A visit to Gvaot Winery, Shilo

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the Gvaot winery in Shilo with my parents. The winery is tiny and visitors are by appointment only.
Before I tell you about the winery, I’d like to write a few words about the area of Shilo. It was far easier to get there than I’d thought. The Number 60 road is wide and fast and very well signposted. I used WAZE GPS on my Samsung Galaxy S Android phone there and back and it served me well. Once past the concrete security wall and Army checkpoint, we were driving through open beautiful winter Mountain scenery and it was quite stunning.

As we had a few hours to burn before our appointment at the winery we decided to drive into Shilo and eat lunch at the Biblical Archaeological Park there. The entrance to the park is up a hill on your left as you turn into Shilo.

Outside the cafe in the Shilo Bibical Park

Everyone there was very friendly. We ate lunch in the café and then walked up to the Makom HaMishkan, the place where the mishkan (The House of Hashem) stood in Shilo before being moved to Yerushalayim.

Makom HaMikdash, Shilo

Possible ruins of a mikvah?

While we were there, there were large groups of archaeologists working all over the area, uncovering mosaic floors, buildings and other artefacts.  I’d recommend the place as a day out for all the family.

They are uncovering new things by the hour

What made the place even more interesting was the fact that the café was selling the entire range of wines from the local “Shilo” winery.

Not knowing anything about the Shilo winery whatsoever, I purchased three bottles to review later. I cannot resist telling you now that with the exception of the Rose which was overpriced and unimpressive, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were simply excellent and very well priced. Beli neder, I’ll write a full review about them soon. However, this review is about Gvaot so here goes.
Just across the road to the Shilo Park’s car park was a a small hill with a ruined construction upon it. At first I thought it was some kind of lookout post or mini fortress left over from one of the wars, either Israeli or Jordanian. However, when my Dad and I walked over to take a closer look we realised that the ruined building was a lot older than that. There was no sign or plaque anywhere to indicate what it was but I am convinced that this was a Shul, a Beit Knesset.

View from the entrance with the Aron Kodesh at the far end?

Standing by the Aron Kodesh of the shul? The gap is directly facing towards Yerushalayim.

At one end there is an indent in the wall. When I used my Samsung Galaxy S “Jerusalem” app which tells you in which direction Yerushalayim is, it pointed directly at this gap! The entrance to the structure was exactly opposite where we presumed the Aron Kodesh would have been which is consistent with the design of Shuls even today.

View from the entrance.

From the exit of Shilo, we drove straight across the road and turned right up a tiny road with vineyards running all the way on our left. Actually when we phoned up to make the appointment, the guy (who turned out to be Shivi, the actual head winemaker) advised us that to turn right into Shilo, turn round and drive out again as the left turn on the main road was a bit dangerous. Good advice!
As mentioned earlier, it is a tiny place with no reception centre but a tasting room at the back of a shed.
We were welcomed by the winemaker, Doctor Shivi Drori who made time for us at the end of his busy working day.

Pitty I hadn't arranged the bottles so that you could see the labels!

We Spoke to Shivi for about an hour. His cute 8 or 9 year old daughter kept popping in and out the tasting room every now and again, “stealing” crackers from the table.
Let me tell you, the guy is a real Mench.  He is confident in his professional ability yet very modest in his achievements. When I asked him for his opinion on certain wineries and wines he was very diplomatic when it came to wines he does not like.
Shivi wears a kipa srugah. I asked to see his warehouse to take a photo of the casks but he politely refused! The warehouse, he told me, is kept locked unless the Mashgiach from Shilo is present. He didn’t doubt how “frum” I was, he explained, its just that he was very strict when it comes to Kashrus issues. I told him that I was very impressed and “Kol HaKavod” to him. Here is someone who obviously takes his kashrus standards very seriously.
Interestingly and one of the questions which I should have asked him but didn’t, was his lack of “biggy” hechsherim like OU, OK, Badatz Eder Chareidis, Yerushalayim etc, compared to other wineries.

The all Hebrew label of the Gvaot Chardonnay-Cabernet Sauvignon

All Gvaot wines bare the Hechshir from the Local Rabbanut, Binyamin - Rav Elchanan Ben-Nun, Rav of Shilo

However, on the wines whose label is also in English (obviously meant for export) the bottle has the additional hechshir  from Machon L'Kashrus, HaRav Mordechai Ungar, New Square NY, U.S.A.

The English/Hebrew label of the Vineyard's Dance blend

I would guess that he would have answered in his characteristically modest manner that he doesn’t go in for the Certifications game. He has one good reliable Israeli hechshir from the local Rabbanut for local buyers and one good reliable one for American buyers. Why would he need any others?

I mentioned to my parents that Gvaot were above average in terms of price but all his wines which I had tasted so far had been outstanding. Shivi smiled and thanked me for the compliment. Yes, he had no budget ranges and his objective was to produce the best wines in Israel with no compromise. He aims for “a full taste and silky smooth tannin finish”.
I mentioned to him that I’d recently reviewed some Bashan wines and asked him what he thought of Organic wines. He wasn’t in favour. Shivi told us that in his opinion, you couldn’t make a descent wine using organic methods. It was a fad. He also had not been impressed with any of the wines from Bashan. I agreed.
Tannin Taste
I am grateful to Shivi on correcting me on something very basic. I said that I really loved his wines because they were all suitable for Kiddush as they had no tannins taste! He shook his head. No, I was not right. They do have lots of tannins taste but it’s called soft or “silky tannins”! That horrible rough taste dry taste on the gums which I was describing was called “rough tannins”. He didn’t wish to get all technical on me but basically, all red wines need a certain amount of tannins in order to give them body and help them mature. Wines with rough tannins are only suitable for drinking with a meal. Rougher still and they are only suitable for cooking. Even rougher and you could use them to unblock your drains! The wines with soft silky tannins are suitable for Kiddush although Shivi recommended all his wines be drunk with food for maximum enjoyment.
Shivi spoke to me about Non Filled filtering. He would never use it. It definitely removes some of the flavour he told me. What does it matter if the wine is not 100% as clear as mineral water? I agreed again. Besides, pulp fruit juice is all the rage at the moment. The more bits in the drink, the better!
Gvaot Labels
I mentioned to Shivi that although I loved his wines I did not like his labels. He laughed at my remark and said that they had dafka decided to change the label’s design for next year. I asked him if he had any examples but he didn’t have to hand. He didn’t ask me what it was that I didn’t like about his labels so I didn’t volunteer my thoughts.
Wine Tasting

Shivi Drori and the Gvaot ranges

Gvaot have three ranges. There most exclusive is Masada, followed by Gofna Reserve and its cheapest range called Herodion. I say cheap but that’s only relative to the others.

Now to the tachles.

We started off with a white wine:

Gvaot Gofna Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon blend 2009 NIS 100

OK, I’ll say now that we were so impressed with this unusual blend of white and red grape that we bought two bottles for Shabbos.

Shivi explained that he removed the red peel from the Cabernet Sauvignon and used a special pressing technique to insure a clear colour, leaving just the white fruit.  He then married this to the Chardonnay grape to produce a unique wine which he hopes will appeal to those who prefer the milder, more berry fruit taste of reds rather than the more tropical fruit flavour of chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.

The wine has an enticing pale gold colour, slightly darker than a typical chardonnay. Light oak notes come through with a touch of cloves. The colour hints at the wine being heavier than your standard white but this blend is actually only a tad denser than one would think. I’d say it has a good body to it.

Aroma is of banana, pears, passion fruit and strawberries with soft tannin (obviously from the red grape) coming through on the palate.

Taste is a delicious blend of bananas, passion fruit without the sharpness, strawberries and oak wood. Aftertaste is long and satisfying showing complex layers typical of the best Chardonnays.

Gvaot also produce a Chardonnay-Gewürztraminer blend which I haven’t had the privilege of tasting as yet. My only question (which I should have asked Shivi but didn’t) is why don’t they make a straight single Chardonnay? What are they afraid of?

Gvaot Herodion “Vinyards Dance” Blend 2009          NIS 100

This is an intricate blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

Colour is of a rich royal Bordeaux red. Aroma is of ripe gorgeous red berries, freshly dried spices like the intoxicating and heady smell you get whilst walking through Machaneh Yehuda market.

The blend is slightly more than medium in weight but not heavy. Taste is packed full of rich smooth and complex layers consisting of ripe juicy berries, strawberries, ripe plums (not prunes!), spices and walnuts. It is simply delightful and one of the best red blends I have tasted. We also bought two bottles of this wine for Shabbos. I must say that I enjoyed it even more at the Shabbos table than I did at the winery. The perfect wine for Kiddush! My whole family went crazy over this one and we finished the bottle in no time. I cannot praise this blend highly enough.

Gvaot Herodian Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 NIS 100

This one I have already reviewed here:

Gvaot Gofna Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009 NIS 170

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot grape.

Short notes: Ruby red and charismatic taste of black berries, cherries and strawberries and gooseberries.

Slightly earthy aroma and full bodied without being heavy. Elegant, very smooth silky tannins with plenty of walnut and vanilla wood notes in there.
Overall impression was one of the most balanced and complex wines I’ve ever tasted. Being that this wine was well beyond my budget, you won’t be seeing a full review of this one any time soon.

Gvaot Herodian Merlot 2009 NIS 110

Colour: Magnificent “Ribena” blackberries colour with a natural earthy appearance.

Aroma is of plump juicy forest berries in damp wood with freshly crushed black pepper.

OK, saying smooth or silky tannins yet again is becoming annoying so I’ll say that this Merlot has velvety tannins! Firm body with lush blackcurrants and ripe plums in oak wood. Delicious!

Gvaot (unlabelled) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010      Price Unknown

I thought that the Merlot would be the last bottle of the session but there was going to be a surprise. Shivi asked me to name a wine I had been particularly impressed with recently. I spoke about the Tulip Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 which had a wood matured medium bodied taste well beyond its years. He laughed. Right he said! I’ll accept the challenge! “Let’s open our Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 which we haven’t even labelled yet and you can tell me how it compares”, he said.
Nose was rich and fruity with lots of berries and currents and spices. Tasting was delicious. Big deep ripe berries in a wooden bowel taste with cloves and other spices. My mother also liked it but my Dad said that it was too spicy for his taste.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Shilo and especially Gvaot and it was a pleasure meeting Shivi Drori. His wines are superb but it comes at a price. However, there are plenty of other wineries with extravagant prices whose wines are awful so I’d say that in this case, you really do get what you pay for. I don’t think there is anything in Gvaot’s range which is not outstanding. Some are even better!

I really want, B’ezras Hashem, to return to Shilo soon in order to buy some more Shilo and Gvaot wines, time and money permitting, to try some others in their range. Shilo is certainly blessed with not just one but two excellent wineries.


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