Domaine Netofa Winery

#238 – January 13, 2013

Founded by three residents of the picturesque village of Mitzpe Netofa in Israel’s Lower Galilee, Domaine Netofa’s first vintage was the 2009 vintage, with the vineyards having been planted on the lower slopes of Mount Tavor in 2006.  I first wrote about the wines in early 2010 and have been lucky enough to taste every wine released by the winery since.  On this past trip I was fortunate enough to taste the entire lineup of wines in the lovely company of Netofa’s winemaker –Pierre Miodownick, who is also one of the founding members of the winery and in charge of all winemaking aspects.  As the winery doesn’t currently have a place to call its own (more on that below), we met in Pierre’s gorgeous home in Mitzpe Netofa and were joined by Yair Teboulle, who was brought in last year to manage all non winemaking aspects of the winery (Yitzchak Tour is another partner in the winery and manages the vineyards).

While Domaine Netofa is a relatively newcomer to the burgeoning Israeli wine scene, Pierre is a real old-timer when it comes to serious winemaking with his first vintage being in 1980!  For the last 25 years Pierre has worked as the senior winemaker for the European wines of Royal Wines and has gained plenty of well-deserving recognition as the winemaker (together with the resident winemaker of each relevant Château) behind the kosher versions of Château Léoville Poyferré, Château Pontet-Canet, Château Lafon-Rochet, Château Guiraud and Château Piada, among many other crowd pleasing (and mostly very expensive) favorites.  In addition to the delightful Sauterne Château Guiraud, my two personal favorites have always been the Château Le Crock and Château Malmaison (their affordability likely having something to do with their likability).

In addition to the extensive winemaking resume shared by only a few other Israeli winemakers (including Israel Flam (a little more) and Victor Schoenfeld (a little less)), another very unique aspect of the winery is in what it doesn’t have – namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay!  Even though many Israeli wineries have recently started to focus less on Bordeaux varietals and more on varietals native to France’s Rhône Valley (meteorologically closer to Israel’s Mediterranean climate than Bordeaux or Burgundy), the majority of them still make the more classic varietals (many sell more Cabernet Sauvignon than all other varietals combined).  While consumers may profess a deep love for the more “hip” varietals .like Carignan, Petit Sirah, Viognier and my beloved Cabernet Franc, they are still voting Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with their wallets.  Pierre was determined to plant only varietals he deemed suitable to Israel’s warmer climate and convinced his then two partners (who ran the winery’s finance/administrative and vineyards, respectively until the recent changes) to plant Syrah, Mourvèdre (varietals native to France’s Rhône Valley) Tempranillo (a Spanish varietal), Touriga Nacional (native to Portugal) and Chenin Blanc (originally from France’s Loire Valley) as the only white varietal.  Grenache was also planned for, but due to a virus infecting all Grenache at the time the vineyards were planted; its planting was postponed to a later date.  The winery recently added another Rhône varietal – Roussanne, which should also do quite nicely in Israel.

As I mentioned above, the winery doesn’t currently have a home of its own and is renting space from the nearby Or Haganuz winery (which provides winemaking services of different kinds to a number of different wineries), with Pierre being the only person involved with the winemaking.  Domaine Netofa recently acquired a new capital investor whose infusion of cash is being utilized to build a visitor center in Mitzpe Netofa, with an expected completion date of 2015 (following the next Shmittah vintage).  The cash infusion has also enabled the winery to nearly double its production (from 25,000 in 2009, 40,000 in 2010 and an expected 70,000 bottles for the 2012 vintage) and Pierre has planted extensive new vineyards in expectation of further expansion.

The wines are produced in the entry-level “Domaine” series (which includes a Chenin Blanc, red blend and a rosé), the reserve “Latour” line which typically utilizes the same general blends and varietals as the Domaine series, while utilizing the better grapes from each vineyard and a longer barrel aging period and includes a Chenin Blanc and a red blend.  The winery also has two stand-alone “special” wines –a dry blend called Tinto and a Port-style wine, both made from a blend of Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo while remaining completely different types of wine.  Pierre tends to harvest his grapes on the early side (partially enabled by their lower elevation and warmer climate as opposed to many of the Upper Galilee and Golan vineyards), which lends itself to high natural acidity (necessitating little or no added acidity) and, as with most other quality boutique wineries; the grapes are harvested completely by hand.  The result of extensive European winemaking experience, mostly Rhone Rhône varietals and a desire to make wine that matches its terroir have resulted in a slew of wines more French-like than nearly any other Israeli winery with plenty of mineral flavors, garrigue, spice and great fruit with the oak [finally] taking a supportive back seat.

As with any brand new winery, Netofa has had a few false starts, with some wines and vintages being better than others and the wines evolving over time, sometimes in a less than desirable manner.  However, at this tasting a qualitative leap in quality was notably discernible and if this quality and consistency continues (and I see and no reason why it shouldn’t), expect only continued good, interesting and creative developments from this winery and its delightfully talented winemaker.

Below are tasting notes for a number of the wines I tasted with Pierre and Yair (director of marketing).  For a few more notes, check out the mini-review included in a recent shipment of the Leket Wine Club.

Domaine Netofa, Domaine, Rosé, 2012 (advance tasting):  An easy drinking and aromatic blend of Syrah (60%) and Mourvèdre (40%) with plenty of Syrah characteristics dominating.  A ripe and aromatic nose of bright red fruit, watermelon, strawberry, stony minerals, pleasing spices and crisp acidity which immediately transports you to a warm summer afternoon in Provence (which is the job of any good Rosé).  A hint of citrus and more minerals show themselves on a lingering finish.  Another wine with marked improvement over the recent vintages with the 2012 better than the 2011 which, in turn, was significantly better than the inaugural 2010.  Drink for 12 months following release.

Domain Netofa, Domaine, White, 2011:  Made from 100% Chenin Blanc without any oak contact.  A crisp refreshing wine with nice subtle tropical fruit note, including guava, melon and pineapple together with minerals and tart acidity that keeps the wine fresh.  A medium finish with a pleasing yet subtle bitter note rounds out this delightful quality quaffer.  Drink now and over the next 12 months.  I also had a chance to taste the 2012 vintage, which had not yet been bottled at the time (but should be bottling right around now) and, while there was no difference in the wine making process, the vines are a year older and the 2012 vintage was very different than the 2011, yielding a leaner and more austere wine, that will likely mature a bit more gracefully than the 2011.

Domaine Netofa, Latour, White, 2011:  Another wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc, this one partially (60%) aged for 7 months in French oak, which allowed the wine to inherited some backbone and subtle hints of toasty oak, without any domination of the delightfully rich fruit including guava, tart green apple and a hint of lychee, together with green tea and the expected stony minerals.  The medium bodied palate has a slightly viscous quality with is delightfully mouth-coating and provides a rich Chenin Blanc feel to the wine.  Drinking beautifully now (with some airing out time), I expect the wine to improve over the next 12 months or so and can be enjoyed through 2015.

Domaine Netofa, Domaine, Red, 2011:  A delightfully friendly blend of Syrah (60%) and Mourvèdre (40%) which spent 7 months in new French oak.  The wine has plenty of ripe, mostly black, fruit on the nose and medium bodied palate that is nicely tempered by and in balance with slightly smoky oak.  A medium to long finish pleases.  Drink in 6-8 months (or give it some vigorous swirling before enjoying now) through 2014, maybe longer (but why wait).

Domaine Netofa, Tinto, 2011:  My favorite of the Netofa wines I tasted, even though it wasn’t the “best”.  A delightful blend of Touriga Nacional (65%) and Tempranillo (35%) that spent 10 months in French oak.  I liked the 2011 substantially better than the inaugural 2010 vintage (which we re-tasted together with the 2011); it felt more cohesive, “open” and was much more interesting.  With gripping tannins that are already integrating, this is an opulent medium to full bodied wine with rich black fruit, grilled meat, dark espresso, spicy oak, wet forest floor, more of those lovely Netofa minerals and a pleasing, slightly herbal, bitterness that keep things interesting.  A very interesting wine and a more successful experiment with the varietals than the T2 from the Golan Heights Winery.  Kudos to Pierre on this one!

Domaine Netofa, Latour, Red, 2010:  As with the other Netofa red wines (other than the Tinto and Port), a blend of Syrah (70%) and Mourvèdre (30%); this wine spent 13 months in new French oak.  A rich and expressive nose of cherries, red plums, spice, flinty minerals, a hint of boysenberry and rich dark chocolate with much of the same continuing on the full bodied, caressing mouth-filling palate, together with some herbaceous notes, with gripping tannins that have already integrated, allowing the fruit and minerals to show through but boding well for the continued development of this delightful wine, which may be Pierre’s best yet.  Give this wine another 8-12 months before opening and enjoying through 2016, maybe longer.  At close to $25 in Israel, this is a YH Best Buy.

Domaine Netofa, Fine Ruby Port, 2010:  As Port-styled wines sweep the nation, with more and more wineries jumping on the bandwagon of sweet dessert wines; Netofa launched a 2010 Ruby port with class and elegance.  While there remain only two kosher Ports (i.e. made in the Douro region of Portugal) – Royal’s Porto Cordovero and the newly launched Porto Quevedo – both nice), the number of Port-style wines is growing exponentially.  A blend of 80% Touriga Nacional (a varietal the kosher world has been seeing more often, including in the Yarden T2 and  wines and the Shirah Coalition) and 20% Tinta Roriz (a/k/a Tempranillo) with 20% alcohol, this is a rich, deep and delicious dessert wine, that gets even better after it has been open for a few days (the bottle I tasted with Pierre had been open for two weeks – I tasted a purchased bottle over Shabbat that had just been opened).  Aged in new French oak for two years, the wine presents with cloves, other warm spices, dates, chocolate, stewed plums, raisins, roasted nuts and with just enough acidity to keep things upbeat and long luscious lingering (say that three times fast) finish.  Expect a four year aged (“Vintage”) port to be released next year (along with a new vintage Ruby Port).