We're somewhere in the upper Galilee and the GPS reads in hebrew something like "Road going to Nowhere" [picture on left]. The landscape is utterly beautiful and remote, and although I'm not very aware of all the History-loaded regions in this country, there is definitely some palpable biblical feel around here. My request to the GPS people up in the sky : keep this place as road to nowhere on the small screen to ward the crowds off...
Reaching Barry Saslove's winery and vineyards near Jish, a christian-arab village in the Galilee highlands along the Lebanon border is a challenge and without my friend Zeev I doubt I'd had found the place.
Barry Saslove is one of these wine pioneers who came from a completely different field. Canadian born (from Ottawa, he says : I'm from the Canadian side, not the French side, laughing...), the very origin of his wine passion came by accident : in 1966 he was accepted in the school of Dental Medicine in Ottawa, but at the condition that he would improve his French (very important in bilingual Canada). For that, he had to go twice a week to the university at night for French courses, which he took as a punition until he saw his teacher : it was a beautiful French-French woman, young and blond and as he improved his French by talking with her, she opened the door to him on another cultural world where wine and foods held a prominent position : she introduced him about Beaujolais for example and Quebec being very close to Ottawa, he would drive over there and buy wine and recount in his next French class what he had. The beautiful French teacher moved on with Chateauneuf du Pape and he discovered the wines & foods of the Rhone. In his words, she epitomized what a French woman should be : sophisticated, beautiful, sexy and knowledgable in wines and food. She is the one who instilled the passion of wine in him and he carried it ever since... From that time on, he kept buying and collecting fine wines wherever he would travel, French Bordeaux being some of his favorite wines (he'll never refuse a good Sauternes).
He later became a computer programmer while giving on the side wine-education courses, and ultimately setting up his winery in kibbutz Eyal near Kfar Saba in the Sharon region in 1998. The boutique-winery scene was mostly empty then, you have to remember that most of these new, small-size wineries appeared in the early 2000s'. He opened since then this other facility in the upper-Galilee heights in Northern Israel, to make wines from grapes grown on high-altitude vineyards.
About the population living in the communities around, Ido says that it is very diverse : arabs, some being muslims some christians, some Druze, some Tcherkassy too, all concentrated in this small region. Driving back from the vineyards to the winery, we pass a Druze village, Horfesh (see this interesting page about this beautiful remote village). This place was pounded by Hezbollah missile strikes during the 2006 war. The Druze of the region also do their service years in the IDF, the Israeli armed forces.
Let's taste some wine, we do that in a room located like a mezzanine over the vatroom in the back.
__Saslove, Reserve 2005, 2000 bottles or 7 barrels of it. Bottle opened two hours ago before lunch and the vineyard visit. This wine, he says, is the most typical regarding the style of wines that he makes. He makes three ranges of wines : the Aviv serie, the Adom, and the Reserve. He doesn't consider that his has some vineyards that are somehow inferior, they're just different from each other. Here, what we taste is Cabernet 100% but coming from different vineyards, the one we saw today and a couple of others, including the one on Kerem Benzimra. Aromas of chocolate, jammy fruits, nice fruit. Well-integrated tannins. He doesn't do Reserve wine every year, in 2001 he didn't make any. What he looks in his wines is the fruit and also the length. 2005 he says, is not his best vintage so long, the 2004 was much better and 2006 too. But 2006 has just been bottled and he hasn't any here. It stayed between 20 & 22 months in barrels.
The Reserve is made from his very very best Adom barrels. He tastes the wines from all the barrels and he puts aside the best ones, the Reserve are not wines by design while the Adom are. Speaking of the Adom and the Aviv wines, the difference between them is, Adom wines are aged in barrels and he releases them in no less than 2 years.The Aviv wines haven't seen any barrels, they've had wood chips added. He says that he likes the use of wood chips, he can work on the wine very nicely with them. Zeev says that the Aviv wines have a light wood feel, not a heavy one. He uses two different cooperages and buys them several kinds of wood, he likes that and doesn't understand why the OIV in France doesn't allow the use of wood chips. He has been using chips for 11 years for his Aviv wines and he realized that for example the chips are not a cheap way of making a barrel-aged wine. The barrel gives its own character to the wine, the wood chips give something completely different but nonetheless interesting. The chips give more flexibility, he can use several types of wood quality at the same time, it is easier to handle. He uses them on a shorter time, but still, long enough : 6 months. He puts them in bags, very big "tea bags" in the stainless-steel vats. He moves them every now and then to get the flavors out. The surface in contact with the chips is larger and it gets a bigger impact on the wine. He uses chips but no micro-ox, he jokes that he is not Michel Rolland. Drifting to Parker who loves the Rolland-style wines, he says that he doesn't follow the Parker recipes for wines but Parker nonetheless gave a respectable note to his wine if not the highest 2 years ago : 88. He doesn't really give too much credit to wine critics, including to Robert Parker who is followed too blindly by the consumers. Barry Saslove drifts to another critic he considers exceptionnal, with the sharpest wine memory around, Jancis Robinson. There's also another British woman critic that he likes (he doesn't find her name), and Michael Broadbent who begins to get old now.
I'll put notes later on a Saslove Aviv that I bought in Tel Aviv (we didn't taste any other wine that day). He doesn't make any white wines. He made some (Sauvignon Blanc) when he was in New Zealand 2 years ago. The only Chardonnay that he likes is Chablis because he wants to taste the minerals, the pure wine, not the barrels and not the malolactic. If you make a good Chard, and it's not easy he says, you must not hide it behind the wood.