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Golan Heights Winery
Terry Sullivan

Golan Heights WineryFor this article, we received samples of Golan Heights Winery wines and conducted an email interview with winemaker Victor Schoenfeld.

We were first introduced to a wine from Isreal while at Vinopolis in London. In 2007 I remember thinking that I did not realize that Israel had vineyards or made wine. We enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc we had from Israel. Recently we had an opportunity to taste four wines from Golan Heights Winery. The winery was started in 1983. Located in Katzrin in the Golan Heights, the winery produces 450,000 cases of wine each year. The winery crafts wines under three labels Yarden, Galil Mountain and Golan.


The land benefits from volcanic soils where moshavs and kibbutzes first planted vines in the area in 1976. Initially grapes were sold to other wineries until 1982 when Golan Heights Winery began producing wines. Today, the winery is owned by four moshavs and four kibbutzes who manage the vineyards under the control of the winery. Approximately 1500 acres are under vine and an additional 250 acres were recently planted.

Golan Heights WineryThe vineyards are located at approximately 33º north latitude, about the same as San Diego, California. However, the vineyards are planted at elevations ranging from 1200 feet to almost 4000 feet. As a result, a diverse variety of grapes grow well in the area. White wine grapes and Pinot Noir are grown at the higher elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Their best reds are grown between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.

Many grape varieties are planted in the different vineyards. Varietal white grapes include: Chardonnay, Emerald Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Johannisberg Riesling, Muscat Alexandria, Muscat Canelli, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier and White Riesling. Red varietal grapes include: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Syrah.

Victor Schoenfeld, chief winemaker, stated, “We are trying to produce wines that best reflect our unique combination of latitude, altitude, Mediterranean climate and volcanic soils.” Victor goes on to note that Golan Heights Winery is known for its Syrah and Merlot; however, the Cabernet Sauvignon is the best known single variety and is the benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon for Israel. Of the white grapes, Gewürztraminer is in great demand.

Victor, who received his enology degree from UC Davis, would like people to know that Israel is crafting quality wines from grapes grown in the region. Golan Heights Winery is striving to improve the quality of its wines as it learns how to improve the quality of fruit from the vineyards. Although their Mediterranean climate is suited for growing vitis vinifera, they do have challenges. One challenge is the wild pigs that enjoy the grapes while the other is the Sharav. This wind that comes from the east is hot and dry and can cause sudden stress on the vineyards.

Golan Heights WineryWines

We tasted some wines from Golan Heights Winery. The 2011 Yarden Mount Hermon White Wine was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine was a straw color and had apple and lime notes on the aroma and taste. The finish was crisp. The 2010 Yarden Heights Wine, a Gewürztraminer immediately reminded us of an Ontario Icewine. Hand harvested grapes were slowly frozen and pressed for the juice. The resulting wine was a gold color with a floral aroma notably honeysuckle. The taste had apricot notes and although sweet, the crisp finish tamed the sweetness. This wine is dessert or pair with blue cheese.

The 2010 Golan Cabernet Sauvignon was a dark ruby color. There were cherries on the aroma. The cherry taste also offered hints of tobacco and pepper. There were soft tannins on the fruity finish that yielded to pepper. Yarden T2 is a fortified blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao. The ruby colored wine had jammy fruit characters on the aroma. The sweet taste had layers of dried red fruits. There was dried fruit, especially raisins, on the aftertaste. The 18 percent alcohol wine had no alcohol burn. The wine is delightful by itself or paired with desserts.

We noticed on the Yarden labels a mosaic oil lamp. The word Yarden is the Hebrew for Jordan River. The Jordan River bisects the Golan Heights from Galilee. The oil lamp decorated with mosaic tile is a symbol of ancient Israel.

The Golan Heights Winery visitor center is open Sunday through Friday for tours and tastings.

Golan Heights Winery
P.O. Box 183, 12900 Katzrin, Israel

Article written December 2012

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