Tishbi Winery – one of Israel’s oldest and original wineries

Tishbi Winery Tasting RoomThe Tishbi winery has a history that spans more than 120 years in Israel; one that intersects with many of the famous names of modern Israel’s short history. The story begins in 1882, when Malka and Michael Chemelitsky immigrated to the city of Shefeya at the foothills of Zichron Yaakov. There they worked for the Carmel Wine Co-op that was founded by Baron Edmund de Rothschild in the late 1800s. They worked the land, planting vineyards, clearing rubble and stones, with nothing more than the barest of tools and technology. The work was backbreaking and endless, and unfortunately more work, was the only reward for many of the early immigrants, that came to settle the barren land. However, for the few farmers that were lucky to work with Edmund, they saw salvation from his deep pockets, huge heart, and massive resources that he brought to bear, to teach, bolster, and, ultimately, build the, then fledgling, wine industry into the forebear of where it is today.

Soon after the Chemelitskys came to Israel and started working the land, they were advised to change their name to Tishbi, which is actually an acronym in Hebrew that stands for “resident of Shefeya in Israel”. The world-renowned poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, Israel’s national poet extraordinaire, gave the name to them. In the early days of Israel’s wine industry, the cooperative farmers would work the vines, planting them, pruning them, caring for them, and then sell their grapes to the Carmel Winery. However, after many decades of work and toil, it became clear to many of the cooperative farmers that life was changing, and that they would either need to break out of the cooperative or be left behind.

Tishbi Winery Tasting Room 2So, in 1984, the great-grandson of our story’s Protagonist, Jonathan Tishbi, stepped out of the shadows of the Carmel Winery and into the shadows of the Carmel Mountain range. Initially, he called his new winery Baron Winery, in honor of Baron Edmond, but later changed it to his namesake – Tishbi Winery. At that time there were few wineries in Israel, and even fewer successful ones that were not just making sacramental (sweet) wine. Jonathan went to Italy to see how generations of family-owned wineries had succeeded, and from where we stand, he seems to have emulated them quite impressively. The family tradition continues to the 5th generation, with Jonathan’s son – Golan Tishbi, acting head winemaker. The winery’s tradition is impressive, but it feels like it will always be overshadowed by the massive mountains under which it lays, and the equally massive foundation upon which it is built.

Tishbi Winery Wine TanksWhen you are one of the “original new wineries” of Israel, founded in 1984, your actions garner a fair amount of gravitas. Tishbi, along with Yarden, opened in 1984, and both have helped to drive the revitalization of the Israeli Wine Industry. Yet, with all the innovations that Tishbi has brought to the wine industry, they still have few imitators. For example, for more than 10 years now, Tishbi has been showcasing a large dispenser in their wine tasting room that looks very much like a gas pump. However, instead of it dispensing gasoline, it dispenses quality red and white wine (depending on the wine chosen)! When we were there last time tasting wines, people swept in with large jugs, pitchers, and other contraptions that we had never seen before. Tishbi also has a beautiful visitor center, which overlooks the vineyards of the estate. Visitor centers are now commonplace, but one that is set in the midst of vineyards from which their grapes are sourced, is still quite unique. Finally, they have created a world-class kosher dairy restaurant with a rich menu, based on fresh cheeses from the local dairy farms, fresh baked breads, fresh picked fruits and vegetables and, of course, Tishbi wines. Recently, another Zichron Yaakov powerhouse winery has copied this unique idea of combining fresh local food and award winning wines from the winery. That would the Carmel Winery. I guess it really is true; imitation is a sincere form of flattery. Tishbi has recently taken the pump on the road, by creating ‘refill stations’: 283-liter wine tanks spread out over 13 stations throughout the country – where people can roll up and pump kosher wine! What a great idea!

The Tishbi family’s romance with grapes and wine began in 1882 when the present generation’s great-grandparents were commissioned by Baron Edmond de Rothschild to plant the first modern wine grape vineyards in Israel. After more than a Century of grape growing tradition, Jonathan Tishbi founded the Tishbi Estate and planted grapes around the vineyard in the Zichron Yaakov area, and also in the higher elevations to the North. Including at the foothills of the Tavor/Tabor Mountain, also in the famous Ben Zimra vineyards, to take full advantage of the cool mountain night air and the long sunny Mediterranean-growing season. They also have vineyards planted in the Judean Hills where the early hours of the morning and the evening, the temperature drops significantly, this enhancing the growth of grapes. They also have vineyards planted in the Negev Desert to the South, where hot arid days and cool windy nights combine with sandy soils to yield superior grapes. The grapes from the Negev are used in Tishbi’s top of the line wine – Tishbi, Special Reserve, Sde Boker.

Tishbi Winery Tasting BarDuring my last visit to the winery, in December 2012, of last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the wines at the winery, excepting for the high end wine that is sourced from grapes in the Negev, where other than Midbar wines, I have been unimpressed. Sure it is cool that anyone can make a wine from grapes grown in the middle of a desert, given the environmental difficulties. Still, the outcomes are always too sweet and not balanced with anything complex or attention getting, other than new world fruitiness and weight that is over the top. There are some in the industry that do not like Tishbi wines, and to be honest for the most part I was there. However, after this last visit, I was truly impressed to the point of scoring many of the wines in the B+ to A- range. In the past I have always felt that Tishbi wines were far too sweet, but during this year’s visit the wines were all controlled (excepting for the Special Reserve). There was little to no date and raisin recognized in the wine, and we did skip a couple of wines from the tasting menu, as they were not recommended by the person pouring the wines for us, and we were running out of time.

Tishbi Winery Tasting Room 2I went to the winery after I visited Carmel, as it is literally next-door, and the winery is quite a lovely setting. The main Tishbi Winery is located on the edge of Zichron Yaakov. However, to make their wines more approachable Tishbi has implemented a multi stage effort, starting with updating their winery and creating a lovely and quaint coffee/wine bar, selling all things Tishbi, in the middle of Zichron Yaakov, the very city that was built around the Carmel Winery (before it was called that), in the early 1900s. Tishbi realized that to survive Carmel’s lovely and ever present existence, in the minds and sense of Zichron Yaakov dwellers, and all of Israel, that it must go upscale, build, and invest within its winery and the very city that is defined as Carmel Winery. So, recently, it created a wine bar and store in the very middle of Zichron Yaakov, a lovely shop that sells and pours its wine, along with coffee and other small and lovely edibles. It is a great extension of its flagship winery that is literally 2 miles down the hillside.

The flagship winery is truly a lovely and recently renovated powerhouse of a winery. Tishbi has channeled the very idea that seems to be doing very well all around the area. Which in Tishbi’s case is an immersive and welcoming environment for its visitors. The idea starts off with a welcoming visitor center where guests are welcomed in as many as 7 languages; English, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Russian, and other European and Arabic dialectics. There you can stretch pony up to a lovely wine bar where the bartender is more than happy to ply you with Tishbi’s products. However, this happens only after a lovely 45 minutes tour of the facility given on the hour, that shows off the winery’s state of the art capabilities. It is a great way to get close and immersed in all things Tishbi.

Tishbi Winery Tasting Bar 2Please understand that the vast majority of Tishbi’s 1 million bottles are sold via exports, at the winery and at restaurants. Israeli wineries have figured out that their very existence is in question, as its occupants do not drink wine, as it is not part of the existing culture. That is changing but slowly, and occupants are more interested in beer, spirits, and only slightly in wine. Until the change occurs, wineries have figured out they must rely on tourists – wherever they exist, either within the country or outside of it – something I am calling inporting (not a typo). To survive wineries have done what they can to improve their sales to their number one customers – tourists. To meet this need, Tishbi has recently finished constructions on a total rebuild of their visitor center, with some very unique and wonderful additions. The first one being a total build and update to their previously too small visitor center. In its place they now have an expanded center with the ability to cater to much larger groups of tourists. They added space allows for larger groups, but it also allows them to showcase and sell their wines, that line the walls, in an almost 360 degree wrap around format.

Tishbi Winery Still for BrandyThe only place where the wines are not showcased is around the still which takes up the entire left side of the visitor center. Yes, the very still they use to make the Tishbi world-class brandy. The brandy is crazy expensive, but from what folks tell me it is a very nice brandy. The rest of the space is anchored by bar and surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves showcasing Tishbi’s wines. The other unique aspect they added to their expanded showcase is the ability to enjoy a flight of wine and chocolate tastings! I must say I was highly skeptical when I heard it the last time I was at the winery, a few weeks after the opening of the visitor center. At that time I did not have the chance to enjoy the chocolates as I was laser focused on the wines and not so much on chocolates, and that was the same on this trip – if not even more focused, as I had a few other wineries to see before the end of the day. However, I did try the idea at the Sommelier event that took place last year in Tel Aviv. In 2012 year the Sommelier wine tasting event was canceled, but at that event last year, in 2011, I tried some of the Tishbi wines and chocolates, at the point that my palate was essentially Swiss cheese. After tasting some 80 or so wines, I decided now was as good as any time to try the wine and chocolate idea, which they were highlighting at the event as well. I tried it and I was impressed as the chocolates are insanely good and they do a great job of pairing them well with their wines. I recommend the tasting for those who are not as insane as I am – when it comes to wanting to taste wines in their pristine format or environment. If you are interested in first tasting the wines in their pure and unadulterated scene, than by all means taste the wines first and then go back and enjoy the wine and chocolate tasting. It is worth the extra time. For those who do not think wine is the be all end all, like my wife for example, there is the opportunity of tasting the chocolates with some sweet wines, which most do not seem to mind. Either way, the environment, the people, and the opportunities abound at the revised visitor center. Essentially, they hope they have created an immersive experience for all walks of life – Bravo!

Tishbi Winery FacilitiesBenyamin Cantz, of Four Gates Winery, and I arrived and we met a young man, an American ex-pat who had recently done aliyah with his wife and was currently living in Haifa. He was a nice and congenial young man with a very solid palate and nose and a person who was good at working with the customers, which brings me to my next point. The breadth and width of the palates and preferences of the visiting guests is truly massive and he showed the patience and skill to be able to deduce the particular interests of each and every one of his arriving guests. As we arrived we explained who we were and he was more than considerate enough to let us taste through much of the wines and the when needed, opened new wines to let us see the wines in their pristine state (and not from previously opened bottles that had been opened the week before). We tasted through much of their wines and I must say I was impressed. The perspective I came away from my last visit to Tishbi was of over-oaked and over built wines. This trip I was happily surprised to find that many of the wines were accessible and less assaulting. They were wines that were easily accessible and drinkable throughout a meal, or even without a meal at all. The wines are listed in the order that we enjoyed them:

2011 Tishbi Chardonnay, Tishbi Estate – Score: B+
The nose on this wine is its clear asset with insane ripe and tropical fruit, ripe litchi, lovely floral notes, violet, guava, mango, and insane and crazy ripe pineapple. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is its Achilles heal, with bright fruit, kiwi, crazy pink grapefruit, with citrus peel, and almond pit. The finish is long and spicy, with good acid, but a body that lacks inspiration or heft. The finish ends with bitter notes and tart lemon/lime curd.

2011 Tishbi Viognier Blanc – Score: B++
This is a lovely and semi-sweet wine consisting of 50% Viognier and 50% Riesling. The nose on this steel aged wine is clean and without oak impediments, allowing the bright and sweet fruit to have their time in the spotlight. The nose starts off with nice floral notes, along with great honey, guava, and petrol notes from the Riesling, along with green notes, violets, litchi, and tropical fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is filled out by the sweet fruit, but also far more by the residual sugar, and also by the oily texture that is so typical with Riesling, and sometimes with Viognier as well. The mouth shows nice sweet notes, bright and clean lemon, lime, crazy and almost uncontrolled bracing acid, nice kiwi, melon, and an overall very nice structure. The finish is long and floral with more sweet notes, lemon zest, orange and tangerine take control of the long and zesty finish – quite enjoyable.

2012 Tishbi Gewurtztraminer – Score: B+
This is another lovely semi-sweet wine made from 100% gewürztraminer fermented and stabilized in steel and then recently bottled. The nose on this wine starts off with crazy floral notes, almost like smelling a fresh bloomed night jasmine and violet, along with lovely litchi, ripe kiwi, freshly mown grass, along with some lemon and lime citrus. The mouth is medium in weight and again lifted by the residual sugar and the oily texture that is so typical of Gewurtztraminer wines, The mouth is rich with ripe green fruit, nice sweet honey, all wrapped in a luscious and smooth body that is perfectly balanced with bracing acidity. The finish is long and green with nice mineral, slate, ginger, and lemon zest. This is a great wine that can handle itself with spicy and sweet foods alike and another wine that shows control and a great future ahead for all things Tishbi.

2009 Tishbi Syrah, Tishbi Estate – Score: B++
This is a wine that continues to show the control we are speaking about and one that shows the potential for this grape in the land of Israel. Though I scored this lower than other Syrah wines that I tasted on this trip, it is a solid wine and a great showing for all things Syrah. The nose explodes with what I can only call a fresh and lively Northern California nose, showing ripe dead/roasted animal, ripe boysenberry, licorice, and screaming black and blue fruit – in other words – classic northern California or controlled Australian Syrah nose. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ribbed with good blueberry, and filled out in the middle with blackberry, nice sweet cedar, good tannin, but one that is missing something in the middle with nice mouth coating tannin, herbal notes, graphite, and mineral. The finish is long and spicy with great sweet tobacco, nice graphite, sweet fruit, cedar, and mounds of black pepper. This is the second wine from 2009 that was missing something in the middle or the end (with the Yarden Syrah missing a fruity finish). We will need to watch these wines and see if they do indeed fill out. Either way, it is another solid wine that shows me there is a clear and present future for Syrah in Israel.

2007 Tishbi Petite Syrah, Tishbi Estate, Single Vineyard (not a typo)- Score: B++ (close to B+ to A-)
This is a wine that was built from grapes that were sourced from an organic vineyard, much like the organic 2006 Syrah – which was nice while it lasted. The wine needs a fair amount of time to open up. The wine did seem to open quickly, but showed a clear and present hole in the middle, which filled out quite nicely over time, so be kind to this wine. The nose starts off with typical and lovely violet notes, followed by ripe blackberry, plum, raspberry, and a hit of alcohol that blows off. The mouth is medium plus in nature with tons of mouth sticking tannins, and layers of lovely black fruit, cherry, along with sweet cedar and good overall balance with good acid, and a hint of date over time. The wine was missing the middle but that seemed to appear over time, so look for and watch the wine evolve in the glass. The finish is long and expressive with sweet tobacco, good extra attack of softening tannin, milk chocolate, leather, and rich mineral, graphite, along with green notes, butterscotch, and nice citrus and ripe/tart raspberry jam on the long and lingering finish.

2009 Tishbi Malbec, Tishbi Estate, Single Vineyard – Score: A-
Many a winemaker explained to me that both Syrah and Malbec are wines that reduce in very unique ways. The common reduction notes on them both of these varietals is roasted meat and earthy tar. They may be reductive, but my do they smell and taste fantastic when the rest of the wine is there with solid structure and rich and fresh fruits. This is another Cali nose of exploding and redolent notes, starting with what I can only call roasted/dead meat doing a backstroke in my glass, while reaching out and slapping upside the head. I have tasted this wine a few times and there is clear and present bottle variation, all shifting from insane roasted and dead animal to mild and controlled dead animal. Some perceive these flavors and aromas as dirty earth, rich loamy mushroom piles, or heavy closed dirt. Either way the notes are reductive and to some they consider it a flaw. I handed a glass to a friend of one, who at that time was a bit ornery because I had dragged him half way around the Judean Hills on a single day – and when I handed him a glass of this stuff – screamed “why are you handing me a glass of dead animal”?

Indeed the aroma can be extreme in this wine – so please be careful. Most do not even sense it, while others are shocked by its more earthy nature, and some – well love it like me, you have been warned. The nose continues out from under the roasted meat with huge bright and sweet blueberry, along with hints of date, blackberry that rounds out and adds heft to the nose along with crazy smoke and lovely floral notes of violet. The mouth on this full bodied wine is not a subtle wine in any way, it is more of an in your face wine, with lovely structure, control and ripe fruit. It shows concentrated black plum, crazy sweet tobacco that you feel in the front, along with candied black cherry, sweet cassis, an attack of mouth coating and lingering sweet tannins, along with sweet cedar that make for a mouth that is unique and so Cali like, A nicely controlled, balanced, and sweet mouth. The finish is long and sweet with great butterscotch, sweet tobacco, crazy leafy and intense sweet tobacco, all channeled in a rich and attention grabbing body – Bravo!

2007 Tishbi Cabernet Sauvignon, Tishbi Estate – Score: A-
The wine is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Merlot. The nose on this wine starts off with classic Israeli Cabernet notes, ripe green fruit, bell pepper, black fruit, black pepper, spice, along with good dirty and loamy dirt. The nose than takes a cool turn to show apricot notes, and lovely citrus. The mouth is full bodied and ripe with good concentrated sweet fruit, with blackberry, cassis, black plum, along with green notes, sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that ties the entire package together. The finish is long and chocolate driven with great tobacco, nice toast, and leather wrapper, along with nice sweet plum and cherry finish that is joined in by sweet raspberry jam and more sweet notes and tannin that rise with the finish. A nice complex, sweet, and controlled Israeli Cabernet.

2007 Tishbi Special Reserve, Sde Boker – Score: B+ to A-
This is a blend of 48% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Shiraz. The nose on this wine shows controlled fruit, juicy raspberry, plum, a hint of cherry, along with nice floral notes, and green bell peppers. The mouth on this rich and full bodied wine shows nice mouth coating tannin, good depth, concentration, with an attack of blackberry, black plum, and jammy fruit, showing good balance with sweet cedar and sweet tobacco. The finish is long and spicy with good sweet fruit, butterscotch, spice, along with cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, and sweet fruit.

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

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