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Netofa Winery – the Rhone Ranger of Israel

I have previously posted about our tasting and dinner last year with Pierre Miodownick and the Netofa Winery. They are two entities that are deeply intertwined with each other essentially Netofa is Pierre. The humorous aspect is that when I think of Pierre, I think of France, Bordeaux, Champagne, maybe Burgundy, but I do not think about Rhone! According to GG, Pierre did make a Rhone wine in the past, a Crozes-Hermitage, but I never tasted it. In a special way, Netofa is Pierre’s entry, on a large scale, into the Rhone and Iberian wine regions of the world, and like most things he makes, they are fantastic!

Once again, it was GG and I making our way to Pierre’s house for a tasting of all the new Netofa wines and to see his beautiful new tasting room that was recently constructed. The wines are still being made at Or Haganuz, all done by Pierre himself. The tasting room however, is located in the same area as he lives, and it was an easy drive from the tasting room to his house for dinner and a chance to drink the wines at our leisure.

We made our way to the new tasting room in Netofa and after parking, we walked up the long set of semi-circles stairs to the tasting room. The door to the room is a massive sliding door of vertical planks, very akin to a barn, but in a lovely and tasteful manner. The room is beautifully appointed and upholstered with wine bottles all over the two walls. The other walls are the sliding door entrance and the glass wall with a door to the storage room.

The middle of the room is dominated by this massive squared- off horseshoe shaped table, with a lovely leather appointed chair in the middle. Pierre was very kind to have setup the tasting of all the new and some older wines with glasses all setup for us for the 4 types of wine we were going to be tasting; rose, white, red, and port. Really he had 6 glasses setup for us, but I use 1 glass for all my tastings unless it was the side-by-side tastings we had of the new and previous vintages.

When you look at Netofa’s wines, you have to wonder – why is a French Bordeaux expert making Rhone wines? So, being myself, I asked him. Mr. Miodownick explained quite simply that what he felt grew best near Mount Tabor, where his vineyards are, was Rhone varietals. Now, to be honest the winery has more than just Rhone varietals, it has Chenin Blanc and Iberian grapes as well. Still, the red wines are all Rhone varietals, ignoring the Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional that go into the Tinto and the ports. So, I guess my naming Pierre a Rhone Ranger is a bit off-kilter, given the diversity of his varietals. Maybe, Mediterranean Terroir would have been better, but that did not sound as good as Rhone Ranger!

Now, I did not come up with Rhone Ranger of course, that was done by the founding members of the association in 1980. The most famous of them may be Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. Still, the kosher wine world is finding that Rhone varietals work well in warm climates. Look at Elvi Wines and Capcanes – they both grow a fair amount of Rhine varietals, with different names. Grenache becomes Grenacha and so on. In California, you do not need to look further than Hajdu and Shirah wineries, where their wine portfolios are predominately made up of Rhone varietals. Still, Mr. Miodownick does grow grapes that originated from the Loire Valley and from Portugal, so the Rhone Ranger moniker may be a bit stretched, but I do love those SM wines! The white wines are all Chenin Blanc – a very unique wine for Israel, as the wine’s character is less about tart and refreshing fruit; but rather a younger brother of the Chardonnay grape, meaning it has elegance, power, and yet it also has that Rhone style straw and earth and dirt that we all crave.

The red grapes are Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo (an Iberian varietal), Touriga Nacional (native to Portugal), and there are hints of Grenache lurking!!! The whites are the afore mentioned Chenin Blanc and Roussanne. I would love to taste Grenache Blanc or Viognier from Pierre – but so far that is not in the books. But you cannot blame a Viognier lover for trying! The Roussanne and Grenache are two newly planted vines, so they will not become available till 2017.

As we looked at the glasses in front of us, on the squared-off table, I could not help but stare at the bottles standing on the mirrored walls, and the glass that surrounded us. Yes, each bottle is standing up and resting on a curved platform that is mounted to the wall. It is quite a sight; behind the mounts and the bottles is a wall of moire mirrors that were custom built for the winery. The mirrors affect is to not really reflect as much as give make the room feel bigger and cozier, which they clearly got correct! The mirrored walls add an immense amount of class to the already classically elegant room. The wall of standing wines are also in a squared off horseshoe shape, and in the center is a wine dispensing machine that filled the bottles with innate gas as the wine is dispensed.  This allows the wines in the machine to essentially never oxidize while they continue to dispense wine, until of course the bottle is empty or the innate gas empties out – the latter is not recommended! Behind the table is a wall of bottles in cubbyholes, very akin to a wine cellar, stretching the entire length of the tasting room. The wine wall makes the room feel like you are in a cellar and again, like the mirrored walls, really looks cool!! Read the rest of this entry

A dinner with Pierre Miodownick of Netofa Winery, the most prolific of the kosher winemaker’s Noble Family

1987 Chateau Les Forges Meuersault and PierreOn a warm Sunday night in January, GG and I were driving towards the home of Pierre Miodownick, to taste through the new Netofa wines and to enjoy an exciting dinner with Pierre, his lovely wife, and Yair Teboulle Netofa’s CEO. The evening started by setting our stuff in one of Pierre’s bedrooms, as we were staying overnight in their lovely home. After that, we joined Pierre and Yair for a tasting of each and every new wine that is available from Netofa, along with some that are not yet available and a few oldies as well. On top of that, as we got closer to dinner we enjoyed two wines that Pierre made from France, but ones that were created some 24 years apart from each! But we are jumping ahead of the story, so lets start at the tasting.

photo 1When you enter the home of Mr. Miodownick, you cannot help but be in awe of the achievements that this man has single handily created in the last 32 years. He started his life’s work, in 1982, he along with a man named Lionel Gallula (hence the M&G on his older vins negociants bottles) by going to wineries and making kosher wines inside of non-kosher wineries, mostly in the Languedoc region to start. Then in 1986, they approached Rothschild, and a few other French wineries mostly in the area of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Fast forward two years, in 1988, Royal realized they needed to expand their wine portfolio to include things other than their syrup based wines, and their then fledgling Herzog Winery. So, they reached out to Pierre and they soon joined forces. In my opinion, this was the single most important action Royal has taken in the past 20 years, a genius move that has allowed Royal to become the powerhouse that it is today. Pierre was the visionary, he was the one that realized that if he wanted to expand his kosher winery reach to more European wine regions than just Bordeaux and Burgundy, he would have been hard pressed to do it all on his own. But with the strength, long arm, and pocketbook of Royal behind him, Pierre would be able to expand the wine regions where kosher wine exists today – like Italy, Portugal, Spain, and other regions in France.

IMG_0612From the outside, being a flying winemaker may look glorious and impressive, but it is a seriously hard job. Pierre is more often on the road than he is at home, but he tries to be home for most weekends. In the end, to me he is part of the noble family of kosher winemakers, those that have been there from the start, the forefathers, if you may. They are; Pierre, Israel Flam, Shimshon Welner, and Peter Stern, who have all left an indelible impression on the kosher wine world for 25 or more years. Israel Flam was the first UC Davis trained wine maker in Israel and the wine maker of Carmel’s famous 1976 and 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, and is now involved in his children’s eponymous winery. Shimshon Welner is a man we have spoken about a few times in the past, here. Peter Stern was the winemaking genius, early on, behind Yarden Winery and Herzog Winery, before Victor Schoenfeld and Joe Hurliman took over respectively, and is again being used by Royal and Carmel.

Pierre and his Netofa winesStill, of the four, Pierre may not have been the first, but he has been the most prolific of the group by a long stretch, over these past 32 years. To me, he is the head of the noble kosher winemaker family, and he is the Godfather of the noble family of all things kosher wine! It is his unique ability to happily build quietly without fanfare or accolades, though he deserves them. Rather he is a quiet, honest, hard working man that has worked to get to where he is today. He has made more wine than almost any other kosher winemaker in the world! That is no small feat. Did he do each and every wine by his old hands, in the old days of 1982 – yes! Now, he has teams that help him, but so do other head winemakers. So, in the end, to me he has the largest reach in the kosher wine world than any other person that I know of, which makes it so very impressive.

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