Sir Moses Montefiore was a groundbreaking humanitarian, a campaigner for
Jewish emancipation and a forerunner of Zionism. Arguably, he was the
preeminent Jewish figure of the 19th century. Born in Livorno, Tuscany,
he spent his life in England, punctuated with seven visits to Israel.
the United Kingdom celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with
a drink or two, the Jewish community in Britain has been celebrating
with as much fervor as everyone else. The relationship may be traced
back to when Moses Montefiore lent the young Queen Victoria the key to
his garden on his estate for her private use. This began a mutual
friendship and was a noteworthy start to a smooth relationship between
British Jews and their monarch.
Rereading the diaries of Moses
and Judith Montefiore, I was struck by the references to wine.
Considering my family connection and current vocation, I was interested
in investigating further. It appears that Moses Montefiore appreciated
wine and drank no less than one bottle of wine every day. It may explain
why he lived to be nearly 101, a great age in those days.
wondering what sort of wine he drank, I immediately thought of the two
wines most associated with the British: claret, the English slang for a
red wine from Bordeaux; and port, a fortified sweet red wine from
In Montefiore’s youth, in the 18th century, claret was a
weak, slightly insipid and rosé-colored wine that quickly turned to
vinegar if not consumed before the spring.
In fact, the wine Sir
Moses consumed daily was port. He certainly favored port when giving
gifts of a bottle or case of wine to friends and associates, which he
The famous quote attributed to Samuel Johnson
sums up the pecking order quite well: “Claret is for boys; port is for
men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy!” However, claret
was to improve drastically in quality and image during Sir Moses’s
lifetime. The use of cork as a stopper, small oak barrels and the change
of bottle shape so wine could be laid down advanced the possibility of
aging. Peace between the British and the French helped. The growing
importance of London in world trade and a reduction in taxes all
combined to change the image of claret, which gradually took over from
By the mid-19th century, to own a Bordeaux château became very desirable.
Jewish families were notable investors, notably the Péreires of Château
Palmer and the Foulds of Château Beychevelle. However, most notable
were the Rothschilds. In fact, it was a nephew of Sir Moses’s, Nathaniel
Rothschild, who purchased Château Mouton for the Rothschild family in
1853. Nathaniel was the son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who was the
brother-inlaw and business partner of Sir Moses.
Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s French brother, Baron James de Rothschild,
bought Château Lafite in 1868. It was his son, Baron Edmond de
Rothschild, who founded Carmel Winery in 1882. Château Lafite Rothschild
and Château Mouton Rothschild are arguably two of the finest wineries
on the planet. The founding of Carmel in Rishon Lezion and Zichron
Ya’acov heralded the rebirth of the Israeli wine industry after 2,000
years. Rishon Lezion was one of the beneficiaries of Moses Montefiore’s
last donation in 1884.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that
there was no wine in mid-19th-century Israel. In the Old City of
Jerusalem alone there were more than 20 wineries, but these were
domestic wineries producing wine for religious ritual only. Kiddush wine
was produced for Jews, and communion or altar wine was for Christians,
who valued wine from the Holy Land.
Montefiore regularly tasted
the local wine. Communities would rush to present him with their best
wine as a token of appreciation. On one occasion he purchased a small
cask of wine as a souvenir.
He even once received a letter from a
Yosef in Safed asking if he could prepare a bath of wine for Sir Moses
for Shabbat! Sir Moses Montefiore fervently believed that Jews should
work for a living, and he recommended agriculture. His diaries often
mention the vines and olive trees he saw growing naturally on his
He purchased the first Jewish orchard, which later
became known as the Montefiore Quarter in Tel Aviv. When he bought land
outside the Old City of Jerusalem, he called it Moshe’s and Yehudit’s
Vineyard. Part of the area became known as Mishkenot Sha’ananim, which
was to become the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. Each resident was
given a “plot of ground large enough to cultivate olive trees, the
vine... so as to give a taste for agriculture.” The remaining land was
later named Yemin Moshe.
The two wineries that are remembered from the Old City of Jerusalem are Shor and Efrat.
The Shor Winery was founded in 1848 by Rabbi Yitzhak Shor.
Rogov, the late esteemed wine writer, wrote: “Preceding the days when
Baron de Rothschild made a massive input to the local wine industry, the
inspiration of Rabbi Shor was Sir Moses Montefiore, who visited the
Holy Land on numerous occasions and, while here, encouraged the Jews to
work the land and plant vines.”
Today, more than 160 years later,
the Shor family is still making wine, but the growing family has since
split into three separate wineries – Arza, Hacormim and Zion – and they
are all situated on the same street in Mishor Adumim. Conditon, produced
by Hacormim, is a particularly well-known brand of kiddush wine.
Recently, Zion and Arza have started to make top-quality table wines.
Zion’s 1848 brand and its Armon and Erez labels have gained recognition
for representing good quality and excellent value. Likewise, Arza has
recently released its new Tel Arza wines and the top of the range,
Auteur. These show evidence of a new striving for quality.
1852 the Teperberg family were drinks distributors, specializing in
supplying the Christian market. In 1870 Zeev Zeida Teperberg founded
Efrat Winery. Today renamed Teperberg 1870 and situated at Tzora, it has
become the fourth-largest winery in Israel and the largest family-owned
winery. A success story, indeed.
If Moses Montefiore were alive
today, he would find that claret is still the most soughtafter of all
fine wines but that port’s popularity is in decline. I can’t help
thinking he would be pleased that the Shors and Teperbergs are still
making wine. He would be delighted that Israeli wine has developed so
magnificently, with vineyards all over the country. He also might be
amused to know that the first member of his family that made aliya is
working for a winery founded by the Rothschilds!Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.
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