Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
Oded Shakked has been running his own winery, Longboard Vineyards, for 15 years in the tony Sonoma County city of Healdsburg.
It’s all about wine for him today; but the name of his winery hearkens back to his youth in Herzliya, Israel, which was, he said, a “small, sleepy beach town” back then, not the high-tech, foodie city it is today. He was one of the first surfers in Herzliya, way before Israel had any kind of surf culture.
“You had a beach culture and where there’s a beach, there’s surfing — if there are the waves for it,” he said. “No one knew what it was back then, and we had to build our first boards from scratch. You could only buy a surfboard later.”
While he was registered to study architecture at the Technion university in Haifa, ultimately he decided that path was not for him, and he went to work building surfboards for one of the companies that started making them in Israel. For three months of the year, he’d go to where the best surf was close by: France, Spain or Portugal. And it was there that he got bitten by the wine bug.
A family friend who returned to Israel after a sabbatical at UC Davis told Shakked about the school’s viticulture program. Before that, he didn’t know that such a program existed. So in 1984, Shakked came to the U.S. to attend UC Davis, and he became the first Israeli to graduate from that program, he said.
Then he gained experience working for Domaine Chandon in Yountville making sparkling wine, and afterwards he became the first “American” intern to work at Château Lafite Rothschild in France.
Although he was open to the prospect of returning home after completing his internship, the Israeli wine industry back then was not what it was now.
The market for nonkosher Israeli wine was virtually nonexistent, and he didn’t want to make kosher wine; like many secular Israelis, he resented the control the religious establishment has over Israeli life.
Moreover, he had a personal reason. His father was an army pilot who was killed in a training accident a month before he was born, and he himself served in a special forces unit in the Israeli navy. “I have quite a beef with the religious people who don’t serve in the military,” he said.
He returned to California and spent 18 years working at J Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg. It was there that he started Longboard as a side project.
Finally, in 2005, when he got the opportunity, he bought his own vineyard and rented his own tasting room — and he has been the owner-winemaker at Longboard Vineyards ever since.
I don’t want my wines to hit you on the head like a two-by-four. I like complex flavors
He and his grapes came out unscathed in the recent Kincade Fire, though he did have to evacuate.
“You never know, and these wind events are absolutely scary,” he said.
While he couldn’t go into his winery for six days, he said, “All of us are so grateful and relieved to all the first responders who saved this town and this area and just hope that this is not the new normal. If people want to help, they should come visit.”
His winery is on the small side, producing about 5,000 cases a year. Most of it goes directly to his wine-club members, but it can be found in about 11 states. He is most known for his pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and syrah.
While one might think that surfing and winemaking have little in common, Shakked believes that’s not the case.
For one thing, balance is crucial in each.
“I don’t want my wines to hit you on the head like a two-by-four,” he said. Rather, “I like complex flavors.”
Furthermore, he said, “In surfing we take the energy nature gives us in a wave, and we translate that into a dance. With winemaking, we are taking the energy nature gave us in the sun and wind, and we make it dance on the palate. In both surfing and winemaking, you’re taking something bigger than you that does most of the job, while you’re just there for guidance.”
As the first Israeli to go through the oenology program at UC Davis, Shakked has mentored many others who have followed in his footsteps. Over the years, many Israelis in the program have interned or worked short-term with him, before heading back home.
“I’ve employed a lot of people who are now winemakers there, which is how I’m supporting the Israeli wine industry in my own way. I’m happy to contribute to it from afar,” he said. “I want Israel and its wine industry to succeed, but just don’t want to live there.”
Longboard Vineyards’ tasting room, located at 5 Fitch St. in Healdsburg, is called the Surf Lounge, and yes, it’s decorated with surfboards. It’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Reservations are required for large groups and for those wanting to schedule their tasting with food pairings. For more details, visit longboardvineyards.com or call (707) 433-3473.