I always wanted to write an article on the history of the kosher wine evolution. It is fascinating that here we are in 5779/2019 and we have access to multitudes of kosher wines from the most famous wine regions in the world. We live in a time where Israeli wine has made tremendous strides and arguably dominates the kosher market. It seems as though every single week we hear of new and exciting wineries popping up all around Israel; from the small-batch, garage wineries to the large estate wineries, there is no shortage of variety.
In order to develop one’s palate, it is critical to taste as much quality wine as possible, as this expands the mind and taste buds beyond previous experiences and broadens our preconceived notions about flavors. There is so much planning and coordination that goes into quality winemaking, and as I continue to taste and learn (a journey I have been on since my youth), I realize that many outstanding winemakers do not get enough recognition for their precision and, even more importantly, their experience.
Pierre Miodownick is one of the pioneers of the kosher wine industry, having made his first kosher wine, Château de Paraza, in 1982. Many people may not know Miodownick’s name despite the fact that he was the first to make kosher runs of the most famous Bordeaux wines. In 1993, he made the first kosher Château Giscours but refused to take credit by signing the bottle as winemaker. This is the epitome of Pierre, an extremely humble, pious, introspective artist and master of a craft. Not many can boast they have accomplished as much as he has for the kosher market.
Some of Pierre’s most important contributions to the kosher wine world post-1982 include the first quality Bordeaux, 1986 Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild, Haut-Médoc; the 1987 Château Piada; Sauternes; the first-ever kosher Sauternes, which is still alive and kicking; Château Giscours, Margaux, 1993, and Château La Gaffelière, 1er cru Classé B; Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 1993, the first-ever kosher Bordeaux classified growths from Left and Right Bank; and finally Les Forges, Côte de Beaune, Meursault, 1987, the first-ever quality kosher white Burgundy.
Talking with Pierre about his experiences over the last almost four decades in the kosher wine industry is eye opening. I feel as though I myself have accompanied him to Château de La Tour Clos Vougeot in Burgundy and crushed grapes with my feet, or perhaps gone hang gliding over the vineyards of Sancerre in the Loire Valley with proprietor Alphonse Mellot. These are experiences that wine aficionados and winemakers around the world would give anything to have experienced!
Pierre was born in the Languedoc, an area in France where life was all about grapes and wine. Living in a place where 100% of the industry related to wine production, Miodownick was naturally attracted to the wine world (he jokes that he was born in a fermentation tank). Languedoc is surrounded by Carignan vines, a grape variety that has recently gained lots of traction in Israel. Despite Carignan’s popularity, Pierre prefers to work with other Mediterranean grape varieties that complement the terroir of the area below Mount Tabor in the Lower Galilee, on which the vineyards for Netofa winery were planted in 2006. Pierre planted the vineyards for Netofa winery in the foothills of Mount Tabor, about a five-minute drive from Moshav Mitzpe Netofa, where the dreams were born for the winery and where the tasting room today is located. This area was chosen for its beauty and soil, which was analyzed on a microscopic level to determine which grape varieties would thrive and produce the best-quality wines.
It is no secret that with Pierre’s expertise, Netofa wines are something truly unique and special, and I believe they have filled a new niche in the kosher wine market. There has been a lot of buzz regarding these wines, to the point where those who know about the wines are constantly trying to find them in their local shops. Netofa wines were previously available in the USA for sale, and after a three-year hiatus they are finally making a comeback—and they are better than ever. There is not one offering from Netofa I would ever pass on at any type of meal or occasion, as they are extremely versatile wines and I truly believe that they are crowd pleasers for any occasion.
Netofa wines are composed of the following grape varieties: Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Chenin Blanc and most recently Roussanne. Roussanne is one of Pierre’s favorite varietals to work with due to its versatility and uniqueness, with the ability to produce some of the most complex white wines the world has seen.
All of the red wines produced at Netofa are blends of different grape varieties, with the exception of the flagship wine, Dor. Netofa Dor 2016 is made from 100% Tempranillo and it represents the generations of winemaking (dor means “generation” in Hebrew). Its name is also reminiscent of the strip of land at the foot of Mount Tabor, Ein Dor, where the Netofa vineyards are planted.
Newly added to complement the Latour Netofa line is the Tel Qasser line, which includes the white version, Roussanne, and red version made from Grenache and Syrah, toting identical sleek, highly recognizable yellow-gold labels, yet differentiated by the red and white foils covering the necks of the respective bottles. The Latour White is also a favorite of mine, a Chenin Blanc first produced in 2010 that pays tribute to the world-famous whites made in the Loire Valley of France (it is Netofa’s only wine that is not made with a Mediterranean grape variety).
Netofa wines are truly unique and are sought after by many for the obvious reasons. They are also extremely high quality and fit every palate and budget. While the wines are enjoyable now, they do have a long shelf life. I had the honor to taste through the entire series starting with 2009 Latour Netofa, and it was wonderful to compare each vintage.
The tasting room at Netofa is the most beautiful tasting room I have ever visited. The shelves are lined with beautiful spotlights, highlighting all of the winery’s offerings. Sitting in the oversized leather wingtip chairs makes visitors feel like they are part of the family, as Pierre explains the processes and tastes all of his creations along with you. The environment is relaxed and so spectacular for tasting through the portfolio, which is not always the case at a tasting room visit. The wines showed no sign of sliding even 10 years later. These wines were made to grace your Shabbat and Yom Tov tables.
By Yael E. Geller, MPH
Netofa Winery is located in Moshav Mitzpe Netofa. To coordinate a visit and tasting of the wines at the tasting room, please contact [email protected] or +972(0)46786454.