Adam S. Montefiore


Avi Feldstein, poet, philosopher, barman, grew up in Tel Aviv, from Romanian roots and read Literature and Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. He started as a tour guide. When I first came to Israel he was the bars expert specializing in spirits. The company he worked for, Segal, were then the main importers, bringing in brands like Martini, Jameson and Glenmorangie. By absorbing the material and immersing himself in the drinks world, he learnt enough to become the main expert in the country.

He acted as brand manager and spirit ambassador for the brands Segal imported, and was the main educator not only on product knowledge but also on how to be a professional barman. He also wrote for the Hadashot newspaper. Yet, with age, maturity and an expanding of horizons, Feldstein gradually moved from spirits and bars to vineyards and wine.

It is a known route. One of my sons was one of the best barman or mixologists in Israel. All the time I told him, that eventually he would get the wine bug because that world was seductive with even greater depth and more complexities. Sure enough, he is now working in wine. I too started elsewhere in the drinks business. I began my career in beer, studied wine & spirits and drifted into a career in wine.

Feldstein became development manager of Segal Wines and reached beyond his brief. Segal was a family firm. They were not the best winery of the day, but they were very innovative and pioneering with regard to importing wines and marketing.  Their labels were the first in Israel to feature famous artists.

Feldstein with his new brief was restless. He was certain Segal could make better wines, if they controlled the fruit in the vineyards. However the winery at that time had a culture separating the vineyard and winery. Remember we are talking over twenty years ago. The feeling was ‘Let the vineyard grow its grapes and the winery make its wine. The vineyard manager and winemaker have different jobs. Let them get on with it.’

Avi Feldstein thought otherwise. With no scientific or viticultural background, without taking soil samples and data from weather stations, he decided the Upper Galilee was the place where Segal could make the great leap forward. He describes how when touring the prospective vineyard, he fell asleep under a tree. He woke up early evening and it was cold. He thought ‘eureka’, this is the place for a vineyard.

Now the Feldstein decision was not just based on an intuitive gut feeling. He had toured and interacted with the wineries Segal represented, which included icons such as Mondavi, Mouton Rothschild and Penfolds. He was curious, and absorbed information like a sponge. This gave him the confidence to challenge the existing order.

Zvi Segal, the patriarch of Segal Wines, was outraged, saying if Feldstein did not think the wines were good enough, then he could leave. Feldstein stood his ground and the vineyards were planted. The Dishon and Dovev vineyards were to define the new quality of Segal Wines.

A success story has many fathers, and many wineries were starting to think of new developments in the Upper Galilee, but Feldstein was amongst the very first. This started a trend of wineries situated in the center of the country planting vineyards in the Upper Galilee.

In the late 1990’s, Avi Feldstein followed this by becoming the winemaker. So the initiator of the vineyard, became the person to receive the grapes a few years later. He was totally self-taught, which is contrary to the more usual route of gaining winemaking qualifications. As Feldstein reminded me, it was not so long ago that people did not learn in universities, but took apprenticeships, studied in libraries and learned from on the job, practical experience.

It may not be politically correct to say it, but I believe the finest Segal wines were made by Avi Feldstein. They certainly were not at that level before he arrived.

There are four wines that I most associate with Feldstein. Firstly, the Segal Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon, which he took over and improved instantly. The quality and look of this wine was the first wine that showed the new quality of Segal, where the innovative presentation was matched by the quality of the wines. This is still the prestige wine of the company.

Then there were the single vineyard wines, from the Dishon and Dovev vineyards in the Upper Galilee. These are today branded Rechasim. The wines were planted, grown, nurtured and turned into quality wines by the same creative hands.

Finally there was the inexpensive, house wine of the company which was a simple wine with the words ‘Shel Segal’(Segal’s Wines) handwritten on a plain label. Another bit of marketing brilliance from Zvi Segal. When the company was bought by Barkan, even then the second largest winery in the country, the ‘Shel Segal’ Regular Red became one of the best selling wines in the country.

Feldstein is most associated with the Argaman grape, which was developed in the 1980’s and planted in the 1990’s. This was a cross between Carignan, the work horse grape of Israel and Souzoa, the Portuguese variety. The idea was to create a good blending grape, with excellent color.

In a master stroke, Feldstein planted it in his precious high altitude, Dovev vineyard. Previously Argaman had been uninspiring in the warmer coastal regions. The result was an impressive award winning wine, including a gold medal in France, and he justifiably received the nickname Mr. Argaman for his efforts.

Avi Feldstein is an instinctive winemaker with a touch of creative genius. He is not bound by any rule book and makes wine according to an educated gut feeling, gained from observation, listening and experimentation. He has a feel for the vines and an understanding of what is needed to turn the humble grapes into quality wine.

For instance, when he made his famous Argaman, he decided to ferment it over the skins of Merlot grapes in order to provide extra tannins. Currently, he is still experimenting with Argaman, drying the grapes in order to provide more concentration of flavor. He is also making a Dabouki, a genuine indigenous white variety.  The wine is in stainless steel, but stored on its lees where he practices bâtonnage (stirring the dead yeasts periodically) to enhance complexity. None of these techniques are original, but he knows how to adapt and implement them to suit his needs.

He has now left the Barkan Segal empire and is concentrating on his own small, handcrafted boutique winery. Why bother making Argaman and Dabouki? Because it challenges him and he would get bored if things were too easy.  He also works with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, along with the more usual classic varieties. He receives grapes from the Zichron Ya’acov area, Gush Etzion and the Upper Galilee in his temporary winery set up in an agricultural facility near Hod Hasharon.

These wines are worth watching out for. They will be good quality, original and without doubt every decision will explained by a personal story, and anyway, where else will you taste a quality Argaman and an Israeli made Dabouki?

 Many chefs make follow exact recipes whilst others will adapt according to the best ingredients of the day. Some barman are slaves to the old recipe books for named cocktails, whilst the new mixologist makes it up as he goes along, taking into account the customer’s wishes and what he has around him. There are winemakers who play safe, making wine by numbers, and those like Avi that add a personal twist. Let’s call it creative individuality.

What is the difference between Avi Feldstein the mass market winemaker producing hundreds of thousands of bottles for Segal and the Avi Feldstein making a few thousand bottles in his own miniscule winery? He has a great answer: ‘Feldstein Unfiltered!’ That is exactly what I want to see. Handcrafted wines, with a sense of place and the thumbprint of an individual. This is why I will be seeking out his wines with great interest.



Wine is a unique product, representing both Judaism and Eretz Israel like nothing else and its relevance spans our long history. Think how important vines, vineyards and wine were in Biblical times and what a great ambassador of modern Israel wine is today.

From the time Noah planted the first vineyard, wine has been a symbol of both Israel and Judaism, and this has spanned the ages. When the Biblical spies wanted to show Moses that the Promised Land was a land of milk and honey, they chose to show it with a large bunch of grapes.

Wine was so important to King David that he had separate officials to look after his vineyards and cellar. Maybe these were the first viticulturist and sommelier

Isaiah knew what it was all about. His remarkable Song of a Vineyard shows how much they understood about winegrowing. Maybe the cup bearer in the Joseph story was the first sommelier, but the first Jewish sommelier was Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer to the King of Persia. He was sent back to rebuild Jerusalem but he also revived Judean winemaking.

Rashi, aka Rabbi Shlomo Itzaki, was a winemaker. Perhaps the most famous Jewish winemaker until the Golan Heights Winery’s Victor Schoenfeld! For me he symbolized the connection Jews would have with production, distribution or sales of alcoholic beverages throughout the second millennium.

Maimonides was the first Jewish wine connoisseur. He insisted wine should be red, not diluted with water, or sweetened with sugar and with no off tastes or aromas. And so it goes on. Wine has been a constant thread through our history.

When we arrive at the 19th century, we find the production of kosher wine was not a business but a domestic industry. Families made their own kosher wine at home. Initially it was just for nearest of kin, maybe for friends or even for a small community.

Wine in Eastern Europe was at its most simple. It was made at home in a bucket or bath tub using raisins, water and with spices added. In America, they made wine with grapes, but the simplicity and the bucket were the same. Certainly the wine tasted better than the raisin wine from the old country.

In Ottoman Israel and North Africa, they used local table grape varieties. The earliest wineries were tiny, domestic affairs which would make some of our current boutique wineries look big. We remember two of the many from Jerusalem, the Shor family and Teperberg, simply because they had staying power. They are still around.

Wine was then not sold in bottles but in casks. There were no bottles with labels on. A bottle was something used to bring a wine from the cask to the table.

There were no brands, no kashrut certificates and no Rabbinical supervision. You bought from someone you knew, or drank your own homemade wine. Contrast the kosher winemaker with the shochet (ritual slaughterer). The shochet needed animals to slaughter and a place to do it. He would need intensive training and an infrastructure to check what was being done was correct. So a regulated format existed, but kosher wine was left in the home.

The founding of the Concord grape was significant. It was disease free and cold resistant and produced sweet jammy fruit with a foxy or musky smell that people liked. It was cheap and local. It became popular primarily for the production of jams and grape juice, but it was adopted by East Coast Jews for wine. As it rarely ripened in New York State, the wines were too sour and sugar was added to make them palatable.

One should not spoil a good story by the truth, but there were other reasons why the wine ended sweet. Firstly the technology was such that fermentations would rarely run to the end producing dry wines. They would get stuck leaving a residual sweetness. Secondly, sugar was usually added to keep the enemies of wine at bay. It was a first class preservative.

Finally as luck would have it, most drinkers drank sweet wines as a matter of choice. Being Jewish had nothing to do with it. Over the years the laws of evolution had encouraged the eating of sweet things. The caveman learnt to look for sweet berries which were tasty and gave calories and energy, whereas if they were sour, it was a warning and they were avoided.

The sweet addiction continues with some people today, but in the 19th century, most people drank sweet wines through choice. The popular wines included Port, Madeira, Sherry and Sauternes. Even Champagne was famous until quite late on only as a sweet sparkling wine.

It also should not be forgotten that up to the 1960’s, most wine even in the brave new world of Australia and America was sweet. The wines would have been muscat types or cheap versions of fortified wines.

The first Kosher winery in the United States belonged to a Mr. Dreyfuss in California but Schapiro was the iconic New York winery founded in 1899. It was the first winery to put Concord to the fore as the new kosher wine grape. Their wine was advertised as “so thick, you could cut it with a knife.”

Then Carmel Wine Co. arrived in New York in 1898 urging: “Support the Jewish Colonies” and “Drink the only genuine Palestine wines”. Interesting how the language has changed over the years! Shapiro and Carmel were the first kosher wines that became national and international brands respectively.

Astonishingly, the first supervision of kosher wine in the United States was not until 1925 and prosecutions took place when there was fraud.

Then the big brands came into play, flaunting Concord of course. Mogen Dovid was developed in Chicago, “wine your grandmother would like.” Monarch Wines from Brokklyn used a brand famous & successful in the Jewish food world, Manischewitz. Old timers may remember Sammy Davis crooning “Man O Manischewitz”. These became massive wine brands which extended way past the Jewish communities. Today Manischewitz is owned by Constellation Brands, Mogen Dovid by The Wine Group, two of the largest wine companies in the world.

Then Kedem was formed, a winery owned by the Herzog family. During World War II, the Nazis seized their Herzog Winery in Czeckoslovakia, but having survived that, the family then had to flee the communists.

The American market was dominated by three massive brands: Manischewitz, Kedem, and Mogen Dovid and Israel was dominated by Carmel. Behind these brands, a new kosher wine industry was formed talking wines from the bucket to the tank, from the home to the winery. It was a new Jewish wine world. I call it the Concord revolution. The kosher wine industry grew to be big business.

In the winemaking Sephardi world, symbolized by Morocco and later France, the Jewish community drank dry wines, because that was what was being drunk around them. However, in the Ashkenazi world, kosher wine was sweet and nostalgic.

In the late 20th century, Carmel Winery and Royal Wine (parent company of Kedem) started to produce dry wines and led a trend to dry kosher wines in America and Israel respectively. At the same time they were pushed by new small pioneering wineries like Hagafen in Californian and the Golan Heights Winery seeking absolute quality while following kosher guidelines.

The new all-embracing variety was the Cabernet Sauvignon. The same Cabernet that made Bordeaux great was transplanted to every wine producing country, also arrived in kosher wines. Suddenly kosher wine was being made with the same grapes as the finest wines, by winemakers who studied at the leading wine schools, using all the latest technology and the most modern equipment. Concord helped formalize the industry and the kosher Cabernet revolution brought kosher wines to new levels of quality.

When Yarden wines won major trophies in European competitions in the 1980’sand Herzog wines scored more than 90 points in the American wine magazines in the 1990’s, kosher wine had jumped a chasm of quality into the modern wine world. True recognition at the highest level would arrive at the beginning of the 2000’s. The kosher wine consumer was now able to taste and schmooze about wine like everyone else. For the first time the long history of Jewish winemaking was matched by the quality of its wines.



Wander around the beautiful vineyards of Israel, and you will hear someone say proudly: ‘now…this is the Tuscany of Israel.’ They may be referring to the plunging mountains and running streams of the Upper Galilee or the terraced vineyards fitting the contoured valleys of the Jerusalem Hills. It could be the sparser more Biblical looking vineyards of the Central Mountains, or even the miracle of green vineyards sprouting in the desert. All beautiful in different ways, but the comparison is always with Tuscany.

The reason is that the famous region in central Italy has become the overriding symbol of all that is beautiful in a wine growing area and the ultimate in wine tourism.

Tuscany’s charms are well-known and its reputation is wholly justified. There you will see vineyards, olive groves and handsome lines of tall cypress trees intermingling in the Tuscan landscape. Funnily enough, that sounds a little like Israel. In the back ground will be rolling hills punctuated by oak woods or even forests, shrouded in morning mists. There will be those beautiful stone walls and attractive villages and towns, usually with an impressive medieval watch tower. Add to that the food and wine. It is certainly heaven on earth.

The Tuscan diet is based on bread, wine and olive oil. That sounds familiar too. Think how many times grain, wine and olive oil are mentioned together in the Bible. They were the staples of the Ancient Israelites too. Psalm 104:15 also brackets them together..’ wine to make glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face shining, and bread giving strength to his heart.’ Wine and olive oil are partners throughout the Mediterranean, never more so than in Tuscany.

However Tuscany is mainly known by its Chianti wines and the Sangiovese grape variety. Here the similarities end. Sangiovese (‘the blood of Jove’) is at its best in Tuscany and most unique in Chianti. There, the wines will have less depth of color to what we are used to. They will be more angular, less fruity and jammy, with prominent tannins and a rasping, refreshing acidity. More cranberry or pomegranate juice, than Ribena. The astringent, sometimes tart Sangiovese goes well with the broader olive oil flavors.

Lately some Tuscans are trying to make their Chiantis more international and globally acceptable, by blending Sangiovese with Cabernet or Merlot and ageing them in small new oak barrels, but others are trying to preserve the authentic Sangiovese taste, with its imperfections. They are perfect food wines but less memorable as competition show off wines that draw attention in the one off tasting.

The Italians have a healthy regard for a wine’s place at the meal. It is always ‘food and wine’, never wine and food. The wine is secondary and has a supporting role. It is an intrinsic part of the meal and knows its place. It is not put on a pedestal as happens elsewhere. We have so much to learn about wine culture. Italy is always a great place to start.

There is more to Tuscany than Chianti. Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Noble di Montepulciano and Super Tuscans like Sassicaia, Solaia and Tignanello also come from this region, with its long history. We think Carmel Winery is an old winery, making wine for over 125 years. Well the famous Tuscan houses of Antinori and Frescobaldi started in the wine trade in the 14th century!

No doubt Italy is one of the greatest wine producing countries, but curiously Italian kosher wines have never really hit the jackpot. I always have the impression that producers there are making commercial kosher wines rather than making the best wine possible that happens to be kosher. This may be semantics perhaps, but there is a difference.

I know Italians make the Bartenura Moscato, which is just about the largest selling kosher brand in the world outside the infamous but big selling Kiddush wine brands, but other kosher table wines don’t excite. Maybe it is the size of the Jewish community, but it does not bother Spain, where Capcanes and Elvi make outstanding kosher wines.

Wine is a troika of three things and I call them the three P’s. The Person, the Place and the Product. There is the wine itself, the place where it was grown and made and the individual that made it. Many of the Italian kosher wines are basically private labels. This means the wine you see is more associated with the importer or distributor that sells it, rather than with any particular winemaker or winery. They have a brand name, and some of them are good, but the people and place aspect is missing. This is a pity because this is what adds context to a wine, and it is what differentiates wine from coca cola.

There is hope. There is a small, quality dedicated winery called Terra di Seta, not far from Siena in the Castelnuovo Berardenga region, whose objective is to make quality, authentic Chianti Classico wines, that ‘just happen’ also to be kosher.

Chianti Classico is the heart of Tuscany and the heart of Italian wine. It is a regulated wine region which is situated between Florence and Siena, two places that reek of the history of art and wine. The difference between Chianti Classico asnd Chianti is purely geographical, though the locals fiercely protect the uniqueness of the Classico region as being superior to the wider geographical region. For proof look for the black rooster which is displayed on the label or capsule to denote an authentic Chianti Classico wine.

Terra di Seta is owned by Daniele Della Seta and his wife, Maria Pellegrini. The Della Setas are an ancient Jewish family that came from Rome. The Pellegrinis are a Tuscan family with three generations of experience in wine. They run a beautiful estate. The word Terra means land or earth and Seta, the family name, means silk. This is a wine which is all about people and place.

In 2001 the family bought the winery building and vineyards. They refurbished the winery, and in 2008 decided to dedicate all their production to kosher wine. Their winemaker is the respected Enrico Paternoster.

Daniele proudly claims his objective is to make high quality Chianti Classico wine, which is also kosher. It is the only winery dedicated 100% to kosher wine in Tuscany.

They have 15 hectares of vineyards, (150 dunams), which are more than 500 meters above sea level. The original vineyards they inherited were 35 to 40 years old, but they have been gradually replacing them since 2002. They only use their own grapes and make about 40,000 bottles of which eighty percent is sold in export.

They also produce olive oil and honey. Their estate is organic. That is to say their vineyard is organically grown. I always think that organic or self-sustainable vineyards go well with kosher wine. The concepts complement each other and I wish more Israeli vineyards chose the self-sustainable or organic route.

Terra di Seta is not only flying the flag of Chianti Classico, but also Italian kosher wines. The wines represent a region and a wine style that is more local than international. These are wines with a soul and a sense of place. I will be watching their progress with interest.

The wines I tasted were as follows:

Toscana Rosso, Terra di Seta 2012

I liked this. Very Sangiovese. Pale colored red, with a tinge of orange brown. A little thin with red cherry fruit, a touch of sourness and spice and very good acidity. A wine to drink chilled. Fun wine, good value.

Price: NIS 70

Chianti Classico, Terra di Seta 2009

This in the modern way has a 5% boost of Cabernet Sauvignon. It has the classic Sangiovese sour cherry nose with aromas of plums, ripe berries but was perhaps less knitted together than the other samples I tasted. I certainly look forward to the next vintage.

Price: NIS 110

Chianti Classico Riserva, Terra di Seta 2010

Fuller bodied version. Aromas of sour black cherries, a Mediterranean herbal character with a whiff of white pepper and spice against a backdrop of sweetish oak. A well-balanced wine, which adheres well to the standards expected, by traditional lovers of Sangiovese. Firstly enticing, then satisfying and finally, refreshing.

Price: NIS 170