NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As a banker and financier, Lenny Recanati became a vintner for love not for money.
"In order to go into the wine business, you have to have a passion for it. You have to have a love for it. Let's say there are better businesses to go into, more profitable, more lucrative. Easier ways to make money," said Recanati.
"In other words, you go into it because you love it, not because it's a business. It starts out as a hobby. When it makes money, it becomes a business."
His passion started as a child in Haifa, Israel, where his parents had a vineyard in the garden of his home.
Today, Recanati has about 5,000 bottles in his cellar and is the owner of a winery in Israel's Hefer Valley in the Upper Galilee that he opened in 2000 with a small group of investors.
His new winemaker, Gil Shatsberg, 48, who founded the Israeli boutique winery at Amphorae, traces his love of wine to working in the vineyard of Kibbutz Tzora.
After military service, Shatsberg was determined to find a job that would involve art but not spending whole days in an office or in the field. Winemaking met his requirements.
When he started Shatsberg tried to "take all the sunshine we have in Israel and push into the bottle and concentrate everything and shove it into the glass."
The wines were dense, heavy and high in alcohol.
"They were too big," he explained. "I realized that when I couldn't finish my own wine, that it was too heavy."
Now he aims for wines that are more elegant with less alcohol.
"Wines with finesse that are tasty and fruity and you drink the vineyard and the sunshine in their elegance," he said.
Winemakers in Israel, like their colleagues across the border in Lebanon, have to contend with conflict as well as nature. The most recent release of Recanati's Reserve Merlot 2006 was made from grapes from the Ella Valley near Jerusalem, instead of the Upper Galilee.
The conflict in the summer of 2006 kept the vintners out of the vineyards for a month. Despite what was a late harvest, the grapes from the northern vineyards, which Recanati usually used, were just not up to snuff.
The result, even after spending 18 months in French oak barrels, is a Merlot with softer tannins and rounder feel beneath the red berry flavors.
"It has the taste of the Judean hills," Recanati said.
And that is his goal.
"Not to make Bordeaux or wines that come from California or Tuscany, but to make Israeli wines," he said.
Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Patricia Reaney