Wine Talk: Rise of the phoenix

Israel’s wineries have a history of reinventing themselves. Many of them are making the best wines since they were founded.

Carmel winery 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Carmel winery 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If the 1980s heralded the beginning of the quality revolution in Israeli wine and the 1990s the development of boutique wineries, then the first decade of the 2000s has witnessed the revival of the historic and traditional wineries of Israel. The Carmel, Teperberg, Binyamina, Segal and Zion wineries have responded to the industry’s advances by rejuvenating themselves. These famous wineries, part of the history of Israel, are today, without exception, making the best wines since they were founded.
Carmel Winery
The Carmel Winery has made notable advances. Founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, this was Israel’s first commercial winery. For 100 years Carmel kept the Israel wine industry afloat, but the wines did not develop with the times. However, in the past few years, a new management team at Carmel has changed both strategy and focus.
New vineyards were planted, particularly in the Upper Galilee, a new internationally trained winemaking team was employed, and new small stateof- the-art wineries were built (Kayoumi and Yatir). Zichron Ya’acov Cellars was totally refurbished. Carmel is still the largest winery in Israel, but production was reduced and it was decided to concentrate on quality.
The third-party international recognition of wines, such as Carmel Limited Edition, Kayoumi Single Vineyards, the Appellation regional wines and Yatir, show how far Carmel has come. These achievements confirm that Carmel has undergone a complete turnaround.
Teperberg 1870
The Efrat Winery was founded in 1870 in the Old City of Jerusalem by Rabbi Avrom Teperberg. The family, who learned to make wine in Hungary, had been beverage distributors since 1852.
For most of its existence, the winery was known for producing strictly kosher wines of every type for a religious market.
The company, though the fourth largest in Israel, was mainly known for its strength in the Jerusalem area and for its Badatz Eda Haredit kashrut certification.
However, in the last few years, Efrat has changed direction.
It took on internationally trained winemakers and built a new winery at Tzora. The winery was renamed Teperberg 1870, emphasizing the family name and longevity. It is Israel’s largest family-owned winery.
The winery has launched new wines that have received good reviews, particularly the Teperberg Reserve and Terra labels. The new presentation and the quality of the wines indicate a winery for which perception of quality has now become important.
Binyamina Winery
In 1952 Yosef Zeltser from Hungary decided to open a winery named Eliaz in memory of his son Eliezer, who was killed in the 1948 War of Independence.
The site of the winery had originally been opened by the Rothschild family as a perfume factory in 1925.
In the 1970s, Eliaz was the second-largest winery in Israel, but the focus was almost exclusively on basic wines. The winery, which has been through a few owners and was renamed Binyamina, was purchased two years ago by the supermarket chain Hetzi Hinam. The company has made large investments to refurbish the old winery.
The winery systematically changed the whole marketing image by relaunching each label in turn. Its top wines, which include The Chosen, Binyamina Reserve and a boutique wine called The Cave, have shown that this winery has not only turned a corner but that each vintage is also improving.
Another brand that has undergone a revival is Segal.
The Segal family, who were distillers in White Russia, settled in Tel Aviv in 1925. They founded Askalon Wines in 1950, which was later renamed Segal’s (Shel Segal). The wines were known for innovative labels, and their Ben Ami and Segal’s red wines were at the time regarded among the best in the country. However, there was a distinct decline in quality in the mid-1990s, and in 2001 the brand was bought out by Barkan, the country’s secondlargest winery.
Now Segal’s is marketed independently, even though the wine is made in Kibbutz Hulda at the Barkan Winery. Segal’s Single Vineyard wines and Segal Unfiltered are two of the best Israeli wines.
Zion The trend continues. Now the eighth generation of the Shor family, which owns the Zion Winery in Mishor Adumim, is starting to produce quality table wines, after 160 years of producing kiddush wine and grape juice. The Zion Winery recently launched two new boutique wines called 1848, in memory of the Shor Winery that was founded in 1848 in the Old City. This was Israel’s first recorded winery.
Quality is the new name of the game, and in the competitive wine industry of today wineries have no alternative but to sink or swim.
So the Carmel Mizrahi, Eliaz, Efrat, Askalon and Shor of yesteryear have been reborn as the Carmel Winery, Binyamina, Teperberg, Segal and Zion-1848 of today. This is important because their names are a reminder that the modern Israeli wine industry did not begin in the 1980s.
Yet the advances these wineries have made in the 2000s have shown that it is not only the new and boutique wineries that can produce highquality wine.
Adam Montefiore works for the Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.