Drink Magazine

A Chief Winemaker’s Ordeal

By Lmarmon


A review of the Barkan Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  August 15, 2012


Barkan Sauvingnon Blanc
A winery’s goal is to create appealing wines on a consistent basis. They begin by establishing a benchmark and then take appropriate steps to assure that each vintage meets consumers’ expectations in terms of quality, flavor and price. There will be some variations from vintage to vintage depending upon the growing conditions, but the basic character of the wines should not vary. Improvements are welcome but backsliding will result in warehouses of unsold wine.

An example is Champagne where each producer has developed a “house style” that is a foundation upon which the flavors may differ each year but whose basic structure remains the same. Their winemakers are masters of blending different components, including older vintages, to maintain consistency. Other regions do not have the same luxury.

Considering the numerous factors that have an effect on winemaking, it is somewhat surprising that there is any consistency at all. Besides annual variations in growing conditions, winemakers must contend with financial and time constraints, facility limitations, personnel issues, unforeseen technical problems like “stuck” fermentation (when the yeast goes dormant before fermentation has finished) and uncontrollable weather issues like sudden hail storms or rain during harvest.

One of several Israeli wineries that have become dependable producers of quality wines every year is Barkan. Established in 1990 by Yair Lerner and Shmuel Boxer, Barkan is Israel’s second largest winery, producing nearly 10 million bottles annually at their Kibbutz Hulda facility in central Israel, east of Tel Aviv. Their Barkan Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($11) has recently been selected by the upscale British department store Marks and Spencer to pair with eastern Mediterranean fare offered in their food court. Aromatic and fruit-forward, it has grapefruit, lemon and lime notes with crisp acidity, minerals and a classic grassiness that make it perfect with grilled foods, salads and mildly spicy foods.

Maintaining consistency at a large winery like Barkan can be very difficult. Recently, one of us had a chance to interview Ed Salzberg, Barkan’s chief winemaker, at length.

A small snippet of that interview will help shed light on how Barkan does it.

Q: With a combined output of around 10 million bottles annually, what exactly is the role of Barkan’s chief winemaker?

Salzberg: “My role is essentially making sure that everything works: That the grapes are harvested as near as possible to the optimum; that fermentation is conducted so as to produce wines most suitable to our production needs – balancing benefits of extended red fermentation against the needs of grapes ready for harvest; After pressing and completion of fermentation and malolactic fermentation, to make sure that the wines are properly cared for in a timely fashion. Major decisions need to be made soon after the young wines are racked. All wines must be tasted and ranked and assigned to suitable blends or assigned for barrel aging. Wines for barrel aging must be ranked according to which finished wines they are intended, and thus for which barrels and for what length of time.

“My responsibility is to ensure that the year’s production is distributed in line with our marketing program and to make sure that the individual blends are the best we can make while meeting the quantities needed and in line with the bottling schedule.

“We then start preparation for blending and stabilizing young wines for filling. I need to assure that what we need for bottling is ready on time, especially in the rush to prepare young wines for Pesach. In line with this, we are constantly tasting and making decisions about wines in general, and those in barrels in particular, about when to fill and when to remove from barrels.

“For all our blends, I have to oversee the selection process. In our high-end wines that are selections of individual barrels, and require further bottle aging to meet our standards before we release them, this is particularly important. Not only must the individual wine be the best possible, but it must be viewed in the total context of all the wines that we need to produce.

“Essentially, this means making sure that everybody is getting their job done: that wines are cared for, that manpower is available for the required work, that the machinery is functioning, and that the laboratory is analyzing the wine as required and accurately. I also have to make sure that wines delivered to the bottling room are physically and microbiologically stable and to make sure that the bottling process is effectively monitored so that we can be certain that there will be no problems with the wine in the market.

“I have to do a lot of planning, so that next year and the year after that, we will be able to supply the wines we will need – to foresee from which vineyards they will be available, what improvements in equipment and barrels we will need to make and to make shrewd guesses about what we will be called upon to supply.

“A lot of the work is liaison. I need to be in contact with growers, agronomists, harvesting contractors, truckers, mashgichim [kashrus supervisors], winemakers, cellar workers, maintenance people, bottling people, warehouse people, sales and marketing people, public relations people and of course my boss, the managing director, who expects me to get everything done on time, as inexpensively as possible – all the while without compromising on quality.”

Just contemplating Ed’s job description exhausts us – no idea where he gets his energy from.

An occasion such as this calls for a solid, strong, restorative. So we turn once again to Scotch whisky, and the industry’s solution to product consistency – blended Scotch whisky. Here then, without further ado, is the reliable and always enjoyable:

White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $18): famously made with a healthy percentage of Lagavulin, Talisker, Caol Ila and Linkwood single malts, this fabulous, complex, balanced, inexpensive whisky presents with aromas and flavors of smoke, malt, oak, caramel, fruit, honey and toffee, ending in a long, complex, absorbing finish that includes flavors of creamy vanilla and spice. L’Chaim!

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