JERUSALEM FESTIVAL? WINE NOT!
Jerusalem – the “City Of Gold” – is known for a lot of things. It’s sacred to 3 major world religions. It’s the site of numerous historical events, ancient anthropological findings, and the world’s best falafel. It’s a city where old meets new, with cutting-edge technology and camel rides, iPhones and outdoor marketplaces. Its residents are notoriously casual in their mode of dress, manner of speech, and general attitude towards life. As such, the last thing you’d expect to come across in such a city would be an upscale Wine Festival – but that’s exactly what you would have found last week at the Israel Museum on the evenings of August 17-20.
Upon entering the Israel Museum grounds, visitors to the 2015 Jerusalem Wine Festival were led outdoors to the Art Garden, home of the famous “Ahava” (“love”) sculpture, a giant apple core model, and other interesting and unusual pieces of art. We walked up a flight of stairs to where a small booth was set up, and each individual was handed a new, empty wine glass. This glass was to be used for sampling all the various reds, whites, and rosés available, and then doubled as a take-home souvenir. Stemware in tow, we proceeded to head for the various stations and scope out some of the wine offerings on display.
Over 60 wineries from all over the country (and a few from abroad) were represented, including Carmel Winery, Yaffo Winery, Montefiore Wines (Kerem Montefiore), Golan Heights Winery, Tishbi, Yatir Winery, Bat Shlomo Vineyards, Tulip Winery, Tzora, and Dalton Winery. Unlimited refills from all of the wine stands were included in the ticket price of 85 shekel (approximately $20 USD), though considering that each vendor only provided a few sips per each pour, it took quite a few rounds until the wine started to take any sort of effect.
After tasting the various samples, and going back for a second and third taste of every sweet white wine I could get my hands on, we had the option of purchasing our favorite bottles to bring home at a discounted rate. In addition to the mass quantities of wine, there were also vendors selling food items such as sushi, chocolate, cheeses, and spices. All that alcohol on an empty stomach no longer seemed to be such a good idea, so a friend and I split a portion of Chinese dumplings – who would have thought that when you’ve ravenous, fried Asian food and wine go surprisingly well together!
Over the course of this 4 day festival, there were around 20,000 visitors, hailing from both in and out of Israel. It was incredible seeing the mix of people: old and young (Israel’s drinking age is set at 18), single and married, secular and religious (most of the wines on display were labeled as kosher). Two photobooth stations set up at different points of the festival enabled visitors of all backgrounds to take goofy, semi-intoxicated photos which are no doubt presently displayed on fridges across Jerusalem.
As the sun set over the Jerusalem hills, a band playing mostly English songs took the stage. The live music was a perfect backdrop to the rest of this wonderful evening, and we plan on returning next year to see what the Jerusalem Wine Festival will hold in store!
The Jerusalem Wine Festival first began 12 years ago, at the height of the 2003 intifada. Avi Ben, a liquor store owner and one of the men behind the festival’s inception, explained that business was very bad during that time. Ben, along with fellow wine purveyor Shmulik Cohen, held the first-ever Jerusalem Wine Festival on Emek Refaim, a popular street in the busy German Colony neighborhood. The festival was successful in getting people out on a Jerusalem summer evening to have fun and drink some wine, and when it returned the following year, the festival changed its location to the Israel Museum. Eventually, it found its way to its present-day home in the outdoor gardens of the museum. The event has been going strong ever since by continuing to attract wine lovers as well as more casual drinkers year after year. The Jerusalem Wine Festival is now considered to be the largest public wine tasting event in the entire country of Israel.
STOP YOUR ‘WINE’-ING
Of the 60+ wineries on display, I must admit that I didn’t in fact make it to every single one. Rather, once I found my few favorites, I tended to stick just with those. However, while I can’t consider myself a wine expert in any sense, I did find it interesting to learn a little of the background behind some of the wineries:
Yaffo Winery is already something of a seasoned veteran to the festival; the boutique winery has been participating for four years already. Yaffo’s wines have won more than 10 awards in Israel and worldwide, since its founding in its namesake city in 1998. Its story really began back in the 1970s, though, when founder Moshe Celnicker first met his future wife Anne back in Strassburg, France. Anne’s family introduced Moshe to the land and nature of the Alsace region, instilling in Moshe a love of local wine culture and a desire to make his own wine. Moshe did, in fact, make wine in Strassburg for 7 years before his family ultimately moved to Israel.
Moshe’s winery was first established in Yaffo, but then moved to Ramat Hahayal in northern Tel Aviv and eventually to the Elah Valley region, southwest of Jerusalem. In 2007, Moshe handed the reigns over to his son Stephan, who had finished his studies in agriculture at the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot and winemaking internships in Bonn (in the Burgundy region of France) and Saint-Émilion (in the Bordeaux region).
Visitors to Yaffo Winery’s station were treated to two recently introduced fruity wines: Red Sauvage 2013 and the Sauvage Carignan 2014.
Montefiore Wines participated in last year’s festival, and decided to return this year once again. This winery was established in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Sir Moses Montefiore founding the neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. When Montefiore first purchased the land in 1855, it was actually originally known as “Moses and Judith Montefiore’s Vineyard”, due to Moses’ agricultural vision coupled with his love of wine. His namesake winery seeks to combine elements of Italy and England together with the Israeli narrative.
Montefiore gave out samples of 3 different wines: Montefiore Red 2014, Montefiore Cab 2014 and Montefiore Syrah2011.
BAT SHLOMO VINEYARDS
This was Bat Shlomo’s first time at the festival. The vineyards behind this company, located on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, were first discovered by the Baron Edmund de Rothschild in 1889, and named for his mother, Betty Solomon, the daughter of Shlomo. After a few decades of villagers making wine, the living conditions became unbearable, and this vision ceased for the time being. One hundred and twenty years later, the Bat Shlomo vineyards were re-established in 2010 by serial entrepreneur Elie Wurtman, together with Napa Valley winemaker Ari Erle. Today, Bat Shlomo produces four different types of wine, and their wines are also exported to restaurants, hotels, and select wine shops within Israel. As a side point, Bat Shlomo Vineyards remains involved in the community through offering a work study program together with a local school, Regavim High School, in which students are able to work in the vineyards while developing a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility.
Bat Shlomo offered tastings of their flagship wine, Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Betty’s Cuvee 2012, Chardonnay 2013 and Rosé 2014.
“IN VINO VERITAS” – “IN WINE, THERE IS TRUTH”
The greatest truth I took away from this evening was the fact that so many people from such vastly different backgrounds could all have a fantastic time together, with wine and music as the unifying factors. It was great fun wandering the museum grounds after-hours with friends, and it was dizzying trying to keep track of how much wine was being imbibed 3 sips at a time, but what was beautiful to me was the unity I witnessed amongst all of these people within Jerusalem.
Looking forward to Jerusalem Wine Festival 2016! L’chaim!!