This month we feature an interview with an outstanding producer from Israel: Domaine du Castel. We included questions on the winery’s history, philosophy, terroir and wines, to give you a complete overview. We hope you enjoy it!
You are known as pioneers of quality winegrowing and winemaking in Israel. How did it all begin?
In 1988, almost by chance, Eli Ben Zaken planted the first modern-day vineyard to be found in the Judean Hills, in the backyard of his home in Ramat Raziel.
Within four years’ time, family and close friends came together to harvest the grapes that would become the winery’s very first wine – Castel Grand Vin 1992.
Though he was a novice pioneer, Eli was a “very serious amateur” from this first harvest – he aimed for the highest, most meticulous standards, as accustomed in the finest wine regions.
He envisioned a thriving family winery that would offer future generations the chance to take part in a shared creation, for generations to come.
What’s your winemaking philosophy? What do you look for in a wine?
Eli's philosophy is to produce what he likes to consume.
In his many travels, he always found himself excited from Bordeaux wines. Our chardonnay ('C' Blanc du Castel) is actually the result of a very emotional encounter of Eli & Monique with a Burgundy wine from Meursault, which drove him to plant Chardonnay back in his own land and to create these types of wines.
Every time we create a new wine (which doesn’t happen that often…), the basic inspiration is what the family likes to drink and the evolution of their palate and mind.
Tell us something about your terroir (climate, weather, soil, etc.).
Our vineyards, planted in the mountains of Jerusalem and facing the Mediterranean Sea, enjoy a combination of hot summers and chilled sea breezes.
During the winter, precipitation is well above average (about 700 mm). Some snow may fall during the winter in this area, but there are no actual snowstorms.
Our soil is a combination of terra rossa, clay and limestone: a rocky and airy soil that allows water to seep through it with ease: an important attribute as most of the vineyards are planted on a slope.
This is the soil of a truly ideal “wine country”, very similar to the grounds of some of the best vineyards in the world.
During the summer, the average temperature is much lower than that typical to our geographical latitude, and it is accompanied by a frequent northwest breeze.
The nights are damp and chilly, while the days are very dry: these are ideal conditions that prevent mold from forming on the grapes. The temperature fluctuation between day and night is approximately 10 degrees Celsius, and can reach even 16 degrees during the months of ripening.
The climate in the region is especially favorable for reaching the right amount of phenolic maturity and acidity in the grapes.
How many wines is Castel making currently? Can you describe your range briefly?
We make 6 wines: three reds, one rosé, and two whites. The grapes are rigorously handpicked for all wines.
I already mentioned Castel Grand Vin. We still produce it. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, coming from our best vineyards. It is aged 20 months in mostly new French oak barrels. It’s an elegant and classic wine, which reaches its peak about 8 years from the harvest.
Petit Castel is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It is aged 12 months in French oak barrels and 4 months in concrete tanks as a final blend. The result is a harmonic balance of fruit and oak. This wine is at its peak between 3 to 5 years from harvest.
La Vie Rouge du Castel is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It spends a short period in French oak barrels and then it is aged for a year in concrete tanks. A fruitful and fresh wine, it is best served slightly cool.
Rosé du Castel is a blend of early-harvested Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc grapes. After a quick press and a short skin contact, it follows a long fermentation at low temperature. Refreshing and with a surprisingly long finish.
La Vie Blanc du Castel is a fresh and complex blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. The wine went through a long and cold fermentation process, alongside a careful treatment of lees.
Finally, ‘C’ Blanc du Castel, which I also mentioned earlier, is made of 100% Chardonnay. The must is fermented in French oak barrels and aged sur lie with frequent batonnage for nearly 12 months. It’s a complex and balanced wine, peaking about 4 years from harvest.
Is it possible to visit your winery and vineyards?
Yes indeed, we have a visitor center at the winery and we host guests (upon reservations). Visiting the vineyards is not something we offer on a regular basis.
Thank you Domaine du Castel!