Roni Saslove is a winemaker and and a viticulturist. Half Canadian and Half Israeli, she trained at Brock University of Niagara’s Tawse Winery before returning to Israel tending to her family's vineyards in the Golan Heights. Currently she runs the very hip wine bar - The Tasting Room in Tel Aviv’s newly renovated Sarona district.
Tell us a bit about yourself….
I’ve been making wine full-time for over 12 years now, and have been a part of the winemaking process for over 20-years. Wine had always been apart of my life, something I enjoying drinking, but as I began working in the winery more and more, I became completely hooked.
Growing grapes and just experiencing all the parts of this process that are….both scientific and very magical. To make wine from a scientific perspective is not challenging, but to create beautiful, delicious wine, is a product of so much more than academic knowledge -- it requires an incredible amount of passion, of soul and energy.
What role do our personal perception and taste affect our experience, and our appreciation for wine?
Through my education in sensory analysis, I learned to better understand and appreciate our perspective as wine tasters. Our perception of the wine that we taste is ultimately influenced by so many things other than the wine itself, most of which, we’re rarely aware of. The way that each individual experiences a certain wine, no matter its quality, can be completely unique and I find that to be very enriching.
In Hebrew there’s a saying, Al Tam Vereach, En Litvak Eachon: On taste and smell there’s nothing to argue about. I feel this is very true, there’s no place for argument, but there is a lot of place for sharing our experiences, of flavor for example, with one another.
What is Israel’s history, as a wine country?
Israel is a very young wine country, and a very ancient one at the same time. We’re filled with so many diverse Terroirs; from the Golden Heights, the Upper-Galilee, the Lower-Galilee and to the desert, that each create different styles of wine, while all retaining something distinguishable in common. When you taste an Israeli wine, there’s a very unique taste to it. Because we’re a warm and sunny region, and most of our grapes are grown at high-altitudes, our grapes retain characteristics of green, as well as a bit of the capstone, the asparagus, and a lot of mint as well, that really set them apart from those grown anywhere else in the world.
Since Saslove Winery was first conceived, until now, how has the face of Israeli wine changed both from a global and national perspective?
I’ve been living in the wine industry here before it really was, when it was really unrepresented in the global market. There was a time when, if anyone heard of anything regarding wine that had to do with Israel or with Kosher, because many times it goes together, they would think immediately of the Manischewitz, which is clearly not the best thing to be associated with when you’re trying to sell a high-end product. Ironically, North America’s Manischewitz is unknown by most Israelis and is a far cry from the reality of Israel’s many great wines.
Many years ago the head buyer of Whole Foods in the States came over to Israel to taste some wines, including my own. She told me that she’d love to order from me, because she thought that the wines really were amazing, but that she couldn't at the moment because of the lack of demand for them, because of Israel’s reputation. At that time -- and it’s changing, although slower than I’d like it to -- if you would buy Israeli wine it would be because you’d either be Jewish, or pro-Israel or need something Kosher. Unfortunately, at this time, it wasn't like you opened the news and heard about all the great wines we make here in Israel.
However, things are changing: great wineries here are sending the best of their products to highly recognized international competitions, and returning with amazing rewards. I am happy that through these competitions and through people like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, who have given Israeli wines very impressive scores, Israeli wine is beginning to become better showcased and appreciated on a global market.
Why do you feel that it’s important to place such an emphasis on our perception of flavour and our understanding of it, when experiencing wine?
We’re not like France and Italy where wine has always been such an integral part of the culture. Only in relatively recent history has wine drinking really become popularized in Israel. In this time it’s morphed into what’s become perceived to be an elite product, and a symbol of high social status, and I really feel that this perception actually does a lot of damage. In my experience, people drank a lot more wine, before it was considered something elite or something “snobby”, and I want to take us back to this place.
I am trying to encourage people of all sorts to just go for it; to drink, taste and experiment with flavour. I want to show people that through experience, you can learn understand why you prefer one wine over another, making the experience more exciting -- not intimidating. I really try to emphasize the value of the experience solely between the person and the wine. People don’t need to fear if they don’t know how to say Gewürztraminer -- it shouldn't feel like a test -- just enjoy it. I feel that part of the joy of drinking wine has been sacrificed with the growing emphasis on knowledge and sophistication that has come to proceed it. A wine doesn't have to be the most acclaimed, the most expensive or the most sophisticated, to bring you pleasure.
What about your current project, The Tasting Room?
Two years ago, we sold the winery Saslove Wines, deciding as a family that we all wanted to continue to do new things. Since then my father’s been living on the beach in Goa, India, and I’ve been managing and creating The Tasting Room.
The Tasting Room is a very unique and fun place of wine, with 40 bottles on an automatic pouring system, so that each guest gets the chance to pour for themselves, anything from just a taste to a full glass, so they can discover as many new things as they wish. Most of the wines that we feature here are Israeli, because that’s where we are, and what I believe in supporting. It’s really a place of gathering, where people of all backgrounds in wine experience can come and simply explore and enjoy wines from all throughout Israel.
This interview had been edited and condensed from its original format.