Aug 18, '22

10 questions to the pioneer of wine making in Israel, the legendary Eli Ben Zaken

My 10 quick questions to a pioneer of winemaking in Israel, the founder of Domaine du Castel family winery and award-winning wine-maker Eli Ben Zaken.

Eli Ben Zaken and Aiste Miseviciute
Eli Ben Zaken and Aiste Miseviciute

1. How would you describe your wine in a few words?
Restrained. Elegant. Long. Worth ageing. 

2. You are a pioneer in Israeli winemaking. Who and what influenced you most?
No one really influenced me except for a developing taste for good wines. At the beginning especially Bordeaux. 

3. How does the terroir and the microclimate reflect in your wine?
Definitely influenced by both. The soil is clay (terra rossa) and limestone. Stony and we’ll drained. But shallow on a bed of limestone dolomitic rock. As we are the first hills facing the Mediterranean, the influence of the sea is very important. Wet cool nights and very dry temperate days. This is where the elegance comes from.

4. What is your favourite vintage and why?
That’s more difficult to answer… but I can say that in my opinion the mythical vintages are: 1997, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2011, 2016, 2018… at writing the 2020 is not yet bottled but certainly a very good contender. 

5. How has climate change impacted your approach?
Another difficult question! The general tendency might be on the rise but what we face daily is not much different than twenty years ago. 

6. How do you see the future of Domaine de Castel?
The Ben-Zaken family has succeeded in creating an estate that resembles a European wine estate. It has most of the ingredients including the link to the land, from the viticulture to the wines. Castel has a an international reputation well beyond the borders of Israel. I think that if managed with the same care Castel can be around for many decades to come. 

7. What is the hardest and the most challenging thing about your job?
The tension. Unrelenting tension. Will we succeed with the next vintage? Will we fail?…

8. What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
When people tell me how much they love my wines. That’s the best reward. 

9. What is your perfect meal paired with your wine? 
Well depending on the wine. With Grand Vin I love a Provençal lamb stew. 

10. What is your favourite wine by other producers?
Yesterday I had a Mouton Rothschild 05 and I was so jealous!

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