Adam S. Montefiore


Zion is a winery that has been around longer than any. It has been known as Zion Winery from the 1940?s onwards, but previously to that was known at different times as the Shor family winery, Shor Bros or AM Shor Winery. It was founded in 1848 and remains the oldest of any existing winery. During all this time it has been owned by the Shor family, managed by the Shor family and uniquely, even the winemaker has always been from the Shor family. There is no winery in Israel that can compete with this richness of heritage, longevity and continuity. It was around long before names like Carmel, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya?acov came to dominate the Israel wine scene. Why this is interesting is that most experts think Israeli wine began in the 1880?s, but in fact winemaking continued throughout the previous years, even if it was low key. Jews and Palestinian Christians always made wine, but it was more domestic and local, certainly not a commercial industry.

The Zion Winery has always been under the radar, supplying its own market sector, modestly, without bells and fireworks. Yet, it has quietly grown to become the 6th largest winery in Israel, producing 3.5-4 million bottles a year! Now, it is being relaunched with a new logo, new labels and a new attention to quality at every price point.

Theirs is a family journey lasting 170 years, which began in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, travelled via Beit Israel in Western Jerusalem and ended up in Mishor Adumim in the Judean Desert, but not so far from Jerusalem. The winery was born under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire, continued under the British Mandate and finally, flourished in the State of Israel. It is an extraordinary story, and its beginnings coincided with the visits to Israel of a member of my family, Sir Moses Montefiore. This makes their story doubly interesting for me personally.

It began when Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galin (aka Galina), arrived from the Ukraine in 1835 and settled in Safed. The family moved to the Old City of Jerusalem when he became head of the Yeshiva ?Tiferet Yisrael.? Englishman, Moses Montefiore was the most prominent visitor to Palestine in the 19th century. He saw first-hand the poverty and overcrowding of residents there. In 1839, he suggested Jews should earn a living instead of barely surviving off charity and he became the first to recommend that they should return to agriculture.

Yitzhak Galina-Shor, Rabbi Mordechai?s son, took into account the experiences of his father and the vision of Montefiore. He understood the family needed to earn a livelihood and saw potential in producing wines. It is fortunately a fact that observant Jews have always required wine for religious ritual. His sister had married a Baruch Shor, who by chance happened to have a rare license given by the Ottoman Turks for trading in alcohol. So, they changed their name to Shor, used Baruch Shor?s license and opened a winery in 1848 in the Old City of Jerusalem. The first harvest of the new winery coincided with Montefiore?s third visit to the Holy Land. It was a domestic winery, in the heart of the Muslim quarter, adjacent to the Kotel Hakatan (Little Western Wall). They put barrels as a barrier alongside the holy wall, so no-one would inadvertently touch the forbidden Temple Mount. Ironically, the first evidence of the family?s involvement in the wine trade was contained in the census commissioned by Moses Montefiore in 1849.

Then it was a very different world. In those days there was no bottled wine, no labels, no brands and no kashrut certificate. Wine was sold in small casks. It was categorized as sweet or sour, but over 95% was sweet. The Shor family winery also produced arak, brandy and vodka.

All Shor Winery?s grapes came from Hebron vineyards owned by Arabs. Payment was made in advance to reserve the crop. Local grapes like Bittuni, Dabouki and Zeini, now being revived, were amongst the varieties used. Grapes were delivered to the winery on a drove of donkeys travelling from Hebron.

Moses Montefiore, a forerunner of Zionism, was a wine lover, who drank a bottle of wine every day. He visited the Holy Land on seven occasions. At every meeting, he was presented with wine as a token of respect by the local community. Then wines did not have brand names, but the description ?Hebron wine? comes up in his diaries many times. Montefiore himself was one of those who bought small casks of wine as souvenirs. It is true that wine is not at the forefront of any history of Montefiore, but all the evidence is there in his diaries. Who knows, maybe one of the wines from Hebron he drank or the cask he purchased, was from the Shor family winery. It was certainly quite possible to have been the case.

As the Shor Winery became established, Moses Montefiore continued his commitment to agriculture and Jerusalem. In 1855 he became the first person to buy land for Jewish agriculture, purchasing an orchard in what was then considered Jaffa, but today it equates to the Montefiore Quarter of Tel Aviv. He also bought the land which became the first neighborhood outside the Old City of Jerusalem to alleviate overcrowding. It was stony and was covered with wild vines and olive trees, so he named it ?Kerem Moshe? (Moses? Vineyard.) This area was later renamed Mishkenot Sha?ananin and Yemin Moshe, and it became the cornerstone of modern & western Jerusalem. He also built the iconic windmill in 1857, which is today known as the Montefiore Windmill. It was in accordance with his original vision: work and study. As written in Ethics of the Fathers: ?If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.? He instructed residents to plant vines and olive trees to get a taste of agriculture. However, planting of Jewish vineyards on a national scale did not really begin until the 1880?s, and then it was with the sponsorship and expertise provided by Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

In the meantime, the wine trade proved to be a success and the Shor family winery became the foremost wine producer in the Old City. When Yitzhak passed away, the baton was passed onto his son, Shmuel Shor, and his legendary wife, Rosa. She was a formidable woman. She opened a wine store called Khamra Rosa in the Cotton Market. It was not the first shop selling wine and spirits, but it was the first shop to operate like a wine bar and because of her character, it was by far the most famous! Her memory lives on. Arab elders still give respect today to a visiting member of the family, as soon as they hear they are related to Rosa.

In 1925 the Shor Winery had to leave the Old City on the request of the British Mandate. They moved to Beit Israel. In the new winery, the living quarters were on the top floor, the winery on the ground floor and the cellar, previously a water well, was in the basement. When Shmuel Shor passed away, Rosa took over, becoming the first ever female manager of a winery in Israel.

Glass became cheaper and wine gradually came to be sold in bottles. Bottling was done manually. Alicante became the main variety. Early labels were strictly informative with basic typed information on a white background. Then when they began to be used for marketing purposes, labels became more colorful.

In 1944, the company name was changed to Zion Winery. As the family had grown, the two brothers who were partners, decided to split the business. There was an agreement. Avraham Meir Shor?s Zion Winery continued to focus on wine and grape juice, whilst Moshe Shalom Shor?s new Shimshon Winery concentrated on spirits and liqueurs. Moshe Shalom Shor passed his Shimshon Winery onto his son in law and daughter. It was later sold and is today known as Jerusalem Wineries. His other children founded new Shor owned wineries, which in time came to be known as Arza and Hacormim wineries. However, Zion Winery was the one that had continuously made wine since 1848.

Two things surprised me about this Haredi, Ashkenazi family. Firstly, the family spoke Arabic, which was logical and practical, so they could communicate with their neighbors and suppliers. Secondly the family served in the IDF. Unfortunately, in the War of Independence, they had to recover from devastating blows.

In 1982, the Zion Winery moved to Mishor Adumim. In 1989, I became the first member of my family to make Aliyah, along with my wife and three children. In the five generations since Moses Montefiore no one else had taken the plunge. I began to work in the Israeli wine trade and was eager to learn everything I could. I was intensely curious about what was referred to as ?the Jerusalem wineries,? who no-one knew anything about. These included Zion, Arza, Hacormim and Shimshon. So I decided to visit them out of the blue in the early 1990?s. There was a certain surprise to see me, because outside visitors were rare. I saw wineries which were in a kind of time warp. It was simply how they were then. They were insular, inward looking, and devoted to providing cheap wines and liquid religion to the religious community.

What has happened since then at Zion Winery is astonishing and I have been able to monitor every stage, firstly as a competitor (with the Golan Heights and Carmel wineries), then as a wine writer and finally as a consultant. I have visited them over three decades and got to know three generations of the family, whom I spent time with in turn, in order to learn the inside story. The truth is that they have built a very serious, well-equipped state-of-the-art winery, which is spotlessly clean. The winery grew and expanded, but really took off in the 2000?s. There were three family members who created what is nothing short of a revolution. The late Moshe Shor, the CEO, was the driver. He was a bulldozer and had a fascination with machinery and equipment. He began a process of investing in the winery. When I was at the winery, he was never in the CEO?s chair, but usually in the winery checking out that things were working. When I visited not so long ago, there were incongruously a number of Chinese people in the winery. ?Who are they??, I asked. ?Oh?, I was told ?they are installing a robot for the bottling line!?

Then there was his nephew, Zvika Shor, who took over from his father as winemaker in 1992. Zvika Shor is bright, friendly, with a Herzlian beard and striking blue eyes. He has absorbed the proud heritage of the Shor family and lately has been at the center of a whirlwind of changes. It all began one harvest in 1995 when a grower rang him up and said ?I have some spare Cabernet Sauvignon. Can you use it?? By that time Carignan was the main variety used, but Zvika thought no harm in trying, so he said yes and fermented the wine in a small fiberglass tank in the corner of the winery. When he leant over and put his nose in the container, the power and depth of the aromas was so much greater than anything he had had before. He was hooked. It was an epiphany moment. For the first time they purchased better quality grapes and brought their first small oak barrels from Teperberg. After a lifetime in wine, with no ego and being unafraid to ask questions, Zvika Shor, who was virtually born in a bottle, started his education again.

The third key to success was Yossi Shor, son of Moshe. He was the dynamic, creative marketing manager, with a modern outlook. What Moshe managed to do within the winery and Zvika achieved with the wine, Yossi succeeded to do outside the gates of the winery, with drive, a new vision and innovation. Both the quality of the wines and the look of the bottles were improved. In 2007, the Terravino Competition was held in Eilat, and Zion Winery stole the show by winning four gold medals. It was the first time they were noticed in the mainstream wine trade. I was there and remember well the incongruous setting as the white shirted, black frocked haredim went up to receive their well-earned trophies, in Eilat of all places! As Zvika said to me, ?With food comes an appetite.?

Then Yossi started his own initiative. He planted new vineyards, founded the 1848 Winery, a small winery making handcrafted wines, and appointed a French born, Bordeaux trained winemaker. Leading consultants were employed covering the areas of viticulture, winemaking and marketing. Where Zion wines ended, 1848 began. Zion Winery was more geared to mass market wines providing great value, 1848 Winery was more for quality, handcrafted wines for wine stores and restaurants

When I started visiting them again, I was able to see immense changes. It made me think of the beginnings of the Galina-Shor family winery, the visits and vision of Moses Montefiore, and their efforts to build a new Jerusalem. This is after all, a wine family that has now made wine in three different centuries: the 19th, 20th and 21st. When I visited Zion Winery recently, I felt it was like a closing of a circle. Sadly, Moshe Shor z?l passed away, before his time, like his Biblical namesake, before seeing the final results of his work. However, now Zion Winery has been rebranded, with a new logo and bright, eye catching labels. The wines range from the entry level Palace, to the Imperial, Estate and Capital brands, up to the flagship Crown label.?

The Shor family, Moses Montefiore and Zion Winery were each symbols of the return to Jerusalem and its revival as a modern city. They represent both the history of wine in Israel and the modern history of Jerusalem. Zion?s wines are fresh, fruity and vibrant offering a great QPR (quality per price ratio). Only in this instance, the bottles conceal a history that goes back deep into the 19th century. History in a bottle at prices everyone can afford!

Zion Moscato. This is a white Moscato made from Muscat of Alexandria. It is low alcohol, slightly sparkling with a light sweetness. The wine is fruity, grapey with a spritzy, mouth full of flavor. Good with fresh fruit?or an anytime wine for those that like it! (NIS 20.90)

Zion, Estate Chardonnay. A beautiful modern style Chardonnay. Fresh, with good acidity and green apple and tropical aromas. It has a smooth mouth feel and a crisp finish. Great value. (NIS 40)

Zion, Imperial Cabernet Sauvignon. Light bodied, bright and fruity with mouth filling flavor and a fresh finish. A perfect drinking wine. Serve it slightly chilled. (NIS 30)

Zion, Estate Shiraz. This wine is fruit forward. It has a juicy, red cherry-berry aroma and satisfying full fruit, chewy flavor. It is refreshing and great value. (NIS 40)

Adam Montefiore has advanced Israeli wines for 35 years and he is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wine. He is the wine writer of the Jerusalem Post.



I am a Zionist sort of guy. I like supporting Blue & White products. My choice of beer for many years was Goldstar. For 100 years Carmel was the national wine, until Yarden came along. With regard to Israeli spirits, it has always been more difficult to be patriotic. When I came to Israel there were such delights as Lord Gin and Captain Rum. Tehila was the shaky Israeli version of Tequila. Campari Israeli style was known as Kaprei. Araks were not made from grapes, as was the norm, but from imported molasses alcohol. Quality wise, the memory of them makes me cringe.

There were some sporadic successes. In the 1990s there was a time when Carmel?s bottling plant operated 24×6 because of the extraordinary demand of Vodka Stopka in Russia, but this sales bonanza did not last. Israeli brandies (made by Tishbi and Carmel) won some major awards and Sabra (a Seagram liqueur made in Israel) became an original addition to standard range of global liqueurs.

The range of wines increased substantially with the boutique winery revolution that began in the 1990s. The home brewing craze took off in the early 2000s and this led to a new craft brewery boom. Suddenly there were so many more locally produced wines and beers to choose from. In the spirits market, local production virtually fell away, apart from large selling survivors like Elite Arak and Stock 84. The import of global brands and high taxes made the production of local spirits, brandies and liqueurs unprofitable and unviable.

However, the second decade of the 21st century has brought about an artisan, craft distillery boom. Now, there are some producers of high-quality blue and white spirits, many totally original, some using local ingredients. Chief amongst these is the Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv, Julius Distillery in the Western Galilee, Yerushalmi Distillery in Jerusalem and both the Golan & Pelter Distilleries on the Golan Heights. The first was the artisan Julius Distillery. I have tasted some of their products, which are truly outstanding.?

The largest is the M&H Distillery, whose mission is to bring Israel into the world of Whisky. Whisky is mainly produced in five countries: Scotland, Canada, Japan where it is known as whisky, and Ireland and America, where it is spelt with an ?e?, whiskey. In recent years there have been many new countries making whisky for the first time. The most famous of these is Taiwan. Their Kavalan brand astonished the world by winning some major awards. The hot and humid weather in Taiwan is similar to Israel.

Fast forward to 2012, a few Hi-Tech?ists led by Gal Kalkshtein, dreamt big and decided to bring authentic whisky to the Holy Land. No corners were cut. They employed the late Dr. Jim Swan, one of the most respected gurus of the whisky world, as a consultant. He was the advisor to Kavalan and a specialist in whisky production in hot countries. Tomer Goren, ex brewer, whisky fanatic and now Master Distiller, became the chef. He worked at both Tomintoul and Springbank in Scotland. Springbank is one of my favorite distilleries. It is like a time capsule there, unchanged from a previous age.

The name Milk & Honey could not be more Biblical. The Promised Land was referred to as a Land of Milk & Honey. I have read that in days gone by, before modern quality control, Scots added milk and honey to their whisky to make it more palatable. I do not know if it is true, but as I always say, you shouldn?t spoil a good story by the truth. The first thing you notice is the garish logo. It is of a bull decorated in the blue and black stripes of a bumble bee. Why the bull? ?Well, we tried it with a cow first, but the bull looked better!? was the answer!

I decided to visit them in south Tel Aviv. I arrived at what was once a bakery not far from Jaffa, and within walking distance of the sea. I entered nondescript door and had the feeling that I had entered a nightclub. The visitors? center is in the brand colors. There are colorful graffiti style whisky messages on the walls and a number of workers buzzing about wearing M&H polo shirts. All were young, smiling and they gave a feeling of liveliness and creativity. You certainly felt the spirit and energy of the Israeli start up.

The proof in the pudding was in the eating. When I sat down to taste I was offered one dram aged in a barrel previously used to age pomegranate wine. There was another matured in a barrel in which the C Blanc du Castel (one of our finest Chardonnays) was fermented, and aged sur lies. I immediately felt the creativity and the Israeli penchant for trying something new, pushing the boundaries, experimenting just for the fun of it all. The M&H team is having a ball with their cask specials.

Looking through the glass windows into the distillery, I wondered what I would find. Would it be ?whisky want to be? or a Heath Robinson operation run by amateurs, who were able to talk the talk. I have visited many distilleries in my life, including a week-long tour to Speyside, followed a year later by a visit to Islay and Campbeltown. I am pleased to report that immediately I entered, it felt like an authentic, whisky distillery. It is big compared with other Israeli distilleries, but like a spot on the nose compared to most small distilleries in Scotland.

There were two large pot stills. One, the wash still, was a refugee from Romania of all places. The other, the spirit still, was state of the art from Germany. Ingredients are paramount.? Malted barley comes from England. Peated barley from the Czech Republic. The water is Israeli, but only after it has been treated in their water laboratory. There were casks everywhere; inside, outside, in the corridors, along the walls, almost up the walls. If you landed from outer space, you might think you had arrived in an antique shop specializing in barrels of different origins, shapes and sizes.

They have over 1,500 casks. These include bourbon casks from America, sherry butts from Spain, whisky casks from Scotland and wine barrels from Israel. Most famous is the STR cask, specially developed by Dr. Swan. This is a wine barrel that has been shaved, toasted and then re-charred. It was designed for hot climate maturation, to advance positive flavors and negate the harsh ones. When you enter the official cask room, you are hit by the seductive smell of whisky soaked oak and alcohol. It is like waking up in the center of a brandy-soaked Christmas cake.

The climate is the most significant Israeli effect on the whisky. It can be hot, with a high humidity, particularly on the coast. This accelerates the aging process and could be a problem, but M&H turn it to their advantage. The angel?s share, which is the evaporation, can be as much as 11% in Tel Aviv. Imagine producing a quality, expensive product and signing off 11% before you start. In Scotland, the angel?s share is between 2-4%. Maybe in the Holy Land, the angels are blessed. Being players and tinkerers, M&H are having fun experimenting. Casks are sent for maturation in different micro climates. Some have even been sent to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Here the angel?s share can be up to 25%! Fortunately for M&H, the whisky ages more quickly and so will not be left there for too long. However, if you are a whisky loving angel, that is clearly the place to be.

M&H has walked a tightrope between gaining respect of the whisky intelligentsia by their authenticity, and at the same showing the Israeli chutzpa, creativity and ingenuity. It seems they have succeeded on both fronts.

In 2017 they launched Israel?s first authentic whisky, matured for three years in cask. In cold climates a malt whisky may be aged for, say, ten years before being released. There are no whisky laws in Israel, so they followed the acceptable norm in Scotland.

I was hosted on my visit by Tal Chotiner, who has done everything in the spirit world. He has been involved in every facet of the spirits and liquor trade and knows the market backwards. He has been a bartender, bar/ restaurant owner, marketer, brand ambassador, educator, consultant, journalist, broadcaster and producer ? and I have probably missed a few. He has experience at every level of operation from an Israeli start up distillery to Diageo, the largest spirit company in the world. M&H is slightly exotic and therefore of interest to whisky geeks. It certainly makes them a whole lot more credible to have someone who is knowledgeable, known and respected representing them in export markets. They export to 20 countries already and have received impressive third party recognition internationally. They are certainly going in a good direction.

The M&H Classic is a 3year old whisky aged in 75% bourbon casks, 20% red wine STR casks and 5% virgin oak. It was light, aperitif style, but not lacking in character. I kept returning to it during the tasting. The aromas were enchanting, if fleeting. Nice sweetness, a little zesty, some citrusy notes, but overall delicate. Certainly, there was more on the nose than flavor, but it was clearly an authentic whisky nonetheless. When I arrived home, I did a comparative blind tasting alongside a 12 year old Scotch malt whisky and the Israeli expression showed very favorably.

I was also pleased to taste the M&H Elements Red Wine Cask whisky. Many moons ago I initiated the idea of Bruichladdich Distillery finishing two whiskies in red wine barrels from Carmel Winery. I still have the Bruichladdich 1989 and 1994, 12 year old, and 1989, 18 year old, with ?additional cask enhancement? of kosher wine casks. They are beautiful whiskies. The Elements Red Wine Cask has floral notes and a definable winey nose and a touch of drying tannin on the finish. The Elements Peated expression was as you expect peaty and smoky. They import casks from Islay for this. It is not medicinal Laphroaig style, nor does the peat over power the other aromas. It is a nice, well balanced dram.

Echoing Macallan in the old halcyon days, but on a rather smaller scale, M&H took the trouble to have kosher Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries made and aged in sherry butts for one year. The Sherry Cask Whisky was my favorite of the Elements. It was slightly richer, with a sweet dried fruit nose and the flavor seemed to have more length than the other whiskies. They tell me this is the first and only malt whisky aged in kosher sherry casks. My favorite of the special expressions was the Cognac Cask. It was warm, complex and had great length. That is something to look forward to.

The M&H Levantine Gin is a wonderful product. It starts like the whisky. The base spirit is 100% malted barley, which is mashed at the distillery and distilled in the pot still. They then add the juniper and botanicals hand sourced from the Lewinsky market in Tel Aviv. These include za?ater, lemon peel, orange, chamomile, lemon verbena, cinnamon and black pepper. These are then distilled for a third time in a small, adorable, almost domestic sized 250 liter pot still. This is not a gin dominated by prominent juniper aromas, which is better for a gin and tonic. It has lifted aromas that should be enjoyed in a balloon glass or drunk in a Martini cocktail. This a super, aromatic Israeli expression of gin.

The Milk and Honey Visitors Center is a great place to visit. A tour, explanation and tasting costs NIS 50. There is also a shop with the full range of products and some M&H souvenirs. Certainly, whisky mavens will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of Israeli whisky. Israelis should be proud of this product, which makes a first-class gift for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year?s, Novi God or Sylvester?s. Sipping, sharing and savoring the first quality Israeli whisky in 5,000 years, seems a great way to say good riddance to the appalling year of 2020.

Of course, we spit in wine tastings, but they would have looked at me askance if I had done the same to their precious whisky. As we finished the thirteenth glass of the tasting, Chotiner returned to his barman roots and made me an M&H Martini, with Levantine Gin of course. Instead of adding an olive, as accepted international style, he instead drizzled a drop of olive oil into the glass to give it an Israeli slant. Sated, satisfied and very impressed, I was pleased I had a taxi to take me home.

Adam Montefiore is a drinks industry veteran, who has advanced Israeli wine for 35 years. He is known as the English voice of Israeli wine. He is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post.

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