Israeli Harvest: An Early Report: “So Far, So Good…”

…says winemaker Golan Tishbi. “It’s a lot better than last year.” as he tends to his family’s estate vines in Zichron Ya’acov and who harvests grapes from all over Israel to produce about 1 million bottles every year at Israel’s 6th largest winery.  The Tishbi Winery has already harvested several kinds of grape varietals from their estate coastal vineyards including Sauvignon Blanc, French Colombard, & Emerald Riesling and expect their thicker skinned Cabernet Sauvignon from Judean Hill vineyards to be the last grapes they  harvest from cooler higher latitude vineyards.  Stop by over the next several weeks at their winery and visitor center in Binyamina and you have a good chance to witness grapes coming in from the fields and you can even try their recent addition of a French gourmet chocolate & Tishbi red wine pairing.

Just north in Zichron Ya’acov, is Israel’s largest winery, the Carmel Winery which makes about 30% of Israel’s wine and depending which way you enter town you might get stuck behind the stream of trucks bringing grapes from neighboring vineyards from some of their 300 growers who contribute to what is actually one huge collective under one management and winemaking team. Adam Montefiore, Carmel’s director of development, relays that Carmel’s chief winemaker (the bigger wineries often have several) Lior Lacser is very pleased and cautiously optimistic with the harvest so far.  The beginning of maturation for vines was delayed and so will be most harvests of 10 days to 2 weeks and they expect their last harvest might take place in November with their more northern and higher altitude vineyards.

Although the temperate temperatures this summer compared to most is producing great results in Carmel’s lower lying coastal vineyards, in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights it could prove problematic if the harvest is interrupted by rain or ideal picking days fall around holidays when pickers would not be available or even allowed for a kosher winery. Rain is an issue because it can cause mildew or fungus or other pests that might force picking earlier than a winemaker otherwise would like to insure fully developed aromas, flavors, tannins and complexity. Israel’s long dry summers are often rainless which means on the average like in California most vintages are far more consistently good than in many famous European wine regions like Bordeaux or Tuscany.

Carmel’s sister winery, Yatir, which makes about 10,000 cases of wines, is located in the northeastern Negev with vineyards in the southern Judean Hills and the Negev’s Tel Arad and is experiencing similar delays of 10-14 days with slightly lower yields than usual yet with the typically good and exceptional quality grapes that provide the foundation for some of Israel’s most acclaimed boutique wines. Speaking of acclaimed Israeli boutique wineries, I had the pleasure of catching up on the phone with the winemaker from Israel’s first boutique winery, the Margalit Winery. WInemaker Assaf Margalit,is the second generation of winemakers since the winery launched Israel’s boutique bonanza in 1989.

Assaf took over as senior winemaker about a decade ago although his father and winery founder Ya’ir Margalit, who by the way was the first winemaker at Tishbi, is still a vocal presence and valuable resource to the winery having written two internationallyand widely circulated textbooks on winemaking and over a decade helming what most consider as one of if not the best winery in Israel. In fact, Ya’ir is currently in Napa, California for a one year sabbatical updating his two tomes with updates based on his and others’ research since the books’ last pressing.  Assaf, a renown wine educator in Israel in his own right, has only harvested, at this time, his Cabernet Franc from their Binyamina vineyard which was just one week later than usual. From what he hears from other winemakers, many who are former students of his and his father’s, is that 2011 seems like a good year.

“Moderate temperatures have resulted in grapes retaining higher acidity and lower PH than usual (the lack of acidity in grapes is often a problem in warmer growing regions like Israel that tend to produce more sugar and riper fruit)”. From Assaf’s sources, he’s hearing that Judean Hill vineyards are experiencing 10 to 15% lower yields although with good quality grapes although this might be a boon to Upper Galilee vineyards such as his cherished Kadita vineyard where several wineries have experienced higher yields of 10 to 15% of good if not superior grapes.  This will be pleasant news to many winemakers like Margalit who suffered lower yields due to an extremely hot season in 2010. The Margalit’s, in order to insure the quality of their wines, produced about 16,000 bottles worth of wine in 2010 (although it’s still aging in the barrels) compared to about 20,000 bottles which they have produced most years of late. In their Kadita vineyard, picking might begin as early as this week from 4 different plots which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah and this year’s new arrival Petit Verdot. The Petit Verdot will be made as a separate wine as Assaf typically does from all his grapes and then decide whether to blend it with wines made from other grapes or to release it as its own single varietal, which he does every vintage with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and occasionally with the Merlot when it meets his exacting standards or as a part of his Enigma blend or to supplement another single varietal wine. Just as you can’t tell but hope how a child might mature, Assaf has high hopes for the Petit Verdot but will taste how it matures and decide after several months after harvesting how it will best move on whether as the star in its own bottle or a supporting role in another wine.

A one time summer intern of the Margalit’s is today part of the well regarded Recanati Winery team (after spending years gaining further experience in France, Italy and Tasmania), winemaker Ido Lewinsohn.  The esteemed Gil Shatsberg and Ido took over as the winemaking team from founding winemaker Lewis Pasco in 2008 with Gil taking the lead.  Recanati gets most of its grapes from the Upper Galilee, the Judean Hills and close to the winery from coastal vineyards. Ido expressed his pleasure with a “very, very good year” producing lots of color and aromas and low PH. They are picking later than normal for them but earlier than most other wineries since Gil and Ido prefer more nuanced, higher acidic, lower alcoholic wines than most other Israeli winemakers including Pasco (who has since moved to California after leaving Recanati). Their Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Binyamina vineyards kicked off their harvest in mid-August although they’re typically picked in late July.  Ido expects Recanati’s Ben Zmira Upper Galilee vineyards to produce their latest harvest with plots bearing Cabernet Sauvignon which is often the last grape picked at many wineries large and small.

Ido also runs a small “cult” winery with his father aptly called Lewinsohn’s Garage de Papa which produces a Blanc made up 100% Chardonnay and a Rouge made of any number of combinations of red grapes each year. Ido shops for the best grapes on the market each year, avoiding for now long term contracts with growers and the potential of having a bad vintage any year yet his knowledge and contacts with growers has paid off for each of his first few vintages as the several thousand bottles they produce have been touted as some of the best wines in Israel and are often featured on some of the most prized wine lists at Tel Aviv’s best restaurants as much a limited supply of only 500 cases/year might allow. He’s happy with the selection he has available for his two wines this vintage though he did move from using Upper Galilee grapes from those of the Judean Hills to bolster the higher acidity he wishes for his “Papa” Blanc.

Of course the region that started the quality wine revolution in Israel was the Golan Heights with plantings in 1976. The Golan Heights Winery, with its Yarden, Gamla and Golan labels, is Israel’s 3rd largest winery producing about 6 million bottles annually with grapes primarily from the Golan Heights supplemented with some grapes from its sister winery, the Galil Mountain Winery at Kibbutz Yiron in the Upper Galilee.

Their senior winemaker, Victor Schoenfield, is the most experienced and prolific winemaker in the Golan Heights having led the winery for close to twenty years. So I found  it insightful when Victor took time to chime in on this year’s harvest in the little free time he has available managing their many vineyards through out Israel’s most northern and highest altitude vineyards. “We have harvested about 15% (of our grapes) so far, which is the lowest percentage we have ever harvested to date.  Last year, an early year, we were close to 50% harvested (by) now (which was ahead of the typical curve).  We are seeing delays anywhere from one to four weeks.  We have so far harvested Muscat Canelli, an early (white) variety which happens to be in our warmer areas, and Pinot Noir for sparkling wine (Gamla Brut).  We have harvested quite a lot of Chardonnay for sparkling wine (their Gamla Brut and Yarden Blanc de Blanc), as well, though we will only finish this up next week.  So far things look very good.  The only worrying thing is the calendar date.  If we have an early winter, we could run into some serious problems.  In a normal year, we normally pretty much finish up by the end of October, so we could be harvesting well into November this year, which could be dangerous as we could run into cold temperatures and rain.  As always, we are at nature’s mercy.  As normal, we will probably finish with our later varieties in our coldest areas, which normally means Cabernet from a northern Golan vineyard.  As of now, yields look normal”. Victor’s assessment is an encouraging indicator from one of Israel’s largest producers of mostly premium wines. In fact, this year the winery was picked out as the “Best Winery in the World” in a competition in Italy of about 3700 wineries. This year’s harvest might help keep Victor getting similar accolades.

Tal Pelter, the winemaker at the nearby and prestigious Pelter Winery, who has consulted for other aspiring winemakers in the north, seems to agree with Victor’s view on the harvest so far though his vineyards aren’t at risk by being mostly at the lower extreme of higher altitudes in the Golan Heights. His whites including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are almost all harvested with their larger selection of red grapes beginning to be harvested next week. Tal claims that the moderate temperatures have grapes being picked even later than in colder years like 2005 and 2007.

After talking to some winemakers I hold in high esteem, it seems that the lack of any heat waves all summer could result in a vintage worthy of remembering and savoring for years to come. In November, as the last grapes are harvested I hope to check in with these and other winemakers to see how their predictions panned out.

 

Carmel Winery Introduces New Labels for Single Vineyard Series

Carmel Winery’s quality reputation continues. As it continues to get higher and higher rated wines, increasing in quality, one of Israel’s largest wineries are also making branding changes.

Marketing and wine branding are close to my heart, as my background is in international marketing and communications, so I was thrilled to see that Carmel Winery has introduced new labels for its Single Vineyard series of wines.

 

Zichron Ya’acov – 130 Years On

The following article is from wines-israel.com and reprinted with permission.

In December 2011, Zichron Ya’acov enters its 130th year. It was way back in December 1882, that settlers from Romania, first arrived in Givat Zamarin to put up their first tents and then houses. It was 130 years ago that they took their first tentative steps to viticulture. The first exploratory vineyards were planted using Carignan cuttings taken from the Mikveh-Israel Agricultural School. It was the start of a romance with wine which has continued until today.

Zichron Ya’acov is a pretty, unpretentious town, on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It is 170 meters above sea level and lies 61 km north of Tel Aviv and 35km south of Haifa. It is close to Route 2 (the coast road), Route 4 (aka ‘the old road’) and easily accessible from Route 6 – The Yitzhak Rabin Highway.

 

It is often regarded as the Tuscany or Provence of Israel. The small town still has the village appearance of pre-state Israel. The Founders Street (HaMeyasdim) has been turned into a pedestrian area allowing tourists to browse in craft shops, eat in Mediterranean style restaurants or sip coffee in the coffee shops and watch the world go by. Many of the houses are original, with the descendants of the original founding families still living in them.

 

In 1887 Baron Edmond de Rothschild visited Zamarin for the first time. At his request, the village was renamed ‘Zichron Ya’acov’, which means In Memory of Jacob. The Jacob in this instance was Edmond’s father, who had purchased Chateau Lafite, the most famous winery in the world, for the Rothschild family. Possibly this was a significant factor in his determination to create a modern wine industry in Israel.

 

Rothschild first planted extensive vineyards and then built the large winery at Zichron Ya’acov, with deep underground cellars. The first harvest was received in August 1892.The success of Zichron Ya’acov, then basically a farming village, was regarded with some jealousy by the other colonies supported by Rothschild. They used to refer to it as ‘Little Paris’ as it became a symbol of new Israel. Well over 100 years later Zichron Ya’acov, now a town, still sits on Mt. Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There are still vineyards on either side of the mountain ridge and, though it has grown, it still retains its own special atmosphere.

 

At Zichron, it is possible to visit the largest winery in Israel (and one of the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean or Middle East) and also small garagistes, producing a few thousand bottles a year. This is the home of the most traditional wine growing region in Israel. This is the heart of the Israeli wine scene.

 

A tour of Zichron inevitably involves wine. There are wineries, vineyards, wine shops and restaurants serving wine. These are some recommended stops to nourish both the stomach and palate.

 

CENTER OF ZICHRON

 

Tishbi Coffee House, 33 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)

This is housed in one of the original buildings on the ‘Founders Street’ owned by the Tishbi family, a veteran family of wine growers. Here it is possible to begin the day with either an Israeli breakfast or a special selection of wine and cheeses. There is also full range of Tishbi wines & Tishbi foods available. It is a place to meet and be seen. Tel. +972 (0)4 6290280.

 

Somek Winery, 16 Herzl St.

A ‘garagiste’ winery situated in the road adjacent to Hameyasdim, producing seven thousand bottles a year.  It is owned by a vine grower, Barak Dahan, whose family were planting vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880’s. His wife, Hila, studied winemaking in Australia. Their vineyards are in the Hanadiv Valley, in the foothills of Zichron. The winemaker studied winemaking in Australia. Book in advance. Tel. +972 (0)4 6397982. www.somek-winery.co.il

 

Smadar Winery, 31 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)

A small winery owned by local vineyard owner Motti Shapira, whose forebears planted Rothschild’s first vineyards. The winery, which produces 4-5,000 bottles a year, is situated in old stables, which are part of one of the original houses in Zichron. Book in advance.Tel. +972 (0)4 6390777.

 

Nili Wine House & Restaurant, 43 Hamayesdim St.

This is a charming café style restaurant, which seconds as a wine shop. The quiches are particularly recommended. The wine shop specializes in kosher boutique wineries.

It is a good place to find representation of some of the lesser known wines. Tel. +972 (0)4 6292899.

 

Daniels Burger Bar, 66 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)

Daniels is a newish restaurant with the best burger in town. This is a good venue for casual dining. Many of the dishes are homemade. They have a long table for larger groups. Daniels also has a good range of wines. Tel. +972 (0)4 6291222.

 

Poizner Winery, 71 Hameyasdim St. (Founders St.)

This is a small, domestic winery set up by the Poizners, who were also one of the founding families of Zichron Ya’acov. The father, Yossi is the wine grower, tending to the vineyards and the son, Yoav, is the winemaker. They produce about 3,500 bottles a year. Book in advance. Tel.  +972 (0) 52 3224220 or +972 (0) 52 3202323.

 

GIVAT ZAMARIN, THE EASTERN CORNER OF ZICHRON

 

Carmel Winery, Derech Ha’Yayin (Wine St.)

Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars was built in 1892 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

This is the country’s largest winery and also the most historic winery building in Israel. It represents the story of Israel, the history of Israeli wine and the recent quality revolution. A modern, small state of the art facility was added to allow winemaking from individual vineyards and in 2011 the whole winery was upgraded. It is now one of the best equipped and most up to date wineries in the country. New world and old world winemaking in one setting.  www.carmelwines.co.il

 

Carmel Wine & Culture, Derech Ha’ Yekev (Winery St.)

The Center for Wine Culture offers professional winery tours, tutored tastings and wine workshops. A visit offers a unique wine experience which is a fusion of wine tourism and wine education. The Wine & Culture Shop stocks older vintages and rare bin ends. All bookings for tours and tastings must be made in advance. Tel. +972 (0)4 6391788 [email protected]

 

Bistro de Carmel, Derech Ha’Yayin, (Wine St.)

Bistro de Carmel is situated in the ‘winemaker’s house’. It is a restaurant serving a Mediterranean style, kosher dairy menu. The restaurant is made up of a number of small rooms, suitable for intimate VIP dinners, a balcony overlooking the winery and a large attractive wooden deck are, suitable for larger groups or parties. The restaurant has an innovative wine list with tasting flights.  For bookings: Tel. +972 (0) 4 6290977. http://bistrodecarmel.rest-e.co.il/

 

Adama Restaurant, 8 Ma’ale Harishonim

This is a relatively new, quality family restaurant housed in one of the original Zamarin buildings, which used to be stabling for horses. The food is of good quality and the setting cannot be bettered. Adama Restaurant carries an extensive, fine wine list, with quality Israeli wines sourced from all over the country. Tel. +972 (0)4 6293184.

 

Pavo Brewery, 14 Ma’aleh Rishonim

The new trend in Israel is for micro-breweries and this is one of the best.  It has a beer garden and a balcony overlooking the Shefaya vineyards and Wadi Milek. They offer five quality beers and it is possible to drink, taste and eat. It is always good to wind down with a few beers after a day of wine tastings. Tel. +972 (0)4 6398988. www.pavo.co.il

 

 

SOUTHERN PART OF ZICHRON

 

Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens and Nature Park

Ramat Hanadiv (‘Hill of The Benefactor’) is the most beautiful part of Zichron.  It is a perfect place for a hike through the beautiful gardens, and the nature park. There are also archaeological and historical remains, including an ancient wine press, and a short film, which is worth seeing. For those that want to pay their respects to the founder of the Israeli wine industry, Baron Edmond de Rothschild is interred in a specially constructed mausoleum. Tel. +972 (0) 4 6298111. www.ramat-hanadiv.org.il

 

Gan Ehud

This is a small park and the most tranquil area in Zichron. This is the place for a picnic for young families. Gan Ehud is named after Ehud Efrati, z”l, who fell whilst on reserve duty for the IDF in October 2007. He was a man of the soil and a man of Zichron. He was also a wine grower and vintner. The park is surrounded by the Hanadiv Valley (Bikat Hanadiv) vineyards.

 

Tishbi Winery

Tishbi Winery lies in between Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina. It was founded in 1985 by Yonatan Tishbi and remains a family affair. Here it is possible to sit under the trellised vine to enjoy local cheeses and a glass of wine. The winery has a bakery and good food. Worth seeing is the Alambic Still for distilling brandy, purchased from the Cognac region of France. Also the Valrona chocolate tasting room is a highlight. A tasting of fine chocolates with various wines wines is both an original idea and popular with chocoholics. Tel. +972 (0) 4 6288195.

www.tishbi.com

 

WESTERN PART OF ZICHRON

 

Zimnavoda Winery, 7 Yaakov Kadesh

This is a very small domestic winery, belonging to the Zimnavoda family of veteran wine growers. Their nursery supplied young vines to wineries all over the country. Yehuda Zimnavoda was Chairman of the Israel Wine & Grapes Board for many years and also of the Wine Growers Co-operative.

Tel. +972 (0)4 6399303

Wine & Gourmet: Montefiore Returns to London Big Time

Israel’s Wine and Gourmet magazine recently published an article by Israeli wine writer and TV personality Meni Peer about Adam Montefiore, Carmel Winery’s Wine Development Directory and the ‘Ambassador of Israeli Wines.’ This is a translation of that article (reprinted with permission):

Montefiore Returns To London Big Time

by Meni Peer

When Adam Montefiore of Carmel Winery received the prize for ‘The Best Wine’ of its category for Kayoumi Shiraz, at The Royal Opera House in London, he felt that he had closed a circle with his family in London and with Israel, the country where he made his home. Meni Peer tells the Zionist story.

David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said that Sir Moses Montefiore was a forerunner of Zionism because of his efforts to get Jews to work for a living from the land. Seven times Montefiore visited Eretz Israel (‘The Land of Israel’). The first time was in 1827 and the last time was 1875, when he was already 90 years old. He lived until 101. Maybe it was because of his habit of drinking no less than one bottle of wine every day. He usually enjoyed Port, or ‘Claret’, the British slang for a red wine from Bordeaux.

The land he bought in Jerusalem was the first Jewish owned land outside the Old City. The plot was called ‘Kerem Moshe v’ Yehudit’ (Moses and Judith’s Vineyard). It was later renamed Mishkenot Sha’ananim and became the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. It was compulsory for every family that moved there to plant and grow vines and olive trees. Founders of the village of Gedera recognized the Montefiore’s love of wine and named two hills where vineyards were planned, Moshe’s Hill and Yehudit’s Hill, in their honor. In fact, the vineyards on Yehudit’s Hill were a success, whereas those on Moshe’s Hill did not survive.

The Montefiore Quarter in Tel Aviv was the site of the first Jewish owned orchard in modern times. Moses Montefiore purchased the land west of Jaffa, to encourage Jewish agriculture and this was the beginning of Israel’s citrus industry. In the diary of their second visit to Israel in 1839, Judith wrote about residents from Safed, who travelled all night in order to present the Montefiores with wine, which she recorded was: “very good.”

Exactly 150 years later, Adam Montefiore, great great grandson of Sir Moses’ nephew and heir, made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. By 1989 Adam Montefiore was already an experienced and knowledgeable person in the drinks and wine trade in Britain. When he made his intention clear to make aliyah with his wife Jill and three children, Liam, David & Rachel, his Grandfather advised him: “Don’t use the name Montefiore. They will think you are Rothschild!” In fact, Sir Moses Montefiore was a brother-in-law to Nathan Mayer Rothschild and they were also business partners. They were partners in finance, insurance and in bringing gas lighting to Europe. Moses and Judith did not have children and their nephew, Joseph Sebag Montefiore became their heir. Adam was not left with much memorabilia, apart from a few books, buttons with the family crest from Sir Moses’ coat and an original porcelain tea cup, which was shattered into tiny pieces by a cat the family used to have. The former family house of the Sebag Montefiores in Kensington, West London, became the permanent Israeli Embassy many years ago.

Despite the Zionist nature of the family, Adam was the first member of the English branch of the family to make aliyah. He previously worked in England for Bass Charrington (then owners of Alexis Lichine, Hedges & Butler, Augustus Barnet, Château Lascombes etc) and was manager of the Wine & Liquor Department for Bass Hotels (then Crest Hotels International, Holiday Inn International, now InterContinental). At that stage he was to witness firsthand the lack of knowledge about Israeli wine in England. They were not to be found either on wine lists or on the shelves of wine shops.

He began to work in Israel at Carmel Mizrahi. So many people in Israeli wine have worked at some stage at Carmel. It was then, like today, the largest winery in Israel. Then he worked for almost eleven years for the Golan Heights Winery. He returned to Carmel, by then renamed ‘Carmel Winery’, in December 2002. Today he works as Wine Development Director, which he says: “involves everything concerning wine that is outside the gates of the winery and vineyard”, with typical British humor. “The point is meant to be serious. Even if you make the best wine in the world, you won’t succeed if it is not marketed and presented correctly.”

More than 20 years after the wine revolution in Israel, through the efforts of small boutique wineries like Yatir and the larger wineries, like Carmel, Israel is still not known enough as a quality wine producing country. This is the case, even though it is true there are quality restaurants beginning to stock Israeli wines. Adam explains: “We suffer from a double problem due to pre-conceived ideas. It is surprising how many people are amazed to hear Israel even makes wine and others are surprised the wines are even drinkable,” but as Adam continues: “…the image is still soured on one hand by those familiar with the Jewish world who assume Israel only produces sweet, oxidized, cooked wine (mevushal) for a Jewish market or by those more interested in politics than wine, who claim Israel destroys Palestinian villages to plant vineyards. Neither of these perceptions are close to the truth. So this award from Decanter will help to change the image as the winning wine was both Israeli and kosher!”

Nearly 11,000 wines from 41 countries participated in the Decanter World Wine Awards competition. Other Israeli wines were in the competition and received medals, but the Carmel Single Vineyard, Kayoumi Shiraz 2006 won The International Trophy ahead of all Rhone varieties from around the world, including French Syrahs, Rhone blends like Chateauneuf du Pape and Shiraz wines from Australia. Stephen Spurrier, chairman of the Decanter Judging Panel, said that Israel was the surprise of the competition.

……and Lior Lacser did not want to wear ‘Black Tie’.

I am not sure if the surprise win will turn the British into admirers of Israel.  Traditionally they have a greater loyalty to Lebanese wines, especially Château Musar, and in England, Lebanese wineries are still better known than those of Israel. Though in America, it is true to say, the opposite is the case.

Those who saw Decanter’s video of the award presentation could not fail to have heard the loud whistle that accompanied the announcement that “the winner was from the foothills of Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee….” When I asked Adam who it may have been, he answered: “I was so caught up in the excitement, that I did not pay attention. It was such a special moment.”

From the time he studied wine at the WSET, and became a founder member of The Academy of Wine Service, he worked to advance wine culture particularly in hotels & restaurants. “I remember one wine waiter telling me with pride that he sold a rare bottle of Burgundy for £1,000. This was never the sole objective as far as I am concerned. For me I get more pleasure from showing someone new to wine how to enjoy it by offering the right wine at the right price. The expensive wine will always find a home with those that can afford it. In my view our Carmel Appellation label of regional wines fulfills the correct criteria. Exactly at the right quality to attract those interested in wine, but at a price people can afford.”

Whilst working for the Golan Heights Winery in the 1990’s, Adam Montefiore organized ‘Pras Yarden’ (The Yarden Award for Wine Service).  “One year I presented first prize to a young law student, by the name of Lior Lacser, who was then working at Dixie Restaurant in Tel Aviv. He followed this by studying winemaking at Beaune, in Burgundy and a few years later, arrived at Carmel Winery as chief winemaker.  Fifteen years later, I couldn’t persuade him to wear a bow tie and tuxedo at the Royal Opera House in London. Anyway, who would have thought we would be invited together, representing Carmel, to receive one of the very top prizes? All this crossed my mind as we went up together to receive the glass Decanter Trophy, produced by Riedel, from Stephen Spurrier.”

He went on: “Many Israeli wines have received medals from Decanter and other competitions, but this prize outweighed them all. And believe me, I have been involved in a few other prize winning ceremonies in the past. When Yatir Forest 2003 was given the best score yet received for an Israeli wine by Robert Parker, I remember the reverberations both in Israel and abroad. However the surge of interest caused by the success of the Kayoumi Shiraz today, seems even greater. The reason may be that Yatir competed against other Israeli wines, whereas the Kayoumi Shiraz was pitted against the best in the world in its specific category, and was adjudged the best.”

“This closes the personal circle both for me, because I learnt to love wine in London and it was so special for Carmel to receive the biggest prize ever received by an Israeli winery, and all this in the year that we celebrated our 120th harvest. After the ‘tsunami’ of new boutique wineries, and the trend of thought that small wineries have to be better, it showed that size does not have to be a disadvantage. A large winery can also make handcrafted wines, of the highest quality.“

Adam feels like Elvis in Memphis when he conquers London

Adam Montefiore returned to London big time. He was pleased to point out that Israel is today receiving better awards and recognition than the other wine producing countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.

He went on to tell me: “When I worked with Bass Hotels & Crest Hotels in particular, I succeeded in placing Israeli wines on the wine lists, alongside Lebanese ones. I therefore introduced an Eastern Mediterranean section to the wine list.”

The Lebanese wine was Château Musar, which was present on so many of the important wine lists in London. It was known as the Bordeaux of the Middle East.

Adam continues: “Owner Serge Hochar is a good friend, and I know and admire many of the owners of Lebanese wineries. In the 1980’s I organized a rare vertical tasting of Château Musar, for famous wine writers including Oz Clarke.  My dream is that one day we can all taste together & visit each others’ wineries. Both Israel & Lebanon share a common terroir. Lebanon is more associated with French traditions, and Israel with advanced new world technology, but the similarities of the wine industries are greater than the differences.  Who knows, one day we may even do regional tastings and represent together this unique ‘ancient, old and new world’ appellation of the Eastern Mediterranean!”

To the credit of the British, they may even be reading Adam Montefiore’s mind. In the special edition of Decanter Magazine announcing the results of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010, the chairman of the judging panel for the Middle East region, wrote:”But in the broader perspective, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire Middle East were making more wine than war?” To this final thought, I say ‘Amen’.

The article was published by Wine, Gourmet & Alcohol, Israel’s leading wine magazine.

It was written by TV celebrity, Meni Peer, who has written about wine for many years for both the Maariv Newspaper and Gourmet Magazine. He is today Editor of Wine Gourmet & Alcohol.

The Israeli Wines that Made History

The following is a guest post from wines-israel and reprinted with permission

Many Israeli wineries win awards, many win gold medals. There are even wineries which ‘collect’ awards, sending wines to any competition where medals are generously given. This is because to the general consumer, a gold medal looks the same whether it is a competition in Panama or London. However the weight & value of the gold medal can be vastly different according to the credentials of the competition.

Most independent analysts would agree that one of the most important and transparent competitions, and with the most professional judges, is the Decanter World Wide Awards, organized by Decanter Magazine. Carmel Winery’s recent triumph in being awarded The International Trophy in the Decanter World Wide Awards 2010, was arguably the best award ever given for an Israeli wine to date. It was described by Decanter Magazine as: “A sensational achievement. By triumphing over more noted giants around the world, this cracking wine has turned in one of the performances at this year’s – and indeed any other – DWWA.”

Decanter is regarded as the number one competition in England as far as quality is concerned. The IWSC (International Wines & Spirits Competition) is older and more established and the IWC (International Wine Challenge) is larger. However all three have very stringent controls. Vin Italy is in the same category of quality, but the London competitions attract a more international attendance than the Italian competition. The main French competitions (Challenge International du Vin, Les Citadelles du Vin, Vinalies) are better than many, but offer too many awards to be at the standard of the others.

In the finest competitions, winning a Trophy really means something. Only one Trophy is awarded per category and it is considered above a Gold Medal. Only a select few Israeli wines have won Trophies in the most important wine competitions. These wines really earn a place in the ‘Israeli Wine Hall of Fame’. The few wines that have contributed most to advance the image of Israel as a quality wine producer, by the awards they have won or recognition they have received, are as follows:

SPARKLING WINE
Yarden Blanc de Blancs has been a successful award winner. The non vintage version won the Trophy for the Best Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine at the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) in 1996, and then repeated this achievement in 2003 with the 1997 vintage. The Yarden Blanc de Blancs 1999 won a Grand Gold medal at Vin Italy in 2007. Israel’s finest traditional method sparkling wine, has succeeded at the highest level of international competition.

WHITE WINES
Israel has won gold medals for white wines, but no Trophies to compare with the other categories. Israel’s most successful white wine is ‘C’ Blanc du Castel. The 2003 was the first Israeli wine to receive more than 90 points in the Wine Spectator and the 2005 received 91 points from Robert Parker – the highest score yet received for an Israeli dry white wine. The 2007 and 2008 both received 90 points from Robert Parker, confirming this Chardonnay as Israel’s most successful white wine.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon has been winning awards at the very highest level for twenty three years. The 1984 vintage was the breakthrough wine, winning the Winiarski Trophy at the IWSC in London in 1987.
The 1985 was the first Israeli wine to win the Grand Prix d’Honneur Trophy at Vinexpo in 1988. The winning habit continued through the nineties until today. The 2000 and 2005 won the Grand Gold Medal at Vin Italy in 2004 and 2009 respectively. The 2004 was the first Israeli wine ever included in the Wine Spectator Annual Top 100 Wines. Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon has been Israel’s most consistent major award winner over the years.

MEDITERRANEAN VARIETALS/ BLENDS
Carmel’s Kayoumi Single Vineyard Shiraz 2006 won the Decanter International Trophy in 2010, as the best ‘Red Rhone Varietal, over GBP10 a bottle.’ In this category were Australian Shiraz, French Syrah and Chateauneuf du Pape. This is the finest award ever received for an Israeli Mediterranean variety and it may even be considered the best competition result ever for an Israeli wine. There were 10,983 wines in the competition from 41 countries. This Trophy is a wonderful award for Carmel in the year of its 120th harvest, and a great honor for Israeli wine.

BORDEAUX STYLE BLENDS
Yatir Forest, produced by Yatir Winery at Tel Arad, received the highest score yet given to an Israeli wine by the world’s most famous critic. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded Yatir Forest 2003 93 points. Also, the 2004, 2005 and 2006, all received 90 points or more. Kim Marcus of the Wine Spectator gave 92 points to Yatir Forest 2005. This equaled the highest score given to an Israeli wine by this magazine. Tom Stevenson, author of Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, wrote that Yatir Forest 2004 was: “Quite simply the classiest Israeli wine I have ever tasted.” The wine was awarded two stars in Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book 2010 and 2011.

The success and consistency of Castel Grand Vin also reflects great credit on Israeli wine. The 1992 was then described by Serena Sutcliffe MW, as the finest Israeli wine she had tasted. The 1997 was the first Israeli wine to be Decanter Wine of The Month. The Grand Vin 2004 received 92 points from Robert Parker, the 2007 91 points and the 2003 and 2006 both received 90 points. Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library) gave the 2004 93 points, the highest score he has given for an Israeli wine. Castel Grand Vin received two stars in Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book and the winery received the maximum four stars in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

Both Yatir Forest and Castel Grand Vin are the Israeli Bordeaux style blends to have received the best third party recommendations from the world’s most famous critics.

DESSERT WINES
Yarden HeightsWine has been awarded international recognition in a number of competitions. This dessert wine has won gold medals at the Challenge International du Vin and Citadelles du Vin in Bordeaux, and also at both the IWSC and IWC in London. The winning vintages have been 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007. Furthermore, the 1995 HeightsWine received 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. This is Israel’s most awarded dessert wine.

BRANDY
Two Israeli brandies deserve a mention because, even though they are not wines, the prize they won was outstanding. Both received exactly the same award, so it is impossible to decide on just one of them. Jonathan Tishbi Brandy, 3 year old, won the Trophy for Best Brandy Worldwide at the IWSC in London in 1996. Carmel 100 Brandy, 9 year old, won the same Trophy in 1998. Both were massive awards and the special achievement, never received the true credit due.

These are the wines (and brandies) that have made history and by their success, propelled the acceptance of Israel forward as a quality wine producing country.

Adam Montefiore and Lior Lacser of Carmel Winery receiving the International and Regional Trophies from Stephen Spurrier of Decanter.

Carmel Winery wins Prestigious Decanter World Wine Award – Carmel Kayumi Shiraz

Congratulations to Carmel Winery and winemaker Lior Laxter, and the whole team for Carmel Winery’s recent win at the Decanter World Wine Awards!

As Decanter described it:

Carmel Winery in Upper Galilee has beaten some of the world’s most renowned producers of Syrah and Shiraz at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

The Galilean winery last night won the Red Rhone Varietals Over £10 trophy for its Kayoumi Single Vineyard Shiraz 2008.

The winery, which this year celebrates its 120th harvest, was competing against some of the world’s most significant producers for the Red Rhone Varietal trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

In the Rhone, names like Cellier des Dauphins, Guigal, Gabriel Meffre, Chene Bleu, Chapoutier were all up for the top prize

As were the Australians: Cape Mentelle, E&E, Charles Melton, d’Arenberg, Shaw & Smith among others.

The Kayoumi would have been tasted alongside these wines. Judges found it ‘Big, chunky, with earthy fruit, good spice and grip. Intense and voluptuous on the palate with plenty of oak. Great persistence and texture.’

That is a tasting note that any Shiraz producer would be proud of.

Israeli wines are not insignificant, and neighbouring Lebanon has some of the most renowned wineries in the world, but this is the first time they have taken a trophy from under the noses of the traditional producers.

Howard G Goldberg, decanter.com’s New York correspondent and an expert on wines from the Middle East, said, ‘Kayoumi has been delivering first-class single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon as well asa Shiraz and Chardonnay.’

He added that the victory comes at ‘a special moment for the Galilean winery, whose first harvest was in 1890.

Carmel was established as a vintners’ cooperative in 1882 with financing from Baron Edmond de Rothschild. It is Israel’s largest producer, with more than 13m bottles a year.

Wine harvest festivals fall flat … in 1954

This article is from Ha’aretz by Lital Levin:

Israel awaited the celebration of the 1954 wine harvest festival with high expectations. Such a festival is a new-old one for Jews. As one of its promoters told Haaretz: “In the Bible and our literature in general, a lot of space is dedicated to wine. Noah was the first wine producer; legend says that the tree of knowledge was a grape vine. The many drinking songs of our medieval literature are also well-known. But that’s not enough, because we’ve detached ourselves from the tradition in the meantime, and now we have to renew it and celebrate a harvesting lifestyle worthy of the name.”

These remarks were published on August 11, the day the 1954 festival opened. But this was not the first such celebration: “Fifteen years ago a modest festival was held in the moshav of Zichron Yaakov. When the participants descended into the cold wine cellars for a tour at the height of the festivities, it was decided to make it a yearly event,” Haaretz wrote. But wars broke out and played havoc with the tradition. In 1954 Israel was in the midst of an attempt to revive it.

winery The interior of a winery.
Photo by: AP

The first modern wine harvest festival in the country was held in Zichron Yaakov in August 1952 and was celebrated together with the moshav’s 70th birthday. “For several years there have been requests to mark the occasion of the grape harvest, because there is no other such community whose farmers live from their grapes and the wine industry,” Haaertz reported. “For the first time, various groups here want to give the harvest festival some form and content.” Of course, there were those who “asked how it was possible to justify a festival in this time of austerity; where would the budget come from? But they were answered that the lives of the common folk are motivated by joy as well as concern for what the next day will bring.” The festival supporters cited the age-old harvest traditions in other Mediterranean countries, where “the celebrations are of a popular character and are accompanied by rituals hundreds of years old.”

The festival that began on August 11, 1954, showed that Israel was not yet ready to revive the tradition. On the eve of the event, one expert told Haaretz that “such festivals cannot be produced in one year,” and that “a long tradition, especially of wine drinking, is required – something which we lack.” The day itself was a bitter disappointment. “Hundreds of people who came from all over the country, including tourists brought in especially for the festival, left crestfallen,” Haaretz reported. “Many people were forced to return after midnight from the moshav to the main Haifa-Tel Aviv highway and hitchhike home, since no transportation had been arranged for them.”

“The streets of Zichron Yaakov looked just as they had in the olden days, without any special decorations,” Haaretz wrote. “The artistic program lacked the most basic organization. There was no loudspeaker, even though the performances took place outside, and the singer” – Shoshana Damari, a special festival attraction – “could barely be heard.”

The report continued: “The ushers’ explanations and instructions could not be heard at all. Hundreds of people swarming through the entrance doors raised a racket. The electricity on stage went off exactly when the dancers appeared.”

The dancers performed in the dark; someone who sought to save the situation turned on a glaring spotlight, blinding the audience. “Close to 500 people, including many tourists, had to stand for all the performances, even though they had paid high prices for seats.” It was because of those prices that “most of the Zichron farmers and grape harvesters, for whom the festival was held, had to remain outside.” One of them told the Haaretz reporter: “This isn’t a wine festival for harvesters; it’s a champagne festival for the aristocrats of Tel Aviv and Haifa.”

And a reader from Zichron wrote to Haaretz that it was impossible to get any wine in the moshav that day.

The grape harvest was not celebrated the next year. The Zichron local council said the cancellation was due to “elections that clashed with the pre-festival preparation period.” Haaretz reported that government tourism officials decided to send “two representatives from Zichron to the 10-day wine festival in Frascati, Italy, to learn how to prepare for a harvest and wine festival.”

Four Rothschilds, Wine & The State of Israel

(The following article is reprinted from wines-israel and reprinted with permission)

Talk about the Rothschilds and you will automatically think of finance, the arts and philanthropy. However scratch below the surface and wine, the Jewish community and Israel comes to the fore as an ongoing thread through the family story. Their influence in the building the State of Israel is unparalleled
Some of the most fundamental institutions in Israel were founded with financial support from this most famous of Jewish families. The Knesset and new Supreme Court Building were funded by the Rothschilds. The Hebrew University, The Israel Museum, Yad Vashem, the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Music Center and the Dorothy Rothschild Open University Campus in Ra’anana, have all benefited greatly from the generosity of the Rothschild family.
Some towns such as Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina were named after Rothschilds and others such as Rishon Le Zion and Caesarea, remain monuments to their support and generosity.

A modern Israeli wine industry was also created by the Rothschilds, renewing a 5,000 year old tradition. The founding of Carmel Winery was also directly attributable to this unique family and this in turn led to the creation of SCV des Grandes Caves (Agudat Hacormim – the wine growers co-operative). Four of the largest wineries in Israel today (Rishon Le Zion, Zichron Ya’acov, Binyamina & Tishbi) point to a strong Rothschildean influence in their story.
The four Rothschilds who have contributed most to Israel and Israeli wine, are as follows:

BARON JAMES (JACOB) DE ROTHSCHILD

Baron James was the fifth son and youngest child of Mayer Amschel Rothschild from Frankfurt. When he and his brothers were sent to the capitals of Europe, James was sent to Paris. There he became the richest man in France, an advisor to two Kings and a man of power and influence to match his financial brilliance. He was known as ‘the Great Baron’. He was originally named Jacob, but changed his name to James when he arrived in Paris. Jacob remained his Hebrew name.
He was very aware of his responsibility to the Jewish community. However his main international involvement was in trying to resolve the Damascus Affair in 1840, with other notables such as Sir Moses Montefiore. It was significant in that it was the first time Jews of different nationalities had rallied to assist their downtrodden brethren elsewhere. Some historians term this event the roots of Jewish nationalism, which later developed into the Zionist Movement.
In 1868 he purchased Château Lafite, the most famous winery in the world, which he had been trying to buy for thirty eight years. He first made an offer for it in 1830. It cost him four million francs, which was then thought to be an outrageous sum of money for a winery. Unfortunately he died a few months later without even visiting his new purchase, but did have time to speculate in his wine as was revealed in a letter from his son-in-law Nathaniel, owner of Mouton.
Baron James did not really contribute to Israel or Israeli wine, but his name lives on through the winery town of Zichron Ya’acov, which was named in his memory. (It literally means ‘In Memory of Jacob’.) Modern Israel’s wine culture and history has its deepest roots in Zichron Ya’acov and Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars remain Israel’s largest winery.

In the world of wine there are a few famous wineries carrying the name of the Rothschild family – Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Château Duhart Milon Rothschild. Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars is not only the only winery named after a specific Rothschild, but also the only one privileged to be named after the Rothschild who bought Château Lafite!

BARON EDMOND (BENJAMIN) DE ROTHSCHILD (1845-1934)
Baron Edmond was the third son of Baron James and inherited Château Lafite with his two brothers. He played an important role in the history and development of Israel.
He was known by David Ben Gurion as the ‘Father of the Yishuv’ and he spent close to 40 million francs purchasing and reclaiming land, supporting thirty new villages and sponsoring new agricultural settlements. Initially he was known as ‘Hanadiv Hayadua’ (‘The Well-Known Benefactor’), because his donations were given anonymously.

In 1882 he began his involvement in The Holy Land, by sending France’s finest agronomists to survey the land. He then sent his own viticulturists with cuttings from Château Lafite’s vineyards to plant vineyards, and viticulture soon became the dominant form of agriculture. He built the wineries of Rishon Le Zion in 1890 and Zichron Ya’acov in 1892 and sent Bordeaux winemakers to make the first vintages. He even sent the winemaker of Château Lafite, Charles Mortier, to act as a consultant in the 1890’s.

Baron Edmond is commemorated today by Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and the town of Binyamina is named after his Hebrew name, Benjamin. Many of the other villages he supported were given names to commemorate other members of his family. Apart from Zichron Ya’acov named for his father, Meir Shefaya was named after his grandfather, Bat Shlomo was named after his father-in-law and Mazkeret Batya was named after his wife.
Today he is remembered as one of the founding fathers of Israel. When the shekel currency was reintroduced in Israel for the first time since Biblical Times in the early 1980’s, each of the shekel notes featured the main founding fathers. Theodore Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Sir Moses Montefiore & Baron Edmond de Rothschild were each commemorated. The 500 shekel note featured Baron Edmond and appropriately on the back was a bunch of grapes.

Baron Edmond first featured on a wine label with the legendary Carmel Special Reserves of 1976 and 1979 – thought to be Israel’s first international class wines. During the later 1980’s and early 1990’s, Carmel’s premier label was called ‘Rothschild’ – also featuring a picture of the Baron. Nowadays he still appears on the Private Collection label used for the Israel market.
Tishbi Winery was founded in 1985 by a family of growers, whose previous generations had planted vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880’s. In honor of the Baron Edmond, the winery was registered as Baron Wine Cellars Ltd.
Baron Edmond died in 1934 and his remains were re-interred in 1954 in the State of Israel at Ramat Hanadiv, a beautiful, tranquil place, on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking Zichron Ya’acov, Binyamina and Caesarea.

JAMES ROTHSCHILD (1878-1957)

James Rothschild, the son of Baron Edmond, was French born, but went on to become a British citizen and even a politician serving as a Member of Parliament in England. However he inherited his father’s love of Israel and his generosity.
He served in the First World War in the British Army, serving as a Major in Palestine for ‘the Jewish Legion’. He was a great friend of Chaim Weizmann, doing much of the groundwork with him that resulted in the Balfour Declaration.

In 1924 he was appointed by his father to manage and direct the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, known as PICA. He was therefore involved in the founding of the town of Binyamina, which was named after his father’s Hebrew name, Benjamin.
In 1952, PICA approved the formation of a new winery in Binyamina called Eliaz Binyamina (18-18). This was situated on the premises of a failed perfume factory called Jasmin, which was built by the Rothschild’s in 1925. The winery now trades under the name ‘Binyamina’.
In 1957 just before his death, PICA was disbanded. James Rothschild donated the funds required to build the Knesset Building and returned all the lands owned by PICA to the State. The wineries at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov, were donated to SCV des Grandes Caves. This brought to an end the Rothschild involvement in Israeli wine, which had lasted from 1882 to 1957. His wife Dorothy continued his charitable work for many years afterwards.

BARON EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD (1926-1997)
Baron Edmond was the grandson of the ‘Hanadiv’ and lived in Geneva. In the Rothschild tradition, he was also a banker, collector and benefactor.
He also entered the wine business. However unlike his illustrious cousins in Bordeaux, he chose to purchase and develop an unknown winery called Château Clarke in 1973. This put the unfashionable appellation of Listrac, in the southern Medoc, on the wine map. He produced the first kosher wine to be made by a Rothschild outside Israel. It was called Barons Edmond & Benjamin Rothschild and it was produced at Château Clarke.
He was probably the biggest Zionist of the younger generation. He was one of the founding fathers of the Israel Museum and one of its most generous benefactors. He was chairman of Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corporation created to develop the residential, industrial and leisure areas of Caesarea.

THE CURRENT ROTHSCHILDS

Apart from owning two of the most famous wineries in the world and having extensive wine interests in Bordeaux, the current Rothschilds also have wine interests in the South of France, Argentina, Chile, Italy, Portugal and South Africa. The members of the Rothschild family involved in wine are as follows:

BARONESS PHILPPINE DE ROTHSCHILD (1935- )

Baroness Philippine de Rothschild is today owner of Château Mouton Rothschild and the large Bordeaux Negociants, Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A.
Mouton was purchased in 1853 by Nathaniel Rothschild, who was from the English side of the family (the son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who began the London branch of the family.) Her father, the legendary Baron Philippe, was probably the most innovative and flamboyant figure in the world of wine in the twentieth century.

She inherited the famous Bordeaux Châteaux Mouton Rothschild, Clerc Milon and d’Armailhac, as well as Mouton Cadet, the world’s first wine brand and largest selling Bordeaux wine. She took over the high profile joint venture between Robert Mondavi and her father, creating Opus One. She played a big part in the design and development of the cathedral like winery. Her own initiatives included expanding the company with joint venture in Chile (with Concha Y Toro), developments in the Languedoc. It was also her decision to produce a white wine, Aile d’Argent, from Mouton’s vineyards.
Philippine had a dramatic childhood living through The Second World War, but she lost her mother who was killed in Ravensbrook Concentration Camp, basically because she was a Rothschild. However, this side of the family, are less involved in Israel and the Jewish community, though they have produced a kosher version of Mouton Cadet for Jews, who observe the Jewish Dietary Laws.

BARON ERIC DE ROTHSCHILD (1940- )
Baron Eric de Rothschild is responsible for Château Lafite Rothschild and Domaines Barons Rothschild (Lafite).
Baron Eric divides his time between running the family bank, managing Lafite and philanthropy to the Jewish community and Israel. His tenure at Lafite started in 1974 and he was instrumental in bringing back the great days of old to this most famous of wineries.
He purchased wineries of the caliber of Château Rieussec in Sauternes and Château L’Évangile in Pomerol to add to Château Duhart Milon. He also created Domaines Barons Rothschild (Lafite) which included joint ventures in Argentina (Caro with Catena), Chile (Los Vasgos), Portugal (Quinta do Carmo.) At one stage, they also had interests in California. The latest ventures are in Italy and the Languedoc.
Baron Eric, a leading lay leader of the French Jewish community, was the driving force behind the new Shoah – Holocaust Memorial in Paris, opened by President Chirac in 2005. As far as Israel is concerned he remains an International Board Member of the Peres Center for Peace and was part of the initiative to build the new Supreme Court Building and the renovations of Yad Vashem, through the family foundation, Yad Hanadiv, which replaced PICA. He has his own initiatives promoting co-existence involving both Israeli Arabs and Bedouin in the Negev.
He is a supporter of Israel wine, once writing: “The pleasure both physical and traditional of drinking wine is so strongly embedded in our Jewish culture, that we must now make every effort possible to enhance the quality of wines in Israel.” He is proud of his great, great grand uncle Edmond’s efforts to found Carmel. He has visited Israeli wine exhibitions, wineries such as Domaine du Castel and shown ongoing interest in the development of Yatir Winery.

BARON BENJAMIN DE ROTHSCHILD (1963- )

Baron Benjamin is owner of Château Clarke and Compagnie Vinicole de Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild.
Benjamin is the great grandson of the first Edmond, and son of the second. He continues his father’s interests in Israel by chairing the Caesarea Foundation. He maintains his father’s dream by continuing to develop Château Clarke and the nearby Châteaux Peyre-Labade and Malmaison. He continues to produce the kosher wine produced by his father: Barons Rothschild, produced at Château Clarke, but has also added a kosher cuvee of Château Malmaison to his portfolio.
His main wine initiatives have been focused on South Africa and Argentina. In South Africa, he formed a joint venture with industrialist Anton Rupert family to form Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons. His joint venture in Argentina, with Laurent Dassault, is called Flechas des Los Andes.

LORD JACOB ROTHSCHILD (1936- )
Lord Jacob Rothschild is owner of Waddesdon Manor and Chairman of Yad Hanadiv.
He is the leading figure of the English Rothschilds. His contribution to the family’s wine is Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, England, which was bequeathed to the National Trust. Here he maintains a shop and cellar featuring the Rothschild wines, including the joint ventures. It is the only venue in the world which showcases every single one of the family’s wines.
His main contribution to Israel is as Chairman of Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation, named after the original Baron Edmond. The foundation focuses on five specific areas in Israel: Education, Environment, Academic Excellence, Civil Society and the Arab Community. Lord Jacob plays an active and ongoing role to ensure the family’s interests in Israel continues.
Concerning his own wine interests, he has a 1/6th ownership share in Château Lafite and is also an investor in the Royal Tokaj Company.

SUMMARY

Ironically the main Rothschilds who are active in Israel in the 21st century are Baron Eric de Rothschild from France, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild from Switzerland and Lord Jacob Rothschild from England. Coincidentally, each is a partner in the ownership of Château Lafite. So even today, as was the case 120 years ago, the Lafite Rothschilds have continued their support of Israel and Jewish causes in the same modest, low key way as exemplified by Baron Edmond

In the photos, top to bottom:

Baron Edmond de Rothschild 1845-1934. Founder of Carmel and the modern Israel wine industry.

Baron James Jacob de Rothschild 1792-1868. Zichron Ya’acov, the town & winery, are named in his memory.

James Rothschild 1878-1957. Donated Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov Wineries to S.C.V. des Grandes Caves, Carmel.

Decanter Picks Carmel Petit Sirah as Wine of the Month

Carmel Winery’s Appellation Petite Sirah 2006 has been selected by Decanter Wine Magazine as Wine of the Month in their July 2010 issue.

This is the first time since the 1990’s that an Israeli wine has received this prestigious award. Decanter is one of the world’s most famous wine magazines with their contributors being a Who’s Who of the world of wine.  They include Hugh Johnson, Michael Broadbent, Stephen Brook, Stephen Spurrier and Andrew Jefford, amongst many others.

The Appellation Petite Sirah Old Vines is produced from 40 year old vines in the Judean Hills. The same wine also won a Gold Medal in the leading Israeli competition, Eshkol Ha’zahav. It is made 100% from Petite Sirah, an underrated variety and Israel is fast getting a name for producing it really well.

So far it has been a very successful year for Carmel both in Israel and internationally. The year the company celebrates its 120th harvest has been a golden year. In recent months Carmel Winery:

  • Received four gold medals at the BEST VALUE 2010 competition, which was the best equal result by any Israeli winery.
  • Received four gold medals at the Eshkol Ha’Zahav 2010 competition – more than any other Israeli Winery.
  • Won a Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010 for Kayoumi Shiraz 2006. Carmel is the only Israeli winery to receive a Trophy in international competition this year. (A Trophy is one step above a Gold Medal.)
  • Received the equal top score for an Israeli wine in a tasting by the Wine Spectator
  • Carmel’s subsidiary Yatir Winery was awarded 91 points for the Yatir Forest 2004 and 2006 by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Therefore Yatir Forest 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 have now each been awarded between 90 – 93 pints by Robert Parker.
  • Carmel’s 120 Brandy was awarded 95 points by Daniel Rogov.
  • And now the Appellation Petite Sirah Old Vines has been selected at Wine of The Month by Decanter. An extremely rare award for an Israeli wine.

First Performance of Carmel Symphony To Celebrate 120 Years

Carmel Winery is celebrating its 120th year of harvests. The first harvest to be received by Rishon Le Zion Wine Cellars was on August 3rd 1890. Soon the 2010 harvest will begin, which will be the 120th by Israel’s most historic winery.

To celebrate this, a special Symphony has been composed by Gil Shohat. The premiere peformance of this unique work will be performed by The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars. In attendance will be government ministers, celebrities and Carmel’s customers from all over the world, along with other special guests.

Gil Shohat is an acclaimed composer, conductor and pianist. Forbes Magazine, together with all three of Israel’s major newspapers (Yedioth Aharonoth, Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz) have declared Shohat to be “The most important and influential personality in classical music in Israel.” He is the winner of numerous awards in Israel and abroad. He is also a laureate of Israel’s Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation (2001). Carmel Winery was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris Banker, Philanthropist, and owner of Chateau Lafite, one of the most famous wineries in the world.

Soprano Ira Bertman, the main soloist of the Israeli Opera, will also participate, singing a poem especially written for the occasion by Shin Shifra.

Israel Ivzan, Chairman of SCV des Grandes Caves and CEO of Carmel Winery, says: “Few wineries worldwide are able to look back over 120 harvests. This first ever, one time performance of this unique musical work, illustrates the connection between the two artistic expressions of wine and music. The story of Carmel Winery is not only the story of Israeli wine, but also of Israel itself.”

The founding of Carmel represented the rebirth of an Israeli wine industry after 2,000 years. Carmel today is Israel’s largest and premier winery, producing 15 million bottles, ranging from the flagship, Carmel Limited Edition, to Selected, Israel’s largest selling brand. Carmel owns Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars, still the two largest wineries in Israel. It also owns two state-of-the art small wineries, designed to make handcrafted wines from different vineyard plots: Kayoumi Winery in the Upper Galilee and Yatir Winery at Tel Arad, in the north eastern Negev.

In celebration of 120 years since the building of Rishon Le Zion Wine Cellars in 1890, Carmel has released a limited edition, de-luxe brandy of only 2,000 bottles. Carmel 120 Brandy has components in the blend up to 27 years old. In addition, Carmel will be pouring a special wine at the event, taken from its cellar archive: a magnum of a Carmel Single Vineyard Merlot 2002 from the Shomron Region. The year 2002 represents 120 years since Carmel’s first vineyards were planted, in 1882.

Adam Montefiore in the Huffington Post

I’ve previously written about Adam Montefiore, currently a manager at Carmel Winery. The dean of Israeli wine marketing (a topic close to my heart) and someone I’m privileged to have met and call an associate and friend, Montefiore is also known by his moniker ‘The Ambassador of Israeli Wine’ – a title well deserved. As one of the main spokespeople for Israeli wine in the English press, I was pleased to see an interview with him in the Huffington Post (and, for the record, Adam sometimes sends me important articles on Israeli wine that I may have missed but certainly not this!).

I won’t reprint the interview in full but recommend reading Adam’s take on the Israeli wine industry and the role the ‘kosher’ label plays in Israeli wine. Just a short taste (I was surprised by the comment that the industry had shifted to Australia from UC Davis, with the exception of the wonderful wine come from Eran Goldwasser at Yatir [which is owned by Carmel], who trained in Australia:

Q: Talk of New World in the Old World , in relation to styles of wine, grape growing practices, and cellar practices.

A: Israel is a New World wine country. Israeli farmers are the best in the world, and Israeli growers are also technologically advanced. Israeli wine though, is a combination of the Old World, New World, and ancient world with a 5,000 year history. Three revolutions:

  1. In the 1880’s Israeli wine was formed on a basis of French expertise with Bordeaux winemakers, cuttings from Chateau Lafite and consultants. Founded by the Rothschild family.
  2. The quality revolution (Mondavi movement) happened because of the Golan Heights Winery in the 1980’s.
  3. Today, the influences have shifted more to Australia than UC Davis.

Adam Montefiore: The Ambassador of Israeli Wine

In 1884, a year before his death, Sir Moses Montefiore, then 100 years old, made his last donation to the new village of Rishon le Zion, birth place of the modern Israel wine industry. Over 100 years later a young Englishman with blue eyes made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. The great, great grandson of Moses Montefiore’s heir had the same objective – to contribute to Israel and to advance Israeli wine. He began by specialising in the ‘on trade’ – hotels & restaurants – and then worked to progress the exports of Israeli wineries. This is the story of Adam Montefiore – The Ambassador of Israeli Wines!

CONTINUING THE FAMILY TRADITION

The roots of the Montefiore family began in Italy in a small village called Conca Montefiore. At the end of eighteenth century the family immigrated to England. One of the children was Sir Moses Montefiore, known from all the history books of Eretz (the land of) Israel as a philanthropist & founder of the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. He was wine lover and we are told that he drunk a bottle of wine every day. When he came to Israel / Palestine he tasted the local wines and wrote even then, that Jews should plant vineyards & produce wine. Moses Montefiore put his thoughts into action by purchasing the first land to be owned by Jews with the express purpose of encouraging agriculture.

The Sebag family arrived in England from Mogador (Essaouira), Morocco over 200 years ago and became related to the Montefiore family by marriage. Sarah Montefiore, Moses’ sister, married Solomon Sebag. Moses Montefiore himself had no children, and when the time arrived, he looked to find an heir. He decided that the nephew he liked most, Joseph (son of his sister Sarah), would be most likely to continue his work but a condition was that he changed his name. This was how Joseph Sebag became Joseph Sebag Montefiore. From Joseph, a large family grew with children, grandchildren etc. One of direct descendents was called Adam!

In 1884, a year before his death, Sir Moses Montefiore, then aged 100 years old, made his last donation to Israel requesting that it should go to the new village of Rishon le Zion (then a settlement, today the 4th largest city in Israel.)
Over 100 years later, a young Englishman, with shining blue eyes landed in Israel. He was the great, great grandson of Joseph Sebag Montefiore and arrived for the same reason – to contribute to Israel and to the Israel wine industry. This is how the story of Adam Montefiore began at Carmel Winery (then Carmel Mizrahi) in 1990.

CHILDHOOD & WINE IN ENGLAND

Adam Montefiore was born in Kensington, West London to a famous Anglo Jewish family. As a young man, he lived in London with his three brothers, two of whom are today well known writers. After finishing his studies, and he searched for work experience. Adam, a practical man, wanted to enter the real world. In the end he did a Business Management course at Bass Charrington. This was then the largest brewery & drinks company in England, the largest hotelier in the world and they had extensive wine interests. Originally he had no connections with the drinks world, but there is a certain drinks culture in all Englishmen through the traditions of the English pub.

However Adam found himself absorbed in this new world, initially studying beer, and then wines & spirits. He learnt about production, how to taste and finally about the drinks market and took the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) courses & exams. England was a good place to learn about wine and Bass Charrington owned the Augustus Barnett chain of wine shops, the Bordeaux negociant, Alexis Lichine and wine & spirit shippers Hedges & Butler. They also owned Chateau Lascombes in Margaux and were agents for Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

He began as a regional sales manager selling wines, spirits, beer & soft drinks and learnt about the food & beverage world through the Bass public house, hotel & restaurant interests. Eventually Adam became director of Wine & Liquor Development for Bass Hotels (then Holiday Inn & Crest Hotels International, now called Intercontinental Hotels) responsible for the purchasing, marketing & selling of wine within the hotel group.

He was also responsible for compiling wine lists and wine education for wine waiters & sommeliers. He became known for the variety & quality of his wine lists and for the competitions he organised for sommeliers. He was a founder member of the Academy of Wine Service, formed to raise the standards of wine service. Eventually, in recognition for his work in this field he was eventually made an Honorary Member.

In this position he had the opportunity to work with wines from all over the world and in the mid 1980’s he came across the wines of the Golan Heights Winery for the first time. He saw the big improvement in Israeli wine and was quick to put Israeli wines on the wine lists of sixty Bass Hotels throughout England.

THE LAST ZIONIST

He enjoyed his job in England, but something was missing. He had a nice house in a Cotswold village in Oxfordshire, England, but it was important to Adam that his children were brought up in a Jewish environment – difficult abroad. His family was very Zionist – so the only place to go was Israel! Adam had visited Israel seven times as a tourist, liked the country, the history, the food & the people. He was prepared to give up everything to make aliya and immigrate to Israel.

To make aliyah is difficult especially for a couple with three children, (Liam was then 13, David 6 & Rachel 3) without work or job offers & without knowledge of Hebrew. Adam was not sure if he would find work where he would be able to use his expertise in wine, but despite this, thought the risk well worth taking. In November 1989, he arrived in Ra’anana, which became his roots in Israel. Adam liked the country immediately. For the rest of the family it was more difficult and took longer.

He looked for a place within the wine industry but at that time there weren’t so many opportunities. He was in contact with all the wineries but to no avail. He then looked for work systematically in other drinks companies, food companies & hotels. After six months of searching, he finally received an answer & accepted an offer to work with Carmel Mizrahi with both hands. He was made responsible for Hotels & Restaurants – an area he was familiar with from his work in England.

AT WORK IN ERETZ HA’KODESH – THE HOLY LAND

Initially, Carmel was unsure whether or not to take him on. On the one hand, they saw a person with a knowledge & experience from the world of wine that no-one else could match yet. On the other hand he did not have the language. In the end, Avraham Ben Moshe, CEO of Carmel, decided to take Adam after weighing up what he could offer. Carmi Lebenstein , Sales and later Marketing Director, did not hesitate to warmly recommend Adam because she recognized the great potential. “I knew Adam could make a great contribution to the company” she said. “I took the responsibility to help him with the language, and wrote his letters for him in Hebrew. That’s how it began.” Adam was responsible for being the wine consultant for restaurants & hotels and began to get a reputation for the advice & assistance he gave. Much of his time was spent compiling wine lists in new stylish & informative ways, teaching people how to sell wine and also on wine education for the professional market.

His professionalism was appreciated by hoteliers & restaurateurs. “From Adam I first learnt it was possible to speak about wine for days on end without a break!” said Carmi. “All my memories are good – he was professional, a nice person, fun to be with. It was difficult for him to cope with the Israeli mentality at first, but he eventually adapted.” Carmi complimented him for pioneering wine by the glass, which did not exist previously, in order to overcome the customers’ opposition to the quantity & price of a bottle. He also taught waiters how to sell the second bottle to those that were prepared to buy.

Adam worked for Carmel for two years, learnt to be ‘Israeli’, studied the language & the local wine market. Wanting to progress & develop, he then moved to the Golan Heights Winery as Market Development Manager. From 1992 he dealt with sales promotions, training & tastings – concentrating as before on the ‘on trade.’

In England he had organised sommelier competitions with the participation of famous wine & food personalities. In Israel he started ‘Pras Yarden’ – The Yarden Award for Wine Service, which he organized & managed for five successful years. This was the first competition for wine waiters in Israel. Professional wine service improved year on year. He also organized the country’s first ever sommelier course with an emphasis on his special interest, matching food & wine.

AMBASSADOR OF ISRAELI WINE

In 1994, he became Export Manager firstly only for Europe, then later International Marketing Manager worldwide. To his regret he gradually gave up the education & training role, but he was able to devote himself to exporting Israeli wines.

He started the job, which was in effect ‘The Ambassador of Israeli Wine,’ marketing Yarden, Gamla and Golan wines. During a three year distribution agreement, he also worked with Tishbi Winery and later he was involved with the early years of Galil Mountain. Shalom Blayer, Managing Director of Golan Heights Winery from 1998, who worked with Adam for five years said: “Adam Montefiore is a man of wine culture. We did not have this sort of person in Israel; he was someone who understood all aspects of the business & knew how to deal in wine. In addition his knowledge increased all the time.” Shalom continued: “Adam is an encyclopedia about wine – there is no book or magazine about wine that he doesn’t know. His legacy to us was the professional library he set up. He has an interest & awareness of the written history & presentation of wine, which is not usual amongst Israelis. I enjoyed working with him & respect him. He is a good friend.”

After nearly 11 years at Golan Heights Winery, he returned to Carmel, where there were many new developments, including a new CEO & a new atmosphere of change. Adam was put in charge of the Export Department as International Marketing Director.
David Ziv, CEO of Carmel Winery, commented: “I am pleased Adam has returned to where he began. He has come home. Adam brought with him, both previously & now, his knowledge & experience. He gave us a great deal at the beginning, did excellent work at the Golan Heights Winery, and has returned to give more. Apart from his professionalism, he has excellent contact with people, an understanding of marketing and the ability to provide quick management solutions. Adam is also very modest. I see in him a very serious business partner in all the changes we are making.”
David Ziv adds: “I think he has a future in other things not just marketing.” Adam adapts quickly & we are happy he is with us.”

One of their first innovations was to form ‘Handcrafted Wines of Israel’ – a consortium of the finest boutique wineries in Israel (Amphorae, Bazelet ha Golan, Castel, Chillag, Flam, Hamasrek, Margalit, Saslove, Tzora, & Yatir wineries) which Adam set up & managed, to advance Israel as a quality wine producing country abroad.

VISION

Adam is an expert on our region. He obviously knows the Israel wine industry, but has special interest in the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean including Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey. He believes that maybe Israel is too small to be noticed on its own. However if you take the Eastern Mediterranean as a wine region, it could create new interest. Adam says: “There has been a revolution in wine in the southern & eastern Mediterranean. We are in the heart of the most historic wine region. Israel & Lebanon are similar in size; the food & geography are similar. One day I hope we can work more together.” To promote awareness of this region and encourage the pursuit of quality, Adam arranged sponsorship of: ‘The Carmel Trophy For The Best Producer in the Eastern Mediterranean’ at the International Wines & Spirits Competition in London.

He says “Israel will always keep its place in the kosher world, but a lot of work is required if we are to be effective in the general wine market. I am very proud to represent Israeli wine. We make some really high quality wines.”
If you could change something Israel, what would you do? : “The lack of pride in Israeli wine bothers me. It annoys me if local journalists write only about imported wines and when restaurants do not give enough attention to Israel wines. We should support & cherish our own as happens in other countries.”

“We have a great range of wines in Israel, different grape varieties & terroirs, and young people who have learnt abroad have returned to further develop our industry. I am proud to be a small part of the revolution but this is not enough. Missing is the pride in the national product and this I want to change.”

SUMMARY

Whereas during the nineties, Adam Montefiore was an integral part of the team that built the successful brand of Yarden, since December 2002 he has been part of the rejuvenation and renewal of Carmel, and the launch of Yatir, one of Israel’s most exciting new boutique wineries. During his time in Israel he has been involved with the launch of some of Israel’s most famous wines like Yarden Katzrin, Galil Mountain Yiron, Carmel Limited Edition and Yatir Forest and been part of many of the positive changes that have occurred in Israeli wine. Now he is Wine Development Director of both of Carmel Winery and Yatir Winery.

In his spare time, Adam continues to write articles about wine for both Israeli and international publications. He wrote the forward and main essays in ‘The Wine Route of Israel’, the chapter on wine in ‘The Book of New Israeli Food’ and the main text for ‘Wines of Israel.’ He wrote the sections on ‘Israel’ and ‘Kosher’ for The Oxford Companion To Wine by Jancis Robinson. He also continues to contribute to Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, as he has done for many years, and readily supplies information on Israeli wine to other famous wine journalists, always trying to advance the Israel brand.

However though a passionate advocate of Israeli wine, he is not complacent. “We are on a journey. Don’t look where we are now. Look where we were 20 years ago and think where we may get to in the next twenty years!”

Mira Eitan is the editor of Wine & Gourmet, Israel’s premier wine magazine. She originally wrote this article for www.israelwines.co.il and updated it for www.wines-israel.com

(The following appeared on wines-israel.com and is reprinted with permission)