Sunday, December 10, 2006


Had a trip to the wine country last week. Friends visiting from the old country. What to do? Let's drive into the Jerusalem hills, drink some wine, see some nof/scenery, and hopefully find some good food. We drove down the mountain towards Beit Shemesh - due west and slightly south. We headed first for the Ella Valley winery, one of the top boutique wineries in Israel. We arrived and noted a business meeting happening at a table - wine and business, what could be bad? The winery really had a California feel. Tables with large cafe umbrellas, terracotta tile and wood, and these big bird cage/houses. A cockatoo flying around named "Gever" or Guy, and 2 Toucans, and another birdhouse with little birds flying around chirpily.

The CEO of the winery took us around. We saw a little film with bucolic scenes of grapes growing, being picked, crushed and made into, you guessed it, wine! The winery prides itself on the fact that they grow all of their own grapes, pick them at night and also, hand pick them. They produce 200,000 bottles a year, which is not alot. We walked by the rooms where the grapes are pressed and the first stages of winemaking take place. Then, the best part, the tasting. We were good, we did spit a bit but mostly we tasted - a simple everyday red that not all liked (it was young and a bit raw but not undrinkable), a good Merlot, an excellent Cab select. We all bought a few bottles for the collection and considered our building hunger. The winery intends on opening a cafe with bread and cheese but alas, not yet. Where else to eat? Ah ha - I remembered passing a mean roadside stand as we turned towards the kibbutz where the winery is located. I asked the CEO for any recommendations. He had none. Depressing. Not even a local humous stand. I voted for the mean roadside stand. We headed there.

It was, a find, in a sense. The menu wasn't quite clear but there was a sign on the side of the road. Shakshuka, tuna, omelet sandwich, nocknickiya/hot dog or sausage , sh'nitzel. The proprieter, working out of a bus that was painted decoratively and permanently parked on a dusty shoulder of the road, was somewhat surprised to see 6 adults and 2 children descend on him. we ordered shakshuka (remember that this is the spicy eggs with sauce) sandwiches, omelet sandwiches and plated shakshuka. He commenced filling orders. It took forever. There was no hurrying the artist at work. I had opted for a 1/2 sandwich, assuming that more food opportunities might come my way later that day (not really but hey, worth a shot). Who knew I'd eat it long before Ira and Lisa would even get their shakshuka b'tza'la'chat - on the plate? The kids had omelets. The fixings were good, ranging from a creamy cabbage to a pickled cabbage to pickles to humous and fries all mixed into the eggy, saucy mixture on a crusty but unfortunately, too fluffy white bread roll. Sometime later, we finished. By the end of the experience, Lisa was standing in the kitchen (such as it was), holding the plates while our friend spooned in the salads and sides to the shakshuka.

We continued to our next winery, at Kibbutz Tzora. We checked out their wines, they also had nice cheeses and cookies and other gourmet jams and spreads and things of that variety. They also grow their own grapes and produce some whites along with the requisite reds. Their wines weren't bad, we bought a variety of a riesling that was good but Ella Valley was better. Noah and Carolyn went off with Moses for some serious sight seeing and Alan left for Jerusalem and Fayanne, Lisa, Ira and I were on our own. We drove along and veered off the road when we saw a sign for winery. We poked along on a simple track and came up on a building with some trucks and other loading trucks. I headed out and looked inside. Bingo, tasting room. I got someone to open up and offer us some tastes. We had a few varieties - not great but not bad, especially the bottles from a few years ago that were not kosher. That is, in later years, they got Rabbinical Supervision but in their first years, they didn't have. They did have excellent olive oil - their own, which we bought, and Taibe beer which is also excellent beer from the territories (Jess knew the owner back in the '90's when she was reporting on business people doing exciting things in Gaza and thereabouts) which we also bought.

On the way home, we stopped for coffee which we all needed. Unfortunately, we had to head into a local strip mall (such a comedown after wine and scenery) for our coffee at Aroma. It felt alot like Starbucks but we drank and headed back home up the hill, sipping our coffee and listening to Fayanne snuffle in the back seat contentedly.

We headed for our next

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