A few years ago the wine team of one of the world’s most famous winery’s in the world visited
Israel. They spent a week here visiting wineries, vineyards, universities and academic
institutions. When I asked the owner why a winery from Bordeaux of all places, would come to
learn from Israel, and not say somewhere like Australia, I was told: “Israel is streets ahead. No-
one has the research and development that is taking place here.” Unfortunately when I posted a
proud photo with the winery owner, I was told to take it down. It was a secret visit – though it
was in no way secret to all the wine people and researchers they met.
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE JERUSALEM POST
I thought about this when I heard Ilai Englard was a guest at the ‘Act for Change Symposium’ in
Bordeaux. He took this opportunity to explain how his company, Trellis, could help them. Trellis
uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to improve efficiency and sustainability, helping wineries in their
decision-making in terms of growing, harvesting, winemaking and marketing. Now we all know
of the Israeli excellence and innovation in agriculture. Just look at who invented drip feed
irrigation, which is now used worldwide. Netafim is now a mega, global company. However
Israel is still one of the tiniest wine producing countries and though we are exceedingly proud
and talk a good game, in the main, if we are being honest, the wine world gets along very well
The wine trade is notorious for being extremely conservative and slow to change. For example
wine is still sold in heavy glass bottles, with a bit of tree bark used as a stopper. No change there
…..for the last 300 years anyway. Well, here was this Israeli company, boldly going into the lion’s
den, to illustrate to the Bordelais a different way forward. The event was held at the Cité du Vin
(incidentally a ‘must-visit’ wine museum) in Bordeaux. Englard explained to the staid wine trade
that he has the answers to improve their business. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Trellis are already working with Gallo, the largest winery in the world. Just to put this in
perspective: Gallo’s so called ‘boutique’ winery, once called Gallo of Sonoma, makes more wine
annually than all of Israel put together. It seems Israeli technology, innovation, creativity and
intelligence (in both meanings of the word), mixed with a little Israeli Chutzpa, makes a potent
So of course, I had to meet him. We met in a Café in Ra’anana, close to my home patch. He
came in looking around, shiny eyed and told me this (exact street) was the place of his youth,
where he grew up and hang around with his friends. His family came to Ra’anana because it was
still slightly rural (in those days) and education was good. These two parameters were important
to his parents. However, we are jumping ahead of ourselves. His grandparents on his father’s
side came from Germany in 1934. They were religious Zionists. A first wine memory for Ilai, was
tasting the grapes and homemade Kiddush wine made by his grandfather in his back yard. His
mother’s parents came from Iraq.
Ilai was a sickly child suffering from breathing difficulties and asthma. His mother always
thought it was because of the crop spraying in the fields nearby. This must have seeped into the
consciousness of the young boy. He was later to become a warrior in the battle to conserve the
environment, farm sustainably, promote biodiversity, and advance regenerative agriculture. He
looks healthy enough today. He is tall, good looking with dark hair and a carefully manicured
beard, with the merest flecks of grey. He has a ready, disarming smile and is warm, quite clearly
incredibly bright, but modest, not at all geekish and prepared to indulge in small talk. Of course,
he is Israeli…and this actually helped him gain credibility when he turned up on the doorsteps of
the global giants asking for a meeting. However, he was well received. As he said: “Big
companies are eager to learn and innovation sells.” Global giants Pernod Ricard and Treasurey
Wine Estates joined Gallo in tapping in to Trellis’s expertise.
Ilai Englard studied Computer Science and Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. He then became an
integral part of the super-elite Unit 8200 in the Israel Intelligence Corps, of the IDF. He was
highly motivated, part of the crème de la crème and his outstanding work received awards and
recognition, and set him apart. He felt empowered, was certain he could contribute and create
Englard was also part of a group of similarly motivated young men exploring social and
environmental sustainability. It started as a hobby and became an all-consuming passion. He
read all he could on plant science and horticulture. He explained to me: “Our entire existence
depends on plants.” This led him to think deeply of food security issues and he even had
personal, practical experience of an urban farm in London.
He then worked for Microsoft for six years which was another incubator for productive
brainstorming and encouraged thinking big. He became obsessed with the idea of compiling
environmental data so decisions could be on a basis of information, rather than intuition. He
observed that the system was totally fragmented, information was too local, and even within
companies, knowledge at their fingertips, was not shared. All this was at a time when
uncertainties, doubts and extreme climatic events, were coming more to the fore.
Englard’s interest and expertise was in digital innovation in the agri-food industry. He founded
his company in 2017 and called it ‘Trellis’, because this is what supports and connects plants. His
overall objective was to ‘support’ and ‘connect’, to improve efficiency and sustainability. He
combined his expertise in systems and information, with his idealism for a better world. For him,
efficiency and sustainability were two sides of the same coin. The Agri-food industry is massive
and world encompassing, so from that grand entrance, how did he reach a decision to focus on
wine? His ideal was the simplest possible supply chain, which is ‘farm to market’. If you have
farm to market, you have a measure of control on all aspects of the business. Interestingly, he
identified that wine already operated a kind of farm to market ethos. The source of the wine
grapes is known, the grower and winemaker have a long term relationship and the work in the
vineyard will often dictate the style, quality and price of the wine and its target market.
So he selected wine as the ideal vertical integrated production system and decided to apply his
AI expertise to the wine sector. He did a pilot working with two progressive wineries: Tabor
Winery situated in Kfar Tabor in the Lower Galilee and Yatir Winery, from Tel Arad in the
northeastern Negev. He then went to America, where Oded Shakked of Longboard Vineyards (ex
J Vineyards) became an ally, and assisted from California with a pilot in 2019.
In the last few years the wine industry has been struck with a series of stunningly extreme
weather disasters. This includes raging fires in Australia and California, and floods in Germany.
Even some Judean Hills vineyards were scorched by fires. The result of these repetitive extreme
events, is that suddenly everyone is talking climate change, when it was barely on the radar only
ten years ago. Unpredictably, always an issue in agriculture, has now become more of threat
than ever more.
Englard told me that knowledge in wine is very much localized in a place (like a vineyard) and in
the hands of an individual (say, the grower or winemaker.) He went on to say that even the most
experienced winemaker or grape grower, who may have worked for thirty years, will at the end
of the day only have done 30 harvests. He explained to me that the management of the Covid
19 Pandemic was a recent application of how sharing wider information with broader
parameters, can work effectively. Information was gathered from different experiences in
different countries, which enabled more accurate predictions and more efficient planning in
one’s own country.
We have certainly seen changes in the last decade. Just look at the vineyards. It was not so long
ago that the standard vineyard had the vines standing straight like soldiers and there was a strip
of brown dirt in between the rows. The lines were formal, manicured, clean and virtually
standard. Now vineyards look different. In between the rows is a cover crop, often with wild
flowers in the spring. To the onlooker, the modern day vineyard looks unkempt and a little wild.
This reflects the change in view over the last decade. Current objectives are to promote bio-
diversity, grow sustainability and put life back into the vineyards.
So these days everyone is talking about climate change and sustainability has become one of the
most overused and abused words in wine. There are though champions of true sustainability
that are leading the way. First and foremost is the Golan Heights Winery. There, winemaker
Victor Schoenfeld runs an extremely impressive operation by any criteria. It must be one of the
most advanced wineries in vineyard technology in the world. The winery has been certified as
sustainable according to the protocol of Lodi Rules, in California. Another pioneer is Galil
Mountain Winery, which successfully practices sustainability in the vineyard, at the winery and
in the office. Famously they recycle Nespresso capsules to help make their own compost. One of
the early leaders in more compassionate wine growing was Tabor Winery, where winery
manager Michal Akerman, is also the viticulturist. She has converted all Tabor’s vineyards to be
ecological and sustainable. Also Tzora Vineyards is certified by Fair’n Green, a recognized system
for sustainability based in Germany. Their CEO-winemaker is of course Eran Pick, Israel’s first
Master of Wine,
These days, Ilai Englard has become quite the wine expert and now understands the wine
production cycle and the business of wine from A to Z. He is a missionary for regenerative
agriculture. Whereas most people get excited by the taste of a wine or the promise of a posh
label, what gets Ilai going, is when he knows the provenance of the wine from the vine upwards.
He prefers wines when he knows where they come from and has a bias for wineries that care for
With great ingenuity, he and his talented team have reinvigorated the system. There are plans
for a conference later this year. Wine groups from France, the United States and Italy are going
to be coming here to learn from us! Trellis wishes to turn over a few tables and create real
change. One would think it was tilting at windmills to turn up in California and Bordeaux with
ideas to disrupt and transform. However the company comes with a service that is brilliantly
conceived, totally logical and apparently, the time is right. The vision is to bring balance in a
fluctuating environment across the whole value chain including the yield/quality ratio, managing
wine inventory, and operations within and outside the gates of the winery.
Reinventing the vision is the name of the game.
The writer is a wine industry insider turned wine writer, who has advanced Israeli wines for 35
years. He is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wine and is the wine writer for the
Jerusalem Post www.adammontefiore.com