December, as we all know, is chock-full of fun events and festivals. One of the most exciting ones is the annual Mateh Yehuda Wine Festival, which combines three of my favorite pastimes: wine, culture and nature. The festival, which opened on December 5 with a festive wine-tasting at Mini Israel, will continue every weekend through the end of December.
Every Friday during the festival, the public is invited to participate in guided tours at three wineries, which will be followed by tours of the natural surroundings at a cost of NIS 100 per person, when purchased in advance.
The Israeli wine industry is thriving, and boutique wineries are opening around the country all the time. Winery tours have become a big business, and not just for wine aficionados. The ground is bursting with activity, especially in Mateh Yehuda, in the Jerusalem Hills, where there are 28 wineries currently in operation. Most of these are small, boutique wineries, each with its own unique story and flavors, which are run by people who’d always dreamed of making their own wine.
One of the most distinctive aspects of wines made in Mateh Yehuda is that they are produced from grapes that are grown in nearby vineyards. Many wineries, for example in Burgundy or Tuscany, are extremely proud of the fact that they use only grapes that are grown locally, and have been doing so for thousands of years. In Israel, the ancient wine presses that have been discovered indicate that a vast wine industry existed here in ancient times.
The Mateh Yehuda Wine Festival, now in its 21st year, invites the public to visit the participating wineries over the four weekends in December, meet the vintners, hear their personal stories and, of course, taste their fantastic wines. This year, an assortment of cultural, musical and theatrical events at wineries and private homes have been added to the schedule. Here is a summary of what’s available.
Bat Sheva and Peter Mark’s home sits on the edge of a gorgeous 1.5-acre (0.6 hectare) vineyard. Peter used to play contrabass in the philharmonic orchestra, and Bat Sheva used to run a children’s theater she’d founded. The two of them first came to Moshav Agur with their cycling club. Peter began toying with the idea of producing his own wine, and at some point the two of them decided to leave their home in Hod Hasharon and move to the moshav. Nowadays, they love hosting wine tastings on their expansive balcony and concerts in their vineyard.
There will be two musical events during the monthlong festival: On Friday, December 6, there will be a Kabbalat Shabbat program featuring drummer Doron Rafaeli, and on Monday, December 23, there will be a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony, followed by a wine-tasting event to sample wines from Mettler Winery and Agur Winery, alongside good music and refreshments.
Location: Hadar Winery, Moshav Agur Details: 050-232-5110
Nevo Hazan, a man with great passion for his boutique winery, did not imagine that being a dedicated family man would have such a strong impact on his life. When his Aunt Leah, who was living in Karmiel, got cancer and began undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, Nevo and his wife, Iris, invited her to come live with them on Moshav Mata, where she’d grown up. During her stay, the energetic Leah did not stop cooking, picking grapes and fruits from the trees in the Hazans’ garden, and treating the family to wonderful home-cooked meals.
When it was time to harvest the grapes growing naturally, Leah suggested that they prepare wine with them. She showed Nevo and his kids how to stomp on the grapes barefoot and then leave them in barrels for a few weeks until they turned into wine. Soon enough, both Nevo and Iris began learning more about the winemaking process, and a few years later they opened up their own boutique winery. Now, they welcome guests at their winery and treat them to delicious homemade meals, including gourmet breads.
During the festival, on Friday, December 27, at noon, they will host singer Dana Berger, who will perform pop and soft rock songs.
Location: Nevo Winery, Moshav Mata Details: 052-607-7180
BRADLEY BAKERY, MOSHAV LI’ON (SRIGIM)
Oren Shmueli, a psychotherapist by profession, uses his therapeutic insights when preparing his specialty breads and pastries in the small structure behind his home in Moshav Li’on (Srigim) that he uses as his kitchen. Shmueli bakes bread using flour that he imports from Germany, and techniques he learned in China. The incredible aroma that wafts from his ovens is tantalizing to everyone who comes near. He makes a variety of breads: German and Russian rye, rustic, Italian, French, and sourdough. Shmueli also prepares special thin-crust pizzas with layers of mozzarella and Gouda cheeses.
Location: Bradley Bakery, Moshav Li’on (Srigim) Details: 050-575-3548
A number of trails in the forest lead to fantastic panoramic views. About 300 meters after turning off of Road 44, you’ll find a spot with the most absolutely gorgeous view, as well as a sports field, which is a great place for kids to play and expend all their energy. There are also trees surrounding you on all sides, with trails snaking through the forest, picnic tables, and even an organized barbecue area.