Adam S. Montefiore


Wine people are slightly color blind. We talk about red grapes which are really blue-black and white grapes which are greeny-yellow. We have white wines that aren’t really white. Now there is a new category: Orange wines, which are not really orange.

Confusingly, these are not fruit wines made from your finest Jaffa oranges or wine cocktails mixed with orange juice. Nor are they rosés or pink blush wines, which tend to take an orange hue as they oxidize and age. The term refers to white wines made like red wines and the color of the resulting wines is more amber than orange, but the name has stuck.

Traditionally, generalizing of course, white wines are pulp led wines, with the flesh of the grape providing the fruitiness and acidity. White wines are usually made without the grape skins, apart from the occasional fleeting skin contact. On the other hand, red wines are skin led wines, with the skin of the grapes providing the color and character we associate with red wines. Orange wines break the stereotype.

Orange wines are macerated with the grape skins and fermented in a similar way to red wines, which results in wines with their special amber, auburn color. This comes mainly from the grape skins but also from the oxidization process. Think of the color of brandy.

The wines can scarcely be called fruity like a usual white or red wine. They may have notes of soft fruits and honey flavors but these are usually subdued. However the wines themselves are full bodied, assertive with a bold structure. They are intense and quite tannic with a minerally texture. Invariably they have an attractive sour apple finish, similar to a scrumpy cider or the sour twist you get at the end of a Lambic fruit beer.

Orange wines are really niche wines for wine anoraks, who will look for them because they are different and authentic. Those brought up on a strict regime of fruit forward reds, and refreshing whites will turn their noses up at orange wines, as something that seems ‘off’ because it does not fit into the typecast.

Paradoxically there is a strong chance that the non-wine expert, with no interest in orange wines per se, will like them. This is because the wines are not sour like white wines or astringent like reds, so they are tasty, full flavored, unthreatening alternatives.

The new trend for orange wines brewed in the minds of the few idealistic winemakers in search of authenticity in the late 1990’s. The main region for orange winemaking is Friuli-Venezia Giulia in north east Italy. There, winemakers like the legendary Josko Gravner and Stanislao Radikon, who were seeking retro and innovation at the same time, decided to make an orange wine. They wanted to rebel against modern winemaking techniques. The purpose was to be original, go back to basics and to unlock the potential of the local thick skinned variety, Ribolla Gialla. They threw away the winemaking school books, ignored technology and decided to make wine as naturally as possible, with no additives, taking inspiration from how wine was once made, in days gone by.

Over the border in Slovenia they had made wines in this style for years, primarily because wines made in this way had greater longevity.

Both gained inspiration from the Georgians who for thousands of years have made wines in Kvevri, large clay vessels, which are topped up with wine and all the trimmings including skins, seeds and of course wild, not cultured yeasts. Then they are sealed, buried in the ground and left to slowly ferment over a long period of time letting nature rather than interventionist winemaking, to do its work.

In the 2000’s, one particular Israeli winemaker had the intellectual curiosity to make his own forage in the world of white wines made like reds. At that time, he had not heard of attempts of others, but he had the querying mind to overturn tables and seek his own truth.

Yaacov Oryah was born in New York into a religious family. He was the youngest of six children, and came to Israel when he was five years old and lived in Bnei Brak. He now has five children of his own.

His parents were originally from Belgium and Hungary, which may have been the hidden roots of his wine appreciation that was to become apparent later. However it was only after serving in the army, that he first met table wines. Whilst travelling in California he came across Bartenura and Israeli wines and for the first time realized there was a wine world beyond traditional Kiddush wines.

He was a qualified engineer, but a door opened in his mind. He did the Barry Saslove Wine Appreciation course and got the wine bug pretty bad. In 2004 he studied winemaking the Soreq Winery Winemaking School and took the Tel Hai College Cellar Master Course.

In 2006 he opened his own Asif Winery. Ever the innovator, he first intended it to be a negociant winery. This means buying wine from elsewhere, and then shaping it and blending it at his facility.

Then, he decided to focus on white wine.  He thought whites with their lower alcohols, better acidity and greater variety, were of more interest than reds: More challenging to make, better with food and more suitable for our climate. As such he was a pioneer.

At Asif Winery, Oryah being religious, made wine strictly according to Halacha, but the wine did not have a Kashrut Hechsher. Then, under new ownership, the name changed to Midbar, Oryah continued to work his magic and then moved on.

His fascination with the skins of white grapes began then. He could not understand why if all the flavor of red wines came from the skins, why winemakers dispensed with the skins of white grapes. His curiosity pushed him to make an experimental Asif Colombard and an Asif Gewurztraminer in 2007 as his first Orange wines.  Then the Asif Viognier 2008 was released with the words ‘Adam and Adama’ on the label (man and earth) and Midbar Orange 44 2010 (a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier) followed onto the market. They are great wines (note the present tense) and totally original. An acquired taste to some, and a valuable addition to the rich tapestry of wine to others.  Bringing orange to blue and white if you like! Each wine had different nuances dictated by the grape variety. For instance the Colombard has a more pronounced acidity and the Gewurztraminer still maintains the blowsy Gewurz nose.

Today, Yaacov Oryah is the winemaker for Psagot Winery and doing a great job. Privately though, Oryah is still like the little boy getting his first bunsen burner in a chemistry class. He is desperate to play, challenge conventions and has an uncontrollable urge to be experimental. This is not for commercial ends, just for the joy of doing something new, or understanding how it all works better. I call him the winemaking intellectual. He has now come out with his own Yaacov Oryah wine under the Alpha Omega label. Think about it, who else but an intellectual would call his wine Alpha Omega?

I tasted the 2014 Alpha Omega  made from Roussanne, Viognier and Semillon grapes fermented dry, with skins and all. The Roussanne provides a herbal backdrop, the Viognier the delicate fruit and fatness and the Semillon a lime and textural quality. I detected a slightly sherried nose, a lavender and white flower aroma, with a hint of smoked sausage and a rusty texture. The acidity was enough to make the wine fresh…and it had the sour apple finish I like so much. It is a wine to seek out as only a few bottles have been produced, but then to lay down for a number of years. It will gain greater layers of complexity with bottle age.

He has also produced the nearest to a Hunter Valley Semillon that we have had in Israel. Stainless steel fermented, unaged in oak, but with six years bottle aging, the wine is the best Semillon we have yet had here. That is also under the Yaacov Oryah label.

He is fascinating to talk to, whilst being modest, quiet and humble, though he does have an infectious giggle. However we are fortunate to benefit from his questioning mind and patience to try new things over a period of years. Apart from anything else, he is the person who has brought orange into the Israeli wine vocabulary.



Throughout history, Jews have made wine at home out of necessity. They needed wine so they could sanctify festivals and the Sabbath. Jewish and kosher wine was really a cottage industry throughout the ages. Wine was made in buckets and bathtubs, or any receptacle that was available, from anything from local table grapes to raisins.

In the 20th century kosher wine became big business, as did Kashrut supervision. Manischevitz, Kedem and Mogen Dovid in America, Palwin in Britain and Carmel from Israel became large brands which gained loyalty and a following from Jews wanting to make Kiddush and say the blessings, wherever they were.

In the 1960’s Carmel introduced the concept of dry kosher table wines and in the 1980’s Hagafen and Herzog from California and the Golan Heights Winery continued the development, with the objective of making the best quality wine possible ‘that just happened also to be kosher’. Since then, there has been a kosher revolution. Today, almost every wine producing country makes kosher wines, often in association with Royal Wine Corp., which internationalized quality kosher wine production. Furthermore kosher wines have won trophies in the most major wine tasting competitions and high scores from the leading critics, proving that the word kosher is not a bar to great wine.

Considering the developments in the last thirty years, it is particularly strange that in Europe, with all the kosher wine being produced, that Jewish owned wineries are rare and wineries owned by religious Jews are virtually non-existent. Most of the wine in Europe is made at existing non-kosher wineries, where a kosher crew is imported, a mashgiach (religious supervisor) takes control, batches are isolated under lock and key and the wine is made under strict supervision. Only recently I wrote that Terra di Seta was the only Tuscan winery dedicated 100% to kosher wines. So it gladdened my heart to find another: a promising start-up of a new winery initiative, owned by a religious Jew, also in the beautiful setting of Tuscany.

There, Eli Gauthier and his wife, Lara, have founded the winery of their dreams. Eli has French roots and his wife is from an Italian country family. They are both much travelled. Eli grew up near Paris, but has lived in California, England and Jerusalem. He even spent time as an intern in the Jerusalem Post, using is French language skills! Lara has been in Florence, Istanbul, London and Jerusalem. Yet they have settled in Tuscany. Tuscany is heaven on earth, so I can understand why!

Eli found wine almost by accident. He studied Hebrew and Israeli studies in London and decided to work for Kedem Europe in the evenings conducting tastings. Kedem is the main kosher importer and distributor in the UK, representing numerous Israeli wineries and kosher wines from all over the world. So it was a great way to enter the world of wine!

He then moved to Strasbourg and worked in a biodynamic winery, which was not kosher. There he developed his passion and sensitivity to the countryside and understood the importance of the vineyard and the idea of growing wine and not just grapes. As result of the life changing experience, he studied viticulture and winemaking in France and it was then he started to long for his own winery.

Lara’s family is Italian, with holdings in in the beautiful village of Casciona Alta in the heart of Tuscany. Now most kosher wine in Italy has been less good than the wines from Spain and France and certainly not at the standard of kosher wines from California or Israel. Eli and Lara knew an opportunity when they saw it and decided to open a winery in Tuscany. They decided on Tuscany because his wife was from there, there were family owned buildings they could use and her family had the necessary contacts in agricultural circles. It was a no brainer.

In the end, the new winery was situated in the exact place where his wife’s grandfather, Giuliano, had made wine and olive oil in years gone by. As a tribute, they named the winery Cantina Giuliano. (The word Cantina means cellar.)

It was important to Eli to make an artisanal wine in touch with nature. He loves the idea of producing what you eat and being at one with the countryside. He does not like consumerism or bulk produced wines. This world view is very much integrated with his Judaism too. Therefore, the necessary equipment was purchased to make small scale lot, hand crafted wines.

He explains: “We are not businessmen first, we are winemakers offering a product true to our region to Jews who may be tired of drinking standardized industrial and unfortunately soul less wines.”

The first wine was called Chianti Primize from the 2014 vintage. Primize refers to the first fruits or bikurim. The stylish label shows Lara’s father, Giustino, carrying a large container of wine for a picnic.

The backbone of the wine is Sangiovese, which is the main grape of Tuscany. This variety provides the aromas and acidity sought after in Tuscan wines. He added a little Merlot to give flesh and roundness, and a local variety called Ciliegiolo to provide color. He sources the fruit from vineyards on a high south-southwest facing hill, not far from the winery, near a town called Peccioli.

His raison d’être is to make an elegant wine, aromatic and good with food. I found their first effort eminently more satisfying than most of the Italian kosher wines I have tasted to date. It has good herbal and cherry notes, with a hint of ripe berries, is soft in the mouth and has a well-balanced finish. A very promising first wine, but no winery should be judged from one wine from only one vintage. It will be interesting to see how the winery develops in the coming years.

In the first year they made 12,000 bottles. There are plans to grow the winery to about 20-25,000 bottles with five different wines, including a white and a rosé.

In fact Casciano Alta is not far from Livorno, a coastal port town which bustles with energy. Eli says it ‘reminds me of Israel with a Tuscan twist.’ Of course, Livorno is the town where my family came from and Moses Montefiore was born there. It is from there that the Gauthiers are able to purchase kosher meat. Before the Second World War, a third of the total population was Jewish. Today, only a small Jewish population remains, but it is an active community, with a minyan each day.

Eli Gauthier has an easy going, friendly personality and a slightly romantic nature. However he is also not afraid of hard work and has the drive to fulfill his dreams. These days he spends six months at the winery in Tuscany and six months in Strasbourg where he studies full time in a Beit Midrash. He says making wine allows him to be close to nature and feel the divine presence around him. Wine is a combination of nature and the human religious supervision. In short his winemaking reinforces his Judaism and vice versa.

He loves to cook and has the same passion for food that he has for wine. He is working on a tasting room with a small kitchen to offer kosher Tuscan food made from vegetables they have grown in their orchards and their own olive oil. It sounds like it will be a must visit venue.

I was interested to know the style of wines he likes. He told me his preference is for white wines from Alsace and crus Beaujolais reds. As far as Israel is concerned, he likes Domaine Netofa because of their focus on Mediterranean varieties and finesse. He also admires the way Tzora Vineyards make elegant wines from the classic European varieties. Best of all is Capcanes, from the Monsant region of Spain, especially the Flor de Flor.

Eli and Lara would like to illustrate that it is possible to be religious, be a good Jew, work with nature and avoid the rat race. Theirs is a story of wine, vineyards, nature and Judaism. They are making dreams come true under the Tuscan sun.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeli and international publications.



Noah must have taken a cutting of a grape variety with him in the Ark, so he could plant a vineyard after the flood and become the first vintner. Many years later, the spies brought such a large bunch of grapes to Moses that it had to be carried on a pole between the two men. Have you ever wondered what the grape varieties were

King David had his own sommelier and viticulturist looking after his cellar and vineyards, and Jesus changed water into wine at Cana, in the Galilee. What sort of wine did King David and Jesus drink

Enter Dr. Shivi Drori, the Agriculture and Oenology Research Co-ordinator for Samaria and the Jordan Rift. He is in the midst of ground breaking research on local varieties, which could transform the Israeli wine narrative.

Dr. Drori’s research, based at Ariel University, is three fold. Firstly, to find out if there are local, indigenous varieties, which are suitable for making wine. Thanks to the Marmelukes and their form of Prohibition, most of the local varieties here are used for table grapes, not wine. Secondly, to find out if there is any relationship between the local and classic European varieties. And finally, to find if there is any relationship between the indigenous varieties and ancient grape pips found by archaeologists going back hundreds and thousands of years!

He has been pulling in samples of any local grape varieties that he can find, whether wild or cultivated vines and so far has trawled up no less than 120 varieties. Some are from cultivated vineyards, others from lone wild vines found growing up trees, or even from someone’s pergola on a private balcony. Suffice to say that no vine in Israel is safe from his research!

So far he believes that twenty varieties may have the potential to make wine.

Of course, it is now history that when Baron Edmond de Rothschild founded a modern wine industry, they first planted southern France varieties, and later Bordeaux varieties and these dominated the winemaking from then on. Israel is not known for one particular variety in the same way as California is known for Zinfandel, Argentina for Malbec and New Zealand for Sauvignon Blanc.

However a new trend is discernible: making wine from previously unsung local, indigenous varieties. Wines called Hamdani, Jandali, Dabouki, Marawi have been released recently. If these are added to the Argaman, it is clear the Israeli wine lover has to become used to some new names.

The Cremisan Monastery, which has been making wine since 1885, was the first to come out with wines from local varieties. Their blend of Hamdali and Jandali is an unusually good wine in the white Rhone style. These are two varieties that are grown primarily in Bethlehem and Hebron by Arab growers.

In Israel everything is connected and a story about a mere grape can go back to the dawn of history. It was from the Valley of Eshkol, from Hebron area, where over 3,000 years earlier, the spies found their enormous bunch of grapes. It is also the major wine growing area for some of these varieties today. Over eighty five percent of the Palestinian vineyards are situated in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas.

The Hamdani and Jandali are vitis vinifera wine grapes, but were developed over time as table grapes. They are tasty which is why they survived when wine grapes were grubbed up. The Jandali is the more aromatic with flowery aromas, but lacks a middle palate. The Hamdani has citrusy, lime and grapefruit aromas with a lengthier finish. It has more depth, the ability to stand up to barrel aging and better potential. They show well together in a blend.

In the 19th century, the Shor and Teperberg wineries in the Old City of Jerusalem used these varieties to make wine. The grapes were delivered to the Old City on donkeys. A 16th century scholar, Rabbi Menahem di Lonzano, mentioned them as varieties of wine in Jerusalem. Some even say there is a mention of them dating back to 220 CE. Whatever the folklore, these are old indigenous varieties that were used to make wines long before any problems between Israelis and Palestinians came to the fore.

Recanati Winery chose the name Marawi for the wine they released. Marawi is in fact a synonym for Hamdani. Around Jerusalem and Bethlehem the variety is known as Hamdani but in the past, when it was grown in the Judean foothills and southern coastal plain, it was known as Marawi.

The berries are large, grown at 900 meters elevation near Bethelehem, on what is known as a Hebron style pergola. They are dry farmed, with no irrigation. The wine was barrel fermented in old, used barrels and aged sur lies (on its lees.)

The wine has lemony, honey, peach aromas and a certain mineral texture, but despite their efforts, it is somewhat lacking in acidity. When released, it attracted the interest of the international media. A Holy Land indigenous grape variety, Palestinian grower, Israeli settler mediator and Israeli winemaker are working together. It is a wonderful story and a beautiful cooperation.

The Dabouki variety is said to have originated in Armenia. It means ‘sweetness’ in Arabic. It is grown in Bethlehem and Hebron, but it has also been grown from the Mount Carmel region, down to the Judean plain for centuries. In the past, it was mainly used for distillation of brandy and local Arak producers, like El Namroud, still use it for producing their base wine before distillation and the addition of anise.

Winemaker Avi Feldstein has made a varietal Dabouki from fifty year old vines in the Mount Carmel area and Cremisan Monastery also produce a Dabouki from Bethlehem vineyards. The wines tend to have a floral tropical nose, a medium body, a broad mouth feel, rather like a fat Chardonnay and a rounded finish.

Local red grapes are not so successful. Cremisan Winery produces a red wine from an indigenous variety called Balady. It certainly is not at the standard of the white varieties. The red is light, thin with a pronounced acidity. However in the research conducted by Shibi Drori, there are some potential red varieties with names like Balouti and Zeitani that offer more hope for the future. While the research continues, the most Israeli red wine variety that you are likely to meet is Argaman.

Argaman, which means deep purple in Aramaic, was a grape created by Professor Roy Spiegel at the Volcani Institute of Agriculture. It was the result of a cross between Carignan, the work horse grape of Israel, with the Portuguese variety Souzoa. It was created in 1972, experimented with in the eighties and planted commercially in the early nineties.

The first wines were notable for their color but had little sophistication. The grape was planted in the hot coastal regions, mainly in the Judean Shefela, and used primarily for blends.

Avi Feldstein then the winemaker for Segal Wines, saw unfulfilled potential in this variety. He planted Argaman in the Dovev vineyard, at an altitude of over 700 meters above sea level, in the Upper Galilee. By correct pruning, skilled canopy management and drastically reducing yields, he ended up with far better fruit than was produced in the hot coastal plain. Recognizing a lack of tannin in the grapes, he fermented them on Merlot skins.

The result was an excellent wine which was deep colored, with ripe red berry fruit. It was rich and plummy on the palate with a well weighted, even balanced finish. The Segal Rechasim Argaman gained acclaim and the much maligned grape was able to take a bow.

Feldstein is now independent but is still fascinated by Argaman. He is now making it from Givat Nili vineyards. He is still the creative experimenter, this time drying the grapes to increase the concentration.

So wine lovers, be on the lookout for some authentic Levantine wines from local varieties. Wines like Marawi, Dabouki, Hamdani Jandali and Argaman are well worth seeking out and tasting for interest and education. Who knows they might herald a new dawn for Israeli wine, which could revolutionize and energize the whole industry!



The Middle East & Eastern Mediterranean was the cradle of the world’s wine culture, and Canaan must have been one of the earliest countries to enjoy wine, over 2,000 years before the vine reached Europe. The oldest grape pips found in the regions of modern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon date back to the Stone Age period (c. 8000 B.C.E.).

Noah Plants Vineyard

The art of winemaking is thought to have begun in the area between the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Indeed, the oldest pips of ‘cultivated’ vines, dating to c. 6000 B.C.E., were found in Georgia. The biblical Noah was the first recorded viticulturist who, after the flood, “became a husbandman and planted a vineyard.” As The Book of Genesis relates, he was also the first person to suffer from drinking too much!

The vine then traveled south, through Phoenicia and Canaan to Egypt, the world’s first great wine culture. It is known that the Egyptians particularly prized the wine of Canaan.

Moses’ Cluster of Grapes

In the Book of Numbers, the story is told of how Moses sent spies to check out the Promised Land. They returned with a cluster so large, that it had to be suspended from a pole and carried by two men. Today both Carmel Winery and the Israel Government Tourist Office use this image as their logo. The grapes were chosen to symbolize how the land flowed with milk and honey. The vine was one of the blessings of the Promised Land promised to the children of Israel.

In recent years excavations have uncovered ancient presses and storage vessels that indicate a well-developed and successful wine industry existed in the area. Grapes, grape clusters and vines were frequent motifs on coins and jars found from ancient times. Coins have been found commemorating the victories of the Hasmoneans and Bar Kochba with grapes featured as a symbol of the fertility of the country. Many wine presses and storage cisterns have been found from Mount Hermon to the Negev.

Inscriptions and seals of wine jars illustrate that wine was a commercial commodity being shipped in goatskin or pottery from ports such as Dor, Ashkelon and Joppa (Jaffa). The vineyards of Galilee and Judea were mentioned. Wines with names like Sharon, Carmel and from places like Gaza, Ashkelon and Lod were famous. The earliest storage vessels originated in southern Canaan and were known as Canaanite Jars. Today they are better known by their Greek name, ‘Amphora.’

King David’s Cellar

The Kings of Judah were said to have owned vast vineyards and stores for wine. King David’s wine holdings were so substantial that his court included two special officials to manage them. One was in charge of the vineyards and the other in charge of the cellars. This may have been Israel’s first sommelier!

At this time the Jewish devotion to wine was clearly shown in their developing literature, lifestyle and religious ritual. Indeed, anyone planting a new vineyard was exempt from military service, even in national emergency.

In about 1800 B.C.E. there was a communication which reported that Palestine was “blessed with figs and with vineyards producing wine in greater quantity than water.”

The Book of Isaiah gives very clear instructions of how to plant care for a vineyard, even to the point of suggesting the wine press is close to the vineyard.

Micha’s vision of peace on earth and harmony among men was illustrated with, “and every man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make him afraid.”

The wine produced was not just for drinking but also important for medical purposes, for cleaning out homes and dyeing cloth. It was also used as a currency for paying tribute.

Winemaking in Ancient Israel and was at its peak during the period of the Second Temple. It was a major export and the economic mainstay of the era. However, when the Romans destroyed the Temple, Jews were dispersed and the once proud industry forsaken. The Arab conquest from 600 C.E. and Mohammed’s prohibition of alcohol caused many remaining vineyards to be uprooted,

The Crusades

The Crusaders briefly revived the cultivation of grapes in the Holy Land and grapes were planted in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. The revival was short lived, but the Crusaders did return to Europe with many noble grape varieties which had their origins in the Middle East. Varieties such as Chardonnay, Muscat and Shiraz are said to come from the region.

On the founding of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle Eastern wine industry was finally obliterated because of the decline in wealth of the whole region and the wars and epidemics which greatly reduced and weakened the populations. Communities which had supported the wine industry finally departed. Prices of wine rose, consumption fell. Hashish, and later coffee, replaced wine as affordable intoxicants.