By Yael E. Geller, MPH
Nestled in the foothills of the picturesque Mount Tabor is something unique only to Israel. Tabor winery, one of many wineries situated in the Galilee region of Northern Israel. However, there are many aspects of this family-established winery which set it apart from other wineries in the region and in Israel. Tabor winery was started in 1999, and at the time was producing a mere 1500 cases of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2000s was a time of growth and prosperity not only for the expansion of the production line, but also for the variety and quality of the wines. In 2005 something amazing happened. The Coca Cola Company of Israel acquired the majority of shares in Tabor winery, expanding its portfolio into the wine industry. One would think that this acquisition would industrialize the winery and create mass produced uninspiring wine. The exact opposite has happened for Tabor; in fact Tabor has had the luxurious ability to purchase the highest standard and state of the art equipment without compromising on their family business values. Exploring what Tabor winery has accomplished in that short period of time is both fascinating and impressive. In 2017, Tabor produced a whopping 250,000 cases of 15 different grape varieties.
The winemaking process at Tabor is like a smooth running orchestra with many different instruments, which must be played in a specific way in order to create the most beautiful symphony that is held in each bottle of wine. At the helm is head winemaker, Arieh Nesher who has been with Tabor since 1999 and has been making wine for 46 harvests! Arieh’s experience in conjunction with assistant winemaker Or Nidbach are a team to be reckoned with. They are responsible for producing some of the most flawless delicious wines coming out of Israel today.
In 2009, Tabor decided it was time to take their winemaking to the next level. What could Tabor possibly add to their already impressive operation that many other wineries did not have the foresight and resources to obtain? The answer to this question is Michal Akerman. Michal is an agronomist, and holds the position of head viticulturist. Agronomy is a field of science dedicated to the technology and science of plants which are used for food. One may wonder what an agronomist would be doing at winery. The field is far more complex than explained above. Agronomy includes other subcategories and fields which have to do with the production of plants including plant genetics, physiology, and soil science.
Meeting Michal at Tabor is fascinating. Michal’s passion is so tangible, that speaking to her about her job at the winery can get anyone excited even if they’re not sure what her day may look like. The viticulturist understands how to grow the best grapes possible based off of their research of the land and vines. This is a challenge for most wineries since climate, soil and disease can be unpredictable throughout the process of winemaking from growing grape vines up until the wine is in the bottle. This science is so critical to the winemaking process, but there is no reason to sweat it. Tabor winery has it under control and their wines speak for themselves when it comes to showing Michal’s talent. It is Michal’s job to choose which type of grapes to grow and the location and type of soil which they can thrive in. Michal is not afraid to get her hands dirty and that is in a literal sense! Her passion for her job is contagious as she explains the complexity of the components of the soil unique to Israel, which Tabor uses for its vineyards.
There are so many factors that go into the making of the wines at Tabor it is no wonder they have become world renowned for their impressive diverse portfolio of wines. In the last three years alone Tabor winery has been invited to the Wine Spectator Experience, arguably the most prestigious wine show in the world, held yearly by the Wine Spectator Magazine in the major US cities, and received the critics choice award every year! Tabor is the only Israeli winery to have mastered this accomplishment.
In 2012, a new variety was introduced into Israel by Tabor. The Roussanne grapes are originally grown in France in the Rhone Valley. The Roussanne was wildly popular (and still is!) which led Tabor to consider taking their white wine production to the next level. Tabor always a few steps ahead of the rest of the industry, has decided to take the lead in the industry and has set a goal to have half of their wine production to be comprised of white varietals by 2020. Right now Tabor has 12 white wine labels and continues to plant and experiment with more varieties.
If your mouth is not watering yet stay tuned because we are going to start discussing the offerings of Tabor winery which are on the market now and which foods they would pair beautifully with.
Tabor Mt. Tabor Chardonnay 2017: When I first tasted this wine I could hardly believe it. It is such a great value, quite an affordable wine that delivers big time! It is fresh and vibrant with delightful citrus and tropical notes of ripe pineapple and guava with zingy acidity. Great with sushi, light snacks such as chummus and pickles, or with a chicken salad.
Tabor Adama Barbera Rose 2017: It is no wonder that Tabor has jumped on the rose bandwagon. Rose has been the drink of choice throughout the spring and summer seasons for the last few years. It is quite possible that Tabor pioneered this trend in Israel with their first rose, all the way back in the mid 2000’s! Their current start rose which has been winning awards every year since it was first introduced with the 2013 vintage is made of 100% Barbera, an italian variety which is famous for its natural acidity, as well as notes of red fruits. The current offering of the 2017 Tabor Adama Barbera Rose is mouth watering with a nose of unripe strawberries, watermelon, and raspberries. The mouthfeel is luxurious with notes of grapefruit pith, red currants and ripe strawberries. If the description does not tempt you, the deep strawberry color will. This wine would pair perfectly with an appetizer of fresh wild-caught cod ceviche with lime, scallions and some red chilies.
Tabor Adama Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Contrary to popular belief, Sauvignon Blanc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, not its little brother. Indeed, Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a hybrid of Sauvignon (Blanc) and of Cabernet Franc. These varieties are famous for producing some of the best wines in the world. This is a personal favorite of mine. Every year we wait for this release. The nose is intoxicating with hints of lemon peels, grapefruit, honeysuckles and candied ginger. The mouth is as impressive with bracing acidity, which makes you keep going back for more. This would pair beautifully with a warm mushroom risotto appetizer.
Tabor Single Vineyard Tannat 2014: A first for the land of Israel and Tabor winery. Planted by Michal Akerman, this grape which gained its fame in the Madiran region of France has never been grown or bottled in Israel until Tabor introduced it with the 2013 vintage. This full-bodied, rich and tannic wine is fascinating with its aromas of roasted herbs, oriental spices and black fruit notes and would pair beautifully with a herb crusted rack of lamb.
Tabor also makes several mevushal wines which would compliment any simcha or occasion, such as the sparkling Brut 562, the Mt. Tabor Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, the T Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Limited Edition. The Tabor Limited Edition is, in my humble opinion, the best mevushal red wine produced by Israel to date. I could not believe it was mevushal when we came across this wine on a recent Shabbos!
Tabor Malkiya: The name of this wine actually does do it justice as the Queen of red wines produced in Israel. This wine is made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is fit for the King or the Queen. This wine has a luxurious nose of blueberries, freshly ground coffee, new leather, and wet earth. The mouthfeel is coating and silky with flavors of black fruits, pencil shavings, and a hint of cranberries. This wine can stand up to your Yom Tov standing rib roast with a coffee rub or smoked French Roast. Nothing says it is Yom Tov like a beautifully complex wine like this.
Tabor has offerings at every price point to satisfy the newbie to the well seasoned wine drinker. I like to suggest people start at the Mt Tabor wines and work their way through each series to get a feel for what Tabor is all about. It is also well worth it to visit their brand new visitors center in Kfar Tabor. For a tour or tasting reservations please call +972-4-6760444. The current series offered by Tabor are Mt Tabor, Adama (a personal favorite), Adama II, Brut 562, Single Vineyard, Limited Edition and Malkiya. L’Chaim!
Yael Geller holds a Masters of Public Health from George Washington University and is a long-time wine enthusiast.