Jan 252014

Sommelier 2014

The Sommelier Expo is an industry exposition held in Tel Aviv annually, where professionals in the food and beverage industry gather to taste and appreciate the fine products of Israel’s wineries. That is, it’s not open to the general public, as the Israel Wine Festival at the Israel Museum, or the new Kosher Wine Festival at the Binyanei Ha’Uma, also in Jerusalem. Bloggers are invited, circulating among critics, importers, exporters, restaurant and bar owners, waiters, and the rest of the commercial crowd.
sommelier 2014 israel

sommelier 2014 israel

I was only interested in Israeli wines, and of those, only the kosher ones. But there imported wines, grappa, eau de vie, chocolate,

chocolate at sommelier 2014


cider at sommelier 2014

and the most amazingly delicate passionflower liqueur.

passiflora liqueur

Not to mention the very necessary stand of  Yacoby’s Farm cheeses, where a platter of excellent artisan cheeses and a fresh roll helps to balance the onslaught of alcohol.
yaacoby cheese stand

Even if you’re a spitter, not a swallower, you do feel pleasantly affected after tasting 20 wines or so …

The major-name Israeli wines are familiar to kosher wine lovers: Carmel, Golan Heights, Barkan, Teperberg and the fast-growing Dalton. I think you can’t go wrong with any Dalton wine; that’s a feeling I picked up when I lived in Tsfat and could drive up to the winery with a girlfriend or five for tastings, every once in a while. But I have a weakness for the smaller wineries that prove how quality-conscious Israeli winemakers are today. The public is reacting with a new appreciation for our native wines.

The kosher boutique wineries that left a lasting impression on me were:

Saslove, located on Kibbutz Eyal near Kfar Saba. From their site: Saslove produces 3 series of red wine “Aviv”, “Adom” and “Reserved”, a dessert wine and also a small quantity of white wine. Saslove was not represented at the Sommelier, but I mention the winery because I’m a fan of their wines.

I love the fact that Saslove has a woman vinter. The owner’s daughter, Roni, makes some of the wines herself. Maybe I’m biased, but I feel that her wines are different – almost more spiritual. UPDATE: Thanks to commenter David Perlmutter, I heard that Saslove is now owned by someone else, and that Roni is on vacation. I’m glad I saved a couple of bottles!

G’vaot – site in Hebrew, but here’s information in English. I was especially taken with their Herodian series.

Gat Shomron. The wine that everybody was fainting over is their 24K Iced Wine. Aromatic, floral, delicate, ethereal. Another thing I like about the winery is that they successfully make fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Verdot using only wild yeast. Their own site is under construction at present.

Tulip Winery. I visited Tulip on a press tour recently, and fell in love. Their flagship Black Tulip is a splendid blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, with minority touches of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. But for a light, affordable wine to drink with pasta and fish, there’s the White Franc, with its unusual bronze color and and fruity taste.

Tulip is also special in that the winery is set in a village for special-needs people, and has employed residents from the village since its inception.

Let’s see now, what am I going to uncork this Shabbat…

israeli wine on ice

Jul 292011

image-cooky craze

Lone Tree Brewery beers are produced in a small facility in Gush Etzion. I had tasted them at the national beer event in Tel Aviv last winter, and like them very much. So when brewmaster David Shire invited the food bloggers and writers to  the microbrewery last Friday, I was excited to go.

Bloggers Liz Steinberg, Emily Segaland Mirj Weiss. Other writers and bloggers were present and eagerly tasting as well – in all, about 30 visitors.

It was a rustic display of Gush Etzion’s gastronomic goodies. Some manufacturers are just starting out and sell mostly in the Gush. Others routinely distribute around Israel, and some sell their products abroad.

There was plenty of chocolate and plenty of liqueurs.


Yekev Lavie produces black and white chocolate liqueurs, coffee cream, honey, cherry, caramel, and crème de cassis.

kosher medhadrin; some dairy varieties
Liqueurs are available in Israeli wine stores.

In friendly rivalry was Chocoholique, a boutique liqueur manufacturer who describe their product as “drinking chocolate.” They offer 8 varieties of chocolate-based liqueurs, some of which are unusual here in Israel, like their peppermint, chili pepper, and peanut butter ones.
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Orders: Marc Gottleib +972-2-991-9443


Itamar of the Beit Lechem Bakery put out a sample of their extremely delicious breads. They have whole wheat, sourdough, and spelt breads – all natural, no chemicals.

image-beit- lechem-bread
Beit Lechem Bakery
Itamar, Tel. 054-4769-464
Breads available in Jerusalem health food stores.

Like fancy cookies? The amusing bouquets (first photo on this post) and business cards printed onto cookies caught my eyes. David and Suzie Gross of The Cookie Crave also bake amazingly good tarts and cakes. Hard to resist noshing!

The Cookie Crave
Kosher Mehadrin, pareve
Tel: +972-2-9933178
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Local distribution; ships world-wide

We weren’t done with chocolate yet. Zev Stander of Holy Cacao fascinated us with his story. He’s the only one in Israel who imports cocoa beans (some from his own plantation in Peru) and makes the finished product from scratch. The quality of Holy Cacao chocolates is exceptional. And Zev practices fair trade with his cacao suppliers.

Click on the link to Facebook below to view photos of these out-of-the-world chocolates.

Holy Cacao
Zev Stander
Tel: 054-804-1326
Order via Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/nNAIq2

Ferency Winery is my kind of winery. Small, producing 10,000 bottles yearly at this time, and all-organic. Gershon Ferency is vineyard master and winebrewer, making Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a blend of the whites that I found particularly refreshing. I liked Gershon’s attitude towards wine-making: going against the current trend of designing the wine to fit a particular profile, he “lets the wine speak for itself.”

I agree. The winemaker really only manages fermentation: the character of the wine will emerge from the grapes themselves.


Kerem Ferency


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ferencywinery

I have to confess. I’ve always disliked herring. I know – I know. How could I possibly survive a kiddush at shul without tasting the herring? But I always sort of snuck past it.

At the Gush gathering though, was Mordechi Zucker of Kiddush Club. Based in Efrat, Mordechai brines and smokes the most delicious gravelox and herring. I loved his salty herring. Sweet, I can still live without. Yes, lovers of traditional sweet herring will jump down my throat. I am resigned. Mordechai makes 7 different varieties.

Another boutique food manufacturer with slow-food ideas, Mordechai is dedicated to old methods of preserving fish that are vanishing today. When asked, he said that he smokes his fish on his apartment porch. “I give lots of samples out to the neighbors!”

Kiddush Club
Mordechai Zucker
Tel: 057-315-4794
By order only.

Let’s finish with more wine.
At the end of the event, six or so of us traveled on to the Gush Etzion Winery, where we were offered a tour and tastings of their Nahal HaPirim and Emek Bracha series. The winery is located at the Gush Etzion intersection and is well worth the visit.

Apart from Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Gwwurtztaminer, Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier – as if the wines weren’t enough – there is a lovely dairy/fish restaurant.

We feasted on hot quiches and egg dishes and a huge variety of salads (Mirj was especially taken with the chickpea/lemon salad). The menu offers a very large variety of dishes, including a red mullet tajine that I’d love to order next time I’m in the Gush.


Gush Etzion Winery


Click on the “restaurant” tab to see all the options in English.
Tel: 02-930-9220

What with the high mountain air and beautiful views and good food and drink, that was one of the best Fridays I’ve had in a very long time. Many thanks to David Shire of Lone Tree Breweries and all who helped him get the event together.


Lone Tree Brewery


Kosher mehadrin, pareve
To order beer:
Susan 054-234-5439
David 050-530-6036

To know more about David (who speaks with an intriguing Scots accent) and the brewery, see an interview with him on Foodbridge.

Apr 062011


Yes, of course I took the recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book, in two volumes, was a gift from my journalist sister Dina when I visited her in Calgary. The sales lady had to search the store for the complete set because there’s been a run on Volume I since the Julia and Julia movie was released. Well, I wanted both books, to work my way slowly through the kashrut-adaptable recipes. Which might take years.

Meantime, I’m with boeuf. It’s a handsome dish for Shabbat or a major holiday like Rosh HaShanah, and I’m thinking that substituting fine (cake) matzah meal for the flour, it will be an excellent dish to serve on Passover.

Julia Child would have OK’d the changes I made to her recipe, I think. Reading her autobiographical My Life in France, a sense of her warmth and humanity rises from the pages like the scent of good cooking. I’m sure she understood about kosher dietary restrictions. And after all, that’s how Jewish cuisine evolves, by adapting local recipes to kosher standards.

If you want to be historically accurate, boeuf bourguignon must be cooked with bacon. That’s no option for kosher cooks, but there is an umami-contributing alternative: shmaltz. (Here’s how to make that wonderful, fragrant, old-world shmaltz.)

Other flavorful ingredients in this potchkeyed recipe include soy sauce and dried mushrooms. More garlic than Julia called for, but then, I must have a constant high level of garlic in my bloodstream or I start feeling…pale. Or something.


  • Use beef with some fat running through the flesh. I buy shoulder. Here in Israel it’s the no. 5 cut.
  • While Julia’s recipe instructs you to drain the bacon fat, I find that you should keep the shmaltz to brown the vegetables. The dish is not at all greasy, although you can certainly draw a couple of paper towels over the surface when it’s done to get rid of  fat.
  • I use an entire bottle of  dry red wine as the cooking liquid. The classic recipe calls for veal stock but since I cook so little beef, I don’t keep it around. Sometime, I might try chicken or turkey stock, but meantime, wine makes a rich, flavorful sauce. Only dry red wine, please, and while it shouldn’t be plonk, it shouldn’t be an expensive bottle either.  (Israelis -most  Segel brand wines are inexpensive yet drinkable  – I usually use one of those  or another in a comparable price range.)
  • I don’t strain the sauce, although maybe I should. Nobody’s complained yet.
  • If you leave the soy sauce out and substitute fine (cake)  matzah flour, this is an impressive and easy dish to serve on Passover.
  • Alright, so I usually leave out the classic fresh sautéed mushrooms and cooked whole small onions that go into the pan almost just before serving. But if you want to, cook 18-24 pearl onions in stock and sauté 500 grams – 1 lb. fresh, thickly sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Add them to the pan after step 7.

What I can say is that everyone who eats this dish likes it. And after you’ve made it once, you’ll see how easy it is. Putting it together takes maybe half an hour, then the oven does all the work. It’s delicious re-heated too.

Kosher Bœuf Bourguignon

printable version here

Serves 4


1 kg. – 2.2 lbs. beef, cut into large cubes

2 tablespoons shmaltz

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

1 large onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons flour or fine matzah meal

1 750-ml. bottle of dry red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dried, sliced Porcini or other mushrooms

1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce

2 bay leaves

1 large sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

4 cloves garlic, minced


Preheat oven to 450° F – 220° C.

1. Pat the beef chunks with paper towels to dry surface moisture.

2. In a large, heavy pan, melt the shmaltz. Add the olive oil. Let the fats get quite hot.

3. Sauté the beef chunks in the hot fat, a few at a time. Turn them over so that all sides brown.Remove the browned beef from the pan to a platter. I use tongs for this.

4. Sauté the onion and carrot in the same pan for about 5 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and sprinkle salt and pepper over everything. Mix with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the flour over all and mix again.

5. Put the uncovered pan in the oven for 5 minutes. Mix the meat and brown it again for another 5 minutes. Place the pan on the  stovetop, over medium heat, and turn the oven down to 325° F – 160°C.

6. Pour the wine into the beef and vegetables. Add tomato paste, garlic,  soy sauce, and dried mushrooms. Stir to dissolve the tomato paste. Simmer the stew for 5 minutes. Place the bay leaves and thyme on top of the beef and push them in a little with a spoon so that they flavor the cooking liquid.

7. Cover the beef and put it in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, then check to see if it’s fork-tender. Let it cook 1/2 hour longer if needed.  When you judge it’s ready, take the stew out of the oven and skim the fat off if liked. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Add optional onions and fresh mushrooms now.

Garnish the stew with a little parsley and serve with plain boiled potatoes, rice, or noodles. Mighty good.


Nov 092010


Last night, four food-blogging ladies hit Israel’s major wine exhibit, Sommelier. Set in the enormous rooms of Heichal HaTarbut, Tel Aviv, the exhibit offered food and wine professionals tastings of over 200 wines.

I can’t say I tasted all of them. Noooo…some weren’t kosher.

Like this grappa. But the bottles looked so beautiful, I photographed them anyway.


My three friends Sarah Melamed, Yaelian, and Liz Steinberg,  and I did our very best to explore the possibilities. As group elder, I advised eating against all reasonable standards – lots of fat and starches – in order to taste and yet stay sober. Which we did. Eat, I mean. Sobriety, we’ll talk about later.

There was a stand displaying a gourmet brand of olive oil, which we would have been wise to taste first.

Only later did I remember a piece of folk wisdom from Jerusalem’s Bucharian community:  to manage a couple or three shots of vodka on Shabbat morning, line your stomach with a quarter-cup or so of melted fat – sheep’s tail fat – from the cholent.

With all due respect – euw. But the principle is sound. Line your stomach with fat. Olive oil works fine; forget the sheep’s tail fat.

Instead of being wise, we were carefree. Platters of fine kosher cheeses, and crackers, stood on low tables everywhere. We picked at the plates but eventually ordered a platter, gathered around, and noshed. It was great that the platter and forks were made of biodegradable paper.


I bought some wonderful, sharp goat’s cheese once I located the dairy (Jacob’s farm). It was almost as delicious this morning at breakfast as it was last night. But then, everything delicious tastes more so with wine.


We circulated, accepting sips of this organic Merlot, that mellow Chardonnay, the other well-blended combination of Cab, Merlot, and Syrah.


As always, my heart went to the Dalton winery, and my taste buds rejoiced in their Merlot D.
We all fell in love with a pomegranate wine from the Granada boutique winery. It’s free of the sweet-sour taste common to other pomegranate wines, very good and light.


Yael is the white wine lady. For every sip of my Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, she sipped a Viognier or Chardonnay. Being Scandinavian, she soon felt the heat as the rooms started to fill.

Liz and Sarah were open-minded and tried white and red equally.

We all loved the new Tabor 562 red and white Brut wines, which are dry and bubbly. They’re fermented under pressure in closed containers to retain the C02 – a new, and effective method. This isn’t fine champagne, but it’s a fun wine. Sarah commented, ” This is a wine for the outdoors,” and I agree. Having 11% alcohol, it’s lighter than many other Israeli wines; great to take on a picnic.


Our friend, wine steward Irene, told us that Israeli wines are usually higher in alcohol than most American and European wines. Many have as much as 15% alcohol by volume. Here Irene is showing us the Golan Heights organic Merlot from the Odem vineyard.


In general, there seems to be a trend moving towards more natural and even organic wines. Several winery managers, notably Reuven Rubin of the Golan Heights winery, gave us examples of green consciousness: recycling production water to irrigate crops; spreading the used-up grape skins on the vineyard soil as mulch; getting part of their energy needs from windmills; recycling all plastic bags and cardboard boxes.

There were few totally organic wines, but they were very good. Golan Height’s organic Odem vineyard produces a light, fruity Merlot that was a delight.

Another growing wine trend is kosher wines. The religious community has acquired a palate. The industry has woken up to that fact. New numbers of kashrut-observant Jews want to fine wines, and we’re getting them.


The owner of one boutique winery confessed,

“It’s good business to go kosher, and as of next vintage, all my wines will be. But as a non-observant Jew, I’ll have to stand to one side with my arms folded while everyone else will be doing the work. That’ll be hard.”

I can understand that. But I’m sure he’ll like the revenues.

It was fun to circulate, sipping a new wine every few feet – and picking at great cheese when tempted. The most fun was being “in a pack,” as Liz said. Much more fun with girlfriends than going alone. It also gave us the freedom to just start conversations with strangers with friends observing from a distance and ready to join if it looked really interesting. Here Yael and Liz photograph a cheese platter in one of the resting nooks.


The Tishbi winery offered a display of delicious jams made from wine.

I hate to tell you how many hours we were at the exhibit. But I will anyway. We spent five hours walking around, tasting, resting once in a while in one of the many nooks created just for tired visitors-

– chatting with each other and with friends (and total strangers) that we found there. All of us, I am sorry to say, felt somewhat…altered, after a while.

But the atmosphere was pleasant and we were comfortable till the hall became too crowded, towards night.

It’s amusing how by the last hour or so at these events,  everyone – visitors and staff and managers – is walking around with a big, mellow smile on their face. We broke up at about 7:00 and went home to dinner.

It had been, as Sarah said, “awesome fun.”


Sep 202010

use up your leftover wine

The wine was good, but dinner’s over and there’s just a little left in the bottle.  What can you do with it?

Keep it. Even a little wine does magic things to your cooking.

1. Make your own wine vinegar. It’s easy. You’ll need a clean glass jar and a bottle of commercial vinegar with the “mother of vinegar” – wisps of original vinegar-making material in it. Organic vinegars work best.

  • Pour the bottle of vinegar into your jar. Add any leftover wine to it. You can mix wines if you want, but the vinegar does taste better if you keep separate jars for white and red.
  • Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Secure it with a rubber band.
  • Store at room temperature, away from any open bottles of wine. You don’t want vinegar bacteria getting into your drink.
  • Stir once daily and start tasting after a week. Some vinegar will evaporate, so keep adding leftover wine.
    Don’t be startled if a new “mother” starts forming at the bottom of the jar. This is a sign of good health. Once it’s firm, you can pick it out of the jar with tongs and give it away, compost it, or use it to start a fresh supply of vinegar.
  • Start using the vinegar when it’s gotten sour enough to suit you.

2. Blend up a wine vinaigrette. Leftover white wine makes an elegant, fresh-tasting salad dressing or sauce for fish, chicken, or vegetables.  You’ll need:

1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
1 teaspoon honey – if the wine is dry. If using a sweet wine, omit the honey.
1/4 teaspoon  salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup olive oil

  • Blend the wine, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Still blending (either with a fork, whisk, or the blender), add the oil, slowly.
  • Mix again just before serving.

That’s it. The vinaigrette will keep up to a week refrigerated.

3. Poach pears in wine. This dessert makes a welcome light ending to a rich meal. Use red or rosé wine. Follow this link for the recipe.

4. Marinate beef, chicken, fish, or tofu in wine. Use your judgment; red wine for red meat, white or rosé for chicken, white for fish or tofu. Keep in mind how the color of the wine will affect the look of the finished dish: will you mind if your chicken looks purple?

A simple marinade:

1 cup leftover wine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 thinly-sliced onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon ground or freshly-grated ginger, a strip of orange peel as long as your forefinger, 1 bay leaf.

  • Lay the raw meat (or fish, or tofu) in the marinade. Refrigerate immediately till you’re ready to cook the dish. Note: Meat, chicken, and tofu may be marinated ½-hour to overnight in the fridge. Fish will “cook” and fall apart if left longer than ½-hour in the marinade.
  • Turn the ingredients over half-way into the marinating time so that they will absorb the flavors evenly.
  • Remove the marinaded ingredient from the liquid. Now grill, sauté, or roast your dish.
  • Don’t throw the marinade liquid out either.  You can cook it down in a saucepan till it’s thick and spoon it over the finished dish for yet more flavor.

5. Use leftover wine as part of the liquid in tomato sauce or gravy. The perceptible “winey” flavor will cook out, but the sauce will take on a richness and depth that wasn’t there before. On the other hand, if you stir the wine in just a few minutes before you intend to serve, the the sauce will have a delicious winey top note to harmonize with the deeper, rich notes of cooked vegetables.

6. Freeze your leftover wine.Use sealable bags to store your leftover wine, even quarter-cupfuls, in the freezer. You can then break off however much you think you’ll need, as you need it.

Use up or freeze your leftover wine within a day if it’s been left out, or a week if it’s been re-corked and kept in the fridge. Wine that’s old and tastes unpleasant is only fit to be poured down the drain.

I love the taste of roast-lamb gravy enriched with a last-minute dollop of red wine. My grandmother, who studied the art of sauces at the Cordon Bleu (back in the 1950s), used to make roast lamb with wine gravy – and when I cook it like she did, vivid memories of summertime dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s house come back to me.

Aug 082010


It was as I’d anticipated. Jerusalem, with its unique energy. Cool night air, lots of happy people milling around with wine glasses in their hands, gravel crunching underfoot, a good band, and the aroma of wine everywhere.

pouring wine

But…nobody walked up to me and asked, “Are you Mimi?” I had to give all my chocolates away to total strangers instead of to readers. I gave some to Baroness Tapuzina and Mr. B.T. too. We’d all driven up together and parked under the same friendly olive tree as last year.

And did I drink as much as last year? I hate to be a party pooper, but I had sips of this and that, amounting only to one glassful. I guess it’s because unlike last year, there was no full moon. Or I’m one year older and wiser.

But the music was fine, and the wine mighty fine, and altogether, we had a pretty good time.


We warbled along with the singer’s  slow, jazzy “Guantanamera.”

There was an artist drawing caricatures.

And sushi, although not being fond of it, I didn’t check its kashrut (or lack of).


There was a big stand with delicious cheeses for sale by the platter (you chose how many of each you wanted) or by weight.

cheese table

And wine, wine, lovely wine. All the good kosher wineries were well represented, plus a few that aren’t kosher and some that will be by next year. Guess the religious crowd has caught on to the taste of good wine, and the merchants have caught on to a profitable new market. There were noticeably more religious folks present this year than last.

image Or HaGanuz winery

The crowd was happy and peaceful. Most folks came with friends and circulated around in sociable clumps. At no time were there friction, loud voices, or anything resembling unpleasantness. Maybe the NIS60 entrance fee filters out aggressive types, or the cultured location spooks them.

By 11:00, the event closed and we regretfully left Jerusalem, clutching our big new wineglasses. I washed and put mine away next to last year’s. I hope there will be a third and a fourth and more, in peaceful years to come.

Sep 222009

“Please, come in,” I said. Two Hassidim in long black coats and round, black felt hats walked in and sat down, looking shy. Behind them came Tuvya, a wine crony of mine from the grape purchase co-op, in a white shirt showing some purple splashes. He had a big, pleased grin on his face.

He said, “How’re ya doing?” and extracted a bottle of wine from a backpack. “Brought some Merlot from two years ago.”

Tuvya and I get together about twice a year: once at the grape crush, and then once again sometime later at his house or mine. We compare our wines from the previous year and talk shop. He’s unusually relaxed about socializing with me, a woman not his wife. Partly because he knew my parents – we also have friends in common – but partly, I think, because my interest in homebrewing  sort of makes me one of the guys. I had entered the co-op on his introduction.

“Great, welcome to the new apartment,” I said. “I’ll bring a corkscrew and some glasses.”

The two others were Yechezkiel, an American baal-teshuva of many year’s standing, and his son Brumy (Avraham). They came to return the grape press they’d borrowed earlier – again, through Tuvya. Because of moving house, I didn’t make wine this year so my equipment was free.

I could tell the father and son felt uncomfortable in my house, which must not look at all like the homes they’re used to. They didn’t remove their big black hats and sat at a modest distance. Although well-mannered and pleasant, they didn’t  address me directly at first. They talked  to Tuvya instead. That was fine. Everyone has a set of mores to live by, and I don’t judge. I thought it quite forthcoming of them to bring the press back themselves.

Maybe a glass of this good Merlot  will put them a bit more at ease, I thought (it was fruity, with mellow oaky tannins, just soft enough).

I have to admit, I do get a kick out of being the only woman in this group. At the crush, some of the men don’t know what to make of me. Religious women don’t drink wine, right? Much less make it. Most, though, are just busy getting the work done. Weighing out the grapes, loading them into the crusher, sealing the big plastic barrels full of crushed grapes and juice. I’m the one that brings the scales, the hydrometer to measure the alcohol, the sanitizing materials.  The guys provide the muscle and call me “Rebbetzin.”

Two years ago at the crush, Yechezkiel and I had chatted briefly about making soap, his eyes never meeting mine out of modesty. It turns out that he buys a ton of olives every year and gets them crushed for oil. That intrigued me. I love olive oil. We discussed, not very seriously, making soap from his excess oil, then forgot about it in the business of the grape crush. Now he and his son were drinking wine at my table, talking about olives and olive oil.

“I’m not optimistic about the quality of the olives this year,” Yechezkiel said. “We’ve had early rainfall, and that’s not so good. The olives fill up with water instead of oil.”

“Same problem with grapes,” I said. “But there’s a kibbutz in the Negev that irrigates their olive groves with salt water, and their olive oil is delicious.

“I love the olive tree,” I went on, risking becoming personal. “Everything about the olive is noble. The tree itself is beautiful, the wood hard and good for carving, the leaves are medicinal, and the fruit makes the best oil.”

Behind their round glasses, Yechezkiel’s eyes lit up with understanding. “I’m planting a small grove on my property,” he said. “To please my wife, I’ve already put in lemons, figs, and pomegranates – a small grapevine too – but I really want to grow at least a quarter of a ton of olives.”

“Where do you crush your olives?”

“I buy them at a moshav up north and get them crushed there in a modern mill. I’m looking for somewhere else to crush them, though. I want it done the old-fashioned way, between two mill-stones. That way I can see everything that’s going on, and I can be 100% sure that the oil will be kosher all year round and for Passover.”

We have something in common, I thought. I’m another who loves to handle raw materials, make everything from the most basic scratch. Possibly because I find ancient, historical methods romantic. But that’s not a word I would use to this black-clad man with his distinction and his air of having just stepped out of the yeshivah.

Brumy, who had remained silent till now, gently said, “A drop of wine is rolling down the bottle – it’ll stain your white tablecloth.”

“This boy has a good mother,” I said, wiping the bottle, and everyone chuckled.

The magic of wine and of olives! The strangers had become, in a strange way, friends.

Nov 172008

I’m pleased to see that wine is now being made in Downtown, USA. This article from the NY Times online reports the appearance of local wines made in big cities, just a bus ride away from the consumer.

Readers of this blog know that I make my own wine at home. I buy the grapes in a co-op purchase;

watch them go through a crusher set up in someone’s parking lot or backyard;

and take them home to my apartment. The other co-op winemakers do the same. I wrote a poem about it a while ago. Of course, my family has to tolerate two big barrels in the living room for several days.

Then there’s a holy mess in the kitchen when I press the juice out of the grapes.

And there are the carboys, taking up space around the house but providing a conversation starter when receiving guests (“And how’s the wine coming along?”).

I love traveling to visit wineries, as a recent post shows. But most are only accessible by car, which means planning a few hours to get there, do a little tour, taste some wine, choose a bottle or 6, and take it home. I easily admit that my home-made wine doesn’t nearly reach the excellence of professionally-made wine, but it’s still pretty good, and worth the effort to make. I also love to know that other people here are making wine at home.

Now if only there were more urban wineries in Israel…I hear there’s a good one in Ramat HaChayal

Aug 272008

I had meant to post about things needing lots of photos, but there seems to be a problem with uploading media tonight. Meantime, I offer this poem. A word of explanation: gat means an ancient winepress.

Highway 6 slid away under our wheels and

Night dropped down.

We drove on to Beit Shemesh;

Ahead a storm gathered.

Fat drops spattered on the windshield.

From the passenger seat I watched

Long white legs of lightning stalking the sky

Between the rising Judean hills.

Thunder clapped: Attention!

The incandescent hills replied: Behold us.

My companion said:

“My hi-tech job is killing me.

I want to sell the house,

Give up the job,

Plant a vineyard in Emek Jezreel

And grow old there with my wife.”

The windshield wipers swished.

I sat silent. I too have my dreams.

In a parking lot:

Six bearded men in kippot

Standing around a grape crusher.

Their wives in apartments upstairs

Putting the children to bed

Me, standing to one side.

“She makes wine,” someone explained.

They shrugged .

In flat boxes lie the dusty black clusters;

Succulent round berries

Packed tightly on their stems.

Heft a whole one in your hand before you

Hoist a box-full and dump them

Into the metal rectangle

Where inside, a lathe starts turning.

Crushed fruit, seeds exposed

Bleeding purple juice

Streams forth richly, spilling;

Fills our blue plastic barrels.

From out there in the Judean hills,

A gust of cool, wet wind

Carries sharp odors of wild herbs.

It makes me turn away from

The business of the crush,

Turn my eyes towards those dark hills.

The men haul more boxes forward

Tumble grapes into the crusher

Under the electric light.

The Judean hills press in a little closer.

I know that

Lightning walks their dark terraces.

Over there, great white flickers suddenly part the night,

Reveal pines and brush swaying obedient,

Impartially reveal the ancient winepress.

Two basins carved into the living white rock,

A narrow carved channel between. Gat.

Who imagines now

The joyful harvests of ancient times?

They must have walked singing

Straight from vineyard to gat

In late afternoon, in September:

Men and women with tanned arms

Bearing baskets woven of green olive twigs

Baskets full of black fruit.

In the upper basin, our fathers crushed their grapes

Trampling, they must have shouted and laughed.

The rich juice flowed down its stone channel –

Those waiting by the lower basin

Rushed to fill up clay jugs.

Later, tired and quiet,

They must have walked home in the dark;

Stashed their jugs away inside a cool cave.

Nothing but cold water pours down the stone basins tonight.

The white rock, once stained purple

Sleeps another thousand years.

All the same, we still make wine.

“There you are, Rebbetzin, your lot is done.”

We pack our barrels into the car,

Turn around in the parking lot and start heading home.

I look back. In the circle of light,

The bearded men by the crusher

Are still pouring grapes in.

Parking-lot gat.

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