Wineries March 27, 2018

Interview with Dalton Winery

By Yaakov Newman


Join us for an exclusive interview with Alex Haruni, owner of Dalton Winery. Learn the origins of Dalton Winery and discover how they grew into the Kosher Wine giants they are today.

Yaakov Neuman:

We would love to hear more about the origins of Dalton. Please share with us how you first got started in the Israeli wine market.

Alex Haruni:

Sure! Our family is originally from England, but we moved to Israel in 1991. It all started when my father and I wanted to invest in the Galilee. We saw the region during the mid 1990’s as underestimated and underappreciated for wine growing. We built the winery in 1995, and originally it was just a small one. My father was the visionary and financial advisor and investor for the business. At the time the Galilee was rundown and forgotten, so we wanted our investment to act as an ambassador to the Galilee. Once we put up the winery, people had a reason to come and visit. This is true for the region as well as the country: Israeli wine is a great ambassador for Israel. It’s one of the things that drive tourists to the land.

We grew together with the industry from 20,000 bottles to millions. At the time we started in the mid-1990s, Israel was at its infancy as a respected wine growing region. Now we distribute internationally to the US, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Brazil.

YN:

When expanding your operation, how did you decide where to purchase plots? Where there any special soil types that exemplify the region’s wine growing potential?

AH:

Most vineyards are planted from scratch. We were looking to do something unique in the area, so we found our own plots and planted. There are a couple neighboring farmers that we still work with. We chose the sites by what was available, but altitude and soil testing were important factors as well.

We also have many different soil profiles, including terror rossa, clay, basalt, and chalk. The basalt soils are part of a large formation that stretches from the Golan to Keren Ben Zimra, and the chalk soils are near Elkosh in the North Western Galilee.

YN:

I understand that you have estate series wines; however, it is rare for wineries to produce estate wines in Israel. What is your yearly production like?

AH:

We have over 1,000 vineyards/110 hectares of vineyard and produce 1.2 million bottles of wine per year! We farm 80% of our own vineyards, which allows us to use the estate designation on that series. Many Israeli wineries source from different farmers, but we go out and farm our own wines. We also plant according to our own needs.

YN:

What trends do you see happening in the Israeli wine sphere, and are there any specific varietels that are particularly suited for the Israeli climate?

AH:

We have been making wine for over 20 years in Israel. Trends come and go. Certain varietals succeed here: Shiraz is particularly suited for Israel. Cabernet Sauvignon is king and does pretty well as well. Every Israeli winery needs to produce Cabernet to become well-recognized. However, we are trying to get the Kosher wine drinking public interested in other new varietals. One way we do this is by adding all sorts of interesting varietals into our blends.

YN:

Do you think that Kosher consumers are more interested in specific varietals?

 AH:

In the Kosher arena, people are more conservative than in other markets. There is a common misconception that blends are inferior to single varietals even though most wines in France are in fact blended. We are trying to work against preconceived notions. Good things are happening in the Kosher market, but there is much more room for wine education. I do see that many people are willing to trade up to super premium wines, but I think that's more from a lack of selection than a truly discerning consumer.

YN:

I have seen that Dalton gets reviews published from magazines in the general public such as Wine Enthusiast Magazine. How important do you find reviews?

AH:

We get the reviews so that the wine public has a reliable source of information. We personally believe that wine drinkers will benefit more from picking up a bottle and tasting it on their own. A true wine experience is a personal one - it’s about drinking and following your own taste. Too many people want other people to make their decisions for them, and it's not only in the area of wine choice.

YN:

How many winemakers do you have, and what are some experimental techniques that they have used in the past?

AH:

Our head winemaker is Guy Eshel. He was educated at UC Davis before coming to work for Dalton. We also have a resident winemaker here. They have used techniques such as cold maceration, carbonic maceration, natural fermentation with wild yeast, cold soaking, and pet nat winemaking techniques. We primarily use french oak barrels for aging. I definitely encourage our winemakers to experiment and take risks. Obviously a wine is only as good as the fruit it is made with; therefore, most of our work involves managing the vineyards. In Israel we get a lot of sun, so canopy management is crucial for our wines.

YN:

What is on the horizon for Dalton?

AH:

Distillation. We are looking to produce brandy and whiskey. We are also taking new directions in winemaking. Me and my team have huge exposure to the international wine scene. We are looking into bringing international winemaking and international flavors into the Israeli sphere. There is a style of making chardonnay that makes the finished product flinty and reductive. New flavors like this are gaining exposure abroad, and we want to bring it into the Kosher market.

We are also experimenting with more natural winemaking techniques. We are currently working on a sparkling wine that finishes fermentation in the bottle, a technique called pet nat. Additionally, we are looking to produce super premium wines. Many Orthodox people are looking to buy super premium quality wines because of Kashrut limitations.

YN:

Thank you so much for your time. It was great to hear about Dalton’s success and learn some secrets of the winemaking process. We look forward to adding some new additions to the existing Dalton collection on KosherWine.com!

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