Psagot Winery – A Stunning Winery on the Peaks of the Binyamina Mountains

The community settlement of Psagot is located on the peaks of the Benjamin Region Mountains, 900 meters above sea level, east of the city of Ramallah, overlooking the Wadi Kelt basin, the Jericho Valley, the Dead Sea and the Edomite Mountains. The literal translation for the word Psagot, is Peaks, hence the play on words in the title of this posting.

In 1998, Naama and Yaakov Berg planted the winery’s first vineyard, 18 dunam of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. In the first year, the Bergs sold their grapes to Binyamina. In the following year, 2002, they decided to make a go of it, thereby establishing the Psagot Winery, named for the settlement upon which the vineyards, and winery are located. Soon thereafter, in 2005, the winery added on another 22 dunam of vineyards, with a varied group of varietals, along with the normal mainstays. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are the usual suspect, with Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Shiraz adding to the mix.

While the settlement was laying a road near the vineyard, Berg says, “we found a little hole in the ground. If was full of mud and rocks and stones. … So we dug for more than a month by hand and we found a lot of things, including a lot of coins, and at end we found a wine-press from the time of the Second Temple.” Today, this cave serves as a large wine barrel cellar next to impressive stainless steel tanks and other winemaking equipment. The cave’s cooling system rarely needs to be activated, as the naturally cool conditions preserve the constant temperature, which during the winter does not go below 54 degrees, and during the summer does not rise above 64 degrees. The natural humidity stands at 90%.

The winery’s vineyards are all planted on rocky limestone, Terra Rosa soil. The vine’s yields are kept low, to about 600 kilos per dunam. The vines are terraced upon the mountainside, but the close proximity to the winery makes up for the difficulty of harvesting. The vineyard’s 900 meter altitude allows the vines to cool down significantly in the evening, thereby concentrating the sugar flavors that are created in a far slower manner than if they were in the valley. The entire harvest is very reminiscent of how Ella Valley Winery does its harvesting, by picking during the early morning, and being close to its winery, thereby assuring the highest quality product from the grapes they source.

With that backdrop, we return to the present day, a lovely morning in the early spring of this year, as we follow Josh Hexter, the wine maker of Psagot to the winery. The winery is situated over the proverbial “green line”, so to get there we went through a large checkpoint. Josh was very kind to navigate us to the winery, we joined up with him in Jerusalem, and we followed him through the checkpoint, and to the lovely winery overlooking the Edomite Mountains.

As we drove up the hill to the winery, we were able to stop for a second and take-in the view. The mountains loomed all around, while we stood on a pedestal in the soaring mountains of Binyamina. Craggy hillsides and soaring peaks surrounded us, perfect green grass beneath our feet, and a gorgeous Nachalat Binyamin visitor center straight ahead of us. The visitor center has recently been completed, and the center can be rented out for a myriad of social events; Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs, and weddings, to name a few. As we entered the center, we wanted to stop to take in the sumptuous surroundings. However, there was an event going on at the same time, so we slinked downstairs to the Psagot Winery event and multimedia room. More on that in a moment. The winery, which lies below, was completed in 2009, and the winery moved in shortly thereafter. All of this was completed with investments, into the winery, from silent investors working in combination with the interests of Nachalat Binyamin, who wanted a showcase building for their constituents.

However, straight ahead lied the Psagot Winery tasting bar and wine store. The wine bar and store is the perfect example of the famous line; “win-win” situation. While the guests are all enjoying the lovely and spacious event center and their meal, the bar has the ability to serve up as much Psagot wine as the patrons yearn for. Further, once the event is over, they can buy some of the great Psagot wines to go. The close and intimate proximity of the event hall and winery is a lovely symbiotic relationship that I hope continues to bring great success to both organizations.

As we walked down the stairs, a picture depicting Binyamin’s agriculture abilities, along with an image of a Judean coin, loom large overhead. The very same coin that graces the bottles of Psagot Edom, which is the same coin that they found as they were excavating the fore mentioned cave, which is now the winery’s barrel room. As an aside, the caves that were found as part of the road construction were a series of interlocking caves, which according to archeologists, is a part of an ancient network dating back to the Second Temple. The cave contained artifacts from an ancient wine and olive press as well as coins from the period. The coin on the bottle is one of the coins found in the cave and dates back to the Great Revolt, the first true Jewish – Roman war. The unfortunate outcome of that war was the destruction of the second Temple, circa 70 C.E.

At the bottom of the stairs, we entered The Wine Veranda of Nachalat Binyamin and the Psagot Winery. The room is a multimedia spectacle. The center of the room is taken up by a massive, all wooden, long conference table that can easily sit some 30 or so folks. At one side of the room, is a massive wall of glass that overlooks, almost acting like an overhang over the cave below, the winery’s barrel and steel tank room. On the other side of the table, you have a multimedia display that shows many different videos, or can show the video of your own choice. It was here that Josh fired up a 6 or so minute video about the agriculture and history of the Binyamina Regional Council. You can see a very short version of that video here.

After the video, Josh talked to us about the winery, its history, and his affiliation with it. In 2002, the inaugural year of the winery, the Bergs made some 3500 bottles, since then it has grown to 100,000 bottles. As the new vineyard has taken root, and its bounty improving year by year, the winery is producing higher quality wines, and more and more varietals, as well. We had the chance to taste some seven wines, and they we all very good to exceptional. The winery is clearly embracing the growing trend of Israeli wineries, to keep off the oak in white wines, and to create red wines with more character and elegance, than just the sledge hammer wines of old. The winery is clearly on a upward trajectory, and with the improvements to the winery, the vineyard, and the experiences of the entire staff, we are sure we will all be enjoying the fruits of their labor for many years to come.

My many thanks to the Psagot Winery, Josh in particular, and the Nachalat Binyamin, for the beautiful edifice in which we tasted the many lovely wines of that the winery has to offer. The wine notes follow below, in the order that they were tasted:

2008 Psagot Edom (80% Cabernet, 11% Petite Verdot, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 13 months in 50/50 oak) – Score: A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine, is rich and smoky with plum, blackberry, cassis, chocolate, raisin, rich cedar, vanilla, and leafy tobacco. The mouth on this rich and full bodied wine is concentrated and layered with plum, cassis, blackberry, mouth coating tannin, along with an inky attack of rich cedar and black fruit. The mid palate flows from the mouth, with chocolate, acid, rich cedar, nice tannin, and tobacco. The finish is long and luscious, with still gripping tannin, rich dark chocolate, tobacco, cedar, and lovely crushed mint and herbs rise on the finish.

2007 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon (13 months in new oak) – Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this garnet to purple colored wine has smoky notes, crushed herbs, plum, cassis, oak, vanilla, raisin, tobacco, and chocolate. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine has plum, cassis, currant, nice tannin, chocolate, and raisin. The mid palate is balanced with acid, chocolate, oak, raisin, and tobacco. The finish is super long and spicy, with rich raisin, nice tannin, chocolate, oak, tobacco, and vanilla. Raisin, nice tannin, and tobacco linger long on the palate.

2008 Psagot Cabernet Franc (13 months in 30/70 oak) – Score: A-
The nose on this garnet colored wine is crazy rich with floral notes, green notes, mint, raspberry, currant, dark cherry, oak, and light chocolate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with super ripe raspberry, fresh green herbs, plum, cherry, and floral notes. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, chocolate, and still gripping tannin. The finish is long and spicy with chocolate, nice tannin, and lingers with vanilla, raspberry, and hints of smoke and tobacco. This is a wine that lives up to its varietal type, and makes it unique and enjoyable.

2008 Psagot Shiraz (12 months in 60/40 oak) – Score: A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is super rich and extracted with raisin, plum, blackberry, cassis, rich espresso coffee, tar, pencil, loamy dirt and bramble. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, concentrated, and inky, with tar, blackberry, cassis, and cheese flavors. The mid palate is rich with acid, chocolate, more gripping tannin, tar, and raisin. The finish is long and super spicy, with chocolate, tar, blackberry, and lingers with tar, raisin, and vanilla. This is a super rich and spicy Shiraz, with rich layers and oak extraction.

2010 Psagot Chardonnay (5 months in new oak) – Score: B+
The nose on this light gold colored wine is a bright and round with kiwi, guava, melon, grapefruit, aromatic white peach, hint of oak, vanilla, and orange peel. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with guava, melon, white peach, kiwi, and grapefruit. The mid palate is balanced with bright acid, orange peel, and oak. The finish is long and tart with white summer fruit, kiwi, melon, and oak. The wine lingers long with grapefruit, kiwi, with a hint of orange peel, tart and bright fruit.

2009 Psagot Edom (61% Cabernet, 17% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot and 7% Petite Verdot) – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is aromatic with crushed herbs, bramble, blackberry, cassis, plum, oak, asphalt tar, and light chocolate. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and layered with rich asphalt tar, crushed herbs, raspberry, currant, blackberry, and gripping tannin. The mid palate is balanced with acid, asphalt/rocks, chocolate, raspberry, and more nice tannin. The finish is super long with raisin, raspberry, chocolate, rich spice, tar, oak, currant, and vanilla.

2009 Psagot Cabernet Franc - Score: A-
The nose on this garnet colored wine is rich with crushed herbs, floral notes, violet, rose, raspberry, cherry, red plum, light chocolate, coffee, and vanilla. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is layered with rich violet petals, rich black cherry, ripe raspberry, plum, and nice mouth coating tannin. The mid palate is bright with acid, black cherry, nice tannin, floral notes, and bramble. The finish is long and rich with nice tannin, rose, oak, black cherry, coffee, and chocolate.

Posted on December 2, 2011, in Food and drink, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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