Wine Talk: Advancing ‘Brand Israel’

A US consortium of Israeli wineries is making a splash worldwide.

The Wine Route at Binyamina311 (photo credit:
The Wine Route at Binyamina311
(photo credit:
The United States is Israel’s largest export market for wines, with more than 50 percent of all Israel’s exports going there. It is also the country with the largest potential for Israeli wine. The US has something like 5.5 million Jews, and there are more than half a million Israelis living in America.
Until now, Israeli wineries have not worked together to advance the Israel wine brand, apart from the pioneering Handcrafted Wines of Israel. This consortium of 10 wineries was set up and managed by Carmel in the early 2000s. This was the first time Israeli wineries worked together.
Now Royal Wine Corp., of New Jersey, has set up the Israel Wine Producers Association (IWPA) to market Israeli wines in America. Royal Wine is owned by the Herzog family. It owns the Herzog Wine Cellars in California and Kedem Winery in Upstate New York and is the largest importers of kosher wine in the world. More significantly, it is the largest importer of wine, spirits and food from Israel and the largest distributors of Israeli wine in the New York and New Jersey area.
The IWPA includes 15 Israeli wineries, from large to small and old to new. They represent a cross section of Israel’s wine industry, covering every possible angle of interest.
The group includes some of the largest wineries in Israel, such as Carmel Winery, Barkan-Segal and Binyamina. Carmel is the largest winery in Israel and the largest winery in the world that produces kosher wine. Barkan is the second-largest winery in Israel and is owned by Israel’s largest brewery, Tempo Beer Industries. Binyamina is Israel’s fifth-largest winery and is owned by the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain. The three wineries together make up a fair slice of the local wine market.
Some of the IWPA wineries are an integral part of the history of Israeli wine. The Shor family opened the first recorded winery in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1848. Today, the ninth generation of the family owns and manages Zion Winery. Carmel was founded in 1882 by the Rothschilds, who owned the famous Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux, France. Carmel was Israel’s first commercial winery. Segal and Binyamina were founded in the 1950s after the establishment of the State of Israel. The Segals were distillers from White Russia, and Binyamina was founded by Joseph Seltzer, an immigrant from Hungary.
The IWPA also includes some of Israel’s finest small wineries, such as Castel, Yatir and Flam. They are regarded as being part of the elite and among Israel’s finest boutique wineries. The list also contains some of Israel’s newer, younger wineries. For instance, Alexander and Bazelet Hagolan, which were founded in the 1990s. This was the period the boutique winery boom began in Israel. Psagot, Tzuba and Shiloh were founded in the 2000s, and Domaine Netofa was founded as recently as 2009. Behind each winery is an owner, who is also likely to be the winemaker, making wine with commitment and passion.
The wineries in this consortium cover the map of Israel from the Golan Heights to the Negev. There are representatives from all the main wine-growing regions, including the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee, Mount Carmel, the Judean Plain, the Judean Hills, the Samaria Hills and the Negev.
In the Golan, the main pests are the wild boars, which love to gorge on the sweet, ripe grapes. In the Negev, roaming camels treat vines like salad, virtually eating them down to their roots. Whatever the stories of place or people, the selected wineries that form the IWPA are from a wide enough spectrum to cover them all.
The current success of generic wine bodies such as Wines of Turkey and Wines of Lebanon in the UK illustrates how the formation of this consortium is overdue. The IWPA will now be able to market the color, variety and flavor of the Israeli wine scene. They have understood that what I refer to as “Brand Israel” is no less important than the labels of the wineries themselves.
Israel is a New World country in one of the most ancient wine-growing regions.It is situated in the Eastern Mediterranean, the cradle of the grape, where wine culture began. Before the Greeks and the Romans of ancient times, and well before the Italians and French of today, the inhabitants were making wines in ancient Israel.
The renewal started in the 1880s due to the finance and vision of a Rothschild. The beginnings were built on the foundations of French expertise. The quality revolution began in the 1980s with the importation of New World technology from California. It continued until the 2000s when Israel began to gain the third-party recognition it deserved from the world’s most famous wine critics. The result is that Israel today is one of the newest of the quality wine-producing countries. Now, for the first time, the high quality matches the rich history. The IWPA provides a platform to showcase the best of Israel.
Wine of the week:
The Cave 2008 is a Bordeaux style blend made from 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels in a cave in the Carmel Mountains. The wine is full-bodied, rich, full of ripe berry notes, sweet vanilla and a backdrop of tobacco and coffee. It is an impressive wine that comes in an impressive bottle, which feels as heavy as a magnum.
The Cave is the boutique winery that belongs to Binyamina, one of Israel’s largest wineries.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.
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