Herzberg Winery, a successful microbiologist turned vigneron

Much of this post was already posted here, where I described my second week in Israel. Many if not all the pictures here (except for the bottle pictures) are all courtesy of Herzberg winery, as Gabriel Geller and I arrived so late that it was pitch dark by the time I meandered my way to the winery. Herzberg Winery is a winery that is owned, run, and operated by a single man – Max Herzberg. It was pouring rain as we made our way to his lovely home – which doubles as his winery and vineyard. Yes, he reminds me of my good friend Benaymin Cantz (from four gates winery), another of those home bound Vigneron who live, breath, and eat winemaking in and around their very abode! I must say that many of my writings are more sentimental to me that rote and that is why it may seem that I do not write often, but I need the emotion and passion to be there before I can pick up my virtual pen and write these postings. It is not an excuse but more a reality and my apologies for having not written more about my Israel trip yet – more will be on the way soon, after passover.

Max Herzberg is a world-famous biotechnologist who has single-handedly created and sold more companies than many of us even know or can keep track of. Max immigrated to Israel from France and quickly became a world-class biotechnologist and a leader in his field and in the corporate world!

However, after getting his fill of running biotechnology departments at universities and running and starting companies, Max decided he would plant a vineyard. One day Max approached his clearly intelligent wife (who happens to be a Tunisian – so that helps a lot of course) and asked if she minded if he planted a few vines? His wife replied, you mean you want to plant the entire field – right? Sure enough, in 2005, by the time Max was done, the entire 3 acre field, right next to his home in Moshav Sitrya was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. It is not clear if this particular location within the Judean Hills is well situated for Malbec, but as Max puts it – time will tell. Max also makes use of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a neighboring vineyard. The first true year for the winery was in 2008, though there was some 300 bottles from the 2007 vintage. The 2012 vintage produced some 4500 bottles – nice realistic and manageable growth. Max does it all; he prunes his vineyard and sulfurs it with a machine, and of course makes the wine. The only thing he does not do is pick the grapes – by himself, he has folks to help with that!

As usual, Geller knows everyone and him and Max hit it off really well. It helps that Geller speaks a perfect French (so jealous), the native tongue of the French born Max Herzberg. It was with this knowledge that we arrived at his home and he showed us around the winery – though by this time it was pitch dark and we were walking around very carefully. We soon made our way to the well-lit tasting room, that is adjacent to the winery and that is where we tasted through the winery’s entire line. A few weeks after we visited, Max had a winery tasting at his winery to show off the new 2009/2010 red wines and from what I can see on his Facebook pageit was a smash! Max is one of those honest, down to earth, humble and talented wine makers that enjoy what he is doing and it shows in his wine and in his passion for his craft.

When you look at the bottles, which I hope you buy, you will see written on each and every label; Coteaux de Sitrya, which means: hills of Sitrya, the name of the city in which the winery and Max himself live. The labels also have an image of his vineyard and the winery building itself, which has a large palm tree to its side. For now most of the back labels are the same across the wines and vintages, but that may or may not change in the future. I state this only because that is why there are not images of each and every back label, because they are currently, the same thing. Also, Max poured a few experimental wines and many of the 2010 vintage, which has yet to be bottled (at that time), so we did not get images of those front labels either.

There is a sense of terroir, or consistent flavors, in Max’s vineyard. As you look through the notes you will recognize mineral, graphite, and currant that pops up in almost all of his wines. Also, there is a showing of the now famous Israeli 2010 vintage fruit – blueberry.

We started the tasting with the 2009 Herzberg malbec, the very wine that made Max and his winery famous. I was told by many that this was a must taste wine, and so I bought a bottle at the Wine Mill for Shabbos. The bottle I got was lacking in many ways, so I was hoping it was just a bad bottle and that I would be enjoying the true version of the malbec. Sure enough the 2009 Herzberg Malbec that we tasted was indeed quite lovely. The wine was not a WOW wine, but to be fair I have yet to taste a WOW Malbec, with the possible exception of the 2011 Teperberg Malbec, I would score the wine a B+ to A-. The malbec was not blue, but rather red and very spicy with a perfumed nose, a medium body with good tannin structure and good usage of oak. The 2009 Merlot is very much in the same ilk of the Malbec with plenty of red fruit, along with nice green notes, heaps of floral notes and a solid medium bodied structure. The mouth is well-balanced with aggressive almost mouth drying tannin, near sweet cedar, and ripe red and black fruit. The finish is packed with mineral and charcoal – a unique and lovely Merlot. The next wine was the 2009 Reserve, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Malbec. The nose is unique with sugared and candied plum, mineral, green notes, and ripe fruit. The mouth is medium plus in weight with good tart fruit, more mouth drying tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is long with more mineral and chocolate covered tobacco. The next wine was from the 2010 vintage – the 2010 Herzberg Asado Blend, which is a blend of 50% Malbec, and 25% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Asado was a dirtier more earthy wine than the 2009 wines, with deep rooted green notes, loamy dirt, and mushroom, red and black fruit, more mouth drying tannin, good red and black fruit, and wonderful balance. The finish is long and spicy with green, vanilla, and crazy spices like cinnamon, cloves, and tobacco. The Asado name is a nod to Argentinians who have clearly made a name for themselves in the wine world with their version of the Malbec fruit.

Max was very kind to share with us his 2010 wines and those are a clear bump up from the 2009 crop. The 2010 Merlot and Reserve wines of course continue the 2010 theme with huge amounts of blue fruit, but they are also broader, deeper, and more concentrated wine with weight and fruit that can carry the strong handed use of oak. The fruit is dark, brooding, rich and truly complex – in a manner that makes you stop and take notice. Are they WOW wines? Not quite, but they are solid A- wines and ones that I would have bought if they were available.

Herzberg winery on crush dayThe 2010 Herzberg Cab fruit is ripe and jammy, full, with crazy floral notes and blueberry, followed by black fruit, and currant. The mouth is medium to full bodied with tannin that goes forever, concentrated fruit, and deep layers of blackberry, cassis, sweet cedar, and mouth drying tannin. The 2010 Herzberg Reserve is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% each of Malbec and Merlot. Once again the nose is ripe with ribbons of blueberry, blackberry, violet, licorice, and controlled spice. The mouth is rich and full bodied with softening yet aggressive mouth drying tannin, sweet ripe fruit, and a concentrated mouth that is coming together nicely. The finish is long, balanced, and sweet and spicy at the same time with chocolate covered tobacco, with vanilla and spice.

We had a few other wines and stuff that is undocumented and it will stay that way – but the entire tasting was a true joy and one that gave me the chance to see a man who has nothing to prove in this world. A man who has made his mark on it and yet a man who decided he wants to strike out in a different direction, one that he loves and cares about and is willing to spend his retirement years doing! I say bravo to you sir and best wishes for another successful vintage! Thanks so much for making time for the two of us! The wine notes follow below:

2009 Herzberg Malbec, Coteaux de Sitrya – Score: B+ to A-
This is a wine that I had the chance to taste a few times and once I had a bad bottle and the others times it has been quite nice. The nose is nice with red fruit, spice, currant, nice black cherry, all assailing you in a lovely perfumed manner, along with toast and mineral. The mouth is medium in weight with sweet cedar, fantastic mouth coating sweet tannin that goes forever, and along with nice black plum, and crazy tobacco. The finish is long and mineral based with vanilla, espresso coffee, followed by sour tart cherry, and more lovely tannin that lingers on the rise.

2009 Herzberg Merlot, Coteaux de Sitrya – Score: B+ to A-
This wine is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is nice with ripe plum, currant, along with a perfume of floral aromas, Kirsch cherry, green notes, ripe fruit, and earthy/loamy notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich in the mouth with aggressive mouth coating tannin (almost drying tannin), blackberry, lovely sweet cedar, heavy and evident toast from the 12 months in French barrels, and green notes. The finish is long and sweet with nice classic Israeli tobacco, great charcoal and graphite, flint, and more green notes that linger long with rising tannin.

2009 Herzberg Reserve, Coteaux de Sitrya – Score: B+ to A-
This wine is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Malbec. The nose is an interesting mix of sugared plums, mineral, green notes, and charcoal, along with nice black cherry, and raspberry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with tart fruit, nice toast from 12 months in French barrels, more mouth drying tannin, sweet cedar, and currant. The finish is long and tart with great graphite, more mineral, tannins that rise, chocolate covered tobacco leaves, mint, and rich vanilla extract.

2010 Herzberg Asado, Coteaux de Sitrya – Score: B++
The wine is a blend of 50% Malbec, and 25% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Asado was a dirtier more earthy wine than the 2009 wines. The nose displayed deep-rooted green notes, loamy dirt, mushroom, along with red and black fruit. The mouth is medium+ in weight, big and aggressive, with nice mouth drying tannin, wonderful balance, nice currant fruit, black plum, sour cherry, sweet cedar, and lovely black forest fruit. The finish is long and spicy with green notes, crazy spices like cinnamon, cloves, nice vanilla, tobacco, and great tannin that rises long on the finish with more green notes. The Asado name is a nod to Argentinians who have clearly made a name for themselves in the wine world with their version of the Malbec fruit.

2010 Herzberg Cabernet Sauvignon, Coteaux de Sitrya – Score: A-
This is a wine made from 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. The nose is crazy and so classical to the 2010 Israeli vintage with ripe blueberry jam, ripe black fruit, raspberry, currant, floral violet, and more ripe fruit. The mouth shows so much control and respect for the fruit, a wine that really holds your attention in both its complexity and its structure. The mouth is medium to full bodied with great mouth coating tannin that goes forever (less drying than the 2009 vintage), followed by layers of concentrated fruit, deep layers of ripe blackberry, cassis, sweet cedar, and lovely sweet tannin. The finish is long and sweet with jam like flavors, more blue and black fruit, nice tobacco, good solid balance, with graphite, mineral, chocolate, and more sweet fruit that lingers with sweet tannin that rise, vanilla, and cedar – lovely and elegant!

2010 Herzberg Reserve, Coteaux de Sitrya – Score: A-
The 2010 Herzberg Reserve is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% each of Malbec and Merlot. Once again the 2010 nose is ripe with ribbons of blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, currant, gorgeous violet notes, great licorice, super controlled with jammy but not overripe notes, and lively with rich spice. The mouth is rich and full bodied that initially hits you with crazy mouth drying tannin, but that calms down to lovely softening yet aggressive integrated tannin, concentrated fruit, with layers of black plum, sweet ripe fruit, with cedar that lingers beautifully. The finish is long, balanced, sweet and spicy at the same time, with tannin that goes forever, with chocolate covered tobacco, vanilla, cloves, spice, mineral, graphite, and more sweet cedar that does not stop. BRAVO a lovely rich and elegant wine.

2012 Herzberg Malbec Blush, Coteaux de Sitrya – (Tank Tasting)
This is a wine that was produced via the saignee method after the juice rested on the skins and stems for an hour or so. The nose on this lovely pink colored wine shows nice strawberry, raspberry, lemon, lime, and peach. The mouth is bright but a bit lacking in acid, with nice mineral, slate, tart lemon, kiwi, and jam. The finish is long and zesty, with nice spice, lemon zest, all on a long finish with a bite of bitterness. This may change and should soon be in bottles at the winery.

Posted on March 17, 2013, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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