WineTalk: Leading the way

A pioneer of wine tourism in Israel, David Perlmutter is both a professional tour guide and a wine geek.

Leading the way (photo credit: Courtesy)
Leading the way
(photo credit: Courtesy)
David Perlmutter is slightly schizophrenic in that one day he is a tour guide, and the next he is a wine geek.
Sometimes he manages to combine both worlds, and it is this that makes him a pioneer of wine tourism in Israel.
To him, being a tourism guide is a profession.
It is a licensed job, and qualifications are absolutely essential. He despises the amateurs who pose as tourism guides without a license and the necessary insurance. He says these people give the industry a bad name.
Perlmutter is an experienced tour guide who has hosted VIPs and dignitaries on behalf of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, Keren Hayesod, the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish National Fund.
He specializes in Christian pilgrim groups, outdoor (hiking and biking) and nature tourism, culinary and gourmet tours… and winery visits. In recent years, the needs of the wine industry and the visiting tourist have converged at a nexus called wine tourism, and that is where his abilities and expertise are the most relevant.
He is at his best and most creative when designing an original, personal, private tour for discerning visitors who think they know Israel fairly well.
He made aliya from New York in 1982 as a 22-year-old and was already in the army during the First Lebanon War. He had agricultural experience at Kibbutz Einat, where he was responsible for growing avocados.
He has a master’s degree in political science.
The first turning point for him was when he took his Tourism Ministry tour guide course in 1987/88. As expected for someone who loved ancient and modern Israel, he took to the new profession like a duck to water. He had passion in abundance, loving to share what he knew, and he took great pride in teaching people new things. He was a born tourist guide.
The second turning point was his awareness of a growing attraction to the world of wine. This was a world that interested him.
He loved the connection that wine and winemakers have with the land and, of course, wine represented all the things that captivated him as a guide about the country. The people, the place, the history, the archeology were also present in wine, which he says represent the culture of the land.
Naturally, he benefited by the fact that the Israeli quality wine revolution was taking place at exactly the same time; and as he became more knowledgeable, he was aware that Israeli wine around him was developing, too.
He realized that wine represented not only the advanced technology of Israel today but also the birth of the Jewish people in biblical times. It was also a fun subject that people enjoyed tasting and talking about. On a personal level, he began to learn about wine with the same fervor that he learned to be a tour guide. His fascination drew him in deeper.
Gradually he began to add wineries to tour schedules and immediately noticed how positively his clients reacted. He wryly observes that people almost invariably come out of a winery happier than when they went in.
I first met him on one of those early winery tours 20 years ago. Even then, I realized that this was someone who commanded respect.
So the tourism guide and wine professional gradually metamorphosed into Israel’s most professional wine tourism guide. The Tourism Ministry noticed this.
When the recognized Wine Tourism and the School of Tourism ran a specialist Wine Tourism Course, Perlmutter was chosen to be the professional coordinator. He also participated as a lecturer at the Center for Wine Culture’s Wine Tourism Course held at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Cellars.
However, like with all wine people, the passion to learn and taste never leaves. (In fact, people say the more one learns, the more one is aware of how little one knows.) Perlmutter regularly reverts to professional wine-lover mode and can be seen at formal tastings, exhibitions and wine shows. He blogs about wine and has strongly held opinions, which are usually based on knowledge, not hearsay.
He even recently participated in an advanced technical wine-tasting course to sharpen his palate and to keep up to date.
This course was held at Ariel University and was taken by winemaker Ido Lewinsohn of Recanati & Lewinsohn Winery fame.
It is interesting to get Perlmutter’s views on the current wine scene. Today he sees Israel not as part of the Old World, as represented by France or Italy, or the New World, represented by California and Australia, but as part of a fascinating Ancient World. He points out that this was the cradle of wine production and the birth of wine culture.
He thinks the dominance of CabernetSauvignon in Israel is a little passé and believes in Syrah/Shiraz as being the new quality variety of Israel. He particularly likes the Tulip Reserve Syrah and the Binyamina Choshen Syrah. He believes in Mediterranean varieties and particularly likes to tell the story of Carignan, the first international variety to be planted in Israel.
He mentions the Somek Carignan as one of his favorites.
Perlmutter has now become a wine tourism guru, offering advice to wineries on how to increase wine tourism. He enjoys focusing attention on Israeli wineries by bringing tours of groups, families or private individuals on specialist tours that shine a light on this unique, new, ancient world of Israeli wine.
He is fiercely professional but a quiet individual. Not for him the role of the loud, garrulous guide, full of jokes and always wanting to be center of attention.
No, he sees his job as giving added value, to uncover what not every guide will show.
He does not suffer fools gladly and sets very high standards for himself. Knowledge and factual information rule his world. He is not one for telling the good story that is light on facts and truth.
He is in contact with most of the wineries and knows most of the winemakers.
The busy winemaker not available for any tourists will try to make himself available if Perlmutter makes a request.
He keeps up to date with wine by being in the vineyards regularly, tasting, reading everything, and he interacts with the wine world like the fully fledged member of the Israeli wine world that he is. He is a keen photographer and writes his blog, which often has interesting views and insights.
I believe wine tourism is crucial to the future of Israeli wine. If the Israeli wine brand is to make the breakthrough in export sales, it will partly be due to the incoming tourists that have tasted Israeli wines at home and return to become brand ambassadors abroad.
Likewise, if consumption within Israel is ever to increase, it will be partly by introducing more and more Israelis to the magic of wine when sampled in the place where it is made or where it comes from, within the setting of a winery or vineyard.
I also firmly believe that it is possible to get to know Israel through the prism of its wines, wineries and vineyards. Scratch the surface of a wine map, and you will find a complete Israel with all its qualities, characters, peculiarities and variety.
So yishar koah to David Perlmutter and to the David Perlmutters everywhere who put wine tourism on the map.Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. [email protected]