Bravdo Karmei Yosef Winery – A World Class Laboratory for Two Renowned Viticulture Professors
Israel’s wine industry may well be 100+ or a few thousand years old, depending upon how old you are or how deep your convictions run. Carmel winery made a wine, simply called #1, as in those days that was how they labeled their wines. In 1900, at the Paris Fair, it was rated as a gold label wine! A few thousand years before that, wine was made for the temple, wine made in the Judean Hills. Still, the existing rebirth of the Israeli wine Industry, that seemed to go to sleep for some seventy to eighty years, was reborn on the backs of professors like Professor Ben Ami Bravdo, the head wine maker and co-founder of the Bravdo Winery. I think it was Adam Montefiore who stated that the true genius behind the success of the Golan Heights Winery (Yarden), was not only its fine grapes, but the fact that they were smart enough to follow Carmel, in 1983, and hire only wine makers with a degree from renowned universities, like U.C. Davis and Hebrew University. It may sound obvious now, but 30 or more years ago that was not always the case.
Around that very same time, Ben Ami Bravdo was inaugurated with his now synonymous professor title from Hebrew University. Though even before his official title, he was already teaching students for 16 years on the intricacies of agriculture and viticulture. It is not hard to see how this man is a truly influential figure in the Israeli wine industry, if you do a bit of digging. For some 35 years Professor Bravdo trained hundreds or even thousands of aspiring agriculturalists, including many of Israel’s leading winemakers. Of the four or more existing universities in Israel focusing on agriculture, Hebrew University is the oldest and the most famous.
When people call a person by their old or past title, such as Senator or Congressman, I always laugh because sure they worked to get that title and rise to the fame that it bestows upon its holder. Still, once they are out of office or power, the title does not fit the holder. With Professor Bravdo, nothing could be further from the truth. For some 40 years, from 1962 till 2001, he trained and studied the effects of viticulture in regards to both the final product; wine, and in regards to the ecology and environment. Bravdo was one of the many scientists who early on spearheaded the usage of drip irrigation in both Israel and abroad for a multitude of applications, including many New World wineries. In 2001 he left the University and was bestowed the Professor Emeritus title, one very befitting his time at the University, and still in the industry.
It was during his tenure at Hebrew University that he met and later advised, his now wine laboratory partner, Oded Shoseyov. It was Shoseyov’s PhD thesis that fascinated Bravdo, the biochemistry of grape and wine flavor evolution. Together they quenched the thirst of the starving minds that passed through their lecture halls, the very same minds that lead wineries and agricultural powerhouses the world around. Shortly after Shoseyov’s PhD they collaborated on improving and developing viticulture methods for optimizing the grape aromas, as well as experimenting with the chemical properties of the wine must and wine to improve wine and aroma qualities.
In 1998, the two professors decided to take their game out of the comparatively cramped halls of the University into the sprawling 50 acre winery and vineyard that grace the foothills of the Judean Hills wine region. The Shoseyov family, with 120 years of grape-growing expertise, planted the sprawling vineyard some 55 years ago, right outside Moshav Karmei Yosef. The winery is located smack dab in the middle and totally surrounded by the 50 acre vineyard. The estate specializes in using exceptional techniques for producing a high-quality wine, including water stress, along with managing sunlight exposure to their grapes, and their proprietary aroma enhancing techniques. They released their first vintage in 2001 with production of around 3,000 bottles. The winery became kosher in 2007 when they released some 20,000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and Chardonnay. Since then they have increased the production to 45,000 bottles, and have released their first blend, which is fantastic, and made from one of my favorite grapes, more on that soon.
With that as the background, my friend was super kind to drive me to the Bravdo winery on a beautiful Friday morning day. As an added bonus we were blessed with the opportunity to meet one again with Zvi and his wife from the Rogov forum. As I ponder back to the drive down to the winery, from Jerusalem, I remember with vivid fear and wonder if the car was going to die in the middle of nowhere, and if we were going to have to huff it on foot the rest of the way. My friend’s car is fine, but the road to the winery is a bit challenging. The vineyards surround the winery, and the vineyards start off the main road, and access to the winery after that is only via the dirt and rock path. As you are driving the 1.4 kilometers of dirt and rock road, please take it slow, and have no fear you will be there soon, as long as you follow the lovely signposts that point you to an oenophile oasis in the middle of a 50 acre tapestry that looks touched by the hand of God.
As I was doing research for this post I was shocked at the lack of material on this fantastic winery. Rogov bestowed four stars (out of five) on this winery, which is large praise. Further, Rogov scored many of the wines 90 or higher, including all the reds from the 2009 vintage. So why no love? Where is the coverage for such a strong player? I believe in part it has to do with the remoteness of the winery, though that is easily rectified a 4×4 or calm nerves. Also, the winery is small, producing some 45, 000 bottles this past year. Further, the winery is steeped in technology and research that can make the average human weak in his/her knees. When the question of technology was brought up on the forum, based upon a blog posting, Rogov was quick to retort with “Important to remember that while technology, even technology at the cutting-edge, is important, no less critical to the success of wines is the training, experience, “touch”, intuition and “gut-knowledge” of the winemaker.” Clearly technology is wonderful, but it cannot take the place of world-class winemaker, which is a two piece suit that Professor Bravdo fits into perfectly. Finally, the winery’s two-part name may be unclear to those unfamiliar with the Israeli wine industry, or those who have yet to read this article. The concepts that are used at the winery may be complex, but the camaraderie and product are clearly wonderful.
A final note, when I was in Israel a February, I called Hadar (Professor Bravdo’s daughter and manager at the winery) and asked if I could visit the winery. She wisely recommended that we try to meet somewhere else, as Mother Nature had been dumping her wrath upon us for a week already, and that the winery would be inaccessible. At that time I was wondering – how bad could it really be? A few months later, when we finally had the chance to enjoy Hadar and her family’s company and wine, I could see clearly that she is not only a talented and wonderful person, but a very intelligent one as well!
As we pulled up to the vineyard, on this gorgeous early winter morning day, with the sun was dominating the clear blue sky above, all we could do was to stop and take in the fantastic view. Sure, we saw the vineyards as we drove by them, but now with the car parked we could really stop for a moment and take in the view. We were truly surrounded by perfectly manicured yet wild and unpruned vines, for as far as the eye could see – awesome! As we approach the winery, the first thing we could notice were the two large vats of grape pulp, that are presumably left over from the recent harvest and pressing. As we come closer, we notice the many varied olive trees that surround the winery grounds. As we get closer, two things come into perfect focus, the winery building and a massive pergola covering, what looked to be, a 25 foot or longer table that would be the centerpiece to our tasting.
On one side of the pergola, there were tens of clean gleaming glasses, next to open bottles of Bravdo wines, in a combination of ice and water, plain ice water, and stand alone on the table. As we learned later, Hadar explained that some of their red wines present themselves at the truly recommended temperature of 54 or so degrees Fahrenheit, while others are fine at the day temperature of 65 or so, while the Chardonnay requires ice and water at a chillier 50 or so degrees.
As we approached Professor Bravdo, his wife, and Hadar greeted us. We were then given a glass and took our seat. We were one of the first guests that day, but as the morning progressed people were clearly not intimidated by the access road as they were coming and going quite rapidly and the table was continuously full. The tasting was led by Professor Bravdo in Hebrew, which I was proud to say, that I followed pretty well. I did ask for a word here and there, and he was very kind to explain it to me in English. The tasting started with the 2010 Chardonnay, and then continued with the entire 2009 red line, Merlot, Cabernet, Shiraz, and then the Coupage. The 2009 Coupage blend is a mélange of 40% Cabernet Franc, 33% Shiraz, and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon.
As we tasted the wines I had the luck to sit across from Zvi and his lovely wife Rachel. The tasting was a blast, and throughout I could not help but take a peek over my back and across the table to the surrounding vines and olive trees, and the happy and talkative crowds that poured in. Israelis really do love their Fridays, and they cherish them like Americans do their Sundays, so when I see so many happy and effervescent people surrounding a table setting with fine wine in their hands I cannot help but wonder about the magic of this place. Clearly the wine is world class, and obviously just because the Internet is not hopping with recognition to this oasis, it does not mean that people are as equally ignorant. The winery has a charming boutique setting and camaraderie among its fans that would make Plato and Aristotle blush. Still, after being at many planned and large tastings, the atmosphere was akin more to a foodie convention (there was tons of cheese and bread enjoyed by all) than to a wine tasting. Though through it all the winery’s roots shown through. At times there were as many as three groups of people, and all of them being given the same warm and friendly treatment so common in Israeli culture, but also they were poured a healthy but controlled dosage of Bravdo wine and Winery.
No matter the size of the group or the time that they arrived, each was served a healthy pour of wine, food, and message. Each group was privy to a talk by the professor about wine chemistry, the make up of each of his wines, and the flavors that we were all enjoying. For each of the wines we savored, two things came out loud and clear, the aromas were truly concentrated and redolent, and the wines were not overpowered by oak. Professor Bravdo kept repeating that he is very focused on not over oaking his wines and also concentrating to minimize the bitterness that may arise from the maceration process. What was fascinating to me was that even as the Professor was holding court and throwing out concepts like phenolic, tannin, color, stems, and wine body, I looked around and there were no blank stares or folks ignoring him. Rather his ability to explain the concepts, and the impact of them on the wines, to the uninitiated was mind blowing! It once again solidified to me the idea that his abilities in the lab and on the stage are one the same, to bring quality Israeli wine to the masses, no matter the medium or place.
Rogov, commenting on the Bravdo Winery, made the following statement: “the major reason for buying the wines of boutique wineries is that they should reflect both the philosophy and signature of the winery. The Bravdo wines most certainly do that!” As we were sitting tasting the wines and taking in the surroundings and group energy, I could not help but totally agree that Professor Bravdo has succeeded in transporting the academic qualities of wine research and knowledge transfer and channeling them into quality Israeli wine and winery.
Like I stated in my previous two postings on the 2009 Bravdo Coupage, the wine is a unique blend. Recently, we were doing blending trials at a different winery, and we tried to put together some of these non sequitur blends and they did not work out. The wines by themselves were lovely but a complex blend was non palatable because there were not enough commonalities between the varietals to make up for the subtleties that were hoped to be captured. In the end a blend like Coupage is no easy feat and one that proves that the Bravdo winery is not just about smoke and mirrors, or mere must aroma delight, but rather a winery who takes the best that Israel has to offer and makes it better with a combination of research and technology along with equally deep winemaking knowledge and experience.
My many thanks to Zvi and his wife for helping us get to the tasting and for the usage of some of their pictures. Many thousands of thanks to the entire Bravdo family for hosting us at their wine oasis, and the rest of the staff for making the entire experience one to remember. The wine notes follow below, in the order that they were tasted:
2010 Bravdo, Karmei Yosef, Chardonnay – Score: B++ to A-
The wine was aged 50% in oak and 50% in steel, the part in oak was aged in barrels for 3 months. The nose on this light gold colored wine is rich with mineral, fig, toasty oak, peach, apricot, brioche, vanilla, creme brulee, ripe grapefruit, spice, and yellow apple. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and coating with nice brioche, peach, apricot, yellow apple, ripe grapefruit, and creme brulee. The mid palate is balanced with lovely acid, toasty oak, rich spice, mineral, and a nice rich body. The finish is long and spicy, with spice, peach, apricot, mineral, creme brulee, and vanilla. A lovely rich Chardonnay that has a few more years left in its sea legs. Drink now and enjoy.
2009 Bravdo, Karmei Yosef, Merlot – Score A-
This is a brilliant wine that has strong varietal characteristics, and may well be my favorite varietal Israeli Merlot. The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine is super rich with forest berries, sweet cedar, rich blackberry, ripe plum, black cherry, nice mineral, bramble, loamy dirt and rock, rich chocolate, light tar, and tobacco. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is truly rich and mouth coating with nice mouth coating tannin, plum, black cherry, blackberry, and cedar. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, chocolate, cedar, plum, vanilla, tobacco, and more nice tannin. The finish is long and rich with more mouth coating tannin, plum, tobacco, sweet cedar, vanilla, and malted chocolate. Quite a rich wine that still needs to settle down. Enjoy this puppy in a year.
2009 Bravdo, Karmei Yosef, Cabernet Sauvignon – Score A-
The nose on this dark purple to black colored wine is rich with tar, garrigue, blackberry, rich date, cassis, heavy chocolate, tobacco, and nice cedar. The mouth on the rich, heavy, layered, and super extracted full bodied wine is filled with tar, blackberry, cassis, date, heavy tannin that coat your mouth, and garrigue. The mid palate is balanced with lovely acid, tar, cedar, tobacco, vanilla, and rich blackberry. The finish is long and rich with tar, vanilla, blackberry, cassis, rich tannin, chocolate, nice cedar, and a hint of black olives. Quite a rich wine that still needs to settle down. Enjoy this puppy in a year.
2009 Bravdo, Karmei Yosef, Shiraz – Score A- to A
The nose on this black colored wine is rich and redolent with heavy tar, date, blackberry, rich chocolate, super rich cedar, tobacco, crushed herbs and garrigue. The mouth on this full bodied powerhouse of a wine is rich and lovely with mouth coating tannin, blackberry, currant, and garrigue. The mid palate is balanced with more attack of blackberry, tar, cedar, tobacco, and vanilla. The finish is super long, extracted, and spicy with tar, more mouth coating tannin, tobacco, cedar, garrigue, and vanilla. Quite a rich wine that still needs to settle down. Enjoy this puppy in a year or maybe a bit more. Also, do not let the shape of the bottle scare you, this is a real doozy of a Shiraz, even if in a Bordeaux style bottle.
2009 Bravdo, Karmei Yosef, Coupage – Score A- to A
This melange is a truly unique blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 27% Shiraz. A few comments on this wine, it shows its blend and components quite well throughout. You can always pick out the flavors that are derived from the different grapes, but overtime the particular characteristics give way to other characteristics, all the while still being true to their origins – a very unique wine.
The nose on this impenetrable black colored wine, to start, is floral, with herb, mineral, black cherry, and raspberry from the Franc. Heavy date, tar of the Shiraz, and rich ripe plum, blackberry from Cabernet, along with alcohol, more tar and chocolate. The mouth on this rich and full bodied wine is super layered and concentrated with multiple attack vectors, mint, floral, plum, raspberry, date, rich and aggressive mouth coating tannin, and hint of blackberry. The mid palate is balanced with acid, chocolate, mint, raspberry, date, vanilla, cedar, and rich tannin. The finish is long and rich, with cedar, tar, raspberry, plum, heavy tannin, tobacco, chocolate, blackberry, and lovely vanilla.
Overtime the wine turns blacker flavored with more tar, chocolate, crushed herb, blackberry, date, and oak making a presence. The mouth softens and becomes plusher with integrated tannin, ripe date, blackberry, tar, plum, and a richer and plush mouthfeel. The mid palate is rich and layered with acid, chocolate, oak, and blackberry. The finish is long and lovely with black olive, date, blackberry, vanilla, nice oak, chocolate, and bit of leather and tobacco.
This wine needs time, lots of time, in a year or two this will be really ready to enjoy. If you do as I did and open one before that, please taste a bit by pouring a glass once you open the bottle, and place that to the side. Then decant the rest of the bottle, and leave it rest for an hour or so, and then try the glass versus the decanted wine, and I hope you will see the elegance growing from glass to decanter.
Posted on December 23, 2011, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged Bravdo Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Coupage, Karmei Yosef, Merlot, Shiraz. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.