Wine Talk: Wine Roots

Wherever Jews resided, there has always been wine made in the home.

THE MONTEFIORE Windmill, today the official tasting room of Jerusalem Vineyard Winery (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE MONTEFIORE Windmill, today the official tasting room of Jerusalem Vineyard Winery
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is a misconception that there was no wine made in Israel until Baron Edmond de Rothschild founded the modern Israel wine industry in 1882. In fact, wherever Jews resided, there has always been wine made in the home, and I was therefore pleased to discover a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem by Dani Biran that investigated the hidden roots of Israeli wine in the mid-19th century.
Biran is a tall, slightly stooped tour guide, journalist and author, with a large floppy hat that all real tour guides should possess. He was one of the first 10 paratroopers to storm the Old City in the brigade under the command of Mordechai “Motta” Gur during the Six Day War. His main claim to fame is that he raised the Israeli flag on the Dome of the Rock… and then was the one to swiftly remove it under the instructions of Moshe Dayan, who was defense minister at that time. Biran has become infatuated with wine tourism and did important work defining wine routes for the Tourism Ministry.
Jerusalem Winery's Windmill wines exclusively at the Montefiore Windmill.  (Courtesy)
Jerusalem Winery's Windmill wines exclusively at the Montefiore Windmill. (Courtesy)
We met at the Jaffa Gate and looked back at the beautiful “Kerem Moshe.” In 1855, Sir Moses Montefiore bought the first land for use in agriculture, an orchard in what is now the Montefiore Quarter in Tel Aviv, and the first neighborhood outside the Old City walls. The area had olive trees and wild vines and he named it Kerem Moshe (Moses’s Vineyard). It was later renamed Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe and became the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. Moses Montefiore was the first person to conduct a census of the Jewish population. This was important, as it was the first information received about the Old City inhabitants of the time. For instance, we know from it the number of people working in the wine and liquor trade.
Montefiore was the first to recommend that Jews should not live off charity but should work in agriculture. He outlined his vision in 1839. Whereas Mark Twain wrote that Palestine was a desolate place, Montefiore wrote in his diaries how beautiful the vineyards were. He recommended that people should plant vines to get a taste for agriculture. He was a wine lover who drank a bottle of wine every day and lived to his 101st year, an early tribute to the healthy properties of wine.
WE THEN walked to the Jewish Quarter and entered Yehudim Street. There I saw the plaque commemorating the first recorded winery founded by David Ginio in 1840. The family operated in the wine trade until the fall of the Jewish Quarter in 1948. They produced wine and arak. The Ginios were a Sephardi family, descended from Jews expelled from Spain. From there they settled in Salonica and came to Jerusalem at the beginning of the 19th century. The Ginios lived in the house and in the basement was the winery. Today the house is a secondhand bookshop run by an elegant, refined lady who showed us the secret entrance behind a movable bookcase and pointed out the trap door where grapes were lowered into the winery.
Mishkenot Sha'ananim, once called Kerem Moshe. (Courtesy)
Mishkenot Sha'ananim, once called Kerem Moshe. (Courtesy)
“The house should be a museum” she admitted. Nearby is the Cardo, and it reminded me of Yehuda Amichai’s poem “Tourists.” Please excuse me paraphrasing: “You see that arch from the Roman period? That is not important. To left is a man making wine for his family….”
We later saw the site of the Ginio liquor store just inside Jaffa Gate, near where General Allenby made his address on entering Jerusalem. The logo, a deer, similar to the one later adopted by Elite Arak, was visible inlaid in the paving in front of the shop until it was carelessly destroyed in renovations in the early 1990s. The family lived in Nahalat Shiva until 1957, and their house is identified by a plaque, with the family logo again in evidence.
Not far from the Ginio Winery is a car park, between Yehudim and Chabad streets. There is nothing externally visible, but this was where the Teperberg family founded their winery. The family saga began in 1827 when Avraham Teperberg fled Odessa to avoid serving in the army and arrived in Austria. There he came into contact with wine for the first time and picked up his German-sounding name. In 1850, he made aliyah to Jerusalem and in 1852 began trading in wine and spirits. Among his customers were not only Jews looking for kiddush wine, but Templers and other Christians looking for altar or communion wine “from the Holy Land.” His son, Zeev Zaide Teperberg, decided to establish a winery in 1870. Nothing visible remains, but the purchasing agreement for the Old City property is evidence enough.
Members of the Teperberg family were involved in distribution and retailing, with wine shops in Jerusalem and Jaffa. They were even partners in the initial founding of a distillery in Sarona. The winery moved to where the Egged bus station was and they had a shop in Mahaneh Yehuda, which went bankrupt and closed, reopening after the founding of the state. Today Teperberg is the third largest winery in Israel and the largest family winery. The CEO is Moti Teperberg, of the fifth generation.
NEXT, WE walked to the Muslim Quarter, where the Shor family made wine. The story began when Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galina made aliyah to Safed in 1835. He came from the Ukraine where watery wine was made by steeping raisins and real wine had to be imported from Hungary. After a few years, he was made head of the Tiferet Yisrael Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem population was sparse, poor and they needed wine for religious ritual.
Sir Moses Montefiore forerunner of Zionism & builder of Jerusalem.  (Courtesy)
Sir Moses Montefiore forerunner of Zionism & builder of Jerusalem. (Courtesy)
Therefore, his son Rabbi Yitzhak decided to start a winery. He married the daughter of Aaron Shor, who had a valuable wine license from the Ottomans, so the family changed their name and opened a winery in 1848. It was situated in a cellar on Hagai Street within the Rand House compound, adjacent to the Temple Mount and Western Wall. The family placed barrels along the wall so forgetful workers would not touch it by mistake.
In one of those wonderful coincidences, while visiting there with Biran, he received a telephone call from Rabbi Avraham Avish Shor, the historian of the family and the authority of the Karlin-Stolin Hassidic dynasty. He explained to Biran that the family members and their profession were shown in the second Montefiore census of 1848.
Of course, I went to visit him. He showed me a charming video of his late father, Rabbi Shmuel Haim Shor, giving a guided tour of where the winery was and the room where he and his father were born. He recalled that they were forbidden to go up the steps toward the Temple Mount for fear of desecrating the mount – and also because his parents were worried the children might be snatched. He recalled the pogrom in 1929, which hastened the move from the Old City. The family had already made plans to move to Beit Yisrael because the British prohibited any form of industry in the Old City.
We visited the cotton market where the indomitable Rosa Shor had opened a wine store in 1870. It was almost like a pub. She sold arak to Arabs, wine to Jews, and kept the 19th-century equivalent of a baseball bat nearby. Woe betide to anyone who caused trouble!
Later, the Shor family grew and split into four wineries. Today Arza, Hacormim and Zion continue to operate family-owned wineries that are still managed by the seventh generation. The fourth, Shimshon, continues with new ownership and a new name. Arza and Zion are among the 10 largest wineries in Israel and they have recently respectively launched Hayotzer and 1848 Wineries, producing premium table wines.
WE LEFT the Old City and visited Kerem Avraham (Abraham’s Vineyard) where the British consul, James Finn, situated the first vineyard in Jerusalem. It was planted by Jews and was for use by Jews. It was the first Jewish vineyard in Jerusalem. Grapes were normally delivered by a drove of donkeys from the expansive Arab-owned vineyards in Hebron. The rather grand house he built is still standing.
The tour ended at the Montefiore Windmill in Mishkenot Sha’ananim – Yemin Moshe. This was built by Moses Montefiore in 1857 to encourage work. The windmill is a symbol of modern Jerusalem. It is now the official tasting room of the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery, another historic winery. Yona Mendelson married into the Shor family and made wine. When the Shor family divided into different branches, the Shimshon Winery was founded by Mendelson and his Shor partners. In 1976, it moved to Atarot in the periphery of Jerusalem. Today it is owned by Ofer Guetta, who purchased it in 2006. It is the only winery remaining in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Vineyard Winery is also one of the 10 largest wineries in Israel. Its talented Canadian- born winemaker, Sam Soroka, has made a rare, limited handcrafted range of wines under a new Windmill label. I particularly recommend the deep, characterful Windmill Merlot and the rich, complex prestige Bordeaux style blend, called Windmill Yemin Moshe. These wines are available only in the Montefiore Windmill, where you can taste, receive an explanation and buy at good prices. If you are fortunate, hosting you there will be talented sommelier Jamie Sellouk, who manages the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery Tasting Room. Or you can enroll in one of his oversubscribed workshops, but whatever you decide, best to book in advance.
You can end the day as we did, sipping a Jerusalem wine in a beautiful setting, overlooking the Old City Walls while contemplating the roots of Israeli wine, where our wine story began nearly 180 years ago!
The writer has advanced Israeli wine for more than 30 years and is known as the English voice of Israeli wine.