I just returned from Leuria Winery‘s part of the Galilee Wine Festival, Batzir 2012 of their Gewrztraminer variety of grapes on this holiday of Tu B’Av, which traditionally marks the beginning of the grape harvest. The holiday has been urbanized and modernized as its name has been changed to Holiday of Love, the Israeli version of Valentine’s Day. According to the Talmud, the unmarried girls of Jerusalem would dress in white garments and go out to dance in the vineyards.
After going to bed at midnight last night, it was not easy waking up at 5:30 this morning and even harder to get out of bed. I was supposed to be there at 5:30 AM and I said to myself, “O.K. It’s already too late. Go back to sleep.” But somehow or other I managed to pull myself to my feet, slip on a T-shirt, some socks, jeans shorts, and dirty old running shoes, long since relegated to the working shoe category. Without my usual morning coffee or even a single bite of breakfast, I slipped passed the cats and our dog, Hagrid, all of whom live outside, and made it stealthily to the car. It was already 6:04 as I drove out, but if only for the views of the rising sun, the whole effort was worth while. I risked causing an accident when I stopped the car on a sharp curve of the winding mountain road to take the above picture. I didn’t dare get out to avoid taking these two pictures through the slightly fuzzy windshield, but at least you can get some idea of the beautiful scenery.
As I arrived, I spied a pickup truck leaving Moshav Sifsufa where the winery is located. Putting two and two together, I actually came up with four! I followed whoever it was winding our way through orchards on an initially paved `road which rapidly turned a dirt road scattered with pot holes. But scattered along the way were small signs with arrows pointing the way to the Leuria Winery “Visitors’ Center.” Further confirmation relieved my doubts when we turned into a vineyard and the truck pulled over, signaling to me to continue straight ahead. Then, lo and behold, I was entering a large open area, at the other end of which, were cars, neatly parked in rows and people sitting at a table. One got up and signaled me to fall into line. I had arrived.
I paid my 30 shekel entrance fee, entered, and looked around. What I saw were rows of grape vines on either side of a shaded area with picnic tables. At the far end there was a the Visitors Center where I was offered the coffee I had forsaken at home in order to not arrive too late. The first group was already out picking and I grabbed a small pruning tool, specially designed to cut the stem of the grape bunch and manually place it in my basket. Gidi was there giving guidance to the fifteen or so participants, young and old alike. He instructed us to not pick the green ones as they were not yet ready and did not have the nice high sugar levels for necessary for feeding the yeast and allow them to produce alcohol in the process of fermentation. The ripe “Gewurz” were turning purplish and the difference was evident upon tasting these two contrasting degrees of ripeness. I heard him say to someone else, “No, these are Cabernet Sauvignon and won’t be ready for harvest until September or October.”
After filling our baskets, Gidi directed us to return to the “Center” where he demonstrated how the grapes were pressed and gave us a chance to drink the grape juice of our labors. I was without a doubt the best tasting stuff I have ever had the pleasure to drink and I could easily understand where the wonderful aromas and flavors of the wine originate. Actually, as he explained, these characteristics of the wine come from the terroir, or place. They come from the soil and the sun. From the slope of the land. From the various elements that make up the different types of soils including mainly black basalt, white chalk (calcium), and red rosa (ferrous) soil. And all three could be found in different sections of the Leuria vineyards. It was interesting to hear that they were bordered on one side by famous name places in the local wine world, Khaoumi to the south and Kerem Ben Zimra to the north. These are, indeed, places which produce the best wines of Israel.
I left feeling very happy that I had succeeded in overcoming my sleepiness and made my way to this event. It was definitely worth while. My only disappointment was that I did not see any young girls in white dresses, dancing in the vineyards, but alas, this was not Jerusalem.