A unique countryside getaway bridges past, present and future through art, design, culinary innovation and fine wine.
Words by Nomi Abeliovich
Photos by Dor Kedmi, Amit Geron, Gal Gilad
The Farmhouse at Bat Shlomo offers an immersive sensorial experience. Just 70KM north of Tel Aviv, this magical countryside getaway magnificently melds a fully integrated winery, a luxury guesthouse and a farm-to-table culinary experience with contemporary Israeli art, design and architecture. The powerhouse and visionary behind every detail is Managing Partner at PICO Venture Partners and Zionist enthusiast Elie Wurtman.
Let’s start at the beginning. Could you tell me about the initial concept and how did it come about?
Winemaker Ari Erle and I started the winery in 2010. We’ve known each other for about 20 years; Ari made Aliya before studying winemaking at UC Davis and worked at some of the very best wineries in Napa, and I was working as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. On the weekends we covered just about every winery in Napa and always shared the dream to come back here and do something entrepreneurial that is also high tech and educational.
I arrived in Bat Shlomo by chance when I took my kids horseback-riding in the area and fell in love instantaneously. This place had been forgotten in time and I think this is fundamentally what preserved its’ original spirit. It is about as authentic as it gets. I called Ari and told him I found the place where we would plant vines, make great wine and combine my desire to reconnect Israeli society back with the land.
Could you tell me more about the area and what it is that captured your heart and imagination?
When you close your eyes, you are literally transported back to 1889, to the time of the first Aliyah, when 13 Jewish Zionist families settled here. Not only was this the beginning of modern-day Israel, but also the rebirth of the local wine industry.
Back in the day the entire valley was filled with vineyards but when we got here there was one old vine left and the valley had turned into the loquat capital of Israel. As it turns out, this land has been used for wine making for centuries; when they excavated under the main house, they found a 2000-year-old wine press.
Today, Bat Shlomo is a fully integrated estate winery that is very much a bridge between the past and the present; we imported current wine-making knowledge and technology from Napa and control the entire winemaking process, from planting the vines through to the glass corks.
Who was Bat Shlomo and what is her connection to the Winery?
There aren’t many wineries in the world named after a woman or even represented by a female icon. We decided to name the winery after Bat Shlomo (meaning ‘Salomon’s daughter’), the Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s mother, Betty. A patron of the arts and a great philanthropist, she and her husband had also bought the world-renowned Château Lafite winery. Thus, our flagship wine Betty’s Cuveé, is a Bordeaux style blend named in her honor.
How does one intersect a high-end boutique winery & luxury guesthouse with an ambitious ideological vision?
Connection to the land is a very important value to me. Once the vineyard was up and running, I met Uzi Zucker, a social entrepreneur who set up a school that integrates agriculture with the school schedule aimed at great kids that don’t want to go to traditional schools. I adopted the program philanthropically eleven years ago with 12 kids. Today the school has three branches, with a total of about 500 kids working for 30 different farmers for a fair wage.
Our wine Regavim (meaning “clods of earth”), is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend that embodies the fulfillment of my vision and honors the ‘Regavim’ youth agricultural initiative.
Could you speak of the architecture and restoration of The Farmhouse?
The restoration, renovation and construction process of The Farmhouse took eleven long years to complete. The complex was designed by Architect Arnon Nir (AR Studio) with the intent to inspire our guests to disconnect from daily life, fully immerse in nature and history, and experience the best this land has to offer through the culinary arts and our wine. The idea was to create an elevated experience of a ‘home away from home’.
An impressive art collection is featured throughout The Farmhouse and seems to play a central role in the overall experience.
Curating the art collection was one of the things I enjoyed most working on this project. We have a wide variety of Israeli artists on display and there is a story behind each piece. Our guests are enveloped in our love of the land as we take them on an art journey in every room.
Most of the food we cook is grown in an organic vegetable farm in the valley. The vegetables, herbs and greens are freshly picked every morning, we bake our own bread, source olive oil, artisanal cheese from local producers and only serve fresh line- caught fish.
Chefs from Tel Aviv’s finest restaurants and the surrounding area come and spend one day of the week with us in the kitchen; every day we serve a farm to table dinner on the large communal dining table while the menu changes daily, based on the available seasonal produce.
What is it that makes a stay in The Farmhouse so unique?
Once I found this place, the opportunity to preserve this unique piece of modern-day Israeli history presented itself, as well as to showcase the beating heart of Israel.
As I see it, the wine is a hook for drawing people in from the country and abroad to engage in an experience, but also a discussion of values: who we are, where we came from and where we are headed.
I perceive Israel as a mecca of creativity expressed through innovation, food, art and architecture.
The Farmhouse is a celebration of just that.