe pineapple, and lingers in the mouth; it is broad and rich in fruit, with a delicate sweetness. A good middle-of-the-road choice for a summer family meal. Grade: 87 (80 shekels)
Cabernet-Shiraz 2012: This wine contains a lot of power. It is composed of equal quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. It begins with a ripe, expressive aroma of plums and dark berries on a backdrop of the fragrance of roasted wood, and opens along exactly the same lines on the palate with a full body, sweetness that takes the wine into a somewhat preserves-like direction, ripe and soft tannins, and a chocolatey finish. Grade: 86 (90 shekels)
Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012: This is a Cabernet that manages to maintain a restrained and relatively refreshing sensation, thanks to the addition of raspberry fragrances and herbal seasonings to the aromatic texture. The fruit flavors are good, concentrated and covered with a supportive framework of oak, and solid, ripe tannins. It is turning out to be the most balanced and successful of the winery’s reds. Grade: 88 (110 shekels)
Shiraz 2012: A muscular Shiraz, full of wood and powerful, in the style of a New World, revealing a character of concentrated and meaty-ripe fruit. This is a balanced wine, well made for its genre, which lovers of Australian Shiraz will be happy to adopt. Grade: 87 (110 shekels)
Gewurztraminer, late 2013 harvest: This is a pleasant, worthy local version of an aromatic dessert wine, ripe and rich with a large number of fragrances of tropical fruit. Fattiness and acidity balance out the intense sweetness – the result of 100 grams of sugar per liter – and the impression that remains is of a light, balanced and caressing wine. Grade: 88 (100 shekels)