Monday, November 28, 2022

One of the many Israeli wineries that have been steadily gaining a wider audience in the United States is the family-run Gush Etzion Winery. A modern Israeli boutique winery on the road to Alon Shvut and Kfar Etzion, the Gush Etzion Winery is about 20 minutes southwest of Jerusalem; it is just off the junction at Highway 60. Attached to the winery is a lovely kosher l’mehadrin dairy and fish restaurant with very satisfying food that nicely pairs with the wines produced there. Indeed, with Shavuot just around the corner—and so dairy delicacies are likely to be on many a holiday menu—the wines of Gush Etzion should likewise make for a lovely and rewarding accompaniment. Their refreshing white wines will help beat the approaching summer heat too!

Interestingly, however, the winery’s inspiration began not with grapes but with blackberries and cherries. When Shraga Rozenberg and his late wife, Tamar, relocated from Jerusalem to Efrat in 1986, their new home came with a garden that produced abundant blackberries and cherries. Routinely saddled with more fruit than they knew what to do with, Rozenberg—a former social worker and retirement-home manager—decided to tinker with producing blackberry wine and cherry liqueur in his home.

“When we first came to Efrat,” Rozenberg reminisced during our recent WhatsApp chat, “I wanted to make something with my own hands, something agricultural. So, I began with making blackberry and then also cherry wines and liqueurs.”

Before too long, however, Rozenberg progressed from blackberries and cherries to grapes as he began to dream of vineyards and winemaking. By 1995, the Rozenbergs had given up their day jobs and devoted their efforts full time to establishing the Gush Etzion Winery.

“We didn’t have any great wealth,” he chuckled, “so we had to do everything slowly and step by step.” Fueled by little more than this personal sense of mission and sheer optimism, he also sunk his savings into this new venture and acquired a little land to cultivate grapes.

Skip ahead to 2005, when the Rozenbergs—in partnership with the Tishbi Winery of the Binyamin Region and an American investor’s support—opened a newly constructed modern winery at its current location. To this was added a modern visitor’s center, the enjoyable kosher l’mehadrin dairy and fish restaurant and an outdoor event garden/space. A few years later, they hired Itay Lahat, arguably Israel’s most famous wine consultant; their wines noticeably improved.

Today they grow more than a dozen different grape varieties on 150 dunams (about 37 acres), producing around 120,000 bottles of wine annually under four different series: Emek Bracha or Blessed Valley, Alon HaBoded or Lone Oak Tree, Nachal HaPirim or Spring River and the limited edition Migdal Eder or Tower of Flocks. Not only has the Gush Etzion Winery proven a critical and modest commercial success, but the winery also inspired many others, and today the area has over 150 acres under vine.

Though they produce a broad range of wines, 12 of which are currently exported to the United States, the winery is best known for its fabulous white wines. As Rozenberg put it, “We like to focus on our whites because the white wine grapes do especially well in our area and nicely reflect our terroir. Most of our whites see no oak, and all our wines are minimal intervention production; so, they express the land well and make the most of what God gave us in the vineyard.”

All of their wines are enjoyable, non-mevushal and recommended. In particular, consider the following four wines:

Gush Etzion Winery, Loan Oak Tree, Rosé, 2021 (Judean Hills, Israel; SRP $25). A brisk, bright blend of 48% Grenache, 43% Mourvedre, and 9% Pinot Gris, offering notes of slightly underripe strawberries, both raw and gently cooked quince and light grapefruit aromas and flavors, and all with a subtle, slightly drying salinity, making for a tart, mildly fruity, zippy, yummy and refreshing rosé. Serve chilled, and then give it a little time to open in the glass.

Gush Etzion Winery, Lone Oak Tree, Sauvignon Blanc, 2020 (Judean Hills, Israel; SRP $25). This wine offers charming aromas and flavors of lemongrass, mild poppy seed, and subtle passion fruit with notes of ripe pear, white pepper, grapefruit and white peach; decent acidity to keep it lively, and a little more heft on the palate than expected; craves a bit of food—refreshing and very easy drinking.

Gush Etzion Winery, Lone Oak Tree, Dry Gewürztraminer, Limited Edition, 2021 (Judean Hills, Israel; SRP $25). They also produce a beautiful semi-dry Gewürztraminer and an enjoyable late harvest edition. This lovely, lively, rich and aromatic wine offers spicy tropical aromas and flavors of guava, grapefruit, apricots, white peach and distinct, appealing lychee. At the same time, the dry finish continues to catch me ever so slightly off-guard as my wine-geek brain expects some significant residual sweetness with every sip. It is very well made and very refreshing.

Gush Etzion Winery, Lone Oak Tree, Viognier, 2021 (Judean Hills, Israel; SRP $25). Grown at an elevation of 950 meters above sea level (around 3,117 feet), this vibrant, aromatic, crisp, refreshing, beautiful wine offers rich aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, peach, tangerine and honeydew melon; the finish is long, engaging and very satisfying.

Joshua E. London is a well-known wine writer and contributor to the Jewish Link Wine Guide. This article was provided by Royal Wines.

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