Tulip Winery

#272 – June 20, 2014

As I have mentioned in the past, the nearly 100 kosher wineries worldwide (more than 70 in Israel alone) and close to 2,000 different kosher wine labels released each year make it difficult to taste all of them; which I need to do in order to sift through the drek and recommend those wines I deem worthy of your hard earned cash.  Exacerbating the difficulty is the fact that this newsletter is only distributed (at best) on a weekly basis.  As a result, I post shorter and more timely write-ups of the wineries I visit from time to time, with the intent of revising the worthy wineries at a later date when I can dedicate the proper amount of megabytes they deserve.  One such winery is the Tulip Winery, about which I wrote briefly after my visit last July but, given their incredible place in society (and interesting wines), I intended to give them the recognition and publicity they deserved and this week is when I make good on that intent.

Roy Itzchaki, the founder of Tulip Winery, grew up in the Galilee town of Kriyat Tivon, located next to Kfar Tikvah (the “Village of Hope”).  Kfar Tikvah is community that is home to approximately 200 adults with developmental and emotional disabilities, where the residents learn an occupation and are provided with meaningful employment in addition to being integrated in to the local community as much as possible.  Dr. Siegfried Hirsch founded Kfar Tikvah in 1964 after becoming dissatisfied with all the other options available at the time for his developmentally disabled step-daughter.  When Roy decided to ignore the prudent advice he received (“don’t do it”) and open a winery, one of the guiding principles he laid down for himself was to incorporate as many residents of Kfar Tikvah into his business as possible (the other principles were more mundane – make great wine, invest in technology, etc.).  Fresh out of business school, he acquired an experimental winery that Kfar Tikvah was getting rid of, converted a cow shed into a winery and launched the winery, with the name coming at his mother’s suggestion who loved the beautiful flower.  With a first vintage of 6,000 bottles of Merlot in 2003, the winery and its approximately 30 employee residents of Kfar Tikvah garnered near immediate success and within a few short years started bumping up against the witching production number of 100,000 bottles annually.  That is the generally accepted glass ceiling for selling Israeli wines without formal kosher certification, a necessity to access large sales opportunities including the North American and European markets (the target audience of Israel wines is unfortunately still primarily comprised of kosher observing Jews), Israeli supermarkets and hotels and the ubiquitous holiday gift packages distributed by nearly every large organization in Israel twice a year for Pesach and Sukkot.

With a desire to build on the winery’s success and to access the larger potential markets, Roy set off to obtain kosher certification for his winery.  While he realized that there would be some required concessions, he was not prepared for the demands made by the vast majority of supervising agencies he encountered – that the Kfar Tikvah residents could no longer work in the winery.  Broadly speaking (and stay tuned for two coming detailed articles on this topic), in order for wine to be certified kosher it can only be handled by Sabbath observant Jews, a requirement not met by the vast majority of the Kfar Tikvah resident employees.  Given Roy’s obvious commitment to the cause and his founding desire to have the residents included to the highest degree possible, it won’t surprise you that these supervising agencies were relatively quickly shown the door.  However, a burning desire to accommodate both his moral obligations and financial needs led Roy on a four year quest during which he went through nearly twenty different attempts to secure the proper certification until he found success with the OK, an organization that has recently built up a substantial base of knowledge in the world of winemaking certification and which worked hand in hand with the winery to ensure a happy result for all the parties involved.  At the end, besides separating the winery from the visitor enter, the residents were able to maintain around 75% of their prior duties and the winery brought in a Shabbat observant team to handle the remaining 25%, enabling it to obtain the certification and “go kosher” with the 2010 vintage (along with two other famed Israeli wineries that year – Flam and Saslove).

With production hitting 160,000 bottles for the 2012 vintage and crossing the 200,000 number for the 2013 vintage, tulip has made a big push into export, with the United States enjoying the fruits of these efforts.  Tulip’s winemaking efforts are solidly in the hands of capable David Bar-Ilan who has been at the helm for the last two years (“his” first vintage at Tulip was for 2012).  David’s prior experience includes stints at Soreq and Amphorae and he has significant wine-related retail experience as well, which I believe contributes to his ability to make the wines consumers will enjoy (and buy) – always a helpful attribute for a winery.  Despite his obvious capabilities and qualifications, and together with many other wineries and winemakers (and to Adam Montefiore’s approval), David is assisted by a consultant with the blending and other miscellaneous winemaking decisions.  In Tulip’s case, it is Dr. Arkady Papikian, one of Israel’s top wine consultants (also the winemaker at David’s prior home – the non-kosher Amphorae Winery).

Sourcing its grapes from vineyards across the country, including many located in highly acclaimed and recognized appellations for wine growing (including Kfar Yuval, Kerem Ben-Zimra and Meron), Tulip produces wines across four to five different labels and recently released the second vintage of its newest creation:  Espero (“hope” in Esperanto, paying tribute to the winery’s symbiotic relationship with the residents of Kfar Tikvah).

The winery seems to channel KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) as the philosophy behind the names of its different series, labeling them as plainly as possible.  In addition to some “special releases” and numerous private labels for various wine stores and restaurants, Tulip produces two white blends housed under the “White” label White Tulip (a blend of 70% Gewürztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc (the first kosher vintage was a 50-50% split)) and White Franc (a blend of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc).  The entry level red wines sit within the “Just” label and are “Just” that – 100% varietal wines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The next level up is the “Mostly” label comprised, yup – you guessed it, of mostly single varietals with some blending done to achieve the desired effect.  My favorite Tulip wine is the Mostly Cabernet Franc which has been very enjoyable since my first taste of the 201 vintage (85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot), and the series also includes a Mostly Shiraz.  The Reserve label wines spend 18 months in French oak and include Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the flagship of the winery being the “Black Tulip”, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that typically spends 30 months in French oak.  The winery also recently released a limited run of 2,600 bottles of “Creation DNA” in honor of its tenth anniversary (more aptly name “Assor” in Hebrew).  The wine is made from grapes sourced from each and every plot owned by Tulip (hence the “DNA” name) and is part of the winery’s “Creation” series, intended to house small lot experiments or other special wines, with pricing expected between the Reserve and Black labels.

The winery has a warm and inviting visitor center and should certainly be on your list for your next winery visit.  The winery has shown its ability to continuous experiment and delight and I look forward to continued good things from Roy, David and the Kfar Tikvah residents for years to come.

Tulip, White Tulip, 2012:  Always a refreshing blend, this version maintains last year’s blend of 70% Gewurztraminer 30% and Sauvignon Blanc, providing a slightly sweet, medium bodied and crisply refreshing wine with plenty of lychee, stone summer fruits, lip-smacking citrus and a tinge of bitter herbal notes keeping the wine honest, with enough acidity to keep the slight sweetness in check and make this an enormously refreshing summer quaffer, with sufficient complexity to intrigue even the most sophisticated of oenophiles.  Drink now.

Tulip, White Franc, 2012:  With my love of Cabernet Franc well documented, it’s easy to understand why I love this unoaked wine so much.  Utilizing 65% Cabernet Franc blended with 35% Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is another successful combination of the uncommon blending of white and red varietals (similar to Gvaot’s blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay).  Off-dry with sufficient RS to make it a good match for spicier far but with enough acidity to cut through the sweetness and make this another white wine to reach for as the mercury keeps rising (along with its twin reviewed above and the slate of white wines I recommended last week).

Tulip, Just, Merlot, 2011A nice entry level Merlot which doesn’t get the attention it deserves (knocking about $7 off its retail price here in New York would likely be a game changer for the wine).  A bright and friendly wine with plenty of blackberries, currents, tart cherries and raspberries, some characteristically Israeli eucalyptus and roasted Mediterranean herbs which are balanced out with some warm spices, hints of smoky oak and good tannic structure.  A classic entry level wine which manages to provide plenty of simple enjoyment.  With little there is no thinking required – open, pour and enjoy.  Drink now through 2015.

Tulip, Mostly, Cabernet Franc, 2011:  Despite its relative low spot on tulip’s totem pole, this wine is my favorite wine in this portfolio, being a pretty classic Israeli Cabernet Franc wine that, surprisingly, has recently become somewhat uncommon (maybe the constant harping on Israel’s green notes took its toll on the winemakers).  This medium bodied wine is replete with plenty of red and black fruit including currents, cranberries and raspberries, a hint of welcome spiciness, toasty oak, mocha, cigar box cedar and crushed tobacco, ending with a minty chocolate finish that pleases.

Tulip, Espero, 2011:  With a directive from Roy to create a true “food wine”, David set off to produce a blended wine that would appeal to the widest range of palates imaginable and pair well with as wide an array of foods as possible.  While easily an insurmountable task, David managed to create a fun, well-made and easy drinking food wine with plenty of personality that remains highly approachable for a wide range of discerning (and not-so-discerning palates).  An interesting blend of 55% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot, this full bodied wine spent 12 months in French oak yielding warm and deep notes of black and red forest fruit, subtle toasty oak, plenty of baker’s chocolate and good espresso with soft and well integrated tannins providing just enough structure to keep the wine exactly where it should be.

Tulip, Reserve, Syrah, 2010:  I enjoyed this wine more than the Cabernet Reserve with whom it shares the “Reserve” label, and not only because of my affinity for Israeli Syrah.  A big and full bodied Syrah, which manages to maintain sophisticated elegance while exhibiting a not insubstantial amount of power.  Well-made and delicious, the wine has plenty of rich fruit including plums, ripe cherries, cassis, raspberries and a hint of blueberries, tempered by a bitter tinge of green, plenty of smoky spicy oak, cedar, warm spices, rich coffee bean notes and delightfully intriguing hints of grilled meat.  Highly enjoyable now, the wine will continue to show well through 2018, maybe longer (although I don’t anticipate a substantial amount of improvement over that time).

Tulip, Creation, DNA, 2011:  A blend of every varietal used by the winery (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah (Shiraz is also listed as a separate varietal), Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer) and sourced from every one of the winery’s 18 plots, this is a special edition blend produced to commemorate the winery’s tenth anniversary (and showcase the “DNA” of the winery).  Each component was aged separately in oak for 12 months before being blended and then spending six more months in oak to allow the many components to come together.  A very well made and elegant wine, the wine has just now finally come together sufficiently where its beauty can be appreciated.  The wine has deep and rich notes of black cherries, plums, cassis and black currents, complemented by slight notes of warm roasted herbs, mocha, toasty oak, crushed black forest berries wrapped around a core of slowly integrating near-sweet tannins and a lingering finish.  Drink now through 2016.

Tulip, Black Tulip, 2011:  While I believe New York’s current release is still the inaugural kosher 2010, the 2011 is a superior vintage that is worth waiting for (or picking up in Israel).  As with the 2010 vintage, the wine is full bodied, and a big, bold and deep Bordeaux-blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot rounding out the blend.  With plenty of ripe tart cherries and other red fruit on both the nose and palate, backed up by crushed black forest fruit, freshly paved asphalt, toasty oak, freshly cracked black pepper, rich baking chocolate and roasted herbs, all leading into a long and warming finish; the wine is still finding its way.  With great balance and a powerful yet elegant tannic structure, I’d give this wine 8-10 months before opening, after which is will likely cellar comfortably through 2020, maybe longer.