Wine Talk: A toast to good taste

Founded by a man who knows wine from the inside out, the Israel Wine Experience is a vintage adventure.

March 7, 2013 15:37
Oded Shoham

Oded Shoham. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Oded Shoham is one of the most professional people on the wine circuit. He is also one of the nicest and most amusing. He has become known as the No. 1 English speaker about wine and is much in demand for wine tours, tastings and lectures. In 2007 he set up his company The Israel Wine Experience, and since then he has been making a name for himself, giving pithy, informative and fun lectures to visitors to Israel. He has a gift for being able to change the tone of his delivery to suit the audience, whether large or small, formal or informal. He is a most charismatic and knowledgeable guest speaker, and he usually offers quality wine tastings, too, from only the finest wineries. He is a wine ambassador for Israel.

Shoham made aliya from Chicago a long time ago. Stage by stage and step by step, he has conquered every aspect of the wine business, gaining knowledge and experience and making many friends along the way. In the 1980s he was vineyard manager at Kibbutz Tzora.

It was a good beginning. Many people in the wine business never go near a vineyard.

It is hard to imagine a gregarious person like Oded being at peace with the physical grind and solitude of working in the vineyard, but he relished the earthiness of it all and looks back on it fondly as a special time. When pruning in winter in the freezing cold, you soon discover if vineyard work is for you. It certainly gave him an early insight into the world of wine. The management of a vineyard is so important to the quality of the end product, that we refer to it as “growing wine” and not “growing grapes.”

Shoham has cared for vine- yards over a number of years, and he remembers well planting the vines and caring for them like children.

Then it was boutique winery time. In 1993 Shoham became the co-founder of the Tzora Winery with the late Roni James. This was one of the early boutique wineries and the first to express its wines in terms of the place where the vines were grown. James was a legendary figure on the Israeli wine scene, and he was determined to unearth an Israeli terroir. He was the figure within the gates of the winery and vineyard, and Shoham was responsible for the marketing.

Shoham then went into retail, managing a small specialist wine shop. This is where I first came to know him, as the wine manager of Naftali’s Wine Shop in Givatayim. It was one of the first specialist wine shops listing both Israeli and imported wines. In those days, it was a veritable Aladdin’s cave for wine lovers.

He was an upright figure, with a rapidly receding hairline and a ponytail. He had a ready smile, a fast repartee and was genuinely funny. Behind the wit was a passionate wine guy, shrewd in business, loyal to the cause, but prepared to talk about wine all night.

His knowledge of wine extended outside Israel, so he was obviously a good choice to work in imports. Barkan-Segal agreed, and he then became their import and wine division manager. They were then one of the largest importers of wine in Israel. After a period there, at Israel’s second-largest winery, Shoham then moved to Israel’s largest winery. He came to work for me as export manager for Carmel Winery for Europe and played a big part in the rejuvenation of Carmel in the 2000s.

Together we founded Hand- crafted Wines of Israel, which was managed by Shoham. This was the first consortium of Israeli wineries to market Israeli wines overseas. The wineries involved were Amphorae, Bazelet Hagolan, Castel, Chillag, Flam, Hamasrek, Margalit, Saslove, Tzora, Yatir, along with Carmel. Not a bad group of wineries! This was the first time Israeli wineries worked together to market their wines abroad. The idea was noble: to market Brand Israel. It only stopped when the government decided to put together its own campaign to support and encourage wine exports. So Handcrafted Wines of Israel regrettably folded up, and surprise surprise, nothing has yet come in its place.

Shoham then went into the supermarket business. He became import and wine & spirits manager for Israco, the import division of Tiv Ta’am.

The quality and range of the wines and spirits this chain has is largely because of Shoham.

This may seem like quite a few jobs, but they span over a period not far short of 30 years.

So Shoham may just about be the most experienced person on the Israeli wine scene. He has worked in vineyards and wineries, boutique wine shops and large chains. He has exported Israeli wine abroad and imported foreign wines to Israel. He has worked in purchasing, sales and marketing for the largest wineries and the smallest start-ups. He is the gypsy of the Israeli wine industry; but in each position he has worked, he has contributed far more than he has taken.

He certainly has a passion for wine and, like all wine people, he wants to talk wine. However, what makes Shoham different is the joy of wine, the enthusiasm and the sheer weight of knowledge. Certainly he likes sharing. One of his most annoying habits is to call me just after a tasting to tell me what a fantastic tasting he has been at. He will then reel off a list of fearsomely expensive wines and rare old vintages, just to make my jealousy complete. To rub it in that he was there and I wasn’t, he will then go on to describe wine by wine. But also like most wine people, he is exceedingly generous. I have also been privileged to be at one of these tastings, too.

Oded Shoham has now gone boutique again. He formed the company Israel Wine Experience, which is responsible for sales and marketing for some of Israel’s finest small wineries.

He markets Margalit, Clos du Gat, Avidan, Katlav and Shoshana wineries. He goes for small, individualistic wineries with unique character that aim for high quality. In addition, his company offers a magnificent service for tourists from abroad. He gives entertaining tutored tastings from a range of wines over and above the wines he represents. These can be kosher by request, and many of his tastings are made up of kosher wines only. He also lectures and gives tours to introduce, explain and celebrate the success that is Israeli wines.

The Israel Wine Experience is a dream for the tourist who comes once a year to visit family and is longing to do something different. Wine, as I often say, is the ultimate symbol of modern and ancient Israel.

Anyone who wants to get to know a different facet of Israel may do so through its wineries, vineyards and wine. I often encourage wine lovers to visit wineries or wine festivals. However, if time is short, it is also possible to bring Israeli wine to you wherever you are. Oded Shoham is the person who can bring the Israeli wine experience to a place near you.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.

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