When I think of Israeli innovation, I tend to see images of Intel microchips, pill cameras and cyber security methodologies. However, there is a new startup in northern Israel that won’t affect your computer or phone, and isn’t going to be integrated into your local hospital’s repertoire – I hope. It will entice you with its flavors and aromas and add big, blended fun to your day – I think.
Jezreel Valley Winery is making innovative and “very Israeli wine,” say its owners.
And they are right.
I recently toured the boutique winery, which is located where its name describes, in Jezreel Valley. Co-owners Jacob Ner-David and Yehuda Nahar both moved to Jezreel Valley’s Kibbutz Hanaton between 2009 and 2010 as part of a cohort of young, pioneering families looking to reclaim the land and restart the kibbutz. Today, this kibbutz is a thriving community of more than 75 families. At its heart is Jezreel Valley Winery.
Both Ner-David and Nahar have a background in entrepreneurship. Nahar is a VoIP entrepreneur and Ner-David is the founder of Delta Three. They’ve run Jezreel like a startup since day one, raising venture capital funds to push the fledgling winery to the level of a much-older facility. With state-of-the-art testing and fermentation equipment, filters, wines presses and bottling accessories, Jezreel produces 80,000 bottles of wine per year – 60,000 of its own label and another 20,000-30,000 custom crush for .
Nahar is a winemaker, but the entire team gets together to brainstorm blends and company polices. Very startup.
Its secret sauce, however, is in its “very Israeli” style. The philosophy from day one was to make light, elegant, and aromatic wines that are approachable and fun to drink, wines that are sophisticated but can be appreciated by the less sophisticated wine drinker, and wines that are made only from grapes that thrive in the sun and the heat of the Mediterranean Jewish state.
Jezreel’s Levanim and Adumim blends are the company’s most unique wines – blends that dance on the tongue in demonstration of the power of Israeli varietals and the innovation of the Israeli people. They combine ancient varietals that have been grown in the region for as long as 2,000 years with the modern Israeli Argaman (crimson) grape, which was created by Roi Spiegel of the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research and Shlomo Cohen of the Israeli Wine Institute.
“Blends are our innovation, which we think is very Israeli,” says Nahar. “The market doesn’t need another Cabernet or Merlot, though we make those, too. Our blends our intentional and interesting.”
Levanim is a blend of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Colombard, though “we play each year with the varietals,” explains Nahar, noting Jezreel formerly used Riesling instead of Colombard. Jezreel advertises the grapes on the front label of the wine, helping drinkers to understand this wine’s fresh, floral taste and dynamic body with hints of grapefruit.
“The logic is very clear about how we blend these together,” Nahar says.
Adumim is a rich, spicy and complex fusion of Carignan, Syrah and Argaman. Adumim won a silver medal at Terravino 2012 and was labeled, “A great delight” by leading tasters.
Each component of Adumim is aged separately for 14 to 16 months in 50 percent new oak before being blended and spending another two months in oak in order for the varietals to harmonize. The wine is expressive and refreshing for a red, with a nose that sings of red fruits and roasted Mediterranean herbs, with a touch of eucalyptus and clearly manifests the Israeli Terroir.
“What we are trying to do – and doing – is to create Israeli wines that stand out against wines from the best regions in the world,” says Ner-David. “We want wine connoisseurs to know there is something gold in Israel.”
Ner-David reminds that when Israeli high-tech startups first emerged, they tried to hide that their innovation was coming out of the holy land for fear of anti-Semitism or the first versions of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Yet there was a tipping point, where these companies realized the reputation of Israeli technology was so good that “Made in Israel” became a selling point. Think Waze, Wix, StoreDot, Moovit or hundreds of others.
Ner-David and Nahar think Jezreel blends will play a key role in helping break Israeli wines out of the kosher market abroad (though their wine is certified kosher) and into the mainstream market.
Says Ner-David: “We want people to say Israeli wine is excellent wine, innovative wine – this is something we think can happen.”
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