Adam S. Montefiore


Way back in 1969, Tony Laithwaite and his wife Barbara used to travel to France in a beat up white van, purchase wine and come back to England to sell it to their own data base of friends and family. They set up shop under an old railway archway, called their start-up company Bordeaux Direct and began with a mere 150 customers. In 1973 it developed into the Sunday Times Wine Club, received respectability and took off.

From small beginnings, this small acorn grew to a mighty oak. It is now a very large company trading as Direct Wines, which is basically an umbrella for a number of well-known subsidiaries such as Averys, Laithwaites, The Sunday Times Wine Club and The Wall Street Journal Wine Club. These are mail order companies and wine clubs which sell more wine than the total annual production of Israel. The group has three core markets in the UK, USA and Australia. The moto of the company is ‘from the vineyard to your door.’

Their success is based on the inherent laziness of the customer who says ‘I am interested in wine and like drinking it, but don’t want to be bothered with the hassle of choosing it and delivering it’. The system works only if the choice is constantly innovative to stimulate the purchaser. The quality must be good and the wines should be particularly good value. However, above all else, the customer service has to be outstanding.

I for myself love browsing in wine shops and book shops. I like the whole dance which involves talking wine with the wine knowledgeable staff, maybe tasting something too. I like to be able to touch bottles, picking them up for a closer look and, occasionally reading back labels. In short, the act of buying is for me part of the experience.

However imagine you like wine as I do, but do not have time to search. You visit the supermarket or wine shop and experience that momentary panic when confronted with a wall of wine. You have no idea where to start, what to order and don’t like to ask. Also, you have no time to study the shelves.

I have similar feelings when I enter a Japanese or Sushi restaurant. I like Sushi but have no idea what all the names mean. I like to be led. I am a sucker for the waiter recommendation, which I usually accept with grateful relief.

Buying by the case means heavy lifting and as for transporting your precious cargo, you can’t leave the wine for a second in the car because in our temperatures, it can become cooked very quickly. The whole buying procedure takes time and effort.

Two enterprising entrepreneurs, Gali Feigin and Yael Lev Avidor, have decided to come to your rescue. After studying Business Management in America and working respectively with medical equipment and in Hi Tec, they returned to Israel with the idea of doing something for themselves. They were familiar with the concept of The Wine Club and liked wine. They did the research, asked friends for their opinions and the result was they decided to create a wine club “for people like us.”

They were quick to identify an untapped market in the Israeli wine scene, which has developed so far in some ways, but is so backward in others. They courageously founded a new company called DeVine based on the concept of The Wine Club, with marketing, sales and communication via an internet site and social media. They were smart enough not to reinvent the wheel, but adapted existing concepts to the Israeli market.

They source their wines from Direct Wines, the daddy of all mail order wine companies. They have the range, the accessibility, the innovative choices and they are as up to date as tomorrow.

They also imported wine expertise by deciding to work with Jessie Bodek as their wine expert. He leads them through the complicated world of wine, tastes with them and assists them in making the right selection. Gali and Yael describe how they contacted him initially and he immediately offered encouraging support.

Bodek is a well-known sommelier in these parts and a wine consultant who is involved deeply in many aspects of the wine trade including consultancy, judging, business, education and tastings. He speaks with a French accent as all wine consultants should do (maybe because he was born in France!) and is highly respected.

Feigin and Avidor set up an easy to navigate, attractive website, which is full of information. If you join the Devine Wine Club, you will receive a case of six bottles of wine every two months. It will be made up of one to two Israeli wines and the rest will be imported, though this can vary. The Israeli wines may be little known boutique wineries and the imported wines may made from unknown grape varieties or wines from less fashionable wine regions. Helpfully, there is a booklet delivered with each case giving details about the wines in question. So you can drink, enjoy and be educated at the same time!

The case will cost you only 174 shekels a month. The wines that will be sourced for you are in the 70 -100 shekel bracket, which the subscriber will receive for 58 shekels. Putting the value of this in perspective, if you eat out in a restaurant once a month, this is what you may be paying for a bottle of wine. Incidentally there is nothing to stop you taking Devine wines to restaurants, being prepared to pay the corkage fee. The wine will still work out more cheaply than it would be if you bought from the wine list.

Think of the anticipation every two months. There is a knock on the door and you are delivered with a box in the DeVine colors of red and white. You have no idea what is inside until you open it. The child on the morning of his birthday will feel the same way: the excitement of not knowing what is under the wrapping.

Well, DeVine manage to be innovative by selecting imported wines not brought in by other importers. As such the choice is interesting, challenging to the wine lover eager to learn, and fresh. This will not be a wine discounted because it has not sold through. Nor is it a wine pushed by the retailer because, unknown to you, he distributes or owns this or that brand.

No, this is a wine imported and selected with you in mind. It is the right price because it has been negotiated for you, the right quality, because experts have tasted it for you. I have seen the list of wines they offer and most prick my interest.

Gali and Yael are pedantically strict on issues of service. The first warm bottle they experienced, they sacked the distribution company the same day and brought all the distribution in house, using temperature controlled vehicles. It is a hands-on operation. When Gali recently gave a presentation explaining the concept to other members of the wine trade, someone raised a hand to ask a question. She immediately recognized the name as a customer. This is a company whose heartbeat is very customer and service orientated.

They say their main growth is by word of mouth. The moment that gave them most pleasure They were sitting in a restaurant, minding their own business, when they heard someone on another table extolling the DeVine impeccable service in great detail. The person had no idea the owners were sitting a few feet away.

They also have gift subscriptions. What a great gift for someone who has everything! They are now developing a premium offer for wines above 100 shekels. Of course, if you like a wine you have tried, you can make a follow up purchase in their on line wine shop, which also lists some Israeli kosher wines for the kosher drinker.

This is a new concept here and innovative. It adds to the mosaic of Israeli wine and provides new opportunities for the consumer. It fills an important niche and I wish Gali and Yael every success.



Heard the one about the architect, carpenter, handyman and pastry chef I know it does not go quite like the nursery rhyme, ‘the butcher, baker and candlestick maker’, but it does tell a story. What do these people have in common They are all from one family and they founded a winery in 2001.

I am referring to Vitkin Winery. The architect, Sharona Paz-Belogolovsky owns the winery with her husband, handyman and jack of all trades, Doron Belogolovsky. The carpenter is Avraham Paz, the father of Sharona.

In 2002 they built a winery in the cowshed owned by Doron’s grandparents in the Vitkin Village, situated in the coastal Sharon Plain. Doron, the practical one, taught himself to make wine with the help and encouragement of the pastry chef.

I visited the original winery. There are some restaurants where a visit to the kitchen will put you off eating there again. It is exactly the same with wineries. A place that is tidy, orderly and with the mantra ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’, somehow enhances the feelings about the quality of the wine. Vitkin Winery was small, but immaculate and clean.

Fast forward to 2015, and they have moved to new premises, this time in a building which used to be a chicken coop. It is an impressive building. The architect designed the winery, the handyman built it and the carpenter made the furniture.

There is no single bit of bric a brac or even the smallest piece of furniture that does not have sentimental significance. It is either something handed down in the family through the generations or hand crafted by the talented members of the Vitkin family. The wines aren’t bad either.

Vitkin is one of Israel’s finest boutique wineries. It has a name for quality, originality and authenticity. Most of the credit for this is due to the pastry chef, who makes the wine. In fact, Assaf Paz, brother of Sharona, put down his spatula and rolling pin a long time ago. He studied wine in Bordeaux in the late 1990’s, travelled to California and Australia and became a winemaker.

I first came across him when I was working for the Golan Heights Winery. He contacted me because he wanted wine for a tasting of Israeli wines to be held in Bordeaux. I was reluctant to help. You have no idea how many requests one gets like this. Yet he was very confident of himself, very persistent and was not put off by my reluctance. He was a nudge, but in the nicest possible way. Charming and at the same time determined to follow through. In the end he got what he wanted!

He returned to Israel as the winemaker for Tishbi Winery. Then he worked with me at Carmel Winery (by that time I had moved to Carmel.) He was responsible for the boutique winery at Zichron Ya’acov Cellars. Later he moved to Binyamina Winery and was even for a short time at Segal Wines. This in itself must make him one of the more travelled winemakers in Israel. Now he is devoting himself full time to Vitkin.

He is a perky, optimistic character, usually smiling who likes to think out of the box. From the beginning he wanted to make Israeli wines rather than international wines. On his suggestion the winery decided to concentrate only on more unusual or exotic varieties. For him, ABC (the ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ movement), also meant no Cabernet Sauvignon, no Merlot and no Sauvignon Blanc. His was the first winery to make this choice and as such he became the main pioneer of the Mediterranean trend that now has many adherents.

He is like his talented father, who can look at a barrel and visualize how he can fashion furniture from it. Assaf has the ability to look at an old run down vineyard, with very high yields and envisage what he can get out of it. For instance looking at an old vineyard in the Zichron area, he thought what if I take only these rows and that plot, reduce yields and try and make a quality wine.

And that is what he did. He was able to make a silk pouch out of a sow’s ear by using fruit previously used for Kiddush wine to make a quality Carignan. It is amazing what can be done by looking at the same grapes in a different way, with the desire to make a quality wine and the knowledge and technology to back it up. Is there anything that symbolizes the Israeli wine revolution more than this The move from sweet to dry, and from the most basic level to quality.

The Vitkin Carignan 2002 and Petite Sirah 2003 were sign posts for an Israeli wine industry as a whole. Just to make sure we got the picture, he encouraged the same focus at Carmel with support of the chief winemaker and they produced their first Appellation Carignan and Petite Sirah wines in 2004.

I recently did a tasting of all the country’s leading Carignans and the Vitkin finished in first place. Not for nothing is Assaf known as Mr. Carignan. His interest in this variety stems back to 1999 when, whilst still in Bordeaux, he was invited to a wine tasting of Priorat wines that blew his mind. Priorat, in the Catalonian region of Spain, is one of the few regions in the world where old vine Carignan is given respect. Later on, at a time when other winemakers were visiting Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Barossa Valley and Tuscany, he chose to visit Priorat, to learn the secrets of the canny Catalonians.

Today Vitkin Winery is a specialist of the more unusual varieties like Carignan, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc. He also makes a Pinot Noir (it is so Assaf Paz, that he would try!) and a Riesling, (Johannisberg, not Emerald) which is one of the better examples of this variety in Israel.

His entry level wines, branded with the labels ‘Israeli Journey’ are extremely popular restaurant wines. They are full of flavor, yet refreshing with good acidity. There is a red, white and rosé, and these are wines to drink whilst sitting outside in Jaffa or Acre, eating mezze, fish and grilled meat, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It goes without saying they represent excellent value.

The prestige blend is a wine called Shorashim, which means roots. Not surprisingly, it is a Mediterranean style blend and it is made only in better vintages. This is a winery for whom roots, origins and family are of paramount importance.

Vitkin’s wines are sourced from the Judean Hills, Mount Carmel, Upper Galilee and Golan Heights. In other words Paz tries to source from the best region for the varieties he works with. They also have plans to plant a vineyard in front of the winery.

So Vitkin Winery has progressed from the cowshed to the chicken coop. The new winery is well worth a visit. Furthermore, from the 2015 vintage, the wines will be kosher for the first time. The winery’s high quality and good value wines are a lighthouse showing the way for the industry as a whole.


White Israeli Journey 2014
A white wine made from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Colombard and Gewurztraminer. Broad flavored with a nose of apricot, floral notes and a hint of cut hay. It has a refreshing finish.

NIS. 75

Vitkin Riesling 2013
A fragrant, classic Riesling with delicate but complex aromas of citrus blossom, wild flowers and a petroleum note and a piercing acidity.
NIS 90

Pink Israeli Journey 2014
Crisp,strawberry colored rosé made from Carignan and Grenache grapes. It has a delicate berry aroma and excellent acidity. This is the year of rosé.
NIS 75

Red Israeli Journey 2013
A super drinking wine. It is a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Ripe, fruity aroma, with a chewy flavor mid palate, and a refreshing finish that demands you take another glass.
NIS 75

Vitkin Carignan 2011
The aroma of this Carignan is reminiscent of plums, black cherry with a hint of Mediterranean herbs. In the mouth it has a complex dried fruit character and long balanced finish.
NIS 105

Vitkin Petite Sirah 2010
A deep colored wine, with an aroma of black fruits and a tantalizing hint of violets. The taste is meaty , earthy even spicy and the finish is long. This is a wine for carnivores.
NIS 125



This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplement of the Jerusalem Post.
The Israeli wine world for all its variety has a lot of sameness about it. Vineyards look pretty much the same. They are planted in more or less the same way, with the vines standing straight like soldiers to be suitable for mechanical harvesting. The grapes will as likely as not include the all- conquering Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot which are grown everywhere outside Israel and within.
The winery will undoubtedly be a clean, sterile area with a few oak barrels giving a flavor of tradition, and spotless stainless steel tanks providing a taste of technology. There will likely be a bar or comfort zone or even a visitor’s center for meeting customers and selling wines.
The winemaker will either be an enthusiast whose hobby has become a business or a smiling graduate of some foreign university who did a course, followed by a stage of a harvest or two in another country and then returned to become a winemaker.
There is usually an ongoing dance between the grower, who is a farmer and grows grapes and the winemaker who wants to grow wine. Who leads in this merry dance is usually the grower, and the winemaker tries to catch up, educate, enthuse and impose his controls.
The wine will be made in the boring international style which has become the norm. The reds will be full bodied, over ripe, high alcohol, and jammy. The whites will be full of tropical aromas, ‘nice to drink’ but lacking follow through and an underlying character or a sense of place.
Depressing OK, I am certainly looking at the cup half empty instead of half full and am intentionally giving a cynical overview. There is a reason. I want to introduce you to one of Israel’s most exciting young wineries, Kerem Shvo, owned by Gaby Sadan, who is one of the most talented winemakers in Israel and a totally free spirit. He is a master of thinking out of the box at the same time as being a proponent of the laissez faire style of winemaking.
Gaby Sadan started in fairly respectable fashion. He studied winemaking at Dijon in France, worked in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Afterwards he went on to gain experience in California and Australia as well as more experience in France. He spent far longer than the average winemaker in learning his trade, gathering information and experiencing winemaking in different countries. The long period of apprenticeship suggests a patience, thoroughness and thirst for knowledge.
In 1998 he returned to Israel and joined the Golan Heights Winery, the most advanced winery with regard to technology, under the legendary chief winemaker, Victor Schoenfeld. He became responsible for the red wines. There could not be more difference between the Golan Heights Winery and Shvo Vineyards, or Victor Schoenfeld and Gaby Sadan and yet they are both masters of their art.
In 2000 he moved to Galil Mountain to become the winemaker of this brand new winery. He was there for six years, and gained a name for his unoaked Galil Mountain reds, great drinking wines, and the great value, quality prestige blend Yiron. In 2006 he left to start his own venture.
Like most wineries in Israel, he started with a vineyard, but uniquely in this instance, the site was chosen, the varieties were selected and planted by him, the winemaker. He chose a site at 800 meters altitude between Dovev and Sassa in the Upper Galilee. Instead of planting the stalwarts like Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, he chose Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, which are all well- known from the South of France and Barbera, prominent in Piedmont in Italy for the reds. Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, which thrive in the Loire Valley, were the whites.
Basically in an industry affected by internationalization and globalization, Sada does everything differently. The vineyard reeks of character and individuality. The soils are limestone with flint in areas. The Grenache and Mourvèdre are planted in low bush vines. There is a full cover crop between the vines. He is a believer in self sustainable viticulture, using compost and no herbicides.
He named his winery Kerem Shvo (Shvo Vineyards) after his mother. Considering his raison d’etre as a wine grower, it is totally appropriate that the winery would be named after the vineyard.
He setup a winery in a semi used, semi derelict packaging plant at Jish, otherwise known as Gush Halav. It is a Christian Arab village. Why there Simply, to be close to the vineyard. There is no sign signifying there is a winery. No visitors center, no marketing department, or tasting room. There is scarcely a comfortable chair to sit on. What is there, is what is necessary to make wine. Period. Nothing frivolous to get in the way of the principle objective: to grow wine.
At the winery, everything is different. The stainless tanks are rectangular, not round. The barrels are large, not small and new oak, is thankfully scarce.
The first wine was produced from the 2009 harvest. Harvesting is by hand. Yields are very low. In making the wine he also follows a totally individual route. The Sauvignon Blanc, for example, is hand harvested, whole cluster pressed and fermented using wild yeast in used 400 liter barrels and then aged in barrel. This is contrary in almost every way from the usual methods of making Sauvignon Blanc in Israel.
His red wine is a GSMB blend. In Australia, the letters GSM signify a blend of Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre. The B is the Barbera. The Grenache contributes perfumed fruit, the Syrah spice, the Mourvèdre tannin and texture and the Barbera acidity.
Gaby Sadan is a well set man usually wearing t shirts and shorts, with a mop of red hair and a full beard, probably not unlike the Biblical Esaw. (Referring to his hair color and the description, ‘he was a hairy man’).
He is a person who likes to take full responsibility and only truly relies on himself. I remember when the new Galil Mountain Winery opened and I was the initial export manager, he was checking my English text as though it was written by an illiterate non-English speaking Israeli. A crazy perfectionist yes, but this is a welcome trait shared by the very best winemakers.
He is a ‘Gingie’ not only in color, but also in character and does not suffer fools gladly. On the other hand, he is incredibly patient in the vineyard and winery, totally non-interventionist, allowing inordinately long fermentations without interference. The vineyard and grapes are allowed to express themselves in the final wine.
He is a quiet talker, explaining his way with passion, usually with his head cocked slightly to one side as though in inquisitive mode. He wants to make white wines which are less flamboyantly aromatic, with a greater flavor and minerality on the middle palate that gives a sense of place.
Regarding red wines, he believes in these Mediteranean varieties which most agree have a great future in Israel and Barbera, where the success here has yet to be proven. Interestingly he is not necessarily trying to make a big Mediterranean style wine but succeeds in making a wine that seductively draws you to take another sip because it is chunky but refreshing.
The wines are not kosher. Sadan is too much of a hands-on winemaker to pass on the responsibilities to any mashgiach, but they are excellent, original and are priced very reasonably. His journey is invigorating because it represents a back to basics. Everyone interested in the future direction of Israeli wine is following his way with great curiosity.
Shvo Vineyards is an artisan winery, whose wines are handcrafted and enticing.
Vive la Difference et la Qualité!
The Kerem Shvo wines I tasted were as follows:
Shvo Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013
A full bodied wine with has a nose of red apple, peach and apricot, mingled with toasty flavors. It has a refined fruit and minerally taste which develops with time. It improves even more with aeration.

Shvo Chenin Blanc 2011
This wine has an understated nose of greengage and nectarine. It is slightly grassy in the background, with rippling minerality, a faint herbal touch on the palate and a long balanced finish.

Shvo Vineyards Rosé 2013
A delicious Rosé. It has an onion skin color, with an aroma of strawberries, a touch of VA (volatile acidity) on the nose, full flavor in the mouth and a refreshing acidity. It makes you want to eat something!

Shovo Vineyards Red 2011
This is one of my favorite reds of the moment. Meaty yet elegant; rich yet refined; rustic yet subtle. There is plenty of sweet ripe fruit on the nose, a mouth filling, chewy flavor, yet with the balance to entice you to take another sip.