Visit to Netofa Winery

We just returned from a wonderful evening visit to the home of Pierre & Simcha Miodownick at Mitzpeh Netofa, a beautiful rural community in the Lower Galilee. They came to Israel in 2009 after Pierre’s working as a vintner in France for over 30 years. This is one professional vintner with a world of experience and France’s loss has been Israel’s gain. He worked for Royal Wines, America’s largest producer/importer of kosher wines, and maintains a relationship with them as they import his wines for sale in the United States. When he decided to come to Israel, Pierre made a conscious decision to grow grapes and make wines that reflected the Mediterranean terroir. He wanted to buck the trend of making the world’s more popular wine varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. He felt that these were not best suited for Israel. The local terroir, in his experience, was much more compatible with varieties such as Mourvedre, Syrah, Temprranillo, Touriga Nacional, and Chenin Blanc. These are the grape varieties of southern France (Provence and Cote De Rhone), Spain, and Portugal, although the Chenin Blanc is said to have its roots in the Loire region of northern France.

The grapes of Netofa Winery are grown in the Lower Galilee about 8 kilometers south of Mitzpeh Netofa near Mount Tabor. Pierre planted his vines here in 2006, actually three years before he moved to Israel. He is only now building his winery, having used the facilities at Or HaGanuz Winery for his processing of grapes, fermentation, barrel aging, and bottling. Hearing this sequence reminded me of something I read recently in Andrew Jefford’s column in Decanter.com entitled, “Walking and talking with Zelma.” He quoted winemaker/consultant Zelma Long as saying, “What tends to happen in the New World is that someone comes in with some resources — and they build a winery. Because you can build a winery; you can hire a great architect and build a beautiful winery. But from my perspective, the investment would be better put into the vineyards first, because that’s what you need to make great wine.” This certainly describes the focus of this winemaker on his vineyards before the physical facility to produce and market the wines

Pierre refers to his making wines using Old World Wine methods. One aspect of this is that he tends toward harvesting the grapes early when they have relatively low brix. Not being fully cognizant of the significance of this Old World vs New World of wines, I discovered that Old World emphasizes tradition and terroir. This is certainly true of the wines of Netofa Winery.

There are presently seven wines that they make. Two of these are white wines of the Chenin Blanc varietal, three are red blends, one is a Rosé, and they have recently started making a Port style wine. The Domaine Netofa White is a lovely delicate, simple Chenin Blanc with green apple, honey, and pear flavors. The Domaine Netofa Red, aged six months in oak barrels, is a blend of 65% Syrah which contributes the deep purple color and 35% Mourvedre which gives this wine its gamey, smoked meat flavors. This is a wine reminiscent of those produced in France, whereas, the Netofa Tinto is inspired by Spanish influences of the blend of 70% Touriga National and 30% Tempranillo. This red wine is rich in intergrated tannins and has rustic tastes of asperagus and licorice. The higher level series is called Latour Netofa and also consists of two wines, a white and a red. The Latour Netofa White is a Chenin Blanc varietal, like the Domaine White, but is partially aged in oak casks, giving it a more smooth and full taste with a hint of wood. The Latour Netofa Red is considered the flagship wine to which Robert Parker awarded a high grade of 89, despite its being the first vintage from the winery. The Port style wine is, like the Netofa Tinto, blended with the same two Iberian Peninsula varieties, but is aged in casks three years. It is unlike the other port-style wines in Israel and has rich flavors of dried figs, compote and cigars. The last wine, which we tasted first on our visit. is the Domaine Netofa Rosé made from Syrah and Mourvedre grapes. It is typical of the rose wines of Provence and reminds one of ripe melons and roses, and, as Pierre says, with a taste of British candy, all with a very nice acidity. We’ll be writing more about our tastings of these wines and we look forward to drinking them at home and reporting back to you.

It was an extremely pleasurable experience to be hosted at this new winery where the annual production is already about 78,000 bottles. I am quite sure that as they continue to develop and expand, their quality will remain high. They are a welcome addition to the family of kosher Israeli wineries. Incidentally, the Visitors Center is now being built, along with the winery, at Mitzpeh Netofa. There are even plans for a restaurant at the site. We look forward to the opening of these facilities, but in the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the Netofa wines.

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