Two weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and all I can say is that the words, “in God We Trust” cannot have been more fulfilled than on this journey. To start, I had flown into Israel for one of my nephew’s weddings, and a lovely wedding it was, but that is getting ahead of ourselves. I arrived on Tuesday the 10th and while deplaning, I was asked to join in on a group prayer – which initially I was not so interested in, as I had a ton of things to get done in the day. Thank goodness I agreed and while talking with the group at the conclusion of the services, I hear my name being bellowed out! Now, sure I love Israel, and I know people there, but I am not Netanyahu or Gal Gadot, nor do I know anyone who knows Gal Gadot (trying to stay current and yes I know she is a female model – just making sure you are following), so I had no idea why someone was calling out my name!
So, I turn around and lo and behold who is there, Mendel! Now you may not remember Mendel, but he has been canonized on this very virtual pages, here and here (de-boning a duck) – though incorrectly familiarly associated with Elchonon. I state this because it will be with Mendel’s hands that my wine salvation will be realized. He wondered if I remember who he was, and after sharing a few pleasantries, we agreed to keep in touch as he was interested in joining me on my wine escapades, which sounded great to me!
From there we both got our cars and I went off to see my sister in HarNof. That evening I was so exhausted, I tried to order a burger from a place that will go nameless. Two hours later, no burger and my card were charged! To be fair, after much cajoling they did refund my money, which I understand in Israel is requires an act from God to implement, but equilibrium was returned.
The next day, I WhatsApp Mendy and sure enough, he is up and ready – like I was, so I asked if he minded driving and off we went to pursue the wineries around Jerusalem. I must start by saying that I have no issue driving, but as I explained many times in the past, Israeli drivers have no drive control or manners, they are 100% certifiable! Well, I guess either work; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “Fight fire with fire”, and that is exactly what Mendy does so well. The roads were slick with rain, at some points the roads were almost washed out with a literal deluge of rain, making the roads slick and a perfect pairing for hydroplaning. No worries, Mendel is at the wheel! So, our first stop was Castel!
Domaine du Castel
The community settlement of Psagot is located on the peaks of the Benjamin Region Mountains, 900 meters above sea level, east of the city of Ramallah, overlooking the Wadi Kelt basin, the Jericho Valley, the Dead Sea and the Edomite Mountains. The literal translation for the word Psagot, is Peaks, hence the play on words in the title of this posting.
In 1998, Naama and Yaakov Berg planted the winery’s first vineyard, 18 dunam of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. In the first year, the Bergs sold their grapes to Binyamina. In the following year, 2002, they decided to make a go of it, thereby establishing the Psagot Winery, named for the settlement upon which the vineyards, and winery are located. Soon thereafter, in 2005, the winery added on another 22 dunam of vineyards, with a varied group of varietals, along with the normal mainstays. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are the usual suspect, with Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Shiraz adding to the mix.
While the settlement was laying a road near the vineyard, Berg says, “we found a little hole in the ground. If was full of mud and rocks and stones. … So we dug for more than a month by hand and we found a lot of things, including a lot of coins, and at end we found a wine-press from the time of the Second Temple.” Today, this cave serves as a large wine barrel cellar next to impressive stainless steel tanks and other winemaking equipment. The cave’s cooling system rarely needs to be activated, as the naturally cool conditions preserve the constant temperature, which during the winter does not go below 54 degrees, and during the summer does not rise above 64 degrees. The natural humidity stands at 90%.
The winery’s vineyards are all planted on rocky limestone, Terra Rosa soil. The vine’s yields are kept low, to about 600 kilos per dunam. The vines are terraced upon the mountainside, but the close proximity to the winery makes up for the difficulty of harvesting. The vineyard’s 900 meter altitude allows the vines to cool down significantly in the evening, thereby concentrating the sugar flavors that are created in a far slower manner than if they were in the valley. The entire harvest is very reminiscent of how Ella Valley Winery does its harvesting, by picking during the early morning, and being close to its winery, thereby assuring the highest quality product from the grapes they source. Read the rest of this entry