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Jerusalem Wine Festival: Meet the Wineries Pt. 2

On the cusp of the 2015 Jerusalem Wine Festival, this edition of “Meet the Wineries” features a candid interview with the owner of one of Israel’s most successful wineries and a pair of artists who will be peddling some unique wine-inspired wares at the festival this year.

Dalton Winery

Located in the northern Israeli town of its namesake, Dalton is of of the Israeli wine industry’s powerhouses, exporting its wines to 5 continents and producing over 1 million bottles annually.

Owner Alex Haruni took the time to tell us a bit about Dalton’s history, how it got to where it is today and what the future holds for his winery and the Israeli wine industry on the whole…

Could you give us a little background on Dalton?

My family [moved to Israel] in the early 1990’s, and it was my father’s philosophy to invest in the Galilee, which at the time was at one of the forgotten ends of the country. The idea was to establish a business that would act as an anchor for the area to draw tourism and further investment.

A winery fit our investment criteria and so Dalton was established in 1995 (this year is our 20th Anniversary). Our first harvest was about 30,000 bottles but we knew that we needed to grow in order to benefit from economies of scale. Our original plan was to grow to 300,000 bottles but we kept on going and now make over a million bottles.

Dalton has become one of the premiere wineries in Israel. What do you think got you to this point?

Several reasons, we were very stubborn, and despite some fairly serious setbacks we kept moving forward.

Quite early on we gained a lot of popular support from regular wine drinkers who have provided a rock of support for the winery to keep on growing.

And finally we understood that if you want to make quality wine you need to have quality grapes from honest growers — two traits that are unfortunately few and far between in the Israeli market, — so we made the decision start growing and maintaining our own vineyards. We embarked on a huge investment campaign to plant hundreds of dunam of new vineyards and supervise them with our own staff.

To date over 70% of our vineyards are self-managed. This project makes us one of the very few true estate wineries in Israel, and allows us to concentrate on producing only quality wines with no compromise.

Have you participated in the Jerusalem Wine Festival before? What’s your favorite part?

I think we have participated since its inception. For us it is one of the premiere wine shows in Israel. Jerusalem is unique in the crowd it draws, the Anglo-Saxon component adds a little bit of gentility that you don’t always find in Israel and the cool evenings make a welcome respite from the summer heat.

It is always good to meet our customers show them what we are doing and hear their feedback about our wines. In fact, I would encourage the serious wine drinkers to come early in the evening when the exhibition is less crowded so we can spend more time with them.

Which of your wines will people be able to taste this year? Do you have a personal favorite?

We will have a fairly large selection of wines, but I think that the stars will be our Alma wines. We will have the full range on show.

Alma is a series of harmonious and elegant blends consisting of two red wine and a white. My favorite is a Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre blend; made from varietals very suited to warmer climates and grow very successfully in Israel. The wine is well balanced and is a real treat to drink, incorporating flavors of plums, berries, black pepper and a hint of smoky vanilla from the barrels.

What do you think about the emerging boutique winery scene? Has it changed the way Dalton’s winemakers think and operate?

The boutique winery scene has been going for as long as I have been in the business which is over 20 years, numerically they contributes to about 90% of the number of wineries in Israel, though volume wise probably around 20% of the wine produced on the market. Of course they add color and sparkle to the local wine-scene, adding sparks of interest that the larger wineries can’t necessarily muster.

In terms of how it affects us, I think that despite our size Dalton always had a small-winery feel about it. We are family owned and run and I think that makes a big difference to feel and atmosphere in the winery, there is a level of care that you don’t necessarily find in large facilities.

In addition I have always encouraged my winemakers to be adventurous in their winemaking and our close connection with our vineyards and the many varietals we cultivate allows us to maintain a boutique feel to many of our wines.

What are some Israeli wine trends you find fascinating right now? How does the future look?

I think that the current research into indigenous wine varietals could be fascinating. We are currently drinking Israeli wines that are not contextually correct, by that I mean we are drinking wines made in Israel from varieties that have been imported from other countries, and I am excited at the thought of finding native vines that can bring the Israeli wine industry back into context. However as with any innovation in the wine industry, it will take many years until we are able to see wines expressing the results of this research.

In terms of a vision for the whole industry we face two challenges. Domestically we need to encourage more people to drink wine. The past two decades has seen virtually no increase in the consumption of wine in Israel, it hovers around 3-4 liters per person, lower even than Lebanon and Uzbekistan. (Numbers are from the California Wine Institute)

Internationally we have yet to make an impact on the world winemaking scene and our challenge is to broaden the appeal of Israeli wines to a more general wine drinking public.

Wine & Wood

The wines and wineries are obviously the stars of the Jerusalem Wine Festival, but a lot of work goes into creating the unique atmosphere at the event. Enter Tom Attias and Arnon Corvera, who did a special series of pieces from the wood of wine barrels to display at the festival.

Taking a brief respite from all the intense wine talk, we took some time to chat with Tom and Arnon and take a look at what they have in store for us at the festival.

Tom Attias

Tom started off making pieces for his own amusement from driftwood he collected from the beaches of Yaffo, but eventually began selling his own work and making made-to-order pieces for customers.

“We’re going to have a variety of products made from the barrels, such as tables, racks for wine bottles glasses and plates, cutting boards and wine cabinets, as well as works from other materials that fit the atmosphere of wine and celebration,” Tom says.

“The wood we used is from barrels made of French oak, which is very high quality – it’s essentially the filet of the tree. It was really a pleasure to work with this material, but also challenging since the wood comes in a certain size and shape, forcing us to work with pre-defined limits.”

Nowadays, you can usually find Tom in his workshop in Beit Nekofa outside of Jerusalem, where he makes all types of furniture for private buyers, kindergartens and others. He also collaborates with two carpenters and ceramicists in Mitzpe Ramon, where they operate the “Atar B’niya (Work Site)” gallery in the Spice Route Quarter.

If you can’t make it to Beit Nekofa or Mitzpe Ramon, you can see his work online at www.tomattias.com.

Arnon Korver

Arnon is a third-generation carpenter, also working in Beit Nekofa, who draws his inspirationfrom Japanese and European carpentry as well as the nature around his workshop.

You can see his work online at www.arnonkorber.com and in-person at his workshop, the Beit Malacha studio in his hometown of Regba and at Atar B’niya in Mitzpe Ramon.