Back in August I picked grapes and made my own wine for the first time and completely fell in love with this unbelievably simple yet magical process. Read about my winemaking adventures here.
Since then we’ve been drinking the wine and sharing it with others. My husband and I think it is the most delicious wine we’ve ever tasted, and several friends rave about it.
Still I didn’t really believe it was objectively good. I thought we were all just biased and/or prone to flattery.
Because I know nothing about wine.
For me growing up, my total experience of wine amounted the sweet Sacremental we sipped at kiddush.
To me, wine connoisseurs were snooty people who talked enigmatically about tasting “biscuit,” “banana” and even “meat,” while delicately sipping a liquid made exclusively of grapes. They happily pay astronomical prices for a good bottle of wine.
Therefore, I didn’t seem possible that me, Bloomah, a heimish farm maidel from Beit Shemesh, could cluelessly make a good wine in my backyard, with only barebones equipment and none of the conditions recommended for producing good wine.
Still I was intrigued when I heard about WSET: an international wine education program. It happens that the only place in the world where their Level 2 Wine Course is Kosher is in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
I took the plunge and signed up for the 7-week course, starting back in October and finishing this week. My main goals were to taste a huge range of wines, learn what makes a wine “fine,” and connect with experts who can help me improve.
But I also I had another goal:
To have some of those experts taste my wine and tell me the truth:
Is it actually really, truly Good Wine?
My First Taste of the Wine World
Though classrooms have never been particularly educational or enjoyable for me, I found the WSET Wine course was a very exciting learning experience.
There was a lot of facts to take in – the kind of stuff I might be better able to absorb from a book. But the heart of the lessons was the Tasting, and this is something that I could never do on my own.
Each class, the instructors presented us with 5-7 wines to taste from all over the world, covering a wide range of grape varieties and winemaking styles. They then guided us to understand what makes each wine distinct and what factors determine quality: including Nose, Palate, Complexity and Finish,
I started this course absolutely clueless about what any of that stuff means but it happens that I LOVE that feeling of utter ignorance. There’s a profound openness that comes from starting at ZERO.
For the first time in my life, I was being asked to train and fine-tune my taste buds and… umm… smell buds? (or whatever you call the receptors inside my nose that interpret smells)
It wasn’t easy.
At first, every single glass just smelled and tasted like… wine.
At one point, after a few sips of an “outstanding” Pauillac that cost a cool NIS 650/bottle but made me gag, I was ready to quit.
Perhaps wine was not something I could ever enjoy or appreciate.
And since it’s usually gross, who cares?
Just give me my four cups of grape juice on Seder night and leave me in peace!
But since I had paid my tuition fee upfront, I stuck with the course and eventually I sort of, kind of, maybe started to “get it.”
During one memorable class four weeks in, I began to distinguish those primary, secondary and tertiary flavors. Soon, I smelled biscuit, banana and, yes, even meat! I even found some of those fancy fine wines extremely tasty. For red, Syrah from the Jerusalem hills by Segal. For white, Riesling from the Alsace.
I was amazed to discover that there is a such a wide range of kosher wines coming out of the famous wine-growing regions of Frace, Italy, Germany and Spain.
I also appreciated that we had a different teacher for each of the 7 sessions. Each one was a wine professionals with vast experience to share with us, beyond the facts I could pick up just from reading the textbook.
Overall, I rate the WSET Level 2 Wine Course as an exciting and enriching learning experience.
If you are interested, the next Jerusalem kosher course starts in May. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that the Israeli website is in Hebrew. Since WSET is an international program, the lessons, textbooks and the optional certification exam are all exclusively in English.
But What Did they Think About My Homemade Wine?
I mentioned about that one of my goals for this course was to get expert feedback on my homemade wine.
It was quite nerve-wracking to present it to all these experience pros and connoisseurs. After analyzing so many quality wines, I am well aware that mine lacks complexity because it is only 3-months old and also because I am not implementing standard measures that generate those prized qualities.
Nevertheless, after tasting so many other wine, I believe mine tastes particularly good BH and I want to share it. So I did indeed bring in a bottle for tasting at the final lesson last night.
I’m happy to say that I got excellent feedback.
The teacher, Ro’ee Yaniv, formerly of Golan Heights Winery and now Wine Dept Manager for CBC – which is Coca Cola Israel’s parent company – said it had interesting pomegranate flavors.
Classmate Rivka Cohen, a winemaker who oversees the production of 5 million Liters of wine a year at Barkan – one of Israel’s largest wineries – thought it had potential and gave me professional pointers on how to soften the tannins.
Though at 3 months old, my wine is too “young” to be “released,” several of my classmates were excited about it. One of them, Gideon Yury Makhlin, a connoisseur who has reviewed over 850 wines on the wine-lovers social network, Vivino, was particularly enthusiastic.
“If you were selling this, I would buy it,” he declared.
I’m not selling it, because it is shmitta wine*, but his feedback helped me realize something.
Like me, many people find wine and winemaking inaccessible, exclusive and overly mysterious, when really it is completely natural and has always been highly valued in Jewish tradition.
You too can make wine and enjoy it.
I want to share my wine and my fascination with winemaking with others.
In fact, I have plans to do so over the coming months. So stay tuned.
*Shmitta wine can be sold through an Otzar Beis Din, but we have not participated in such an arrangement. There are other ways too, but none of them are so simple, so it’s not for sale. Sorry!
My name is Naomi and this is my tiny little farm in the heart of the rapidly growing city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. I enjoy growing, making and processing as much of my family's food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life.