From Blackberries to Wine
Gush Etzion Winery
L’Chaim visits the Gush Etzion Winery
L’Chaim visits the Gush Etzion Winery
When Shraga Rozenberg and his late wife, Tamar, relocated from Jerusalem to Efrat in 1986, their new neighbors informed them that the blackberry bush in their new yard produced fabulous fruit. Routinely saddled with more fruit than they knew what to do with, Rozenberg decided to tinker with producing blackberry wine and liqueur in his home. Soon, Rozenberg progressed from blackberries to grapes as he began to dream of vineyards and winemaking.
The Rozenbergs’ vision for of establishing a winery in the land of Judea—the area inherited by the Tribe of Judah— took shape fulfilling the blessing of Jacob, the biblical patriarch. Genesis chapter 49, verses 11-12 puts it: “Binding unto the vine, his foal, and unto the choice vine, the colt of his donkey; he will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall sparkle with wine, and his teeth white with milk.” Rashi comments on these verses, “[Jacob] prophesied regarding the land of Yehuda, that it would produce wine like a fountain.” These days, a standard tour of the region is likely to point out dozens of ancient wine presses all about, making clear the historic record of wine cultivation in the area.
By 1995, the Rozenbergs gave up their day jobs and devoted their efforts full-time to establish the Gush Etzion Winery. Skip ahead to 2005, when the Rozenbergs renovated and re-opened a modernized winery with a visitor’s center, an enjoyable kosher dairy restaurant, and an outdoor event space.
A few years later, they hired Itay Lahat, arguably Israel’s most famous wine consultant, and their wines noticeably improved. Today they grow 17 different grape varieties on about 200 acres, selling grapes to a variety of larger wine producers, as well as producing around 50,000 bottles of wine annually under three different labels or series: Emek Bracha or Blessed Valley, Alon HaBoded or Lone Oak Tree, and Nachal HaPirim or Spring River.
They are now imported by the Royal Wine Corp, and have seven new releases for the American market. Without further ado:
Gush Etzion Winery, Lone Oak Tree, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 ($22): Light and pleasantly aromatic, offering notes on the nose and palate of melon, stone fruit, citrus and fresh herbs, with enough acidity to more or less hold together, but not quite enough to shine; this is entertaining, but better with food.
Gush Etzion Winery, Lone Oak Tree, Gewurztraminer, Judean Hills, 2016 ($20): Offering enjoyable slate-like minerality, this is nicely floral if slightly green, medium bodied, with some typical Gewurtz characteristics, but the balance is just slightly off, keeping it perfectly congenial, but not as fully refreshing as past vintages.
Gush Etzion Winery, Spring River, Red Blend, Judean Hills, 2014 ($28): A charming blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot, positively bursting with vibrant and fresh aromas of dark fruits (blackcurrants, wild berries, blackberries), tobacco, dark chocolate, a touch of spicy oak and a hint of toasted herbs; though fairly full-bodied, the overall style is remarkably light and refreshing on the palate, suggesting a greater appreciation for the cuisine and climate of its Eastern Mediterranean origins. This is nicely balanced, bordering on elegant, yet fun and tasty—makes me hunger for some meaty Israeli food.
Gush Etzion Winery, Spring River, GSM, 2014 ($28): This engaging and thoroughly enjoyable blend of 54% Syrah, 36% Mourvedre, and 10% Grenache is less Rhône and more Eastern Mediterranean—light, bright, fresh, and refreshing. Medium-bodied with forward and generous dark fruit notes, decent spice, a touch of oak, and a hint of earth, balanced by soft tannins and nice acidity; offers a deeply pleasing finish. This is very yummy, with a very subtle but enjoyable brooding edge.
Gush Etzion Winery, Cabernet Franc Reserve, Judean Hills, 2014 ($43): A medium-bodied, ripe fruit (dark plum and spicy black cherry) flavored charmer, showing accents of chocolate, cassis, a touch of anise, and pepper, and then with vanilla oak and leather in the finish. Nice overall balance.
Gush Etzion Winery, Lone Oak Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Judean Hills, 2014 ($43): this medium-to-full bodied Cab offers fresh and attractive aromas of cherries, menthol, earthy minerals, and vanilla, gliding onto the palate with red and black berries, vanilla, and a smidge of green bell pepper. With good balance and nice complexity, yet still supple and easy to drink.
Gush Etzion Winery, Blessed Valley, Red Wine, Special Reserve, Judean Hills, 2012 ($57): This alluring yet still tight full-bodied blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc, is earthy and fruity and with some spice, but the tannins are still quite firm and the wine is overall still fairly closed. Give this just a little bit longer to mature, or decant vigorously to aerate before serving—then do so with hearty meat comestibles.