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From Israel to North Georgia - A Winemaker's Journey

23 Oct 2019 1:32 PM | Anonymous

I have been a passionate and dedicated winemaker for more than two decades, and have been growing grapes and making wine on the East Coast for the last 16 years, most recently at Kaya Vineyards & Winery near Dahlonega. I am now a freelance consultant, ready to help new and existing wine businesses in Georgia.

My adventure into winemaking was a long time coming. When I was a 17 year old high school student in a Chicago suburb, I woke up one day and decided my life needed a drastic change. I moved to Israel, joined a collaborative farming community, and by the time I was 23, a colleague talked me into planting an almond orchard. I was young and naive, and I had no farming experience, but I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to agricultural work. I quickly learned what it takes, and that led to planting and growing avocados, persimmons, and olives. 

In 1996, a neighbor suggested I plant wine grapes and sell the fruit to a commercial winery. In order to understand the product better (I preferred beer at the time), I enrolled in a year long, immersive, hands-on winemaking course. I ended up with two cases of my first wine, a newfound fervor, and a lot more questions. I was enamored with wine, and so continued my deep dive into all things enology and viticulture. The next step was to open a very small winery, which was well received thanks to a renaissance of winemaking in Israel. There are now well over 300 wineries in Israel, a country the size of Delaware (which, by contrast, has only 5 wineries!).

In 2003 my family and I moved back to the States, and I spent the next three years making wine in New Jersey at a winery founded in 1864, and establishing my winemaking and wine testing consulting business. A chance encounter and the internet led to Dahlonega, where I became winemaker and vineyard manager at BlackStock Vineyards and Winery, beginning in 2006. That rollercoaster included the frost of 2007, which was immediately followed by the outstanding 2008 vintage. Unfortunately, that was also the start of the recession that led to the eventual dissolution of BlackStock in late 2012.

After BlackStock, I restarted the consulting business and was recruited by the bank that had foreclosed on the property to care for the vineyards. Two years later, the new owner came along and renamed it Kaya Vineyard & Winery, and I have been head winemaker and vineyard manager at Kaya for the last five years. Now it’s time for another change.

Georgia has been experiencing an explosion in vineyards being planted. Fortunately for our local industry, UGA had the foresight to hire a state viticulturist, Dr. Cain Hickey, who specializes in pruning, trellising, and fruit-zone management. Dr. Hickey and I have worked together since his arrival in Georgia, applying state of the art techniques to improve crop yields and quality. Planting and maintaining a vineyard is a lot of work, considerably more than some people imagine. With more than a decade of North Georgia harvest seasons under my belt, I am well experienced in the theory, and especially the practice of successfully growing grapes in our region. This means that I have already made most of the mistakes, and therefore have a better idea of how to do it right.

Growing the grapes, or knowing where to source them, is the agricultural aspect of the business. Planning and building a winery is an equal, if not greater challenge, and getting the right equipment at the right price is just the beginning. Learning and developing the methods and protocols of winemaking is something that I have been doing successfully for quite some time, and part of the expertise I offer to the nascent winery or vineyard.  Personally, I enjoy the perfect blend between science and art behind winemaking, and have paid particular attention to laboratory analysis, as well as wine theory and history, flavors, varieties, and culture.

I am excited and energized to meet new people getting their start in the business. If you are starting a winery or planting a vineyard, or even just thinking about doing those things, I want to help you build, grow and reach your full winemaking potential.

Ariel Padawer
Ariel Wine Consulting LLC


"GEORGIA WINE PRODUCERS" is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization. Georgia , P.O. Box 1931, Ellijay, GA 30540

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