The Shor Winery was founded by Rabbi Yitzhak Shor in the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1848. Israel’s oldest winery was situated alongside ‘Ha’Kotel Hakatan’ – the Little Western Wall. One of the Shor family’s inspirations was Sir Moses Montefiore, who had encouraged Jews to return to agriculture and work instead of living off charity. One hundred and seventy years later, the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery opened a tasting room, at the Montefiore Windmill in the heart of Jerusalem. A connection between the Shor Winery of 1848 and the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery of 2019, was Tsippora Mendelsohn, née Shor, who has just passed away, aged 93 years old.
The Shors were previously known by the family name of Galin (or Galina.) They were part of the Karlin-Stolin Hassidic dynasty and had made Aliyah from the Ukraine. When Rabbi Yitzhak wanted to open a winery, he needed a license from the Ottoman authorities. Fortuitously, his brother in law had one, so he took both the license and his family name. From then on the family became known by the name ‘Shor’, the Hebrew for a ‘bull.’
When Moses Montefiore visited Israel for the third time, he met Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galin (Rabbi Yitzhak’s father), who was Head of the Tiferet Israel Yeshiva. Montefiore’s diaries show he tasted Hebron wine, and the Shor family was the main producer of wine from Hebron. Both the Shor family and Moses Montefiore played a part in the revival of Jewish life in Jerusalem in the mid – 19th century.
Apart from the winery, the Shor family was involved in other wine initiatives too. It is little known, that one family member was part of the partnership in founding the Carmel Oriental branch in Cairo, Egypt. Another was involved with founding of the winery at the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School.
Tsippora Shor was born in 1929, the year of the riots in Jerusalem and Hebron. In those days a drove of donkeys used to make its way from Hebron to Jerusalem to deliver the grapes after harvest. Family members used to wake up to a courtyard full of braying donkeys. Wines were also delivered on donkeys. Once, a young member of the family was sent to deliver wine. When he complained he did not know the way, he was told “Don’t worry the donkey does.” Sure enough the wine was delivered.
At the time, Tsippora’s legendary grandmother, Rosa, was managing the winery after the premature death of her grandfather, Shmuel. Rosa had opened the first wine bar and store (in the cotton market of the Muslim Quarter.) She was the first woman to manage a winery and steered the successful move from the Old City to Beit Israel.
By the 1940’s, the next generation had taken over. Tsippora’s father, Moshe Shalom Shor, was managing the winery along with his brother, Avraham Meir. As a result the winery became known as Shor Bros. In 1944, they changed the name of the winery to Zion Winery, as family names used in business were disapproved of and discouraged by the authorities.
Then as the family grew, the brothers decided to split into two businesses. Avraham Meir continued to produce wine at Zion Winery and Moshe Shalom founded Shimshon Winery which agreed to produce only spirits and grape juice, so there was no overlap. It was totally amicable. Zion and Shimshon Winery both continued to operate from the same building in Beit Israel, with a partition dividing the two companies. However it was so intimate, that when Shimshon Winery produced Arak, old timers remember the all-pervasive smell once seeping into the wine at Zion Winery.
Tsippora Shor married Yona Zeev Mendelsohn, a Chabad Hassid, who also had previously made wine in the Old City, but on a domestic rather than commercial basis. In 1951 they inherited and took over the ownership of Shimshon Winery, which was passed down by Moshe Shalom Shor. The winery returned to making wine, but production was mainly liquid religion, Kiddush wine and grape juice. Soon after, Tsippora’s brothers also decided to follow the previous generations of their family, by staying in the wine business. There were a few stops and starts along the way, including even a joint venture with Efrat Winery, before Yitzhak Shor founded Arza Winery and Yechiel Shor, founded Hacormim, in the 1950s. There were then four wineries owned by the Shor family. They were known in the trade as the ‘Jerusalem wineries.’
In 1976, Shimshon Winery moved to Atarot, in the northern outskirts of Jerusalem. Zion Winery, Arza and Hacormim all moved to the same street in Mishor Adumim, east of Jeusalem, in the Judean Desert. This is where they are situated until today.
Yona Mendelsohn passed away at the age of 66. Then, Tsippora and Yona’s son Shlomo Zalman Mendelsohn took over the management of Shimshon Winery. However in tragic circumstances, he passed away soon after, well before his time. In 2006, the winery was sold to entrepreneur and businessman Ofer Guetta, who changed its name to Jerusalem. These days it is known as ‘Jerusalem Vineyard Winery.’
The winery began a quality revival in the 2010s, with some quality appointments. The dynamic Erez Winner, assistant to IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, was made CEO, the experienced Carmit Ehrenreich (ex-Golan Heights Winery & Galil Mountain) became Marketing Manager and the talented Sam Soroka (ex- Carmel, Zichron, Mony & Kerem Montefiore) became winemaker. The winery started to focus more on table wines and on quality at each price point.
In 2019, Jerusalem Vineyard Winery opened an innovative Visitors’ Center at the Montefiore Windmill, built by Moshe Montefiore in 1857, in Mishkenot Sha’ananin. This was the first neighborhood outside the Old City Walls, which became the cornerstone of modern (or western) Jerusalem. It was a closing of a circle. The windmill had been refurbished in 2012 and re-opened by the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
Today Lior Lacser, ex Head Winemaker of Carmel, is the CEO and winemaker. The winery produces roughly 3 million bottles a year, about half of which is grape juice. The quality continues to improve and there has been some good international recognition. A few years ago, their Jerusalem Premium 3400 Shiraz 2013 scored 93 points in the Wine Enthusiast. This was the first significant international recognition. Last year, they achieved recognition at the highest level. The Jerusalem 4990 Single Vineyard Petit Verdot 2018 scored 96 points in the Decanter World Wine Awards and was awarded a gold medal.
Today Tsippora’s wider family continues to make wine, 174 years after they began. There are the three traditional wineries owned and managed by the Shor family. These are Zion, Arza and Hacormim Wineries. Each branch of the family has created new satellite wineries, with the objective of improving image and quality. These are 1848 Winery, Hayotzer Winery and Shorr (sic) Estate. In a sense there are now six family wineries, (though Shorr Estate is more a brand or label rather than a winery), whilst when Tsippora was a child, there was only one. She will have noted that 1848 Winery, Hayotzer Winery, Jerusalem Vineyard Winery and Zion Winery have each gone through a significant quality revolution in the last ten years. Internationally trained winemakers, new equipment and new vineyards have helped these wineries in particular to receive local and international quality recognition. Futhermore, Arza, Zion and Jerusalem Wineries have grown to such an extent, that each are now amongst the largest ten wineries in the country.
During Tsippora Mendelsohn’s lifetime, Israel changed no end and so did its wine industry. It is true that the wineries she was associated with, advanced more in the last ten years than in the previous 170. However it would have given her immense pleasure to see that her family is still making wine, and she would have been particularly proud to see the giant strides in recent years made by Jerusalem VW, the winery once owned by her and her husband. May her memory be a blessing.
Adam Montefiore is a winery insider turned wine writer. He has advanced Israeli wine for 35 years and is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wine. He is the wine writer of the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com