ABCM (Anything But Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot)
The small but impressive Vitkin Winery, which began in 2002, is the passion-project of three Israelis: Doron Belogolovky, formerly a successful businessman in the stone and marble trade; architect Sharona Paz-Belogolovsky, Doron’s wife; and Assaf Paz, Sharona’s brother.
The name Assaf Paz might sound familiar from his previous winemaking stints with the Carmel and Binyamina wineries; he also briefly worked at Barkan-Segal. Previously a pastry chef, Paz initially studied biochemistry and food science, but found his real calling following the siren song of the fruit of the vine. He studied wine production in Bordeaux, and gained experience interning at wineries in France, California, and Australia, before leaping headlong into Israeli wine.
Doron was the instigator of the Vitkin project. He fell in love with wine culture in the 1980s, and then allowed his passion to drive the decision-making after a fateful trip to Italy. When one of his Italian stone business associates brought him to a family winery in Italy for a visit and tasting in the cellars, the proverbial light bulb illuminated, and Doron knew exactly what he wanted to do. Sharona agreed, and, as luck would have it, Assaf, was formalizing his own love of wine through formal training and working internships, and so also wanted this new wine venture to happen.
Once they joined forces to create their own winery, they opted to establish it on an old family farm in Moshav Kfar Vitkin. Moshav Kfar Vitkin is an agricultural community in the central coastal region of Israel (just a bit north of Netanya; about a 35 minutes from Tel Aviv).
The dairy farm had been largely neglected since the 1970s, when Doron’s grandfather passed away.
Sharona, an architect, remodeled an old cowshed on the family farm where she created a functioning winery. Her husband and brother began making wine there, beginning with a single barrel of cabernet sauvignon.
Happy with their first foray into wine, they quickly established a unique governing philosophy ‘‘ABCM – Anything But Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot.” Instead, their focus has been such grape varietals as carignan, cabernet franc, petite sirah, pinot noir, grenach noir, grenach blanc, viognier, gewürztraminer, riesling, roussanne, and columbard.
The Vitkin Winery quickly developed a fine domestic, and then international, reputation as a quality “boutique” producer. Vitkin has released wines under four different labels/series: Israel Journey is their relatively early drinking series of blended wines, Vitkin is their premium and moderately age-worthy wines, Dessert Wines is just as the name implies, and their Shorashim (roots in Hebrew) series is their top-tier or elite wines.
In 2015 the winery began producing kosher-certified wines, a shmitta year, so only a few wines in the Vitkin and Israeli Journey series are available kosher in Israel at this point. Nothing was exported to the US until the 2016 vintage, which hit the US market earlier this year—a rose and a white blend both from the early drinking Israeli Journey series. Presumably more of their other series of wines will come to the US as they become available. For now, seek out and find the following:
Vitkin Winery, White Israeli Journey, Dry White wine, 2016 ($23; not mevushal): this light to medium-bodied, unusual blend – 30 percent grenache blanc from the Upper Galilee, 20 percent roussanne and 20 percent viognier both from the Judean Hills, and then 20 percent colombard and 10 percent gewürztraminer both from the east Carmel Ridge foothills is wonderfully expressive, relatively complex, and beautifully aromatic with floral, grassy, and citrusy notes, followed by peach, tart nectarine, tangerine, green apple, and melon, with a light touch of honey. Though still nicely balanced, the acidity isn’t as bracing to the whole as in the rose, so do enjoy with food rather than on its own.
Vitkin Winery, Pink Israeli Journey, Dry Rose Wine, 2016 ($23; not mevushal): This blend of 90 percent grenach noir and 10 percent carignan, both from dry-farmed, bush vine vineyards from the east Carmel Ridge foothills, is aromatic, fresh, fruity (strawberries, cherries), balanced, dry, and utterly delightful. Serve chilled as an aperitif to any meal, or as an accompaniment to fish, poultry, or Mediterranean-style foods.