Israel’s emergence on the international stage began in the 1980’s in large part due to the early efforts of Golan Heights Winery in developing the vineyards of the Galilee region and by importing modern winemaking techniques and talent from the New World. Golan Heights Winery continues to be one of Israel’s largest and most technologically advanced wineries, with its Yarden label widely regarded for quality in international markets. In 2008, the 2004 vintage Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon became the first Israeli wine to make Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list.
Precision viticulture and winemaking at Golan Heights Winery comes from imported talent, with American-born Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld at the helm. Schoenfeld graduated from UC Davis and worked in Sonoma, Napa and in Champagne prior to joining Golan Heights Winery in 1992 and created a team of winemakers with similar backgrounds. In 1992, Victor Shoenfeld enlisted the talents of Zelma Long to consult on viticulture. While we take it for granted today that wine is made in the vineyards, Long was one of the first winemakers in the 80’s to make the direct link between winegrowing and wine quality through extensive experiments in the vineyard. Today, she is an icon, having received more accolades in more disciplines than most anyone in the industry, regardless of gender. Through her consultancy, Long helped Schoenfeld identify the highest quality potential of specific vineyard blocks of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and pinot noir.
Long was attracted to working in Israel because of the region’s ancient history and the romance of biblical sites such as the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan. She was also interested in the unique terroir of the Galilee region and the volcanic soils. Long, whose also consults in Washington state and co-owns a winery in South Africa, says that she likes to work in newer wine regions because she can make more of a difference.
In 2007, Schoenfeld and Long decided to take the next step from partnering in the vineyard to creating a wine that is emblematic of their joint pursuit of quality. They decided to call the wine “Rom” which means “summit” in Hebrew, a reference to the culmination of Long and Schoenfeld’s partnership. They also decided to make a blend which, as opposed to making a single varietal wine which directly reflects terroir, requires a shared vision. The vision was to create a wine of access and ageability by blending together the power of cabernet sauvigon, the flesh of syrah and the aromatic lift of merlot.
The inaugural 2006 Yarden Rom ($160, 500 cases) is a blend of 37% syrah, 34% cabernet sauvignon and 29% merlot, aged in French oak for 21 months and bottled unfiltered. The wine has elegant aromas of ripe black cherry and plums, with notes of spice, licorice, dried herbs and tobacco. Rom is a full bodied wine with balanced acidity, intense fruit concentration, sweet tannins and fine length.
For a list of distributors and retailers in the US, check the Yarden website.