Located on a small street in the picturesque village of Zichron Yaakov, a few blocks away from the town’s touristy promenade lined with cutesy stores and cafes, one finds Barak Dahan’s small house, with a sign for Somek Winery pointing toward the backyard.
Behind the home, alongside the family’s cages for pet doves and children’s toys is an old fashioned barrel press and picnic tables for visitors. The backyard operation isn’t what you would expect of a winery that produces bottles coveted by some of Israel’s top chefs.
Dahan, who is a tall, athletic-looking man in his 50s, is proud of the fact that the winery is in his backyard. He is the fifth generation of his family to tend this vineyard. His grandfather’s grandparents emigrated from Romania in 1882, settling in the area along with 51 other families in the wave of initial Jewish immigration to Palestine known as the First Aliyah. The group was the beneficiary of the patronage of wealthy Jewish aristocrat Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who founded the Carmel Winery to help the struggling settlers support themselves by growing wine grapes. For a century and a half, Dahan’s family has cultivated 40 acres of land, selling crops to Carmel and other major wineries in Israel.
Dahan grew up listening to dinner table discussions of the market value of grapes and the weather’s impact on the quality of the season’s crops. “Every time we decided to plant a new vineyard it was a big family event, because we knew it was a big decision you would live with for the next 10 to 20 years. It was like every new vineyard was a new part of our family,” he said.
Ten years ago, Dahan decided to move beyond the long-standing family farming tradition and branch out from the art of grape growing into the winemaking process itself. He embarked on the adventure with his wife, Hila Dahan, who prepared herself for the new business by studying viticulture and oenology at The University of Adelaide, in Australia.
Initially, Dahan and his family, who are the only people to work at the winery, planned to focus their winemaking on bottles they would serve at their dinner table. “Our primary goal was and is to enjoy the activity of making it and enjoy the wine,” Dahan said. “That’s all. The tastes of the wine aren’t adjusted to the preferences of the market; we make wine that suits our own personal taste and style. We make our wine like you would make a piece of art.”