In recent years, Mediterranean cuisine has become the hottest form of culinary practice in the United States. It was only a matter of time before Israel’s Yarden wines—the Golan Heights Winery’s largest brand—would also top the charts and win over the hearts of American food lovers. Even the most renowned restauranteurs of our time are not surprised by this evident reality. After all, Israel is recognized as one of the technological leaders of the world consisting of many startups, second to Silicon Valley—and is also topping the charts in the realm of wine production.
When it comes to wine, quality is based on a balance between the chemical process, the region being suitable for growing grapes, and the new technologies for the preparation and preservation of the wine—all of which Israel has managed to combine and master.
One of the biggest challenges of all for this Israeli wine is to shake off any prior political motives and prejudices attributed to it as a result of the “Made in Israel” fine print on the label. For the willing wine enthusiast, taking a sip of a Yarden wine will only prove that Israel is more than just the producer of the Flash drive, Waze, and Gal Gadot—but is also an expert in the production of fine wine.
Residing on the West Coast is Yarden’s senior representative, restauranteur, and veteran wine extraordinaire, Bill Henry. Born and raised in southern California, Henry is very well acquainted with and accustomed to the local aromas of wine. At one of our meetings, he assured me with great enthusiasm that from a quality standard, the Israeli-produced wine has proved to be equal to that of the Napa Valley’s, and on some occasions, even better.
Wine enthusiasts are considered to be passionate, whole-hearted, and comprehensive people—and Henry is exactly that. His journey to the world of wine was through food and the culinary industry. Henry: “I grew up in the Los Angeles Valley—and growing up in L.A., there’s this obvious desire to become an actor, which inevitably leads to having to work as a waiter. Naturally, I began working a lot as a waiter and shortly realized that I did not like rules and being told what to do. So, I became a restaurant manager and even in that role, it turned out that the owners of the restaurant made a number of decisions on my behalf. As a result, and from that point onwards, I decided to become a restaurant owner myself.
It was not long until the restaurant business led Henry into the world of wine. He fell in love with the industry while enriching himself in a number of wine study programs in surrounding local institutions.
Henry got to Yarden Wines through his former boss, Anne Markovich-Girard, who was appointed as the company’s Vice President of Sales in the United States. Following her success, she needed someone in the States with extensive knowledge on the wine industry— and Henry was exactly that person.
I remember the wine that I tasted in a small village in the Galilee—it was a Yarden Blanc De Blanc 2009. It tasted so good that it was exactly there where I finally made the decision that I wanted to work for Yarden Wines and sell it here.
Personally, I also love Yarden’s Cabernet Sauvignon—it is of excellent quality.”
What don’t people know about Israeli wines?
“First off, they don’t know that wine is even produced in Israel. When I attend wine tasting events people ask me ‘where is your winery located’? Their jaws drop when I tell them that it’s located ‘in the Golan Heights.’ They are surprised by the fact that there is wine produced in Israel—especially wine that is this good. Even people here in Orange County taste it and fall to the ground—that’s how I know that we are set in terms of the taste and quality. The only real challenge is getting people to try wine that is made in Israel.”
Yarden wines can be purchased in a wide range of restaurants in Orange County, among them, Gabby’s— an upscale Mexican restaurant that only recently was named as one of the top ten best new restaurants in the region by OC Magazine.
Aside from fish and chips and typical bar food, a glass of this wine can also be ordered at the british pub in the city. Even the excellent high-end comfort food restaurant, Jeff, incorporated Yarden’s Chardonnay wine into its menu. Whoever wants to choose from Yarden’s full wine label can head to Kosher Mart in Orange County and also the High Time in Costa Mesa.
Many people discussing good wine must remember the balance between quality versus price. With this factor in mind, Yarden wins big time. Henry introduced me to his collection of Yarden wines that taste great and cost close to nothing: “Yarden’s Red Hermon is a great wine for daily consumption—it is sophisticated and special in the series but still fruity enough for those who are just starting to drink wine. We also drink a lot of the wines from the ‘Gil Gal’ series because their price is really good in relation to its high quality.”
Bill, what makes the Israeli wine so good?
“The Golan Heights Winery is situated in an excellent location in Israel—around 1000 meters and 4000 meters above sea level. For the sake of comparison, it’s similar to the temperature ranges between San Jose in California and Eugene in Oregon, making it possible to grow different types of grapes. There are also areas that are rich in volcanic soil and produce an unforgettable taste—one of the many things that excite me when it comes to the Yarden grapes.
Some of them are even volcanic in nature and as a result, produce a wonderful taste, and is ultimately what excites me about Yarden’s wines.
Another factor making Yarden an industry leader in the production of quality wine, is their wine-making technology that is a definitely superior chemical process. Israeli technology has come a long way and has greatly advanced within the last four years, so the wine that comes from there is exceptionally clean and clear.”
Israel’s Yarden wines have managed to gain great recognition all around the world. In the United States alone, they are distributed and sold in thirty-seven states. Ever since Henry took on his position, he exposed and promoted the company to markets in Nebraska, Washington, and Oregon, where the wine is sold to the restaurant chain, SHALOM Y’ALL, and is a great success.
So, the next time you find yourself at a good restaurant, bar, or a kosher supermarket shopping for Shabbat, make sure to indulge yourself in Israel’s Yarden wines consisting of a wide range of character, fruitiness and aroma that have yet to be discovered.
Translated by Yael Sasonov
ELAD MASSURI IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.