Wine Talk: The enabler

Professional, wise and curious, Charles Loinger was responsible for much of the upgrade in local winemaking in recent years.

Golan Heights Winery 311 (photo credit: Golan Heights Winery via Bloomberg)
Golan Heights Winery 311
(photo credit: Golan Heights Winery via Bloomberg)
Charles Loinger seems as young and as energetic as ever. As a sprightly 90-year-old, he talks as fast as ever, with all his characteristic passion and enthusiasm.
He speaks in French-accented Hebrew with the occasional French word thrown in for emphasis. Hard to think that he retired in 1986.
Loinger was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1920. He decided to become an agronomist and later specialized in wine, studying in Montpellier.
He had always intended to go to Israel but got sidetracked and ended up in Uruguay because of the war.
He ended up staying there 20 years but gained experience of viticulture and winemaking in another country.
The story of his youth, his interrupted studies, his love affair with his wife, Sally, whom he met when he was 11 years old and has been married to for 70 years, is well worth hearing. It is a story of love, determination to study at all costs and ultimately to fulfill his Zionist dream of being an agronomist in Israel.
He made aliya in 1963 and was immediately head-hunted to take control of the young Israeli Wine Institute in Rehovot. When Loinger arrived in Israel, most of the popular wine was sweet. He began a process of experimental plantings and wine making on a small scale to test different varieties and clones. He wanted to bring international varieties to Israel, knowing that the country did not have indigenous varieties. Loinger also hosted Cornelius Ough from the University of California, Davis. It was on Ough’s second visit that he recommended the higher altitude Golan Heights as being suitable for producing quality wines.
The first varieties he imported to Israel were Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Sauvignon had been in Israel since Baron Edmond de Rothschild insisted on planting it in the 1880s, but though it still existed, Loinger notes it had been largely forgotten.
As a result of Loinger’s efforts, Cabernet Sauvignon was replanted in Israel. Sauvignon Blanc became Israel’s most planted variety for making dry white wines. Merlot and Chardonnay arrived in the 1980s.
Loinger was also responsible for bringing over Colombard, Emerald Riesling and Petite Sirah from UC Davis.
These you might think did not contribute much to the quality wine revolution in Israel, but each found a place and played a part.
Colombard (known as French Colombard in Israel) became Israel’s largest planted white wine variety.
Loinger said he brought it because of its excellent acidity.
He also brought over Emerald Riesling because of its aroma. Emerald Riesling, a cross between Muscadelle and the German Riesling, was developed at UC Davis in 1948 and it succeeded nowhere else but in Israel.
It became the wine of choice for all those Israelis who found dry white wines too sour.
Petite Sirah was brought over for its color and structure.
The many wineries now making Petite Sirah wines have Loinger to thank for his foresight.
Other winemakers who became famous in their own right started under Loinger’s wing. Koby Gat was an important part of the Carmel Winery’s winemaking team for many years. He describes Loinger as “professional, wise and very curious, always seeking to learn more.”
After his retirement, Loinger gave wine courses, imparting to the next generation his passion for wine and his sheer enthusiasm for the subject. Countless students of his later became wine lovers or wine professionals.
Today Loinger looks back and summarizes three main stages of Israel’s quality wine revolution. The first was bringing international varieties to Israel. “Without quality grape varieties, you can’t make good wine,” he says.
The second revolution was the founding of the Golan Heights Winery. He points out that this was the first time an Israeli winery dictated to the grower what to plant and when to harvest.
The shift in the decisionmaking process from grower to winery was, in his opinion, the pivotal aspect of the winery-led revolution.
He sees the third revolution as the increase of boutique wineries. This meant the Israeli wine industry came of age, and it was the new competition that encouraged the large wineries to change as well.
He is pleased to see the reemergence of Carignan. “I always thought Carignan had potential if yields were reduced. The problem was that in those days, wineries worked with Carignan precisely because the yields were so high.”
Israel has been making wine for 5,000 years. However, the most exciting period has been the last 30 years. It was the groundwork laid down by Charles Loinger, behind the scenes and without much fanfare, that enabled Israeli wine to prosper and focus on quality.
Today’s wine industry should be grateful to the Frenchman from Strasbourg who came to Israel to lay the foundations by bringing quality grape varieties to Israel. Chapeau bas to Charles Loinger!
Wine of the week: Adir Shiraz 2009
Adir Shiraz 2009 is made from 100% from Shiraz grapes, grown in the Upper Galilee. The fruit in this wine is very concentrated, with hints of cassis and tobacco. It is full bodied with the effect of oak aging very apparent, and it is quite high in alcohol at 15%. It needs to accompany a big steak. Adir is a relatively new winery founded in 2003 by two families. The extremely attractive visitors center in the Ramat Dalton Industrial Park caters to visitors of both the Adir Winery and the Adir Dairy. Price: NIS 90.
Adam Montefiore works for the Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.