Bat Shlomo

#276 – July 31, 2014

Despite my attempt to make my recent newsletters on Rose (#270) and White Wines (#271) as comprehensive as possible, the abundance of quality kosher wines (I am currently tasting over 1,000 different kosher wines every year) wreaks havoc with my desire to ensure that all the worthy wines are brought to your attention. While some of the deserving wines in the aforementioned two editions fell by the wayside simply for lack of sufficient real estate on these pages (amazingly, even my most ardent readers lose interest after 4-5 pages), a trio of wines, comprised of a Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, were intentionally omitted in expectation of showing them the love they have earned in a full-fledged write up; and this week is their turn to shine as I discuss another new and delightful winery on the scene – Bat Shlomo.

Located in the immensely picturesque village of Bat-Shlomo and nestled within the lower slopes of majestic Har Carmel, the eponymously named winery is the brainchild of Elie Wurtman and designed to “Lehachzir Atara LeYoshna” (“To return the Crown [of Torah] to its original state”). While the slogan was designed to reflect other values, its literary meaning is applicable to the philosophical foundation on which the winery is being built. Bat Shlomo was acquired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild and named after his mother, Betty Salomon (the daughter of Shlomo). Intended by the Baron as a surrogate village to Zichron Yaakov (which was, in turn, named after the Baron’s father), Rothschild founded the village in 1887 as a turnkey home for new European immigrates to then Palestine. The newly founded village included vineyards and olive groves intended as a source of livelihood for the new settlers, all of which were planted alongside the new homestead. The vineyards were intended as a grape supply for the new winery he founded in Zichron.

Similar to the Jezreel Valley Winery, Bat-Shlomo Winery was founded by an internet entrepreneur and current venture capitalist whose love of Israel and desire to make wine culminated with the founding of a winery. The decision to open a winery in Israel was motivated by the same pioneering spirit that led Elie Wurtman to his prior success as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist and also allows him to fulfill some of his other idealistic ideas with respect to rejuvenating the concept of working the land and renovating Bat Shlomo itself (after basically coming across the tiny village by accident). After deciding on Bat Shlomo, partially as a result of its historical importance and proximate history of winemaking, Elie set about acquiring the adjoining vineyards in preparation for launching the winery in which Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a bit of Mourvedre have been planted. Following the successful planting of the vineyards, a talented winemaker was the remaining item on his shopping list. Fortunately he was already acquainted with someone who fit the bill – Ari Erle – who, after six years of winemaking in Napa Valley (including a stint at the acclaimed O’Shaughnessy Winery) has returned home and started a winery of his own, while also consulting to other fledgling wineries. In Israel, as in many other wine-growing regions around the world, winemaking consultants abound, and many wineries – even the well-established and marquee ones – utilized the special assistance of consultants in numerous ways. Yet another connection between Bat Shlomo and Jezreel Valley is that Ari is a consulting winemaker to Jezreel’s Yehuda Nahar.

Founded in 2010, the winery’s intention was to focus on white wines – an underutilized niche in a country thirsting for such wines. While there are a number of wineries that produce tremendous white wines (including the non-kosher Midbar and Lewinsohn in addition to the plethora of quality kosher options), former Ella Valley winemaker’s (non-kosher) Sphera Winery is the only other Israeli winery placing all of its efforts in this, still unfortunately under-appreciated arena, making it ripe for disruption (and thus, right up an entrepreneur like Wurtman’s alley). That said, the winery did just release a red blend (reviewed below) and a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, further reinforcing the importance of red wine in the wine consumer marketplace. The winery’s first releases were made by Ari from grapes sourced elsewhere (and they waiting the Jewish Law-mandated three years from planting before the fruit could be utilized. With an initial 2010 vintage of 5,000 bottles (and in which only Sauvignon Blanc was produced), the winery maintained that production in 2011 and increased to about 7,000 bottles for the 2012 vintage, in which a Rose and Chardonnay was added to the portfolio. For the 2013 vintage production was increased to approximately 20,000 (an exceptionally high quality vintage in Israel, especially for white wine – the winery’s primary focus) and a slight increase was planned for 2014. As an aside, 2015 is Shmittah and many wineries are planning on lowering or completely suspending production, relaying on an increased production for the 2014 harvest to compensate and which, to date, isn’t looking like Israel’s best harvest. One of the many ways Bat Shlomo is blending old and new is the utilization of egg shaped tanks which, among other things facilitates gentle oxygenation (via the concrete porous structure) and better “stirring” of the wines and is utilized around the world, including at some of the world’s most famous wineries.

Elie is also working on renovating one of the original homes in Bat Shlomo with the intent of converting it into a Visitor Center and guest house where visitors will be able to enjoy a hands-on historical journey back to the days of Bat-Shlomo’s founding (while enjoying some quality wine at the same time).

Below are notes for a selection of Bat Shlomo wines I have recently enjoyed. Wherever you may be geographically located, it will be worth your effort to try and find a bottle or two to enjoy!

Bat Shlomo, Chardonnay, 2012: A definitively new World Chardonnay that spent ten months in (80% new French) oak (barrel fermented as well), emerging with a crisp structure that clearly benefited from the extra oak oomph but without becoming a slave to it. With plenty of buttery oak on the nose, accompanied by tart green apple, vanilla accented apple pie wrapped in flaky buttery pastry, decent acidity, a welcome mineral streak and a lovely structure, ensuring the oak is kept in check by the fruit, saline minerality and acidity, resulted in a New World style California Chardonnay with some Israel flair and oak kept sufficiently in-check to avoid becoming the dreaded “oak bomb” that has fallen from favor. Drink now or over the next 12-18 months.

Bat Shlomo, Betty’s Cuvee, 2012: As with Capcanes’ Peraj Petita and Rose, this wine is the exact blend as the Rose below with a portion of the wine bled off of the skins after only a few hours and fermented and the rest of the wine utilized for their first red wine, paying homage to Betty Rothschild (a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon was also produced as a private label for Elie and which, when I barrel sampled it, seemed like it was destined to be a worthy member of Bat Shlomo’s qualitative portfolio of wines). Each component was aged in oak separately for 16 months before being blended into the final resulting cuvee, resulting in an amicable and food-friendly wine whose complexity reveals itself after so time in the glass (or decanter). With rich dark fruit including cassis, plums and cherries on both the nose and palate where gripping tannins that are already round, mouth-filling and nicely integrated are accompanied by freshly cured tobacco leaf, cedar, dried figs, black licorice and an earthy mineral streak that adds character. While enjoyable now, I believe it will be better is 6-8 months from now which will allow the wine’s varied components to better integrate.

Bat Shlomo, Rose , 2013: A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 15% more or less evenly split between Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, this is a truly refreshing and quality Rose that I enjoyed multiple times during my most recent Israel trip, including at a number of high-end eating establishments where the winery’s marketing manager – Jodi Marder, seems to be having nice success in penetrating that market (a distribution channel that, as previously discussed, has become increasingly important, especially to the smaller wineries). With bright summer fruit including watermelon and strawberries, floral notes, nice citrus accents and bracing acidity it is a great wine to enjoy all summer long, either on its own (preferably on a deck or balcony overlooking the ocean) or with an unbelievably wide assortment of foods. I plan to save a few bottles for later on, when they will be helpful in banishing the inevitable winter doldrums.

Bat Shlomo, Sauvignon Blanc, 2013: After shifting away from the original bright and colorful label, the bottle is now sheathed in a simply elegant label with the silhouette of Betty Rothschild gracing it. After tasting the wine, it is easy to agree that the classy sophistication of the label matches the wine itself. Very well made with a fresh nose of white flowers, mouth-watering citrus including limes and clementines, white peaches, freshly cut grass and steel minerality that entices and a medium bodied palate laden with much of the same floral and citrusy notes accompanied with a good dollop of acidity that keeps the wine fresh and lively (and a good pairing with the flight of five hand-crafted cheeses I enjoyed at the cheese bar in Tel-Aviv’s Carlton Hotel) and remains my favorite wine of the winery (and one that has improved each year it has been produced).