Ella Valley Winery – final day of my snowbound Jerusalem Trip

Well if you have been following the saga of my snowbound trip to Israel, you would know that this was closing out quickly at this point as the snow has stopped by Sunday, and the roads were open. So, on the Monday after the fateful snowstorm, Mendel and I made our way to Ella Valley Winery.

Other than the obvious lack of snow down in the Ella Valley, or the roads leading to it, the most obvious telltale sign of the tectonic shift that the Ella Valley Winery is going through was the lack of noise, as we entered the winery grounds. Now, I do not mean visitors, as David Perlmutter and a slightly rambunctious crowd that he was ferrying around were in the house. No, I mean the birds; in many ways recently Ella Valley has gone to the birds, metaphorically and in some ways – physically (but with lots of hope for its quick and successful return).

As I have stated the many times that I have visited the winery, I loved this winery for its makeup, its people, and its wine styling, all of which seemed to flow in a common theme, clean lined with respect to the product and people. As I stated here, Danny Valero, the winery’s original general manager, had a deep love for wine, technology, and birds, yes real multi-colored feathered friends that quacked and made a racket, but inevitably added to the ambiance and uniqueness that was Ella Valley Winery.

IMG_0109Sadly, one by one, they all fell off. No, not the birds (though they are also gone), rather the people that originally made the winery so special. The winery was started in the 1990s, and released its first vintage in 2002. Within the time following its founding, the winery grew to great prominence, because of the principles upon which it was built, build great wines that happen to be kosher, showcasing the qualities of Israeli fruit. Of all the wineries in Israel, in recent memory, Ella Valley came out of the shoot with all guns blazing. They never had a ramp up time, they came out as a four star winery, in the late Daniel Rogov’s books from the start almost, and never relinquished that status.

The staff was all star, from Danny Valero, the winery’s general manager, Udi Kaplan who managed the winery and the winery’s head wine maker, Doron Rav Hon made a winery to make Israel proud. It was a winery that hit its peak in the aughts and from there things seemed to fall apart.

IMG_0446The winemaker, Doron Rav Hon (now winemaker at Sephera a white only, non-kosher winery) is gone, as are the rest of the founding members. Looking at the winery’s staff on the website, there is no link, not even for Lin Gold, the winery’s new head winemaker. Lin is a clear change in direction from the winery. Doron is Burgundian in training and in his wine style, meaning clean lines, no overripe fruit to be found, bracing acid, and great structure. Lin’s style is a bit more on the edge, clearly not Yarden in style (over ripe), but she has moved the winery a step or two over the balanced line and into the more Australian styled wine world, new world with a bit of control. This is a logical progression given her Australian training, but she is also faced with Israel’s heat and so far is showing that she can control the madness while going to the edge. For me, the wine is just overripe, but for the growing Israel kosher wine consumer, it is just right. Think of it like Goldilocks, I like it just right, while Ella, a winery which has grown larger than its founding bottle count, seems to think it needs to appease the kosher consumer with wines that are “a bit too big”, for me.

IMG_0104That said, I reached out to Ms. Gold and I asked her what is going on at Ella Valley, and she was very confident with where the winery was going. First off the new CEO, Doron Rand, is a great hire, from what I have heard from many people. He is a throwback style personality, with deep history in the agriculture business of Israel. As his LinkedIn profile shows, he started with fruit, moved to Yarden Winery, then to Recanati Winery, and now to Ella Valley Winery. The winery is physically the same, with the same GREAT technology that it had at day one, and it is adding more vineyards and more space to handle the capacity.

So, where does that leave the winery? I do not know, clearly it needs to rebuild its image within Israel and here in the US, which seems like a gimme to someone like Doron! So, what needs to happen next, market, market, and market more! The wines may be changing a bit, but the structure and lines are there, and where the 2010 and 2011 vintages are a pain for almost any winery in the Judean Hills, the whites are solid. So, the winery and its vineyards are fine, the issue is getting the word out correctly to the consumers.

When I arrived at a winery for the unveiling of their new wines; the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 32/35 blend. The place was hoping and everyone seemed to be having a great time, with great food and wine. In the end, the winery has its following, what it needs is to grow that following within Israel, get more space in wine stores, and grow its presence in the US, in a fierce way! A winery with that good a product should not be floundering the way it is when I go and visit wine stores all around the country.

My many thanks to Ms. Gold for taking the time to meet with me and for answering my emails. The wine notes follow below:

2012 Ella Valley Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon. The nose on this wine shows a classical nose of Sauvignon Blanc with nice fresh cut grass, slate, quince, tropical fruit, and candied grapefruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is very ripe with peach, guava, candied kiwi, nice acid, and citrus. The finish is long and bracing with tart fruit, almost mouth puckering acidity, with tartly sweet and candied fruit, and nice pith.

2011 Ella Valley Chardonnay – Score: B++
The nose starts off with sweet notes, quince, vanilla, and guava notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine hits you with fresh brioche, freshly baked apple pie, along with white cherry, peach, sweet oak, and spice. The finish is long with sweet spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, garrigue, nice tart nectarine, almond pith, and butterscotch notes.

2011 Ella Valley Rose – Score: B+
The wine is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Syrah and vinified using saignee. The nose on this strawberry colored wine starts off with notes of straw, cherry, kiwi, along with good mineral, and slate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off with honeyed notes, along with red and summer fruit, all coming together with nice acid and good structure. The finish is long and fruity, with cherry, guava, candied grapefruit, tangerine, and citrus pith.

2010 Ella Valley EverRed – Score: B to B+ (Sweet/New World)
This is the first red released that has Lin’s fingerprint on it. Doron Rav Hon vinified the wine, before he left, before he left, but was aged and bottled by Lin. The wine is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Merlot. The nose starts off with very ripe fruit, showing cherry, ripe pomegranate, black plum, along with massive amounts of crushed herb, garrigue, loamy dirt, and alcohol. The mouth on this full bodied wine shows mouth drying tannin, nice structure with with spicy oak, blackberry, black plum, pomegranate, and overripe fruit. The finish is a bit short with layers of leather, chocolate, crazy spice, cloves, cinnamon, more mouth drying tannin that rise, with dried fruit, vegetal notes.

2010 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc – Score: A- (and more)
This is the first red released that has Lin’s fingerprint on it. Doron Rav Hon vinified the wine, before he left, before he left, but was aged and bottled by Lin. The wine is a blend of 96% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose on this wine shows lovely dark cherry, nice varietally true floral notes, with nice vegetal bell pepper, and leafy tobacco. The mouth on this lovely full bodied wine shows draping tannin, nice deep extraction, with nice chocolate, garrique, along with layers of concentrated blackberry, plum, along with blackcurrant, and spicy oak. The finish is long and leafy, with great tannin that rise, along with dark cherry, leather, chocolate, with more vegetal notes, lingering long.

2010 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+ (Sweet/New World)
This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot and 5% Syrah. The nose on this wine is very sweet with ripe blackberry, cassis, along with sweet ripe cherry, and plum, with candied notes and rich toast. The mouth on this full bodied wine is deeply extracted with a rich fruit structure. mouth drying tannin, dried date, controlled but on the edge (sweet wise) with layers of concentrated fruit, great structure, and still searing tannin. The finish is long and green with chocolate, toasty notes, rich mineral, graphite, with ribbons of green garrigue, with a sweet, green along with dried fruit graphite finish.

2009 Ella Valley Syrah – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is a blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Merlot, which is a very interesting varietal to blend into a Syrah. This is the last vintage that was vinified and bottled by Doron Rav Hon. The nose on this black colored wine is rich and beautiful with tones of black fruit, rich earth, dirt, and licorice, and tar reduction. The mouth on this full bodied wine is richly extracted with layers of concentrated blackberry, black plum, candied pomegranate, and sweet toasty cedar. The finish is long and mineral based with mounds of graphite, great balancing acid, mouth drying tannin, along with controlled fruit, fruit, lovely bakers chocolate, leather, dried basil, with cinnamon, cloves, and sweet fruit.

2010 Ella Valley 32/35, Vineyard’s Choice – Score: A- (Sweet/New World)
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, and flushed with some smaller percentage of Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Petite Sirah. The wine gets its name from the location from which the grapes were sourced, from a latitude of 32 degrees north and 35 degrees east. The nose on this wine is very sweet with dark fruit, black cherry, cassis, along with rich mineral, and dark currant. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is deeply rooted in sweet fruit, searing and not yet integrated tannin, along with forest floor, wrapped in a basket of concentrated sweet black forest berries. The finish is long and mineral driven, with nice chocolate, more sweet fruit, good mouth coating tannin, black currant, and nice loamy dirt.

Posted on February 19, 2014, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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