The harvest is almost behind us and again, as always, we asked ourselves how it was and sat down together to chat about it.
Another Flam harvest is almost behind us and many wines are already fermenting in their tanks. The harvest of the last remaining grapes will soon be over too.
Even though this was our twentieth harvest, we still find it all very exciting. There is no more wonderful or more anxious period in the winery than the harvest season. Everything else depends on it. Between our visits to the vineyards we sat down to speak about it. We wanted to ask Golan some questions that perhaps nobody has ever asked before. We opened a bottle of chilled Flam Blanc and the conversation flowed.
Gilad: So Golan, how was the grape yield this year, as Ehud Manor wrote in one of his poems?
Golan: It’s early days yet, but at the moment it looks excellent. Despite the heat ….
Gefen: Yes. Even here, on the winery’s beautiful verandah, we can feel the heat, even though it is the beginning of September and there is a pleasant sea breeze. In fact it is very hot, hotter than usual (as we always say). If that is true, how does it influence the wine?
Golan (chuckling): I don’t ever remember a July or August that was cool. Anyone walking around the vineyards in summer always feels the heat. Even though this July was the hottest yet (2 degrees above average), our summers are always very hot. This may sound weird and illogical, but the heat actually delays the ripening process, because vines usually recover and are more active at night. However, as the nights are unusually hot this year (21-22°C compared to normal night temperatures of 15-16°C in the Jerusalem Hills), the vines were unable to recover and were less active than usual. This year was not as hot as in 2015 when night temperatures reached 25-26°C, but it was still hot enough to delay ripening.
The winter rains ended early, in February, and we realized it would not be an easy year. We started to irrigate the vineyards earlier than usual, in February instead of in May, so the vines received the moisture they needed. In fact there were some cold spells despite the dry winter.
It is still early to tell if this was good or bad. It also depends on the other decisions I take during the harvest. For example, the decision to irrigate the vines, which give them the ability to develop in the desired direction and to undergo photosynthesis and ripening, which is difficult to during heat waves.
Gilad: Actually, I want to ask you something that I always wondered about, and which somehow we never discussed. In a country as hot as Israel, is there a significant difference between one year and the next? In fact, what does it mean when we talk about a “cooler year”? As far as I am concerned, hot is hot.
Golan: I repeat what I said earlier. It is not only a matter of hot or cold. It also has to do with precipitation. When do the rains end? As I mentioned previously, if the summer nights are 16°C and the days are 31°C and not 36°C, the more ripening is delayed, acidity decreases and sugar levels develop at a slower pace. This creates a serious dilemma about when to harvest the grapes and the decision is a crucial one, but in principle you are correct. Israel is a hot country, a very hot country, and the differences are perhaps clear to us winegrowers and winemakers – and even then not entirely.
Gefen: Is it not difficult to make elegant wine like ours, i.e. wine that is “chilly”, rather than jammy and “warm”, in a hot country such as Israel? What is the solution?
Golan: There are no instant solutions. Every year we need to deal with this issue from scratch. It involves treating the vines in the spring and making decisions about exposing the bunches to the sun, how much water they need and, of course, when to harvest the grapes. For example, if we want a lower sugar level we need to harvest a bit earlier, but we also have to preserve the freshness of the grapes. There are numerous decisions to be made that will determine the quality of the wine. For instance, should action be taken in the winery to create a more concentrated or more elegant wine? And then there is the basic decision to go to higher and colder growing regions as far as possible.
I will give you an example. 2010 was an extremely hot year, yet the wines are not only still alive, but are excellent and still kicking. Compared to Europe, we in Israel try to escape the sun by going to high, inland regions to avoid unnecessary grape exposure to the sun, just as we humans do. We all enjoy going to the Galilee in the summer, and the grapes love being there too, or in the Jerusalem hills.
Ultimately, I think the tendency to worry too much about “hot” years and to overestimate the advantages of “cold” years is exaggerated. And I am speaking from experience. In the meantime, would you mind pouring me a glass of wine …?!