01 Feb Old Vines Run Deep
There are many winemakers and grape growers whose families have been involved in making Israeli wines for generations. The Margalits, the Sasloves, the TIshbis, the Shors and the Boxers are among many Israeli families that have passed their passion for wine making or cultivating from at least one generation to the next. Even though his family name isn’t synonymous with winemaking, Adam Montefiore is one of the most recognizable faces of Israeli wine and his family name is an iconic one that has deep roots in the Diaspora as well as in Israel.
Adam is the great-great-great grand nephew of Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), considered by many to be one of (if not “the”) the most significant benefactors of World Jewry and Israel in the 19th century. The Montefiore name is on street signs in many cities in Israel (as well as institutions throughout the world) and the Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem still stands today as a symbol of Moses’s effort to bring the Industrial Revolution and jobs to then struggling residents of the Old City. Even though Moses wasn’t a winemaker, he was no teetotaler and he was renowned for drinking a bottle of wine each day. Recent findings about the health benefits of wine may help explain how Moses lived to the ripe old age of 101.
If Moses was any example, Adam still has decades to add to already impressive record as a key player in getting the word out about what’s right today with Israeli wines. Adam was already well entrenched in the wine business in the United Kingdom before making Aliyah in November of 1989. And that’s where he first became acquainted with Israeli wines having helped get some Israeli wines into British restaurants and hotels. It was a big move or rather a big “leap in faith” to move here with his wife and then three young children without a job in hand.
It would be six months before he landed at Israel’s largest winery, Carmel. His first two years Adam worked at Carmel developing and training hotel and restaurant clients, similar to the job he had left in the UK. Adam helped to introduce wine by the glass at Israeli restaurants and printed wine lists. At that time it was uphill battle marketing Carmel wine to restaurants and hotels as it would be another ten years before they would start to be seen as a consistent producer of quality wine instead of mass marketers of “liquid religion.”
A terrific opportunity arose for Adam at the winery cited for starting the quality wine “revolution” in Israel. Adam would move over to the Golan Heights Winery, which first planted vineyards in 1976 (releasing its first wine in 1983) with the sole purpose of producing quality varietal driven wines in contrast to most of the Israeli wines then catering to religious Jews in Israel and overseas. Hundreds of wineries would follow over the next thirty odd years but the Golan Heights wines would lead the way first under the guidance of noted consultant Peter Stern then followed by winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, who preceded Adam’s start by just a few months, and has continued as Golan’s winemaker for two decades and counting. Adam would be instrumental in presenting the Golan Winery and its different labels (Yarden, Gamla, Golan) as international brands and just not brands known to Jewish consumers. Additionally, Adam would introduce the first sommelier and wine waiter courses to Israel through the Golan Heights Winery that continues to this day. Adam had a familiarity with the Golan Heights Winery dating back to his days in the UK when he introduced the Yarden label to a chain of 60 non-kosher restaurants. After two years mirroring his previous role at Carmel, Adam stepped up to the critical role as Export Manager and for a few years even managed the export efforts for the then up and coming Tishbi Winery under a cooperative agreement.
When Adam would be lured back to Carmel in 2002, its estimated that Carmel and the Golan Heights combined were responsible for about 90% of all Israeli wine exports. With over 50% of that going to North America and the United Kingdom, Adam’s background with Anglophile oenophiles propelled him to be the public face for Israeli wines at many international wine competitions, tastings and expos. Upon Adam’s return to Carmel he once again would team up with a new winemaker, Israeli born Lior Lacser, who would steer Carmel away from a winery stressing bulk sacramental wines and grape juice towards quality wines that incidentally met most the religious requirements of its targeted consumers. At about the same time, the Yatir Winery was launched as a sister boutique winery of the Carmel Winery and Adam would take on the role as the Wine Development Director for the Carmel Winery and Yatir.
Over the last ten years, Adam’s new role has put him on stage to accept many awards for Carmel and Yatir wines not only in Israel but in the United States, France and back in the United Kingdom, where Carmel as well as other Israeli wines have been winning more and more international awards and acceptance. Adam remembers back twenty years ago when there was “no world class restaurants in Israel, no wine lists, no wine by the glass, no professional waiters, no wine stores, no Hebrew websites or wine magazines” compared to today when Israel has its fair share.
As an advocate of Israeli wines, Adam has been contributing as a prolific writer for Israeli and British wine magazines, wine books and websites including regular articles in the Jerusalem Post and Jewish Chronicle and most notably as an advisor to noted wine author Hugh Johnson. Whichever winery Adam works for he’s proven to be an incredibly effective advocate for his employer as well as for the Israeli wine industry as a whole so much so that when someone speaks of “an Israeli Wine Ambassador” it’s Adam Montefiore who most often comes to mind.
Seemingly, Adam won’t be the last member of the Montefiore family to continue his work with wine. His son, David, has won the best ‘mixologist’ (bartender) title in an Israeli competition and has represented Israel abroad. David has also just completed successive harvests interning with wineries in the Barossa Valley in Australia as well as in the vicinity of Priorat, Spain. Additionally, Adam’s daughter, Rachel, is a graduate of The Wine Academy Course at Ramat Gan College and is the sommelier at the ‘Ha’Ternogol Hakahol’ (The Blue Rooster) Restaurant in Tel Aviv. Rachel has been sighted with her father at wine events and like other aficionados of Israeli wine, both David and Rachel could only benefit from Adam’s enthusiasm, experience and wealth of wine knowledge.
David Rhodes, known as the Israeli Wine Guy, is a California trained sommelier, wine educator & broadcaster specializing in Israeli wines.