Wineries South of The Galilee
The communities south of the Galilee tend not to be as well-visited by tourists as other areas in Israel. Yet the region contains several excellent wineries, each with their own unique offerings. My husband's and my temporary home near Afula last summer turned into a gateway of new wine experiences.
We relied on Egged buses for transportation to avoid driving on unfamiliar roads, especially after tasting and drinking wine.
Our first stop was to Tabor Winery, which stands in the foothills of Mt. Tabor and a twenty-minute walk from a bus stop. Situated in a small shopping area, Tabor Winery offers newly renovated indoor and outdoor venues. Begun in 1999 by four families, Tabor has grown to produce over a million bottles per year. Historically, Tabor grows grapes in varying types of soil in ecological and sustainable vineyards, and has vineyards throughout Israel. Sadly, because of COVID, we were the only tasters present, and, having the choice to taste either indoors or out, we went with indoors with its comfortable air conditioning.
Tabor Winery has the most unique dispensing of wine of any winery we have ever visited. Our hostess presented us with a blank card the size of a credit card that operates in the manner of a credit card. We put the card in the case with four white wines or in the case with four red wines. We selected the amount of wine we wanted and its accompanying price. We made our selection, pressed the appropriate command, and our card was charged for the amount we selected. Our options were either a taste, half glass, or full glass.
We started with Tabor Rose Barbara in the Adama series and moved to Roussanne, also in Adama (my first time tasting a Roussanne), Viognier (Single Vineyard series), and ended the tasting of the whites with Gewurztraminer (Adama). The reds were equally as impressive and delightful: Adama Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, ECO Red and Single Vineyard Marselan (my first time tasting the latter two). To cleanse our palate, we ordered their cheese and bread plate that came with dips and olives. One order was more than enough for the two of us and was delicious.
We found the next winery, a boutique winery called Tavor Wine Cellar, through a lucky internet search. Started by Moroccan born former Lieutenant Colonel Shimi Efrat in 1999, the winery now produces 5000-7000 bottles per year at Kfar Tavor. The entrance to the center is an archway to a room with four casks, three being used as a bar and one for different paraphernalia. Behind the casks are shelves with glasses and bottles. The tasting room is framed by a small, curved archway and has clay racks filled with the most recent vintages. We tasted one bottle while standing. Off the main tasting room, there is a room with two parts, one with Shimi's stainless steel tanks, and the other his wine cellar where he stores bottles as they age.
Shimi tops his bottles with solid corks and currently sells a Merlot Shiraz blend from 2017. At the time of our visit in July, he was bottling wines to be released in 2025. He makes his wines without preservatives, filtering, pumping, or pushing. He develops his wines in oak and stainless steel tanks. His white varietals are grown in Kfar Tavor but he brings red grapes from the Golan Heights. Although he served tasty olives at our tasting, Shimi will provide cheese with his wine if requested.
Our third stop was to Tulip Winery located in Kfar Tikva, a community of hope for adults with various disabilities. Started in 2003 by the Itzhaki family, the winery produces over 300,000 bottles per year and employs many of the residents of Kfar Tikva.
The Visitor Center offers both indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating provided fans to help circulate the air and was quite comfortable on a hot day. The outdoor space was flexible enough to accommodate a large number of Israelis celebrating a birthday, and had enough space and social distance for the many other visitors who were there that day.
After hearing our limited Hebrew, our initial hostess located a more fluent English speaker to help us out. Prior to this visit, we had never tasted Tulip wines before, so when our hostess asked us for preferences, we asked her to select a variety. The first wine we tried was their White 2020. From there, we tasted a White Franc, Net Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah Reserve (my favorite of this visit) from a single vineyard. The tasting was accompanied by a board of cheeses, a basket of fresh breads, and four dips.
The most challenging winery to visit was undoubtedly Netofa Winery; in the midst of beautiful scenery, we had to walk about ten minutes to catch a second bus. Since Mitzpe Netofa does not have a lot of traffic, public transportation is limited. Our choices were to walk for twenty minutes into a pretty village and catch a bus there to take us back to a bus stop on the nearest freeway, or wait several hours for the next bus. Rather than have us do either, an employee of the winery drove us to our bus stop on the main highway.
Founded in 2006, Netofa Winery is located on a mountain in the Lower Galilee in Mitzpe Netofa. Grapes are grown a short distance away in the foothills of Mount Tabor in Kibbutz Ein Dor and include Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Chenin Blanc and Roussanne. Wine tasters have the option of outdoors, porch, or indoor venues for tasting.
Having previously tasted and enjoyed Netofa's Latour White, we opted for their less expensive Domaine White. Following that was Latour Rosado, Latour Red, Tel Qasser White, and, for the amazing finale, Red Ruby, their port. The palate tasting cuisine was on two stone boards - a freshly baked loaf of bread on one and a selection of cheeses, dips, fruit, and nuts on the other.
Visiting these wineries offers tasters an exposure to a wide variety of delicious wines with different wine-making techniques. Being a much smaller winery with one label, Tavor Wine Cellars has minimal information available online; we made our reservation by telephone. With their outdoor options, Tabor, Tulip and Netofa Wineries offer outdoors spaces that can be reconfigured for different sized groups of tasters. Each of these three had websites that served to provide reservation details, directions, and prices. Whether visitors are wine connoisseurs or casual wine drinkers, each of these wineries will provide a fun, educational, and tasty experience.