Wine Talk: Father figure

From winemaker to winery owner, Israel Flam has had a career that spans more than four decades.

Israel and Golan Flam in their vineyard 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel and Golan Flam in their vineyard 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel Flam, one of the principal father figures of the Israeli wine industry, has been in the wine business for more than 42 years. During this time he has witnessed enormous changes in the wine scene in Israel. He was the winemaker of Carmel, the country’s largest winery. Now he is part of a small family winery run by his sons and is seeing the wine industry from a totally different perspective.
Born in Russia, Flam and his family made aliya when he was two years old after World War II. After serving in the paratroopers in the IDF, he joined the the Israel Wine Institute. When he decided on winemaking as a career, he traveled to South Africa to study at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and completed his studies at the Oenology and Viticulture Department of the University of California at Davis. It is now expected for a serious winemaker to study oenology abroad. Flam was the first young winemaker to do so.
He returned to become part of the winemaking team at Carmel, being at the winery when it produced the first Israeli varietal wines. From 1974 to 1995 he was in charge of wine production at Rishon Lezion Cellars, then the country’s largest winery. He was involved in the production of the famed Carmel Special Reserve wines of the 1970s.
In 1995 he took over from Freddie Stiller and became chief winemaker and technical director of Carmel Mizrahi.
This meant he was responsible for harvesting up to 30,000 tons of grapes and managing the winemaking of Israel’s two largest wineries of Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya’acov. If that were not enough, he was also responsible for the production of items as diverse as wine, grape juice, brandy, vodka, arak, liqueurs, wine vinegar and olive oil.
Many of the newcomers managing boutique and small wineries have little idea of the logistics involved in managing operations on such a gigantic scale.
In his later years at Carmel, Flam became part of the rejuvenation of this traditional company. He managed and developed a team of younger winemakers and was the liaison with Peter Stern, the famous Californian winemaking consultant, who starting advising Carmel in 2002.
Flam oversaw the building of Carmel’s new boutique wineries to prepare the company for the future. These were Yatir Winery at Tel Arad in the Negev, built in 2000; Kayoumi Winery at Ramat Dalton in the Upper Galilee, built in 2004; and the facility for upperlevel wines built at Zichron in 2003.
Flam has encyclopedic knowledge about the wine industry. It was therefore appropriate that he was elected chairman of the Forum of Israeli Winemakers that existed at the time.
After giving the main part of his working life to one company, he is now part of the family business, helping where he can. Flam Winery, founded in 1998, has been a great success. The small winery is owned and managed by his sons, winemaker Golan, Gilad and daughter Gefen.
Golan is the winemaker, having studied in Italy and worked in Australia.
Gilad, a lawyer, is responsible for the business and marketing. Their mother, Carmi, is the CFO, keeping the finances under strict control. It is truly a family affair.
Flam Winery is considered one of the best wineries in Israel, but this is only one part of the family business. They are also wine importers, with a company called Hagefen that specializes in the wines of Italy. The two businesses are run side by side and can be considered complementary. Their success in producing world-class wines, combined with their successful importing business, must be a source of great pride for Flam. He is there, part of the team, but never interfering. He is quick to give all the credit to his children, who have built the two businesses on their initiative and skills alone.
The Flams show great attention to detail in every aspect of their winery, be it in the area of winemaking, business or marketing. They have the same approach for the presentation of the wines, written material and the design of their beautiful winery in the foothills of the Jerusalem hills. The whole operation is marked by intelligence, a pursuit of quality and professionalism.
Israel Flam is a winemaker who has a breadth of experience that is rare in the wine world. On one hand, he has produced 30 million bottles a year in the largest winery in the Middle East. On the other, he has played a part in one of Israel’s finest boutique wineries. It was the largest in Israel producing non-kosher wines; but from the 2010 harvest, Flam wines will be kosher. Judging by Castel, its neighbors, whose wines became kosher in 2003 with no discernible decline in quality, Flam wines will continue to be among the finest in Israel.
Today Israel Flam has earned the right to spend time with his grandchildren.
He is the father figure of the Flam Winery.
However, he is also the elder statesman of the Israeli wine industry, possibly the only person to have witnessed all the changes that have taken place during the most exciting period in the history of Israeli wine.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international publications.
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