08 Sep Visit at Margalit Winery Gives Insights to 2015 Harvest
Winemakers across Israel are harvesting their grapes after enduring the hottest season on record.
Not only has it been an ordeal for the winemakers, growers and field hands to work under such conditions, it hasn’t been that great for the grapes.
By some accounts, vineyards at lower altitudes struggled the most.
I stopped by the Margalit Winery where they have new Syrah grapes they were bringing into the winery to one day potentially blend with Grenache and Mourvedre for a Rhone style blend. This year doesn’t look promising for these new grapes from Zichron Yaacov as the unrelenting daytime heat never gave the grapes a break and the nights didn’t offer as much relief as winemakers seek so that the grapes retain the acidity.
In contrast to 2010, which had set previous records for heat, at least then the heat came in a series waves with breaks in between so if the development of grapes stalled patient and savvy winemakers were sometimes rewarded with grapes that would come out of a stall and continue developing aromas, tannins and ripeness. Cooler evenings also gave the grapes in 2010 a break and helped retain natural acidity.
Although, grapes at lower latitudes struggled this year, grapes from higher altitudes such as Margalit’s vineyards in Kadita in the Upper Galilee seem unphased. Canopy management providing shade from the heat and much cooler nights will ensure there are some standout wines where other wineries with less ideally located vineyards may find quality and/or yields disappointing.
The Margalits faced some setbacks with traditional offerings as their Cabernet Franc vineyards took a big hit. Starting with hail in the spring to suffering under the heat in their Binyamina vineyard, yields dropped from 5-6 tons/vintage to about 750 kilos. This means that from 2015, there won’t be enough grapes to make their typically yearly single varietal Cabernet Franc as what little they have will find its way into their 2015 Enigma, their Bordeaux blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Kadita.
Also at Margalit, helping with the harvest were some familiar faces. Yael Sadler, one of the two winemakers from Binyamina was lending a hand (something as a non-shabbas observant Jew she’s not allowed to do at the kosher Binyamina). Yael said she enjoyed keeping her skills honed on how to handle pumps and hoses as wells as a wide array of gear that she must delegate for other to handle at Binyamina. Yael shared that with the holidays creating a lot of gaps when the winery is open and grapes can be harvested, she makes the most of every other day and night even coming in on Saturday nights to check on the progress of the dozens of wines in their pipeline. We later would taste some of Binyamina’s 2014 Semillon Reserve (a well-balanced white wine with fair amounts of citric and tropical notes to go along with some green pepper, grass and herbs with a fair but not overpowering amount of acidity). For only 50 NIS, an affordable match for fish, poultry, salads or a cheese plate.
Rami Bar Maor also stopped by from his nearby Bar Maor winery and treated us to a yet to be released 2013 “Upside side down Bordeaux”. He’s resisted calling it Xuaedrob yet the 70% Cabernet Franc, 20 % Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon won’t need any gimmicks to get attention. As one of the few Cabernet Franc dominated blends in Israel (Bravdo’s Coupage is the most notable but not a Bordeaux blend with its inclusion of Shiraz), it will spark the curiosity of connoisseurs and I feel confident that they’ll feel rewarded with its notes of raspberries, violets and spice, I hope it will encourage similar blends from more wineries.
Momo Shmiloviz was also on hand. A former partner at Jezreel, Momo has recently been nurturing his own lot of old vine Carignan and he was sweating along with the Margalit crew sharing in some of the Margalit rose to beat the heat and the monotony of a long summer day that went to about ten at night.
Yair Margalit, Asaf’s father and the founder of the winery was deeply involved in the harvest but I got a few minutes with him to talk about his Napa made limited release wine he has yet to bring to the market. Yair tried to bring his style of winemaking to Napa but admitted the terroir of Napa isn’t so submissive that it doesn’t let you impose your will or intentions and that you need to go with the flow a bit and realize that between Napa and Yair Margalit, at the end of the day Napa will speak louder in the wine then he will.
The crew ended the night at Yael’s house over for some Czech Budweiser beers (a universal winemakers custom it seems as the saying goes “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine”) but didn’t go too late as they all have their respective vines and fermenting wines to attend to and I was just happy to be along for the ride. A nice way to celebrate the harvest.