Fresh new Israeli wines now available in US
A Bite in the Apple
A Bite in the Apple
Winemaking in Israel dates back 5000 years, but for many outside the kosher Jewish market, Israeli wines are still a discovery. A new Wines of Israel U.S. marketing campaign overseen by the Israel Export Institute aims to create a fresh identity and broader appeal with two themes: “Fertile Crescent Meets the Mediterranean” and “Grains, Grapes and Olives.” Both capitalize on Israel’s ideal climate and location for making wine and growing consumer interest in the Mediterranean diet and Israeli cuisine. The four-year initiative is financed in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Economy and the Wines & Grape Board.
“Wines of Israel’s mission is to introduce Israeli wine to both the wine trade and consumers across the country, offering educational tools and experiences to increase interest. Our message is that Israel is a Mediterranean wine region which produces quality wines that deserve recognition, inclusive of both the kosher and non-kosher sectors. Wines of all kinds and all quality levels, from the humblest to the finest, can be kosher, and being kosher must not be seen as a sign, positive or negative, of craftsmanship,” said Yaara Shimony, Manager, Wine & Fresh Produce, Israel Export Institute.
Wines of Israel’s first event was held in September at Union Park Events in Manhattan with a day of master classes and a walk-around tasting featuring 27 producers and importers held exclusively for 300 retail and wholesale beverage industry professionals and members of the media. A similar evening tasting at the same location attracted more than 260 consumers from different backgrounds and denominations. Guests for both events enjoyed selections of breads and mezze from Lamalo, Nur, and Bread’s Bakery.
While more than ninety percent of the participating wines at the tasting were kosher, the organizers underscore that the campaign’s intention is to focus on the quality and diversity of Israel wines for all wine consumers and not exclusively the kosher Jewish market.
“We want to establish a clear identity and sense of place for Israeli wines in the same way chefs like Zahav’s Michael Solomonov have created a broader appreciation for the diversity of Israel cuisine. The wines represented are all distinctly Israeli, and more than ninety percent at the events happen to be certified kosher, but not all wines in the campaign all are kosher. Our only concern is the quality of the wine and its appeal in the general wine marketplace,” added Michael Colangelo, a principal at Colangelo & Partners, the U.S.-based wine marketing agency managing the program’s execution.
Gil Shatsberg, winemaker and executive vice president, Recanati Winery Vered and Erez Ben Saadon, proprietors, Tura Winery. She is the winemaker.
Establishing a Sense of Identity and Place
The size of New Jersey, Israel has 250 wineries among five registered wine regions: Galilee, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills, and the Negev. Each has sub-appellations with diverse micro-climates from the semi-arid Negev to cooler climate high altitude regions like the upper Galilee. More than 120 grapes are cultivated, including rediscovered ancient native varieties such as the white Marawi, and reds Bittuni and Argaman.
Sommelier and educator Eric Segelbaum led two master classes for the trade. The first focused regionality and terroir; the second on smaller artisanal producers. Segelbaum pointed out that growing conditions among many of Israel’s sub-appellations are on par with other renowned wine regions such as Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône Valley in France, and the wines produced offer comparable quality and better value.
The panel of sommeliers and educators addressed strengths and challenges. Panelist and Master Sommelier Kathryn Morgan said she was surprised to see Israeli wines bundled as “other wines” along with selections from India and China at a wine competition she judged rather than standing on their own merit. Sommeliers Yannick Benjamin and Jim Clarke both underscored Israel’s under-appreciated yet significant viticultural contributions to sustainable farming practices such as vine stress metering and underground drop irrigation.
The panel also addressed historical watersheds for Israeli wines starting with a nod to Château Lafite-Rothschild’s Baron Edmond de Rothschild who brought the first grape cuttings from Bordeaux to Israel in 1882 to begin making wine. Eventually his estate became historic Carmel Winery. Other milestones throughout the 1980 and 1990s occurred when Yarden’s Golan Heights Winery invested in advanced winemaking technologies and recruited California winemaker, Victor Schoenfeld, considered a pioneer in the country’s modern wine history. More recently in the twenty-first century, some independent producers are focusing on small batch artisanal wines. Examples among the nine wines tasted at a second master class on Israel’s garagiste movement included: Segal Winery (Galilee), Gvaot Winery (Shomron), and Tura Winery (Judean Hills).
Importers I spoke with are supportive for the campaign’s mission but also noted a few challenges, including selling to Jewish wine buyers.
“You still need to convince Jewish wine merchants that Israeli wines are of high quality and important enough to buy and sell. Many grew up drinking mediocre, sweet Passover wines, and that is their context. These retailers are not necessarily looking for Israeli wines and need a reintroduction to appreciate their potential in the market,” said Haim Hassin, owner of Solstars Imports, which carries both kosher and non- kosher wines.
Still overall, participating wineries were happy with the enthusiastic response among attendees and the road ahead, “We are pleased that new and different crowds have arrived and are sure it will be a significant step for Israeli wines in the United States," commented Vered Ben Saadon, Owner, Tura Winery.
The program continued with events and tastings continued in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles and includes participation in high-profile wine and food festivals in Newport (RI), San Diego and other markets. Retail and restaurant promotions are also planned and a social media campaign and YouTube video series are also underway.