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by Fred McMillin
1973—Columns of Russian-made tanks driven by Syrian soldiers attack Israel, bringing on what is said to be the largest tank battle ever fought. The scene was the Golan Heights, northeast Israel.
1983—The Golan Heights Winery is established, after most of the ruined tanks have been dragged away to make way for vines.
"The First Wine Was a Disaster"
In its first year, the Golan Heights Winery made three wines...that were terrible. The budding coop knew the cool heights were producing the best wine grapes in the nation, but they had no comparable winemaking equipment. It took a few years to solve that problem, but they did it with a bang. For example, a Golan Heights '90 Chardonnay won a Gold medal at the Wine Expo competition in Bordeaux.
Gamla Chardonnay by the Golan Heights Winery, Galilee, Israel
The Name Gamla—Gamla was an ancient Jewish settlement that valiantly held off the Roman invaders for two years. It is one of three Golan labels; appropriately, it adorns their lowest-cost "fighting" varietal bottles.
The Climate—A year before those tanks rumbled toward Israel, Professor Cornelius Ough visited the Golan Heights. He tasted the sourish apples, noted the volcanic soil, and the lower temperatures at the higher elevation. He announced that this should be wine country. His opinion carried a lot of weight for his employer was none other than the University of California—Davis!
The Delay—With the combat, planting did not start until four years later. About 250 shattered vehicles had to be removed from the area.
Rating—I recall a Frank Prial N.Y. Times column giving a Gamla Chardonnay good marks. My panel gave it a solid RECOMMENDED. The only whites to top it were two $30 Chards. The Gamla costs only $14! (You should try at least one bottle as a learning experience; after all, Chardonnay originated in the Middle East, not France.)
Contact—For outlets, call Megan Greene, (415) 346-2929, FAX (415) 346-6136.
And, since I mentioned my panel...
Postscript—Happy Anniversary, Panel
Exactly seven years ago this week my tasting panel in San Francisco met for the first time. Five thousand wines later they are still going strong. I got to wondering which California Chardonnay have they ranked the highest? Which Merlot? So, I dug back through all the results, and here are the best in each of twenty-one categories of California wines.
This page created February 2001