WINE: David Rhodes meets Ido Lewinsohn (above) of the Recanati Winery
Ido Lewinsohn has been part of the winemaking team at the Recanati Winery since 2007 when he worked with founding winemaker Lewis Pasco. He stayed on at the winery when a new senior winemaker, Gil Shatsberg, took over the helm in 2008.
Before joining Recanati, Ido had studied winemaking and viticulture at the University of Milan in Italy and worked at wineries in Tuscany (Italy), the Rhone Valley (France) and Australia. One of Ido’s first steps into the wine industry was as an intern in 2003 with Israel’s first boutique winery, Margalit.
When he’s not busy helping to produce about one million bottles of very well-respected wine at Recanati, he’s often busy with his family cult winery, the Lewinsohn Winery. Lewinsohn’s Garage de Papa Rouge and Blanc labels produce a modest 7,000 bottles. If this wasn’t enough work for any one human being, Ido has also been serving as the dean of the winemaking program at Ariel University and often travels overseas as an ambassador for Recanati wines and a curious visitor to other wine regions.
I contacted Ido Lewinsohn to talk to him about one of the interesting trends in Israel - that more and more wineries over the last several years show more favor for Rhone and “Mediterranean” grape varietals (Syrah/Shiraz, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, Petite Sirah as well as some others) over internationally popular Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).
Ido, did you have much experience with Rhone/Med varietals in your studies overseas?
“Yes, I had grown Carignan, Syrah Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne and Marselan grapes mainly in France; and during my time at the Sassiacia winery in Tuscany there were Bordeaux varietals; and in Tasmania, Australia, where I have worked, there were mainly Bordeaux grapes too. I planted new vineyards and grew existing ones in Languedoc and the Rhone Valley in France and there I had my most important experience with these Rhone varieties. I believe in their potential because it makes more sense to me for Israel. They have been grown in hot regions for centuries and are better adapted than most of the Bordeaux and Bourgogne (Burgundy) varieties for our climate. It’s not that I don’t think we can't make good wines out of Bordeaux and Bourgogne varieties in Israel, it just feels to me like Rhone and Med grapes are a more natural fit for Israel and I like those wines better.
On the international scene our Israeli Bordeaux’s have little interest, but Med varieties from Israel can perform well and draw attention to our style and quality as a legitimate wine region rather than just another region that makes international wines.”
When you first started at Recanati, the varietal mix was slightly different than now as well as the winemaking style. Wines from then and now were both well received by the public and wine reviewers. It would be a gross generalization to say your wines today are more Old World and they were previously more New World, but since you’ve been at the winery how have things changed there and in the vineyards?
“Since Gil and I started we have planted Med varieties and have changed the style of the wines. They are much more Old World now but we have to keep in mind that Israel is a hot region and, as such, the natural tendency of the wine's style is more towards New World. Wines from here are expressive and quite "big". We can’t and should not change that. That is who we are. At Recanati, we simply try to moderate how big and give it some spiciness and finesse.”
Do you see Recanati, and Israel in general, making less Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay in the future as Rhone/Med varietals supersede them, or is it just as an addition to what is made at Recanati and in Israel?
“No. I think Bordeaux varietals will continue to be in the majority for many years to come.”
At your own family winery, you make one red wine and one white wine a year. Your red was a single varietal Merlot or Cabernet but evolved into something more Mediterranean. How did that evolution happen? Your white wine has remained a Chardonnay each vintage - do you see that one day you might make a different white wine from that which you make today, for instance a Roussanne/Marsanne blend?
“I can certainly make another white in the future, but I don’t see myself doing a Bordeaux red again at Lewinsohn. Chardonnay is a variety that is well adapted to different climates and soils, so good wines can be made, and it shows minerality so terroir can be expressed. If there will be another variety that draws my attention, I will give it a try.
“I think the best results in Israel for whites now come from Chardonnay, and so in the near future I will keep on doing that, as I think Israeli Chardonnays are quite good.”
What have you told your students about choosing which varietals to plant?
“I think it is harder to make whites then reds. I think it is harder to make Rhone-like wine than Bordeaux. I advise them to do whatever they feel is right, but of course I give them my opinion – people should grow grapes that will make the best wines. If the best wine is Bordeaux then go ahead. If you think the best wine is a Rhone – give it a try!”
Every wine region is a bit unique but if you were to generally classify some of Israel’s wine regions such as the Galilee and Judean Hills, what international regions do theymimic best in weather and soil?
“I think Israel is more similar to Sicily and Languedoc.”
Of the varietals we focused on, what soils in Israel do you find that they benefit from most and why?
“I don’t like volcanic soil that much personally, and I enjoy terra rossa and limestone, but that's just a silly generalization of course.”
A vineyard of the Recanati Winery
Recanati experimented with Grenache but didn’t claim to have much success from it? Is it possible that, like Carignan, it needs Old Vines to make interesting wines or it’s better for blending and you may not have found either the right clone to shine in Israel or the right blending partner for it?
“We did not enjoy our experience with Grenache and Mourvedre. It might be worth another try but we have so much going on – Marselan, Carignan, Petite Sirah and the new whites. We are quite happy with those guys and might go back to Grenache and Mourvedre in the future.
Personally, Marselan and Petite Sirah interest me the most, so I will focus on those in the next few years and see where that will take us.”