Tura and Har Bracha Wineries – two great examples of Shomron Wine Passion

Sunset outside of Tura WineryThe title may seem extreme but there is a clear and present passion and almost zeal to the wine makers and vineyard managers of the Shomron. In no way is that a slight to other wine regions, or to denote that others are not as passionate. The real point is that when I met with 30+ wineries on my past trip to Israel, every winery spoke about their wines and their processes and technology, but none spoke as passionately about their land as the winemakers in the Shomron. I need to stress, that many speak about their vineyards, the terroir, like Tzora and others, but the passion about the land versus the correct vines to grow – the sheer desire to own and plant trees or vines – it was truly an uplifting experience.

However, before we get into all of that, this post is about day two of week three during my trip to Israel last year December (2012). This posting is an account of my visit to both the Har Bracha and Tura wineries, in that order. Since we left off, I had completed week one all by myself, and week two partly with my nephew, who yes slowed me down, but truly added so much color and life to the proceedings, that it was a fair trade 🙂 The day started off like any day in Israel, we were set to see as many wineries as possible within a single day! The day started off with Doron and I picking up Gabriel Geller, yes the dastardly mastermind of the previous week’s Monday adventure to Ella Valley, Teperberg, Flam, and Herzberg Winery. It was a grand day trip and one that Geller was ready to try again! Talk about committed or is it that he needs to be committed, I am really not sure! Anyway, we pick him up and off we go to another wine adventure on Route 60! There were many stories that occurred to us on route 60 on this storied day, but being that they were part of the tapestry of the day, we will weave the tails into this wild and ruckus wine trail adventure.

The Shomron day started off with a visit to Shiloh, and then to Gvaot, described here. From there we were pointing our car towards Har Bracha and that is when we should have listened to the darn phone – both of our phones! The madness started with Doron’s phone which texted him with a very important message. You see he has an AT&T phone, a very nice phone actually, that did not easily support popping in a new SIM (the modus apprendre of international cell phone travelers when they visit Israel), so he went with an international plan from the US with certain countries on it. Simple enough plan, that is until you enter route 60, or more specifically, the Shomron area of route 60. AT&T was texting Doron to notify him that his data plan did not work in the new country he had just entered! Well, if that was not enough of a hint, at about that same time, my phone starts to chirp. Now, I must be specific here, we were interested in getting to Har Bracha which is north of Shiloh and we actually have to pass Tura to get there, but that was because Tura was not available at that time, so Har Bracha was where we were pointed towards.

Har Bracha Vineyards 5To quickly remind you, Yossie’s wine map is an awesome resource for finding kosher wineries in Israel, and for getting a sense of what and where the kosher wineries are in Israel. The map gave us a great layout of our day, and it also gave us a closer understanding of what was driving waze so crazy! Waze is the only real navigation tool in Israel and one that I explained saved my life at least two times in the north. Well, my girlfriend (waze’s voice is a female’s voice and it tells me where to go at all times – so all my friends think it fits) started to notify me that I needed to get ready for a left turn coming up. Now, driving in Israel is an already tense and terrifying enough of a job, looking at a navigation device is too much. So, Doron and Gabe (back seat driver) were thrust into the navigator role. Doron had the girlfriend and Gabe knows most of the roads by heart, and he also had his own phone-based girlfriend as well. All the phones were telling me to turn left, while Gabe was coaxing me forward – with soothing words of, do not worry we need to keep driving – no warning!

Again, to properly set this up for you all, in stereophonic precision the girlfriends are telling me to turn left, Gabe is telling me to drive straight, and Doron’s phone continues to remind us all that we are in the wrong country, all the while that I am trying to drive with crazy Israeli drivers attempting to give me and our car an up close “trunk” exam (enough said)! So, I go with Geller’s approach for a moment, which does nothing to quell the girlfriends, actually they are now going full throat throttle, screaming at us to turn around and do a U-Turn! Really, a U-turn on this road! We are all going to die was my first and constant verbal barrage, that really did nothing other than to irritate my commuting buddies, but to be fair it really did help to make me not think about our supreme leader’s insane idea to drive through an Arab village! Yep, you see the girlfriends were trying to warn me about the very thing that Geller already knew – route 60 wrapped around this village, but we had decided to abandon the route and take a “shortcut” through an Arab village! Geller says it is nothing and they do it all the time, but for me it was sheer terror, the girlfriends are screaming, Doron’s phone is texting away, and I am slowly losing my mind, as all my blood is going to my heart to keep up with its desire to give me a self-inflicted heart-attack!

Since this is a posting on Shomron wineries, I will keep this to a minimum, but blessedly nothing went wrong and we made it past the village and on our way to Har Bracha. As we were working our way north towards Har Bracha, a mountain came into view, one much higher and broader than anything we had seen until now, and it was really in the middle of nowhere! What a mountain it is, insane elevation, beautiful rugged landscapes abound and surround, and all the while the roads are being repaired. Yes, the very roads that take you to the top of this rugged, switchback laden mountain were under repair/construction – you never really know in Israel! The drive up is lovely and a slog all at the same time! The good news is that soon, I will be able to stop being the driver and then I will be able to look out at the beautiful blessed mountain, its views, and its inhabitants. For now, my mind is concentrated on getting the three of us to the top and then we can pursue more viticulture pursuits.

We reach the perch of the mountain and stop for a second, both to wait for the guard to let us in the gated village, but also to take in the pure joy of this land. For as far as the eye could see, there was rugged land that looked inhabitable, but to the people on this mountain top and for all the villages we could see below, living was part of life, and thank-god for that. Once through the gate, we quickly found the home of Nir Lavie and his family who welcomed us into his home with open arms. Har Bracha winery started in 2007, as more and more wineries were begging for Har Bracha vines. The winery started making some 3000 bottles, in 2007, and now they are up to some 20 to 25 thousand bottles. The winery has three main lines/labels, the Har Bracha label, which is starting in 2011, the Highlander label which is the reserve line, and a line of sweet wines which is coming out soon. Till now, most of you have seen the Highlander wines, fine wines with a unusual name; it stems from Lavie himself, who is a Mountain Man (Ish Hahar), so he called it Highlander – having nothing to do with the movie.

Lavie showed us his newly created tank room, which is outside of his home, and his new barrel room as well. The day was a bit chilly, so we moved inside to taste through some new and old wines. We first tasted the 2011 Har Bracha Cabernet Sauvignon, from the baseline label, which is aged in steel and oak staves. It was a nice enough wine, but I have long stated that Cabernet from Har Bracha will be harder to produce in a the same stellar manner of the Merlot – which is godly, the climate does not help both ways. We then tasted the 2009 Highlander Cabernet and Merlot and then the 2009 port like wine. The port wine is a blend of 50% Petite Sirah and 50% Petite Verdot, aged in old barrels and without any added alcohol!

Lavie started this process early on planting vines on Har Bracha in 1998 and it has grown to some 40 dunam and that is expanding to 90 dunam, as soon as the newly planted vineyards come online. The winery is truly just to the side of his house, and is all closed up in a lovely barn like structure. The vineyards have Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, and Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc. We also tasted the 2011 Har Bracha Petite Sirah, which at that time, from the tanks tasted quite nicely. Both the baseline 2011 Cabernet and Petite Sirah wines are new to the winery, they are new labels and part of the expansion to accommodate the growing desire for Lavie’s wines which has pushed his production to some 20 to 25 thousand bottles a year. The current setup will only support 30 thousand, so some decisions will need to be made soon, given that 50 more dunam of grapes are coming online very soon.

In terms of working the vines – that is one of the few unique and fascinating aspects of Judeo-Christian relationships, between the Jewish settlers and their sympathetic American Christian friends. We must have spent some 2+ hours with Lavie, and during that time he and his wife spoke glowingly about the Evangelical Christian volunteers, brought by Tommy Waller. This organization, called hayovel, helps Jewish settlers to work the land, by getting volunteers from America and other parts of the world, to come to Israel and work the land shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish “brothers”. It was an eye-opening discussion by Lavie, but not as exciting as actually getting to see the vineyards and the views from his vineyards ourselves, impressive! No wonder these young souls fly half way across the world to partake in this spectacular show of friendship.

After tasting the wines Lavie took us in his truck and we drove around the vineyards, and the vines and views are truly spectacular! This was in December, so there was no foliage, and most of the vines were just starting to get pruned, but still, the never-ending vineyards are mind blowing, as is the land in which these vines are planted. The ground is as hard as rock, it is a terra rossa terroir, with big and small stones all intermingled with loamy dirt and clay. Shoulder to shoulder these people helped Lavie plant his new 50 dunam of vineyards! The work is intricate, backbreaking, and mind blowing all at the same time – beautiful!

We came back from our tour around the mountain top, and we tasted the port again and spoke a bit more, and then we took our leave for our drive back through the Arab village, with stereo squawking girlfriends with the destination set to Tura Winery. It was at this moment, while we were making our way to Tura, that I realized two very interesting facts about Shomron wineries. The first one being the previously stated feeling, that the Shomron wineries are passionate and rather committed to this non-sedentary agricultural life. The second thing I noticed was that they were almost all religious! That was a really interesting fact for me, being that the vast majority of wineries in Israel are not kosher, but the majority of wineries in the Shomron are religious – very cool!

If Har Bracha is not enough of an example of passionate and almost zealot like love for their land, then our next destination should close the discussion for sure; Tura Winery. The winery is the brain child and life of Vered Ben Saadon and her husband, Erez, the winemaker and viticulturist, who are also both deeply religious and deeply passionate about the very land they planted their vines upon, just like Lavie and his wife. This is not a discussion of Zionism or rights, this is a simple statement that the people I met have a deep religious, personal, and deeply passionate relationship with the land of the Shomron. For Vered and Erez, their deep relationship with the land started in 1995, befittingly soon after they got married and started their own relationship together. It started with a few acres of organic apple fields, from there they bought some 20 dunam of land on the top of Har Bracha (yes the same place where Lavie planted his grapes, though Erez was there first by a year or so). In hindsight, you can say it was luck, kismet, or maybe destiny, but the very land they planted and nurtured became some of the most sought after vineyards in all of Israel, and in the Shomron for sure. Why? Simple, as I have stated a few times now, Merlot from Har Bracha is a real “bracha” blessing, and one of Israel’s no-brainers when faced with a wall of kosher Israeli wine.

At first Erez started with learning the land, taking what he could from it and selling it to whomever was interested. Soon, the vines got a strong reputation and they sold out quickly. It was after the 2002 vintage that they realized that there was more to life than selling their toil, it was then that they decided to incorporate the toil into another branch of their livelihood – making wine. In 2003, they kept some of the fruit, enough to make 1200 bottles, calling the wine Erez, in eponym to his own name. As the winery and its production grew, Erez decided they needed a new name. Initially they fell upon the name: Tura, without much reason, but as they investigated, it turns out that Tura has many meaning in different languages. Tura means mountain in Aramaic (Tura Brichta), coming from the fact that the prized vineyards that Erez planted are on the top of Har Bracha, AKA (Blessed Mountain) or Tura Brichta in Aramaic. The other word is rook (in chess) or castle in Italian or French (feminine) respectively. Which is why the winery’s logo is a castle.

In 2007, Erez planted another 30 dunam of vines on Har Bracha and he followed that up with yet another 100 dunam in 2009. The vineyard now consists of some 150 dunams of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The thing that makes Har Bracha Merlot so spectacular is the bracing acid that comes from the cool mountain vines. The Cabernet Sauvignon is OK, but the Merlot grape seems to grow there so well that it takes your breath away. It has ripe fruit notes from the hot days and the bracing acid from the cooling evening that are accommodating because of the 850 meter elevation and because of the westerly winds. The mountain is covered on most winters and the mountain is enveloped in mist in the mornings.

Sunset outside of Tura WineryAs we drove up to the winery from Har Bracha itself, we were heading towards a small (moshav) called Rechelim. The town is named after two women named Rochel (Rechelim is plural for Rachel or Rochel) who were both killed in terror attacks on the adjacent roads. The town is a small settlement that was only recently recognized as a town, in 2012 to be exact, and it is situated on Route 60, between Kfar Tapuach and Eli. The town is home to some 35 or so families, and has always been the home of Tura Winery.

As we approached the winery, the sun was setting and with the fleeting sun rays, I had but a moment to take in the winery, basked in the aura of orange light, and the surrounding village/town which is beautifully visible from the winery’s perched location. The winery itself has recently undergone some rather serious renovations, including the lovely new tasting room, the winery itself (which is in an attached adjacent building), the barrel room, and the wine store. We were met initially by the Rachamim (Erez’s brother), the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) who would be our evening’s host, but for a moment, between Hanukkah parties (remember we were in Israel in December 2012) and getting the kids to bed, Vered Ben Saadon was very kind to make a showing and give us some insight into the winery.

She could only stay for a bit of time, but she explained all of what I have stated above (mostly anyway), and tasted the Chardonnay with us before having to excuse herself and run back to the house and take care of her family, while leaving us in the very capable hands of Rachamim. Erez and Vered started with apple trees and then moved to vines, but they did not forsake the trees and they did not stop their agricultural pursuits when they started their winery. To the contrary, they expanded their apple orchards and they planted and acquired olive trees, from which they harvest and press olive oil every year, which is sold in the winery. The apples are also not left out of the liquid party, they are used to make hard apple cider that is also sold at the winery.

In 2003, the winery may have started with 1200 bottles, but in 2012 they took in a crop that should bear them some 15 thousand bottles. That is a great number, a number that allows Tura to stay in complete control of each and every barrel, without needing to compromise on their passion and boutique style wines. We had a quick tour of the facilities, looking into the barrel room (with Rachamim of course) and then sitting down to taste through a few of Tura’s wines. We started with the previously mentioned 2010 Tura Chardonnay, the first white wine for the winery. The 2009 Tura Cabernet Sauvignon and then the 2009 Tura Merlot, the true star of the evening, which again echoes my sentiments exactly, followed that up. After that we tasted two unique dessert wines; the 2009 Tura Portura and the 2011 Tura Mountain Rose – both unique and lovely sweet-like wines. The nose on these wines is insane and the body on both of them is equally fascinating.

After that I bought a couple of bottles and we took our leave from Tura and the Shomron wine tour was winding down. The trip home was blessedly boring and uneventful. I wanted to thank both the Lavie and Saadon families for receiving us into their homes and wineries with open arms. Also, to Rachamim for putting up with us nuts at Tura for the wine proceedings. The wineries may be small or boutique-like to some, but the size of the passion and the hospitality makes them look like the largest wineries in all of Israel. Bravo and I hope to hear more great news and wine coming from these lovely wineries in the future. The wine notes follow below in the order they were tasted:

2011 Har Bracha Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+  (Tank Sample)
The nose is filled with lovely bright green notes, raspberry, crushed herb, and good mineral. The mouth on this medium plus weighted mouth is deep and rich with concentrated fruit, cranberry, nice plum, sweet fruit notes, with green and red fruit, nice sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that makes you take notice. The finish is long and ripe with great tannin that lingers, nice chocolate, sweeter fruit, sweet tobacco, and licorice.

2011 Har Bracha Petite Sirah – Score: B+  (Tank Sample)
The wine has a lovely nose of currant, floral notes, blackberry, blackcurrant, green notes, graphite, crushed oriental herb, and bramble. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is red, black, and blue, with blue in the front, ripe plum, raspberry, nice sweet cedar, crazy spice, all round and ripe with good concentrated fruit, and nice tannin that is integrated and lingers long. The finish is long and spicy and rich, with great balancing acid, more tannin, chocolate, toast, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, with spicy wood and just a subtle hint of date and sweet fruit and leather.

2009 Har Bracha Cabernet Sauvignon, Highlander, Gold – Score: B++ to A-
To be fair when we last tasted the 2009 Har Bracha Cab Highlander – I also found it far to sweet and new world with date and raisin, but those flavors blew off or receded to the background with air. We did not have time to sit and wait a few hours when tasting these bottles at home, but I would recommend giving the highlanders a good decant before serving and watch them change.

The wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet, 10 % Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. The nose on this wine is rich and ripe with clear date, plum, raspberry, and cherry, all wrapped up in a perfumed nose. The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered, soft, and round with rich, ripe fruit, including concentrated blackberry, spice, mouth coating tannin, and spicy cedar. The finish is long and spicy with more date, more tannins that rise, crazy sweet tobacco, chocolate, ripe cherry, herb and spice notes.

2009 Har Bracha Merlot, Highlander, Gold – Score: B++ to A-
To be fair when we last tasted the 2009 Har Bracha Cab Highlander – I also found it far to sweet and new world with date and raisin, but those flavors blew off or receded to the background with air. We did not have time to sit and wait a few hours when tasting these bottles at home, but I would recommend giving the highlanders a good decant before serving and watch them change.

The nose is lovely and perfumed with ripe black cherry, blackberry, black plum, and sweet dates and more sweet notes. The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is aggressive and drying with aggressive mouth drying tannin, candied raspberry, candied cherry, tons of dried fruit, with great acidity and balance, along with spicy cedar and more searing tannin. The finish is long and spicy with lingering tannin, sweet tobacco, more sweet notes, along with graphite, mineral, and sweet chocolate.

2011 Har Bracha Port-style wine (barrel tasting) – Tentative score of A-
This port style wine has no added spirits and is a blend of 50% Petite Sirah and 50% Petite Verdot. The nose on this black colored wine that was ceremoniously yanked from a barrel for us is very unique, with herb, along with crazy ripe blackberry, candied cherry, along with nice oxidized notes of ripe fruit. The mouth on this massive and full bodied wine is clearly sweet, with super ripe and candied fruit, candied raspberry jam, candied ginger, all balanced well with great acidity, a truly impressive richly bright and sweet mouth, sweet tart kirsch cherry, all delivered with smooth, rich and layered fruit attack, along with rich mouth coating tannin. The finish is super long and unctuous, with a crazy sensation of cherry lifesavers candy, tart and sweet fruit, along with mounds of chocolate, sweet tobacco, and candied black plum. WOW what a crazy rich and intoxicating wine – with great acid balance and no added distilled spirit!

2010 Tura Chardonnay – Score: B+
The nose on this light gold colored wine is filled nice melon, grapefruit, pineapple, kiwi, lemon, butterscotch, and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has great spice, spicy oak, rich ripe fruit, lemon, and crazy caramel, creme brulee, and herb. The finish is long and spice with fresh-baked brioche notes, cinnamon, and cloves.

2009 Tura Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+
Classic example of what Shomron Cabernet tastes like, very green, reserved, and silent, but still quite potent. The nose starts off with a lovely perfume of green notes, black fruit, ripe raspberry, nice mineral, with ripe plum, and herb. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is filled with great spice, nice acid and good balance with blackberry, more green notes, bell pepper, sweet cedar, mouth coating tannin, along with nice controlled sweet fruit, that at times concentrated, but lacking in complexity. The finish is long and spicy with sweet tobacco, graphite, light butterscotch notes, and more red fruit jam and green notes.

2009 Tura Merlot – Score: A-
If the 2009 Cabernet is an example of Shomron, this is a crazy good example of what Shomron Merlot can taste like! The nose on this black colored wine is screaming with ripe green fruit, green notes, lovely ripe raspberry, plum, herbal notes, with huge eucalyptus, and a lovely perfume of ripe sweet notes. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine starts with aggressive mouth drying tannin from being in oak for 20 months, followed by concentrated but controlled black and red fruit that is integrated with spicy cedar, blackberry, and spice. The finish is long and spicy with great balance, sweet notes but no date or raisin, balanced perfectly with green notes of ripe Merlot, followed by leafy tobacco, sweet jam, mouth coating tannin that lingers forever, along with milk chocolate, vanilla, sweet and savory spices, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

2009 Tura Portura – Score: A-
This wine was made from late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon that was pulled from the vine at 34 brix and then aged in oak for 34 months. The wine starts off with a crazy sense of alcohol and sugar coating fruit, over time the alcohol blows off and what is revealed is a lovely bushel of ripe sugared fruit, candied raspberry, candied cherry, sweet date, fig, packed with dried nuts and sweet herb. The mouth is huge, layered, and insanely concentrated, with deeply expressive and extracted fruit, mounds of chocolate, crazy notes of concentrated sweet and candied fruit, mounds of fresh spices, rich mouth drying tannin, along with a lovely attack of cinnamon bark, cloves, and heat that gives way to sour/tart cherry, sweet tobacco, and a great balance of acid and body that grabs and keeps your attention – BRAVO!

2011 Tura Mountain Rose (dessert wine) – Score: B+ to A-
This Rose is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was slowly fermented under extreme cold and filtered and bottled with 4% residual sugar. The nose is filled with crazy and unique aromas, of candied/tart/ripe fruit, along with bramble and unique aromas – very unique indeed. The nose starts off with crazy candied jam, nice rose hip, bramble, dirt, mineral, strawberry, and apricot. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is smooth with sweet notes and added heft from the residual sugar, passion fruit, nice tannin, with crazy cool sweet guava, candied pink grapefruit, pineapple, along with sweet and tart raspberry creme that lingers long – BRAVO and almost WOW – impressive for a Rose!

2010 Tura Mountain Peak – Score: A- (tasted at the Jewish Week event in NY)
This wine to me was one of the clear winners of the tasting to me, outside of the crazy good City Winery wines). The wine is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 21% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The nose on this black colored wine is a rich nose of graphite, mineral, blackberry, and slate. This wine is a full bodied and WOW wine to me, with unbelievable finesse, rich layered concentrated fruit of plum, great blackberry fruit, black cherry, along with pipe tobacco, lovely mouth coating tannin that linger and caress, with good oak influence. The finish is long and spicy with rich layers of dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, slate, herb, and rich spice, cloves, and oriental spices – BRAVO!!!

Posted on March 22, 2013, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Dessert Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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