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Israel MW trip

Twelve Masters of Wine embarked on a trip to Israel, put together Eran Pick MW and Israel Export Institute. A full trip report will be published in the coming weeks.

Israel is an intriguing country with wine history dating back at least 5,200 years, but where seeds of modern wine production were planted in the late 19th century by the French Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Today, 5,500 hectares are cultivated and wine is produced by some 250 wineries.

We took a look at the high altitude area of Judean Hills as well as the country’s highest lying vineyards on Golan Heights close to the Syrian border, where vines may be cultivated at altitudes up to 1,200 meters above sea level. We also explored Galilee in the North close to the Lebanese border.

In Israel, the biggest viticultural concern is leaf-roll virus and other vine viruses, which are hard to combat due to scarcity of virus-free planting material, only available post 2009. We visited the country’s only licensed vine nursery run by Golan Heigths Winery. The second key issue is protection of the grapes from the sun, which may involve decisions on vineyard aspect, trellising and foliage management as well as netting the fruit zone of the vines. Practically all vineyards must be irrigated due to low rainfall.

The most widely planted varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Argaman, Colombard and Chardonnay. Overall, Mediterranean varieties are on the rise but there is also increasing interest in indigenous grapes such as Argaman, Baladi Asmar, Marawi and Jandali.

We learned about particularities of Kosher wine production and market, and widened our understanding of the situation and issues on this political hot spot area. We tremendously enjoyed this in many ways eye-opening trip with its delicious Israeli cuisine, heartfelt hospitality and perfect organisation.

Essi Avellan MW

Porto student trip

Each year, three major Port houses – The Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta do Noval – host a very lucky group of MW students for three memorable days of vineyard visits, winery and lodge tours, tutored tastings, delicious meals, great wines and atmospheric overnight stays in one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to accompany the group as ‘minder’, or ‘responsible adult’ as someone may have put it, but it was immediately clear that this group was in no way irresponsible. On the contrary, the level of commitment, professionalism, and enthusiasm of all 16 students was a credit to the MW study programme, as was the global reach, with participants from Edmonton to Krakow to Beirut to Hong Kong. The future of the Institute is certainly in good hands !

The weather was wet and unseasonably cold, but the outstanding warmth of the welcome wherever we went more than made up for this. The tone was set with 5 star luxury rooms for our first night at the opulent Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia, courtesy of Taylor Fladgate. But any thoughts of staying in and abusing room service were quickly forgotten as a short bus ride brought us to the excellent Vinum Restaurant, where Paul Symington welcomed us with white port and tonic, a refreshing aperitif which became an ongoing and much-liked feature of the trip (although some preferred the pink version served by Adrian Bridge).

The next day went from highlight to highlight, as we discovered the timeless Factory House, last outpost of the British mercantile empire in Portugal, and compared the house styles of Taylor’s, Graham’s and Quinta do Noval through an extensive tasting ranging from ruby to aged tawnys to classic 2007 and 2011 Vintages. The secrets of ageing were revealed at both the Taylor’s and Graham’s lodges, before another in-depth tutored tasting led by Dominic Symington. A longer bus ride took us into the wilds of the Douro – which never looked wilder than in this weather – before a relaxing evening at Quinta dos Malvedos in the charming company of winemaker Henry Shotton.

Friday was a monster day, with in-depth winemaking discussions first at Malvedos and later at Fladgate’s new Quinta da Nogueira, viticulture in the vineyards of Quinta da Roeda, plus almost a full day in the middle at the magical Quinta do Noval, where we discovered not just their legendary Ports but also some potentially world-beating red Douro wines. Our timekeeping was a disaster thereafter, but instead of treating us with the disrespect we deserved, Adrian Bridge calmly took control of the group and shared his wisdom and wit until the early hours of the next morning. The storm raged outside at Quinta de Vargellas, but inside the mood was festive as we played with port tongs heated in the crackling fire, and listened in rapture as Adrian answered all questions with incisive analysis and expertise, a masterclass for all aspiring Masters of Wine.

When we heard that our bus was stuck in the mud halfway up a steep off-road dirt track, many of us went to bed hoping we would never have to leave Vargellas. Fortunately, the sun came out the next morning and a 6am rescue team somehow got our transportation moving, so we could complete the programme with another detailed viticulture session at Quinta do Bomfim, followed by a delightful weekend lunch party with Paul Symington, his wife, children and grandchildren.

This leisurely finale was typical of the generosity of everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to share their passion with us. CEO’s, technical directors, vineyard managers and winemakers…to have such valuable face-to-face quality time with so many top people is a rare privilege, and it is difficult to find adequate words to thank them all.

Colin Gent MW