Golan Heights produces 'artificial' botrytised wine

Golan Heights produces 'artificial' botrytised wine News Wine News
  • Wednesday 17 September 2003

The Israeli-owned winery, Golan Heights, has started producing 'artificial' botrytised sweet wine using a special technique developed at Tel Aviv University.

Botrytis spores are applied to harvested, fully ripe grapes, which are kept in an atmospherically controlled chamber. The resulting mass is pressed to produce the sweet wine.

The technique is not new - it was pioneered in the 1950s by American winemaker Myron Nightingale, who went on to cement his legendary status at Beringer vineyards in the 1970s. Professor Baruch Sneh and Dr David Netser, both of Tel Aviv University, refined Nightingale's methods slightly. They were funded by Golan Heights and worked with Golan's head winemaker Victor Shoenfeld.

'We made several critical improvements, including both the reproduction of the botrytis and the way in which the spores are applied to the grape clusters,' Shoenfeld said. The actual method is kept secret.

The grapes are treated with botrytis spores 'harvested' from Golan's Ortal vineyard, where the fungus appears every year. Pressing yields a sugar-rich must that requires a strong yeast strain and several months of fermentation. The wine then ages for six months in French oak.

Botrytis cinerea – commonly known as noble rot – is a fungus responsible for giving Sauternes, and other famous sweet wines, their remarkable sweetness and quality. It occurs naturally particularly in warm low-lying areas prone to early-morning mists. It is responsible for Hungary's Tokaji and Germany's sweet wines. The spores gradually shrivel the grapes, concentrating flavour and sugar.

Although the climate in the Golan Heights Winery area is condusive to propagation of botrytis, the grapes have not been affected by the rot in a reliable way.

The Israeli winery has been refining the artificial propagation process since 1999, when it began this sweet wine venture. Production is limited - it is set to increase, but at present only 3000 half-bottles of Yarden Noble Semillon are made. The 2001 vintage is not even expected to reach the US market.

Golan Heights has made naturally-occurring botrytis wine only once, in 1988. Researchers at the winery found that – with the exception of Ortal vineyard – there was too much wind, which dried the botrytis spores before they could affect the grapes.

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