By Jewish Link Wine Guide Staff
During our tasting of hundreds of bottles of wine in the course of the making of The Jewish Link Wine Guide, some wineries consistently appeared throughout our rankings, pleasing our palates and delivering a superior experience in the glass, in multiple categories. The designation of five Wineries of the Year honors the passion of the owners, winemakers and staff behind these consistent winners, as well as their consistency in placement in multiple rankings categories. We asked each winemaker what their focus is, what they see as their winery’s unique vision or contribution, and what we can expect from them going forward. This year, we identified each establishment’s wines as featured in our lists, so that you can find them easily at your local wine store or online.
Yaffo Winery is located in the famed Ella Valley, sometimes referred to as the “Israeli Tuscany” region, recognized for its quality vines. For Moshe and Anne Marie Celniker, the boutique winery is their dream come true. They focus on the quality of the grape throughout the growing process and produce a variety of wines from cabernet sauvignon to merlot, shiraz and cabernet franc.
When they first started making wine out of their home, the Celnikers produced 5,000 bottles. Today, with the addition of their son Stephan as chief winemaker, production is up to 70,000 bottles a year. The winery has a “new world” outlook, leaning toward friendly, approachable wines. Avremi Burstein, the manager and kosher supervisor, works alongside Stephan and is a key piece of the winemaking team.
The “combination of a family winery with qualities of a boutique” creates a unique appreciation for these less commercialized wines. Anne’s passion, Moshe’s practicality and Stephan’s education—along with a hyper-focus on quality—are the foundation for each Yaffo wine in their portfolio.
Looking to the future, Moshe plans to move to a bigger facility, “where we can double our production yet continue creating top-quality wines,” while adhering to their family foundations.
This is the second year that Yaffo has attained the distinction of Winery of the Year, because of their solid rankings across multiple Jewish Link Wine Guide categories. The Yaffo Image Red 2019 ranked in the Top 25 Red Wines between $25 and $50. The Yaffo Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 and Yaffo Carignan 2020 both ranked in the Top 25 Red Wines under $25. The Yaffo Image White Chardonnay 2020 also ranked in the Top 25 White Wines between $25 and $50, and Yaffo White 2021 ranked in the top 25 White Wines under $25.
Psagot Winery, located in Sha’ar Binyamin in the Jerusalem mountains, includes a wine production plant and an impressive visitors center. Since its first harvest in 2003, which produced 3,000 bottles, the winery has grown tremendously, estimating a production of 500,000 bottles from the last harvest in 2022, and 700,000 bottles from the haul in 2023.
Psagot’s chief winemaker Sam Saroka emphasized the team effort required to create the finished product. The winemaker brings experience, vision and technical expertise and is supported by the operations manager, who provides the manpower required to carry the vision through. And of course, “none of this could happen without the support of the owners of the company, Yaakov and Naama Berg,” Soroka said.
Psagot is well known for its historical presence, its vineyards home to where wine was made during the second Temple period in Jerusalem. That history is carried through in the labeling, as most Psagot wines bear a replica of an ancient coin dated back to the Great Revolt 66-73 CE that was found with the inscription “For Freedom of Zion” in an excavated cave near the vineyards. “The terroir of the region highlights the quality and consistency of our wines,” Saroka said.
The team at Psagot is committed to continuing its tradition of “connecting and maximizing extraction of high-quality terroir fruit, professional work, traditional methods and advanced equipment in order to create wines that reflect an experience that will be deeply remembered as our story from the biblical land of Israel.”
Psagot’s consistency of performance between our widest possible range of categories (both above $50 and below $25) is what led to its distinction as Winery of the Year. Psagot Homeland 2020 was the No. 2 wine in the Top 25 Red Wines above $50. Psagot Peak 2020 also ranked in the same category. Psagot Chardonnay 2021 ranked in the Top 25 Whites between $25 and $50, and the Psagot Sinai (White) 2021 ranked in the Top 25 White Wines under $25.
Lueria Winery is a family winery borne from storied vineyards in Upper Galilee, near Mount Meron planted by Yosef Sayada. Recognizing the unique quality of these vines, Yosef’s son, Gidi, started the winery in 2008, producing 5,000 bottles. The winery now produces 150,000 bottles annually.
Lueria Winery is very much a family business, with the family living about a mile from the vineyards, which enables them to control every detail in the fields and be very hands-on.
As the vintner, Yosef ensures that the winery has the best grapes year after year. Gidi, the winemaker, actually produces the wine and works hand-in-hand with his father. Yosef’s sister, Malka, also works at the winery, along with more family members.
“The whole system works like a machine, where every screw is important and every worker in the system is significant to the winery,” shared Gidi. Lueria is best known as being “a winery that grows its own grapes, controls the production process from growing the grapes and until bottling,” he said.
Lueria is “currently in the midst of implementing a new vision: building a new winery [in the Dalton industrial zone] which will include an event complex, accommodation for individuals and groups, along with tours of the vineyard. God willing, by this summer we will finish the construction,” Gidi said.
The Jewish Link Wine Guide has never had a single winery achieve four rankings in a single list, but the Lueria Roussanne 2020 was the No. 2 wine in the Top 25 White Wines under $25, followed closely by the Lueria Unoaked Chardonnay 2021 at No. 3. The Lueria Gewürztraminer 2020 also ranked in the same list, as did the Lueria Pinot Grigio 2021. Congrats to Lueria on its stellar performance and its distinction as Winery of the Year.
Eli Shiran, founder of Shiran Winery, works mostly by himself out of a warehouse in Kiryat Arbeh. His retirement hobby morphed into a successful microwinery that has grown consistently since its inception. “I produce around 10,000 bottles a year. We began with 600 bottles. In the coming season, we will be producing around 12-14,000 bottles.” said Shiran.
Shiran approaches winemaking as a partnership, and his task is to realize the potential of God’s creation: “I believe that a winemaker's primary task is to maximize the potential God gives us in the vines, so the most industrious role is that of the vintner as the extended arm of God’s work. The vintner ensures we have the best possible grapes. Once the grapes arrive at the winery, our task is to best realize the potential. I’m mainly a one-man show, with some help from temporary workers.”
Shiran Winery is “well known for its unique and special blends that are not found in any other winery,” the winemaker said. “We combine varietals that originate from different parts of the world. I would say that our white wines have put us on the map of high-quality wines.”
As for the future, Shiran looks to keep making high-quality, unique wines that appeal to the consumer. “Our vision is to continue creating imaginative, creative and unique blends that express different parts of my personality. I believe that my way of communicating with my clientele is through the wine they drink!”
The relative size of Shiran made its rankings in four Jewish Link Wine Guide Top 25 lists all the more impressive. Shiran’s Riesling 2021, Semillon 2020 and Unoaked Chardonnay 2021 both ranked in the top 25 lists for mid-priced white wines. Shiran’s The Conductor 2019 ranked No. 2 of the top 25 mid-priced reds, one of the most competitive categories in our rankings. Shiran’s The Trio 2019 also ranked in the same category.
At Tabor Winery, located in the Upper Galilee, the focus is on the vineyard and maintaining its natural and ecological resources. Established in 1999, Tabor winemaking team’s creativity and meticulousness combined to spur its growth as one of Israel’s well-known wineries. With access to vines in multiple regions in Israel, the winery produces many different varieties in its state-of-the-art wine portfolio. Its first harvest in 2000 produced 250,000 bottles, and these days the winery produces 1.8 million bottles.
“The Tabor Winery is keen on team spirit, therefore all of our people are crucial players for the success of the winery: wine growers, winemakers, viticulture, production, operation, marketing, finance and visitor center,” Tabor winemaker Arie Nesher shared. “Of course the most important people are our consumers. Without them the job could not get done.”
The team at Tabor listens to the land and makes the most of what it has to offer, explained Nesher: “The Tabor Winery is best known for excelling in rosé and white wines, which are very compelling to the Mediterranean climate, culture and food … We are also very proud of our ecological revolution in the vineyards.”
Looking ahead, Tabor Winery will continue its path at the forefront of the new era of Israeli wine revolution, “creating wines that are unique and outstanding, combining tradition and innovation; elegant and complex, yet very approachable.” Nesher said.
Tabor’s ability to produce ranked wines both at an aspirational level and also at an affordable price point is what brings it the distinction of winery of the year. Tabor’s affordable Mount Tabor Chardonnay 2021 and Adama Sauvignon Blanc 2021 both ranked in the Top 25 list for white wines under $25. Tabor Adama Cabernet Sauvignon ranked No. 2 in the Top 25 list of red wines under $25. Finally, elegant Tabor Malkiya 2018 ($70) also ranked in the Top 25 list for red wines above $50.
Herzog Wine Cellars
Herzog Wine Cellars is a family-owned winery going back nine generations. Beginning in Europe and continuing today in the Napa Valley and other regions of Northern, central and Southern California, the winery’s state-of-the-art facility was carefully designed to house both boutique and commercial winemaking projects. Known for its premium-quality California winemaking, Herzog Wine Cellars prides itself in creating unforgettable experiences for customers, which includes an elaborate tasting room and high-end restaurant in Oxnard.
When the winery opened in 1985, it had four labels and produced 20 barrels of wine. Today, Herzog Wine Cellars offers over 50 different labels, with some of their reserve wines at 5,000 cases. Boutique wine cases run as low as 200 cases.
The winery runs as a team, with each member a key part of the process, explained Joseph Herzog, VP of operations. “From our winemakers to our cellar crew to our operations teams—we see each crew member as vital to the success of the winery. Many have been a part of our winery family for over 20 harvests. That time has taught the team what it takes to make great wine, and illustrates their commitment to quality winemaking.”
Herzog’s vision for the future is simple: "Let the grapes speak for themselves.’ Great grapes make great wine. Each grape has a story to tell, and we believe truly great winemaking gives language to that story.”
While Herzog is certainly a household name among kosher wine lovers, it attained the distinction of Winery of the Year by virtue of having a fascinating mix of four of its wines solidly ranked in top 25 lists. The Herzog Special Reserve Quartet 2020 ranked in the Top 25 of Red Wines between $25 and $50. The Herzog Lineage Cabernet Sauvignon ranked in the Top 25 Red Wines under $25. The Herzog Lineage Chardonnay 2020 ranked in the Top 25 White Wines Under $25, and the Baron Herzog Chardonnay 2021 (at $12) also ranked in the same list. The Herzog Lineage Momentus also was highlighted in the Bubbly listing.