Last October, over a wine lunch in New York City, I heard a viticulturalist talk about a piece of land – a vineyard – with such an intense feeling of excitement, intrigue, and just pure unbridled passion that it was contagiously electric. And was it about a vineyard in Europe, California or even some of the dramatically planted areas in South Africa or Chile? No, it was in Israel; the words came from Michal Akerman, viticulturalist for Tabor Winery.
I recently found myself in Israel, sitting in Tabor’s beautiful visitor’s center near their winery in the village of Kfar Tabor in the Galilee wine region. At the time of that lunch in NYC, I never would have guessed that I would ever get the chance to go to the Tabor Winery, a place whose wines and stories had fascinated and enthralled me with pure wonderment, let alone be there merely three months later.
When I signed up for this in-depth excursion to check out one of the top emerging wine producing countries in the world, I didn’t know if I would get the opportunity to visit Tabor, but luckily it was in the cards for me to experience what they had to offer, not only as a large company with huge amounts of resources, but the bright, committed individuals with an inner spark who work behind the scenes.
Tabor is known as one of Israel’s largest wineries that feature many premium wines in their portfolio (it is the 5th largest but should be noted that there’s a big difference in volume between Tabor and the 4th largest winery). I was already well acquainted with their reputation before I visited, but the wines and people live up to this distinguished title. The winery was started in 1999 by four growers in the Tabor Village (Kfar Tabor), in the Lower Galilee, and the current CEO is grower Oren Sella, of one of the founding families. Over the years, they have been able to grow from producing 30,000 bottles a year to close to two million.
Tabor Winery does not own any of their vineyards, which is common in Israel, yet they have long relationships and contracts with their growers that are typically between 17 to 18 years with stipulations added from both sides to protect the interests of each party. Tabor is known for their impressive Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and it is no surprise noting that they work with 30 different individual Cabernet Sauvignon plots from an array of vineyards across Israel.
Michal Akerman, the viticulturalist for Tabor Winery, was Israel’s first viticulturalist. She oversees all the contracted vineyards that they work with and she talks about many of the plots as if they were her children; how she checks on them, is constantly amazed by them and how they are always in her thoughts. I gained even more admiration for her as I learned during this visit that she is pioneering a program to make all Tabor vineyards self-sustainable; the first Israeli winery to make such a commitment.
Tabor’s long established winemaker Arieh Nesher was not able to join us but it was great to see his partner winemaker, Or Nidbach, again as he is part of the younger generation of Israeli vintners that have received degrees from some of the top enology Universities in the world (Nidbach received his degree from one of the most esteemed, UC Davis). Although he and Akerman are not related, they seem as if they are both ‘cut from the same cloth’ having a brilliant light in both their eyes that is only matched by their strong work ethic. It makes sense once I learned that they were raised on the same kibbutz – a collective community in Israel that is traditionally based on agriculture.
The exceptional Tabor Malkiya, single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, is the perfect representation of how these extraordinary individuals are the perfect match for a winery such as Tabor, with its vast resources. This wine is unique, complex, generous and polished. From their value level wines up to their fine wine Malkiya, Tabor delivers a multi-layered experience that over delivers and never disappoints.
Tabor Winery is a great example of a big, successful company finding ideal employees to elevate their creations, and vice versa, when hardworking, talented people are appreciated and properly challenged by their company. This winning combination makes those obstacles that once seemed insurmountable eventually conquerable – such as making an Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon that can challenge any other Cab from one of the top terroirs around the world – they did it with Malkiya.
***Also, special thanks to Greek Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis for the use of his photos since I was trying to get my phone fixed in Israel at the time.
His website: http://www.karakasis.mw/
Tasting at Tabor Winery on January 29th, 2017
Adama I Series
The Mt. Tabor area of the Galilee is a meeting point of four different types of soils. The Adama series matches a single variety with the best small single plot in this area that make wines that give a pure expression of that variety, consistently, year in and year out.
-Adama Roussanne, Golan Heights, Israel: 100% Roussanne. Tabor was the first winery to plant Roussanne and to make a single varietal Roussanne. Rich, full-bodied white with tropical fruit.
–Adama Sauvignon Blanc, Kfar Tabor, Galilee, Israel: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Old vines in limestone soil that make a wine with a pretty, fresh quality of lime blossom, bright acidity and hint of passion fruit finish.
-Adama Barbera Rose, Sirin Heights, Galilee, Israel: 100% Barbera. They specifically grow these grapes for rosé wine, as opposed to some wineries using under-ripe grapes that were not suitable for a red wine. Delicious dry rosé with red cherry and floral notes and a mouth watering finish.
Adama II Series
Blends that give an added layer of complexity – made in small quantities.
–2013 Adama II Sufa – Storm, Kedesh Valley, Upper Galilee, Israel: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon & 50% Petite Sirah. Soil is terra rossa. A dark, brooding wine that is seductive with plum pie and spicy, smoky notes. Lush yet structured.
Single Vineyard Series
These wines represent the best single vineyards from Tabor’s array of plots sourced from all over Israel.
-2013 Tabor Tannat, Shifon Vineyard, northern Golan Heights, Israel: 100% Tannat. Tabor was the first winery to plant and to make a varietal Tannat. Low yields, no irrigation. Savory and sweet with dried blackberries and tobacco leaf with firm structure, yet the quality of the tannins are well managed, and so a great wine for those who like structure, such as myself.
-2013 Tabor Marselan, Revadim Vineyard, Judean Hills, Israel: 100% Marselan. Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that has become an important red variety in Israel. I tasted many Marselan wines when I was in Israel and there was a great disparity in quality. I learned at Tabor that it is a high yielder and so yields need to be severely controlled, hence why they do not allow irrigation in this vineyard. Dusty earth, dried thyme with fresh black currant and good grip on the sustained finish.
-2013 Tabor Malkiya, Single Vineyard from Upper Galilee, Israel: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. At our lunch in NYC, Michal Akerman’s description of the unique qualities of this vineyard certainly showed itself in this wine. The topsoil is terra rossa (a red clay that is commonly associated with the Cabernet Sauvignon fine wines of Coonawarra, Australia) but underneath, only 8 inches (20 centimeters) down, is one of the most unique soils she has ever seen in Israel. In English, it is called “a lot of stars” since there are limestone rocks throughout the soil that gives the visual impression of this name. She said that it was a piece of land that many of the local people thought to be undesirable for any type of crop, but that she somehow, to their amazement, was able to produce the best Cabernet Sauvignon she has ever seen, which, considering she has had 20 years of experience with this grape around the world is a pretty impressive statement. She gets tiny berries from this plot that taste like the wine when she tastes the grapes in the vineyard – concentrated blackberry, complex flavors – she goes to this vineyard once or twice a week because she is so amazed by it.
This is the second time I got to taste the 2013 Tabor Malkiya. It had an opaque color with cassis, exotic spice and a stunning backbone of elegance that carried through the persistent finish. Malkiya has become Tabor’s flagship wine. This was selected as one of the leading wines of the world by Wine Spectator and Tabor Winery recently represented Israel a second year in a row at the illustrious New York Wine Experience.