Adam S. Montefiore
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START-UP SOMMELIER

Combining experience of wine, hi-tec and sales
Moshe Weizman Sommelier pin

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.

We are a nation that is great at talking and giving advice. I call it Israel football syndrome. Every two years we over-talk our chances at each World or European Championships. We are led to believe this is the year. However, like the film Groundhog Day, the results are always the same. (Though I admit our youth soccer teams broke the mold slightly last summer, offering an example for the future.) We also suffer from the same disease in the wine industry. The activity on social media of all the self-appointed experts, the sommeliers who are really wine waiters and Tel Aviv intelligentsia gives us all the impression that Israel is a great wine superpower. Italy and France must be trembling in their boots. We are great at looking inward and talking to ourselves. When you visit the large wine exhibitions and see Uruguay with a larger stand than Israel, then it gives a sense of proportion. In fact, at most wine shows there are no Israeli wineries exhibiting, and if there is one, it is usually the Golan Heights Winery. Turkey, Lebanon, Brazil and Mexico have stands, but most Israeli wineries see it as an unnecessary expense. We are not quite the bees-knees of the world’s wine trade. Far from it! 

Moshe WeizmanThis does not mean we should not celebrate success, and Israeli wine has a great deal to be proud of. One person who has invested in his personal knowledge in international forums and has come up with an innovative concept that could go worldwide is Moshe Weizman. I was pleased to meet him recently. He is an entrepreneur and sommelier from Tel Mond. Most Israeli wine people had a wine epiphany at some stage in their past. They did not come from a wine background. In many cases they read one of Michael Ben-Joseph’s books or they took a Barman’s Course after the army, which led to an eventual interest in wine. I myself arrived to wine via beer. Weizman, in contrast to most of his compatriots, was born with a silver tastevin in his mouth. He knew wine from an early age and was weaned on wine almost from birth. His parents were Francophile restaurateurs, early pioneers of French gastronomy in Israel, with an inbred drive for quality and a deep understanding of European standards of service. From this springboard, Weizman dived into Hi-tec and sales, but the wine bug had bitten deep. He scoured the country for wine courses and he seemed to do them all. He started with the Wine Academy Course at Ramat Gan College (where I was a lecturer) and followed up with courses at Haim Gan’s Ish Anavim (Grape Man) and the Soreq Winery Winemaking School. This did not sate his passion to learn, so he went international. He went through the different levels of WSET, the leading wine school in the world, eventually graduating at Level 3 with merit. Still not satisfied, he then decided to study with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Most Israelis follow the WSET wine education route, which they study at the excellent W – Wine & Spirit School in Tel Aviv. Very few follow the sommelier route. Weizman decided to because he liked the element of service and wanted to pay respect to his parents who installed an appreciation of wine and a respect for professional wine service in their only son. Eventually being awarded the pin as a certified sommelier was a very good achievement by this hyper, over achiever. Especially as he is color blind. Color plays an important in the evaluation of wine.

No-one can now say this WSET Level 3 and Certified Sommelier is a self-appointed expert who pontificates, but does not understand wine. These achievements gave him the skills and confidence to turn his hobby into a profession. He tied himself to Inter Shefa, a very large importing company with Russian roots and became their sommelier. His play ground is therefore their Deli Vino in Netanya. Part wine shop, part delicatessen, part wine bar, it has a whiff of Tel Aviv style, though it is situated in Netanya in the Sharon Plain. Here he hosts meetings, gives tutored tastings, courses and he has a home turf where he can think, dream and experiment. Here he cooked up ideas in the most important place, that space where the importer, retailer and customer meet.

Once he visited the retailer Derech Ha’Yayin’s (Wine Route)  ‘Annual Grand Sales Day.’ He observed individuals lining up to buy ‘by the case’ to receive the special discount on offer and thought of all those potential buyers, who did not wish to buy multiple bottles. He observed some were frantically ringing their sisters, cousins and aunts, and messaging Whats App groups, in order to increase the purchase so they could earn the precious discount. He thought why not combine the buying potential of everyone, allowing the individual to gain the discount and the retailer to considerably increase sales. He thought if he could do this, he would be able to combine his profession and hobby, blending together twenty years of sales experience with a deep love of wine. His idea was brilliantly conceived, breathtakingly simple, not complicated to implement, in retrospect, quite obvious. Not for nothing is Israel the Start Up Nation.

All that was required was a virtual, digital or physical gathering of people. They come with the intent to make a purchase, and there are special prices on offer. Weizman thought if he could leverage these three things, he could increase turnover.

Moshe Weizman buy better together

And so, the idea of WINEing was born as a start-up, by Moshe Weizman, CEO, and his partner and co-founder, Jeroen Rammerswaal, from Holland. WINEing is a digital platform enabling the buying customer to gain the best possible price and the retailer or winery to maximize sales. Weizman told me that 85% of sales are those buying single bottles. He noticed though, that there are nearly always promotions or a special offer for those buying in cases of 6 or 12 bottles. WINEing enables buyers who don’t know each other to join hands to ensure they receive the best price. Furthermore, a screen shows the buyers what the state of play is, so they can see in real time where the opportunities lay with each individual wine. This provides a stock exchange atmosphere with a bustle which creates further interests, encourages interaction and adds value to the buying experience.

Moshe Weizman tas

Great idea! So simple and obvious, but does it work? For it to take off, the wine store or winery visitors’ center must see a significant benefit. So for much of the year, Weizman has been trialing his new baby, firstly in Israel. Most notably was a trial supporting the Negev wineries after October 7th through an online sales drive. He has followed this by trials in Italy and Alsace. He has done 18 pilots so far at winery visitors’ centers, wine tasting workshops, wine fairs and online. He even pioneered it with a futures offer at Jezreel Valley Winery, where the buyer could also make his own blend, therefore combining the best conditions for purchase with a unique wine experience. He has trialed it at Whisky Live, at Christmas fairs, and even for an importer doing pre-sales. Of course, the basic concept applies to anywhere and anything. It is suitable particularly for the drinks industry (beer and spirits as well as wine), but the potential is way beyond that.

Weizman had confidence but no certainty it would work. However, the test markets have shown an increase in turnover of 25-40%. This makes it attractive to the third part of the jigsaw, the person selling. So it would appear he is on to a winner.

When we talk technology in wine, we normally refer to viticulture in the vineyard or winemaking at the winery. Within the gates of the winery, as it were. Outside, things have stayed the same for generations. The sales and marketing of wine is notably conservative. People coming into wine from other fields are often shocked at how backward wine marketing is. Where else I hear you ask would most sales still be in heavy glass bottles, where you have to buy a minimum six glasses, and the bottles are stoppered with a bit of tree bark. Doesn’t sound very 21st century to me! 

We also have severe problems in that young people worldwide are drinking far less wine. In traditional countries, like France, this is very apparent. Red wine consumption is in fast decline and may even be caught up by rose. This would have been thought to be most unlikely a generation ago. Millennials clearly want to drink differently from their parents. This crisis is as great as that of global warming to the wine trade, so technology that encourages sales and maximizes existing potential is crucial and timely.

La wine tech

Maybe the biggest compliment to WINEing is that it has been accepted into La WineTech. This is an exclusive club of the most advanced wine technology initiatives worldwide. It is hub and laboratory of all the exciting initiatives being hatched to shake up the wine world.

Moshe Weizman is sharp, bright and pushy, all wrapped up in European worldliness and manners. Maybe an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove. He is a long-distance runner, and he has the belief and drive to succeed; and I think he will.

Adam Montefiore is a wine trade veteran and winery insider turned wine writer, who has advanced Israeli wine for 35 years. He is referred to as ‘the English voice of Israeli wine’ and is the Wine Writer of the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com

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