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IN PURSUIT OF A MISSION AND A DREAM

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A TASTE OF TOTAL VICTORY

Tom Carbone is a blend of Australia and Italy. Two stellar wine producing countries. His mother came from Sydney, his father from Rome. He studied viticulture and oenology in Milan and recently launched a first wine. It was sold out within a very short period of time. None of this would cause much interest, if the words ‘Be’eri’ were not written on the label. This is the kibbutz in the northwestern Negev, where the very worst of the atrocities took place on October 7th. Tom Carbone has Be’eri imprinted in his very DNA. It is where he grew up and in these days of recovery and hopefully rejuvenation, he is the absolute essence and spirit of the place. Yet today, he and his young family, are living in a Dead Sea hotel. He travels from the Dead Sea to Be’eri in the north western Negev to work in the Be’eri Dairy.

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ESHKOL HAZAHAV 2024

Eshkol Ha’Zahav, Israel’s premier wine competition was held for the 22nd year. Eshkol Ha’Zahav means The Golden Cluster.This year, 266 wines were registered for the competition. The wines were tasted by a forum of judges comprising 24 winemakers, sommeliers and wine professionals. The competition’s chairpersons were Mr. Haim Spiegel and Adv. Nachman Cohen Tzedek. The competition is organized each year by Studio Ben Ami, owned by famous sommelier Avi Ben Ami. He also organizes the Best Value Competition and the annual Sommelier Trade Show.

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The Jerusalem Post Heb

SEEING RED, DRINKING WHITE

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A WHITE SHAVUOT

Despite distinct changes in both the quality and popularity of both rosé and white wines here, Israelis still predominately drink red wines. Also in the international Kosher wine market, red wines are king. Whether in America, France or England, the wines the Jewish community are buying, tasting and talking about are reds. It is in their genes. Red is the default choice without thought. Not for nothing the two biggest brands in Israeli wine, are not Carmel and Barkan, or Yarden and Castel, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The bias goes back to the very beginning. 

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THE WILD INTELLECTUAL

I had seen wines around with the brand name ‘Oblass’ on the label and was curious. Wine lovers were mentioning them in passing, and some people I respect in the industry were listing them. It bothered me that I, who was meant to be up to date, had not come across the wines. I decided to investigate and invited Zlil Oblass for an interview.

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ALREADY OVER 40 YEARS

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FORTY YEARS OF QUALITY, INNOVATION AND AUTHENTICITY

The Golan Heights Winery taught the Israeli wine industry about state-of-the-art viticulture and New World winemaking technology. It also taught the wine trade about marketing a quality product of prestige and value. This included selling an image rather than just cases of wine, and emphasized the importance of wine education, professional wine service, gastronomy and wine tourism as integral parts of the overall effort. This was a revolutionary message in Israel at the time. Up front, above all else, was the concept of success through people. The winery understood it was part of the people business, not just the wine business. After all, everything is personal in the end. Whether it was co-opting growers to grow wine, creating a sense of family at the winery, moving closer to the end customer or maintaining positive relationships with retailers and sommeliers, the Golan Heights Winery was the first to teach the industry that the personal approach is how it is done.

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A LAND OF FISH, OLIVE OIL AND WHITE WINE

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NATIONAL BARBEQUE

It has been a horrible year for Israelis and Jews worldwide. Demons that we thought were at bay have come out of the woodwork to ruin the horizon. The loss and pain have been so great in the House of Israel, that it is difficult to carry on as normal. However, some days demand a spirit of togetherness which creates a sense of enjoying the moment and looking forward. 

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WINE EDUCATOR MEETS WINE ENTREPRENEUR

At Terravino 2024, Israel’s leading international wine and spirits competition, I was awarded the Terravino Lifetime Achievement Award. The person who rang me to give me the news was the Terravino creator, owner and manager, Haim Gan. In my acceptance speech, I said I looked forward to being present when Haim Gan himself received his Lifetime Achievement Award. The chances of him awarding himself this prestigious prize is pretty remote, so I thought I would least record for posterity his extraordinary career. This is someone I have known for more than thirty years, so I am well placed to tell the story of his contribution to Israeli wine. 

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LIFE GOES ON

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SPIRIT OF JERUSALEM

Bennett Kaplan is tall, straight talking and charismatic, with a quick sense of humor. He is well rehearsed and charming, but knows his stuff and is interesting to talk to. He is an idealist, a deep thinker and has a fascination in how things work. He is also a big shot business man, of the type you normally hear about, but do not see that often.

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THINKING & DRINKING

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THE GOLDEN TOUCH

I first met Sam Soroka in 2003 at a restaurant in Bordeaux. We were there for the large Vinexpo wine exhibition. David Ziv then the creative, innovative CEO of Carmel Winery was determined to shake away the cobwebs of the old Carmel Mizrahi. He opened a boutique winery within Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars, also Yatir Winery at Tel Arad in the south, and Kayoumi Winery, a grape receiving station at Ramat Dalton in the north. He appointed Peter Stern, the legendary wine consultant of the Golan Heights Winery for twenty years, to advise Carmel and strove to infuse the winemaking at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov Cellars with new talent.

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60 YEAR OLD CHILD

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WINEMAKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE

One of the problems we have in our region, is that everyone hates the other. Deeply. It is a hate and mistrust that has been nurtured, matured and aged for generations. Families have inherited the prejudice with their mother’s milk. I am reminded of Moshe Dayan’s eulogy of Roi Rothberg from Nahal Oz from nearly 70 years ago. Not much has changed. They do not see our story and suffering, and I must be honest, we do not see theirs. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. It is not just us, our whole Eastern Mediterranean region, is divided by religion and centuries of war. The Greeks and Turks have deep issues. Their disputes are even older than ours. Cyprus is still a divided country. As for us, our relations with our neighbors have been on a downward spiral, especially since Hamas took over Gaza and Hezbollah high jacked Lebanon. Hezbollah and Hamas now set the tone. Optimism is out of the window. 

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THE SOMMELIER ENTREPRENEUR

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START-UP SOMMELIER

One thing has become apparent since October 7th. We have an inordinate number of security experts. Turn on the television any time from 7.00 in the morning to 23.00 at night, on any channel, and we see a panel full of experts spouting their theories and criticisms with absolute confidence that only they understand. In fact the number of experts is in a direct inverse proportion to the depth of the astonishing and catastrophic failures of that black Shabbat day. So many experts yet where were they when all systems failed? Over confidence, complacency and incompetence were incredibly rife for a country with so many experts. I would find it amusing if it was not so desperately sad.

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MATCHING THE VARIETY TO THE REGION

If I was asked to name two characteristics of Israeli wine, it would point out the sheer diversity and variety. Like many thin countries, for example Italy and Chile, Israel, though tiny, has a number of different terroirs and microclimates. The differences in the growing regions ensure Israel has an unusually long harvest, from mid-July until the end of October. Our wine revolution is forty years old. Maybe it is time to consider what grows well where.

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HORSES FOR COURSES

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PLANTING HISTORY

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A CREATION OF TWO CONTINENTS

By Kobi Klaitman

Translation of article published by Ish Anavim – Grape-Man, 25.01.2024

There are moments when you can sense the presence of an important person.  One who does things not only because it is his job, but also out of a sense of mission. An understanding, that he is the right person for the task. Maybe Zionism is the reason. However, when I sat down to interview Adam Montefiore, apart from the charm of his British accent, I thought that if Israel was still a British colony, he would probably have been made Sir Montefiore a long time ago.

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A BEER WITH A SOUL

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BACK TO THE FUTURE IN A GRAPE PIP

September was a long time ago. Since then, our world has been changed forever by the Simchat Torah massacre and the war that followed. It was 24 hours that turned our world upside down. For those of us living in a wine bubble, we were forced to face an unpalatable truth: wine could not be more unimportant. Suddenly topical wine articles were no longer required. The wine writer was redundant. So, I have waited until now to write about something very exciting that happened before October 7th

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175 YEARS AND STILL GOING STRONG

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LESS IS DEFINITELY MORE

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A BEER STORY FROM LONDON TO RA’ANANA

This is a beer story from London to Ra’anana, via Rishon Le Zion and Petah Tikvah. I started my career in the beer industry working for Bass Charrington, who were brewers, pub owners, hoteliers and vintners. The group was the largest brewer in Great Britain and the largest pub owner. Bass Hotels & Resorts later became the largest hotelier in the world for a while, and Bass Charrington Vintners were owners of Chateau Lascombes of Margaux, the Bordeaux negociant Alexis Lichine and Hedges and Butler, a three-hundred year-old shippers of wines and spirits, with cellars under Regent Street. Bass from Burton-on-Trent and Charrington, from Mile End, London, were historic breweries themselves, both being founded in the 18th century. The red triangle of Bass was the world’s oldest registered trademark. However, the joint company broke up in 2000, when they decided to focus on hospitality rather than brewing. Mitchell & Butlers, itself dating from the 19th century, is today one of the leaders in pub, bars and restaurants in the UK. The hotel company was renamed Six Continents and is today known as the InterContinental Group. Bass Charrington is no more, forgotten by many. The iconic Bass Ale is still made, but today by Anheuser Busch – InBev. It was made immortal by Edouard Manet’s painting “A Bar at the Folies Bergere.’ I worked for 13 years for the group. It was owing to their broad interests that I was able to move from beer to wine and from pubs to restaurants and hotels, as my career changed direction and I became an active member of the wine trade. 

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WINE WITH A SENSE OF PLACE

Wine is an unimportant diversion in these black days, but for those who live in the wine bubble, growing vines, caring for vineyards and making wine, brings us back to a sense of normality, with the feeling “life must go on.” The longevity of some wineries in their relationship with the land, producing some of Israel’s finest products, is a reassuring sign of continuity. Not for nothing is wine considered Israel’s finest ambassador. Recently Israeli wine has celebrated some important anniversaries. Domaine du Castel celebrated 30 years, Golan Heights Winery 40 years, Binyamina Winery 70 years, Carmel Winery 140 years and Zion Winery 175 years. Soon Tishbi and Dalton wineries will reach their thirty-year anniversary.

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175 YEARS OF JERUSALEM FAMILY WINERY

The anti-Israel rabble that seems to be a coalition of Muslims, crazy left wingers and ignorant do-gooders, claim that Israel are colonists and that they are committing genocide. Even the ‘woke’ movement are prepared to ignore the rights of the LGTB movement or women as far as Hamas is concerned. Jew-hate overrides all. They give a pass to the lack of human rights in places like Turkey, and the massacre of Muslims that has taken place in Syria, simply because Israel and Jews are involved. It tears the mask from their supposedly moral stance. Their slogans and demonstrations seem to be saying that all Palestinians are Hamas and all Jews are Zionists. Most disappointing the enlightened woke world accept the fundamentalist, violent, barbaric Hamas as representing them. One would expect intellectuals to say “we support the Palestinian people, but the brutality of Hamas was not in our name.” No, the hatred of Jews overrides facts, common sense, morality, everything. They do not want a two-state solution. They seek a final solution, with Israel wiped off the face of the earth. From the river to the sea. Their stand says more about a collapse of morals in Europe and the western world than it does about us. It is an overlooked fact that the actions of Hamas and the blind, unconditional support exhibited by their supporters has damaged the Palestinian cause beyond their understanding. Though we live in a post truth world, the facts tell a different story. The Jewish connection to Jerusalem goes back 3000 years. Long before the words Muslim or Islam were even invented. Furthermore, the Palestinian population is growing very fast. How this equates to the genocide claim beats me. 

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CHOOSE BLUE AND WHITE

Israel has gone through an unspeakable trauma. The Simchat Torah Massacre on October 7th 2023, was the worst single day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Over 1,300 people were slaughtered in cold blood in their beds, their safe rooms and their homes. Women were abused, families burnt alive, babies were beheaded. Revelers at a Peace Music Festival were mown down in their hundreds. The brutal, inhumane, animal behavior of the Hamas terrorists was considered more violent even than ISIS with levels of barbarity not seen in modern times. Over 220 people were kidnapped and taken hostage, including grandmothers in their eighties, toddlers and even babies. Over 3,000 people were injured. Every single Israeli knows someone killed, kidnapped or missing. The shock and pain has rocked the very foundations of Israeli society. Israelis are hurting like never before.

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KEEP CALM AND HAVE A GLASS OF WINE

On October 7th 2023, 1,200 Israelis were massacred in cold blood. They were slaughtered with maximum cruelty in their beds and in their homes. Whole families were brutally murdered including the elderly, women, children, even babies. Houses were burnt. Party revelers at a “Peace Festival” were gunned down in their hundreds. To put this into perspective 1,000 Israelis roughly relates to the equivalent of 35,000 Americans. More Jews were killed during the Simchat Torah Massacre than on any day since the Holocaust. 199 people were taken hostage including grandmothers in poor health, children and toddlers. After the carnage, over 3,000 remain injured. Many of them seriously. People often forget the ongoing price endured by the injured. Rehabilitation may take a long time, but the mental scars will be forever. In the years to come 10/7 will become as well known to Israelis and Jews worldwide, as 9/11 is to Americans (who, if you remember, put the month first).

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WINE AND WAR

At 6.30 am on the early morning of the Simchat Torah festival, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel in the north western Negev. It was the Sabbath, a time of tranquility and peacefulness. Most families were still in their beds. Hamas went from house to house, from community to community, murdering families in their beds and safe rooms in cold blood. At the same time there was a music festival in the name of peace, where young adults were dancing without a care in the world. Revelers were still partying when Hamas gunmen brutally mowed them down in their hundreds.

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CELEBRATING IN THE GOLAN

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WINE, BEER & SPIRITS ON THE GOLAN

In the late 1980s, I came to an Israel which was a bit backward in terms of its alcohol beverages. In wine, Carmel Mizrahi was a monopoly with 75% of the market. Then ‘Selected was their entry level brand and ‘Rothschild’ was their prestige label. Regarding beer, Tempo Brewery was an even bigger monopoly. Goldstar, Maccabee and Nesher were the main brands. As for spirits and liqueurs, the big brands were Elite Arak and Stock 84 Brandy. Most of the spirits were made by the big wineries: Carmel, Barkan, Eliaz, and Askalon-Segal.  In fact all the wineries made spirits, with one notable exception. That was the reasonably new Golan Heights Winery, which from the get-go decided to concentrate on quality table wines. You may remember Vodka Stopka, Keglevich, Vodka Gold, Captain Rum, Lord Gin and Tehila (imitation Tequila.) There were also some vermouths (Carmel & Stock), whose chief benefit were that they were kosher, and Amadeus liqueurs. The most successful spirits in terms of quality were the brandies produced by Carmel and Tishbi, which won some major awards, and the most well-known liqueur internationally, was the chocolate orange Sabra, produced by Carmel on behalf of Seagram.  

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ROSH HASHANAH RECOMMENDATIONS

The wine used for Kiddush every Friday night is personal and dictated by family tradition. Over the years many have reverted to using dry wines. Sweet Kiddush wines are in decline, though the use of grape juice remains popular. However, due to family tradition, many still insist on a sweet red sacramental wine.  I usually use the dry wine we are going to drink with the meal for Kiddush. Rosh Hashanah is the only time when I actually recommend a sweet wine for the blessing. If during the New Year Seder, we are encouraged to eat sweet foods cumulating in the apple and honey, I believe we should insist on a sweet wine in honor of the wish for a sweet year. As it is the Jewish New Year, it should be a good one. Probably Yarden HeightsWine is the one of the best, but there is great variety of dessert wines. Failing that, you can always fall back on Moscatos, like the good value entry level Buzz or higher quality and more authentic Bartenura from Italy. 

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A SWEET YEAR FOR WINE

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HOTTER WEATHER, COLDER WINES

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HOT WEATHER WINES

It is getting hotter. You don’t need me to tell you that. Remember Israel may be the most southern quality winemaking country in the northern hemisphere. That may be cause for concern in the future. When I asked one of our leading winemakers about this a few years ago he answered me with ‘head in the sand’ complacency:  “Well, we have made wine for 5,000 years, why would we not continue?” I am not sure panicking helps, but the irregular weather extremes in wine regions around the world, often with tragic consequences, has belatedly woken up the wine industry. Wild uncontrollable fires, fast moving floods, drought and out of season frost and hail, have bedeviled wine regions as far apart as Australia, California, Italy, Greece and Germany. Some of the events caused distressing tragedies, but last year’s calamity is already replaced by the current years’ disasters and unseasonal weather patterns. These days there is no discussion about wine or wineries, which does not begin with comparing notes about the weather! All the talk has even had an effect here. Today, there is barely a winery that does not talk sustainability, at least on the label and in the marketing blurb. It is an absolute turnaround. Vineyards which used to be as clean as a whistle, with brown stripes of earth between the vines, standing like upright soldiers, now have a cover crop, which makes it all look more natural, even if less manicured.

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WINE LOVERS MARKET

Many of the Israel’s wine intelligentsia believes the wine world revolves around points, medals, forest fruits and astringency. They are quite disappointed to learn what a tiny fraction of the wine industry they are. It is disconcerting for them to know that by far the majority of the wine in Israel is bought in supermarkets, in a similar way to any other commodity. Quite a lot of these wine drinkers actually prefer Moscato, Lambrusco or Blue Nun to a complex Cabernet. They are not interested in the flowery language on the back label. An eye-catching label or attractive promotion is more likely sway the final choice, rather than where the grapes were grown or how long the wine was aged. It is a fact that 90% of the wine sold is under NIS 40. It is enough to have the so called expert snorting in his wine!

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WE HAVE NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD

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DELIGHTS OF THJE JUDEA WINE REGION

The official wine region of Judea lies sandwiched between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, those two contrasting cities that define modern Israel. It is framed by the sea in the west and the mountains in the east. The Mediterranean and Jerusalem Mountains are main features that contribute to make this such a unique terroir. This region is also a symbol of winemaking in the Bible, when the Judea was regarded with the reverence of Bordeaux of ancient times, in terms of both quality and quantity.

The association of Judea and wine began a long time ago with the Patriarch Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah. This earmarked Judea as a bountiful region of wine, and this is what it proved to be. As Amos the Prophet wrote so poetically “the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it.” Today curious wine tourists may meander through the Judea region in our times, and chance upon ancient terraces where vineyards were once grown.  It is quite likely they will stumble over a flat limestone basin, where the grapes were once trodden by families and wine was made. To have the opportunity to see these relics of ancient winemaking, is a stirring and moving sight.

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WINE AND GOURMET PARADISE

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GROW YOUR OWN WINE

There are wine lovers who are fascinated about wine but only outside the gates of the winery. The drinking of wine, maybe matching wine with food and endless discussions about the merits of this wine against that, provides adequate satisfaction. Then there are a growing number who want to be a witness to the creation of a wine, to participate in how it is made. They yearn to smell the aromas during fermentation and have the challenge of blending aiming for that elusive result of 1+1=3, when the finished wine is hopefully better than the sum of its parts.  Others are fascinated with the vineyard and the differences of ‘growing wine’ and ‘growing grapes.’ They want to experience working the land, coping with the vagaries of the seasons. For them, the question is how something as ancient and well established as a vine, with the humble, unpretentious grape as its fruit, can produce something as exalted and celebrated as wine.  For these people buying, drinking, talking about wine is not enough. They want to become more involved, to get dirty in the earth and the wine itself. For those who want to participate more there are options. 

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WINE AS A PARTICIPATION SPORT

Planting vines and making wine in the Land of Israel.

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CARMEL AGAIN TOP DOG

Any student of Zionism or wine lover knows Carmel Winery was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1882. If we forget, just look at the winery logo. The founding of the future winery towns of Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov was in that particular year, but it was also when the first experimental vineyards were planted. Carmel’s first winery, Rishon Le Zion Cellars, was established only in 1890 and the first time the brand name ‘Carmel’ was used was not until 1896, and that was initially for an export marketing company. The root of the word is Kerem-El, God’s vineyard. Of course, the founding of a winery usually dates from the first harvest or when the first wines are launched. In this case, it was when the very first vines were planted. Agudat Hacormim (the wine growers cooperative), registered in French as “SCV des Grandes Caves”, was founded in 1906.

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HAPPY TIMES ARE HERE AGAIN

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OLD VINE DABOUKI

I have been many years in the Israeli wine industry and been in many vineyards, but I had never been in Dabouki vineyard. Until now that is. I recently drove up to Givat Nili, to see one of the few vineyards still growing Dabouki. It is a big vineyard with all sorts, but when I arrived in the area of the Dabouki vines, I had the feeling as though I was peering into history. I felt like saying: “Ah, Dr. Dabouki I presume!” 

I was confronted by 50year old vines, flailing in all directions, with thick gnarled trunks and arms waving in grotesque shapes. Each vine had its own shape and personality, as if screaming about its own individuality. You go to Cyprus and 100 year vineyards are here, there, and everywhere. In Israel, I don’t think I have seen a fifty year old vineyard before. I had the feeling I was entering a vine museum. It was as though I was seeking remains of something that once flourished, but now is a rarity. The vines did not look that healthy. They in fact appeared to all intents and purposes to be dead. If I brush too hard by a branch and it would snap like dead dry wood. 

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DR. DABOUKI I PRESUME

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CENTRAL MOUNTAINS WINERIES LIKE DECANTER

And Decanter likes them too!

The Decanter World Wine Awards is these days the largest wine competition in the world. It also has great credibility as one of the best. It is certainly not like the European competition which kindly sent us a medal, when I worked for Carmel, even though we had not even submitted a wine! This year no less than five Israeli wines have been awarded Gold Medals at Decanter: 

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THE WINE ELITE OF THE JUDEAN HIGHLANDS

You need to be with someone with a lot of knowledge and have a good imagination to reveal the hidden secrets of the terrain. There I was with the famous archaeologist Professor Yuval Gadot, clamoring down the forested slops of Ramot Forest in the Judean Highlands, near the entrance to Jerusalem. He led the way with the enthusiasm of a child, supported with the deep knowledge of a professor, with decades of archaeological finds and ground breaking papers under his belt. Even though he knew what was coming, there was still some of that infectious boyish enthusiasm as though he was discovering everything for the first time.

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THE WINE KINGODOM OF JUDEA

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SHAVUOT RECOMMENDATIONS

I remember when Israel was a white wine drinking country. Emerald Riesling was the largest selling wine and Grenache Rose was popular, and reds were considered astringent and only for those that understood wine. Of course all that changed and Israel became a red wine drinking country.

Today white wines are coming back. The reasons are obvious. Our climate and cuisine cry out for white wines. The balance between fruit and acidty, the freshness, comparative lightness and refreshing nature of white wines are certainly easier to drink in our hot humid climate than bombastic, high alcohol red wines. They match better with food, offer greater variety and quench the thirst.

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DRINKING WHITE, PINK & ORANGE

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THE REVOLUTION OF THE JERUSALEM WINERIES

The phrase ‘the Jerusalem wineries’ used to refer to those traditional wineries, with roots in Jerusalem, who mainly produced liquid religion. That is my description of grape juice and Kiddush wine. When I made Aliyah 34 years ago, there were four such wineries: Arza, Hacormim, Shimshon and Zion wineries. All of them can trace their beginnings back to the winery founded in 1848 by the Shor family in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

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IN VINO VERITAS

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ALTERNATIVE FACTS

 

We are taught that in wine there is truth. However, no doubt we are in a post truth period, where presidents and prime ministers, a la Trump, Netanyahu & Johnson, are often accused of creating their own truths. Fake news is in. There are also instances of wineries reinventing history. 

Don’t assume that everything you read about a winery is historically correct. Closer examination shows how wineries are prepared to have a very flexible interpretation of the facts, to suit the imagination of a particular marketing department of the time. It is rather like rewriting history in reverse. However, rather than being outright lies, most of these are based on some form of factual information. Of course, if repeated long and often enough, the story becomes the new reality.  As, was attributed to both Mark Twain and Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world, before truth puts on its boots.”

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THE ISRAELI PRIZE FOR WINE GOES TO…..

The revolution of Israeli wine over the last forty years has been one of Israel’s finest success stories. There have been steady developments each decade and as a result, Israeli wine has earned deep respect worldwide. It is frustrating that this has not yet been recognized here, because lately honors and awards are given for political kinship, rather than the old-fashioned concept of giving credit where it is due. It is high time the Israeli wine industry was recognized by the country itself. After all wine may not be our largest export, but it is Israel’s finest ambassador. As we celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary, I have named the people that made a difference and epitomized their era in this amazing story.

Ben Guryon Carmel MizrahiThe first 35 years were the years of Carmel, the historic winery of Israel. The person that best represents this period is Elyakum Osthashinski who was CEO of SCV des Grandes Caves and Carmel Mizrahi for nearly thirty years from the early fifties. Previously he had been Mayor of Rishon Le Zion. This was a period in which Carmel Mizrahi was a monopoly. These were not great days of Carmel in terms of quality, but were in terms of dominance. Israeli wine did not have a great image, but times were different. Nevertheless, Carmel kept Israeli wine afloat through all the ups and downs of building the State. Osthashinski provided the stability and his high profile and longevity merited respect. Carmel’s greatest ever award would come far later, when the Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz won the International Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2010.

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35 YEARS OF FAMINE, 40 YEARS OF PLENTY

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ISRAEL IN TEN WINES

We are about to celebrate our 75th anniversary as a country. Once, for those abroad, Israel was symbolized by the Jaffa Orange and the Kibbutz. Today, Israel is today regarded as the Start-Up Nation. Hi-Tec is what the country is most known for, and the most representative product of the “Land of Israel” and “People of Israel” is wine. After all you can’t give a bottle of Hi-Tec as a present. 

Our wine history may be divided in to two parts: Pre-1976 and post 1976. In that year the roots of the Israel wine revolution were planted. It was the year vineyards were first planted on the Golan Heights and Israel’s first international style wine was produced. These unconnected events were a turning point.

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TEN WINES FOR 75 YEARS

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BLUE-AND-WHITE PASSOVER

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ARGAMAN: A TASTE OF ISRAEL

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THE GALLO OF YAVNE

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THE EXTRAORDINARY WINERY OF YAVNE

I have had the pleasure of meeting Jon Seligman. He is a Brit, with South African roots, who came to live in Israel many years ago. He is the Senior Research Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority and is extremely accomplished with the longest cv I have ever seen. The list of positions he has held is complemented by a long list of archaeological digs and excavations he has participated in or led, and an even longer list of papers he has published. One thing is certain. He has many accomplishments and a very distinguished career.

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FORTY YEARS OF EXCELLENCE

The Golan Heights Winery is now entering its fortieth year. During this time, the winery led the quality wine revolution in Israel in terms of wine quality, wine marketing and wine education. As a result of the investment in quality and image over forty years, it is fair to say that the Golan Heights Winery is today the number one Israeli wine ambassador in the wide world of wine and the number one exporter. Yarden is the most visible and famous wine brand….and if things had to be distilled down to one wine, Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon is Israel’s most awarded wine.

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Leading From The Front

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CELEBRATING 30 YEARS

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STORY OF A MAN, A FAMILY AND A WINERY

I picture Eli Ben-Zaken in the summer of 2021, standing on his own outside his house and winery at Ramat Razi’el as he defiantly fought against the fierce wild fires in the hills and forests that rise towards Jerusalem. The flames raged a mere thirty meters from his property. Told by the authorities to evacuate, he refused. He was a lone figure, holding a domestic hose against the might of the force of nature that confronted him. With his wire rim glasses and blue Covid mask smudged by ash, I thought the image symbolic.
Here was the man who twice built the most beautiful winery in Israel. He was the pioneer of the Judean Hills wine region. He taught Israeli wineries about the absolute pursuit of excellence, aesthetics, style and quality. Yet, at the age of 77, he was defending his family home alone and with great courage and fortitude. This is characteristic of the man: earnest, heroic, standing his ground and always involved in the nitty-gritty.

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IN GOOD HANDS

When I made aliyah in 1989, there were just twelve wineries. In those days all of them, except one, also made spirits and liqueurs. The exception was the Golan Heights Winery. Then, we used to talk about only one region in Israel in relation to quality. That was the high elevation, volcanic Golan Heights. The largest wine growing region was around the southern slopes of Mt Carmel, or what may be described as the northern Coastal region. The most planted variety by far, was Carignan. The largest selling wine was Carmel’s Selected Emerald Riesling.

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COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE WOMEN

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NEW EDITION OF YARDEN ROM

The Golan Heights Winery has launched their new expression of Yarden Rom, from the 2019 vintage. This is a rarely produced prestige wine of the winery. Whereas the Yarden Katzrin is a Bordeaux blend, the Rom blend also incorporated Syrah.

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HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID

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HIPSTER’S CHAMPAGNE

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YALLA MOROCCO!

There has been tremendous warmth and interest both ways, about the new relations between Morocco and Israel. We all loved watching the World Cup. The incredible success of the Atlas Lions had us all on the edge of our seats. If Morocco can do it, maybe Israel can, although that does seem a dream too far! Anyway, at the same time Morocco was on our minds, we learnt some new Moroccan wines were being imported to Israel. Shaked, Israel’s leading importers and often the pioneers, have listed seven wines from Celliers de Meknes and Thalvin-Domaine Ouled Thaleb, two of Morocco’s most famous wineries. We had the opportunity to taste them and meet the winemaker and export manager, at Shaked’s Annual Tasting. In Israel there is a very sizeable ex patriot Moroccan population, who will be curious to taste wines from the old country. The timing could not be better. 

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END OF YEAR SPARKLE

New Year’s Eve, Sylvester’s or Novy God, are all reasons or excuses to drink sparkling wine. This is the wine of celebration symbolizing happiness and joie de vivre. The prime quality representative of this sector has always been Champagne, made in the Champagne region of France by the ‘Champagne Method’. The image of real Champagne does have a certain magic and stardust about it.

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THE OTHER HALF

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FIRST, WE TAKE BERLIN!

I once ate in a good Greek restaurant in London, and astonishingly, there was not even one Greek wine on the wine list. It was only slightly better when I visited one of the finest Turkish restaurants in the West End. There I found the cheapest Turkish house wine, but that was all. When I went to Palomar, an award winning restaurant bristling with Israeli influence, there was but one paltry Israeli wine in each category on the wine list. In America, Israeli chefs are a little less embarrassed to list Israeli wines, but not much. When I go to a restaurant where the food is ethnic, I want the wine to represent the cuisine.

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CHANGING THE PARADIGM

A few years ago the wine team of one of the world’s most famous winery’s in the world visited
Israel. They spent a week here visiting wineries, vineyards, universities and academic
institutions. When I asked the owner why a winery from Bordeaux of all places, would come to
learn from Israel, and not say somewhere like Australia, I was told: “Israel is streets ahead. No-
one has the research and development that is taking place here.” Unfortunately when I posted a
proud photo with the winery owner, I was told to take it down. It was a secret visit – though it
was in no way secret to all the wine people and researchers they met.

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REINVENTING THE VISION

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PIONEERS OF SUSTAINABILITY, LEADERS IN THE UPPER GALILEE

I travelled north from the center of the country, fortunately driven by Yael Gai. It is enjoyable going against the flow of the traffic, especially when you are not driving. It took two hours to arrive at Kibbutz Yiron. There, we were welcomed in the community garden of the kibbutz in a beautifully shaded, tranquil spot. It has a carefully cultivated wild look, resplendent with colorful flowers, a vegetable garden and fruit trees. All I needed was a book and a hammock. Of course, I am not turning into a market gardener. I was there to visit Galil Mountain Winery.

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Do good, drink well

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THE HORROR OF WAR

Vladimir Putin’s kamikaze drones have been launched indiscriminately across Ukraine and recently on civilians in Kyiv, their capital. The bombardment from the Russian army was typically brutal, murderous and a designed to cause fear, panic, the maximum mayhem, and to crush the spirit of the Ukrainian people.

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Vika, wine and war

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THE ISRAELI BOCUSE

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MENSCH IN CHEF’S WHITES

Chef Shalom Kadosh is an icon. He has cooked for Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, from President Carter and Menahem Begin onwards. Nowadays Israeli Chefs are shaking up the world, but Kadosh was the first. No one has done more to advance Kosher cuisine, Israeli gastronomy and he has been a shining ambassador of Israel amongst his peers, the greatest chefs in the world, and gourmets and gourmands everywhere.

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WINE TINTED SPECTACLES

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WINE TOURISM FESTIVA

Sukkot is the harvest festival, where we sit in booths under the stars. It is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. However most of the grains, including wheat and barley, and many of the fruits, were harvested well before and are covered by festivals earlier in the year (such as Passover and Shavuot).

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All the fun of the fair

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The name says it all

Gaja is arguably the most famous name in Italian wine.

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Drinking with your mind

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STEADY HAND ON THE TILLER

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Give that man a goldstar

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Story of a Vineyard

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Women of the vine

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Respect for your elders

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Argaman comes of age

Argaman is the 6th most planted red grape variety in Israel. Originally the purpose of this variety was modest. It was not intended to be seen so much, but to be used more as a work horse grape. Recently though, Argaman has been catapulted to the forefront by the very good results in the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Challenge International du Vin. So maybe we should look at this variety with new eyes.

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Think white….and pink

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This sparkling sceptered isle

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Times they are a’changin