I was recently asked to write a short article on Israel for Decanter as part of their Expert’s Choice section. This will be released in early March along with my associated wine recommendations. One winery that I really wanted to include in the tasting line-up was The Golan Heights Winery, though sadly the samples didn’t make it to me in time despite the best efforts of the helpful Yael Gai. But what of the winery itself? It was founded in 1983 from four Kibbutzim and four other cooperative communities (Moshvim). Four seems to be a magic number here as there are four labels. I’ll be concerning myself with just one here, Yarden.

Golan’s long-term head winemaker, Victor Schoenfeld, whom I last met on a visit to Israel in 2018, manages 630ha of vineyards in the Golan Heights/Galilee. These cover 28 vineyards, 450 blocks, and are planted with 20 grape varieties. The vines are variously planted between 400m and a lofty 1,200m on a volcanic plateau. The soils are based on basalt and volcanic tuff, making up five various reddish/brown soils which are complexed by alluvial and colluvial derivates of the above. The viticultural landscape here is littered with extinct volcanoes (see the photograph), and is strikingly beautiful.

We often hear about low intervention and naturalistic viticulture, though all too often the winemaking practices are overlooked. Already some 170 ha of this outfit’s vineyards are organic and increasingly the winery itself operates a sustainable approach, including solar for at least half of its electricity needs, shading in the winery to reduce the need for power-hungry cooling, natural water treatment, and bacterial digestion (for gas converted to electricity) of winery liquids and solids, to name but a few. A scientific head lends predictability to these sensible endeavours, reflected in the 14 weather stations dotted across the winery’s vineyards.

So here are the three wines that I should have tasted alongside the many others from across Israel:


2020 Yarden, Chardonnay, Galilee

Quite aromatic on the nose, with hints of ripe red apple and white melon. On the palate the main theme concerns grapefruit zest. There’s an attractively subtle smokiness from an element of new wood, and a voluminous and mouth-filling texture. Whilst the acidity here is not high, it certainly keeps the whole equation in check. This is varietally correct and, more than that, full of life. An exciting Chardonnay planted in the elevated cooler climes of Galilee. They seem to suit it.



2019 Yarden, Petit Verdot, Galilee

A deep purple-flecked ruby robe throws out floral aromas and bold black cherry. At first taste these are backed-up by subtle olive tapenade notes, pipe tobacco, and spicy ripe blackberries. The grippy tannins, whilst making their presence felt, are very well resolved. The oak treatment is restrained and softly spoken. This is as good a varietal Petit Verdot as I can remember tasting.



2017 Yarden, Bar’on Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Petit Verdot, Galilee

As with many ambitious wines of the region, this is a big, bold beastie! The ripeness of the berries offers an attractive volume and smoothness on the palate, though the pay-off is a slight sweet-fruitedness and lack of precision. This is altogether a bold statement, and one that pulls of successful layers of complexity and a come-hither drinkability. I would just like to see crunchier, perfectly ripe fruit for a subtler and (paradoxically) fruitier expression. But this is quibbling…perhaps more recent vintages offer this?