Domaine Du Castel Petit Castel (OK Kosher) 2013
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
It all began as if by chance. In the 1970’s, Eli Ben Zaken, born in Alexandria, immigrated with his family from Milan to Israel. With the little money he had, he purchased a piece of land in a community by Jerusalem, with a clear goal to fulfil his dream: to work the land of Israel. Eli built a chicken coop and planted an orchard of various fruit. The first vineyard was planted in 1988, by the family’s home and the winery, in a manner common to the French Bordeaux region – in high density and low vigour. Four years later, family and friends were invited to the first harvest. The first 600 bottles were unveiled in the spring of 1995 and Eli named the wine “Grand Vin”. His friends and supporters showed much enthusiasm, but Eli was still uncertain about the quality of the wine. With the help of journalist Dalia Penn-Lerner, a bottle was sent to the head of Sotheby’s auction house in London. The high praise that was sent in return, convinced Eli to continue planting and open the winery, which was named “Castel” after the nearby Crusaders’ fortress.
Eli’s children, Ariel, Eytan and Ilana, carry on the tradition. Ariel, who spent two years studying winegrowing and winemaking in Beaune, France, the wine capital of the Burgundy region, has been CEO of the winery for over 15 years. Eytan was entrusted with managing the family restaurant in Jerusalem, while continuing to study the art of winemaking with Eli, and holds the position of winemaker beside him to this day. Ilana, the eldest daughter, is the winery’s Director of Export & Procurement.
The winery moved to its new location in Yad HaShmona in 2015 – to a new, beautifully designed building, located across the way from the new vineyards in Ma’ale HaHamisha. After 23 harvests in the Ramat Raziel winery, the Ben Zaken family wanted to ensure the longevity and continuity of their family legacy and of Domaine du Castel.
With a rich history of wine production dating back to biblical times, Israel is a part of the cradle of wine civilization. Here, wine was commonly used for religious ceremonies as well as for general consumption. During Roman times, it was a popular export, but during Islamic rule around 1300, production was virtually extinguished. The modern era of Israeli winemaking began in the late 19th century with help from Bordeaux’s Rothschild family. Accordingly, most grapes grown in Israel today are made from native French varieties. Indigenous varieties are all but extinct, though oenologists have made recent attempts to rediscover ancient varieties such as Marawi for commercial wine production.
In Israel’s Mediterranean climate, humidity and drought can be problematic, concentrating much of the country’s grape growing in the north near Galilee, Samaria near the coast and at higher elevations in the east. The most successful red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, while the best whites are made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Many, though by no means all, Israeli wines are certified Kosher.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, the best of these are densely hued, fragrant, full of fruit and boast a structure that begs for cellar time. Somm Secret—Blends from Bordeaux are generally earthier compared to those from the New World, which tend to be fruit-dominant.