By: Mira Eitan
In 1884, a year before his death, Sir Moses Montefiore, then 100 years old, made his last donation to the new village of Rishon le Zion, birth place of the modern Israel wine industry. Over 100 years later a young Englishman with blue eyes made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. The great, great grandson of Moses Montefiore’s heir had the same objective – to contribute to Israel and to advance Israeli wine. He began by specialising in the ‘on trade’ – hotels & restaurants – and then worked to progress the exports of Israeli wineries. This is the story of Adam Montefiore – The Ambassador of Israeli Wines!
CONTINUING THE FAMILY TRADITION
The roots of the Montefiore family began in Italy in a small village called Conca Montefiore. At the end of eighteenth century the family immigrated to England. One of the children was Sir Moses Montefiore, known from all the history books of Eretz (the land of) Israel as a philanthropist & founder of the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. He was wine lover and we are told that he drunk a bottle of wine every day. When he came to Israel / Palestine he tasted the local wines and wrote even then, that Jews should plant vineyards & produce wine. Moses Montefiore put his thoughts into action by purchasing the first land to be owned by Jews with the express purpose of encouraging agriculture.
The Sebag family arrived in England from Mogador (Essaouira), Morocco over 200 years ago and became related to the Montefiore family by marriage. Sarah Montefiore, Moses’ sister, married Solomon Sebag. Moses Montefiore himself had no children, and when the time arrived, he looked to find an heir. He decided that the nephew he liked most, Joseph (son of his sister Sarah), would be most likely to continue his work but a condition was that he changed his name. This was how Joseph Sebag became Joseph Sebag Montefiore. From Joseph, a large family grew with children, grandchildren etc. One of direct descendents was called Adam!
In 1884, a year before his death, Sir Moses Montefiore, then aged 100 years old, made his last donation to Israel requesting that it should go to the new village of Rishon le Zion (then a settlement, today the 4th largest city in Israel.)
Over 100 years later, a young Englishman, with shining blue eyes landed in Israel. He was the great, great grandson of Joseph Sebag Montefiore and arrived for the same reason – to contribute to Israel and to the Israel wine industry. This is how the story of Adam Montefiore began at Carmel Winery (then Carmel Mizrahi) in 1990.
CHILDHOOD & WINE IN ENGLAND
Adam Montefiore was born in Kensington, West London to a famous Anglo Jewish family. As a young man, he lived in London with his three brothers, two of whom are today well known writers. After finishing his studies, and he searched for work experience. Adam, a practical man, wanted to enter the real world. In the end he did a Business Management course at Bass Charrington. This was then the largest brewery & drinks company in England, the largest hotelier in the world and they had extensive wine interests. Originally he had no connections with the drinks world, but there is a certain drinks culture in all Englishmen through the traditions of the English pub.
However Adam found himself absorbed in this new world, initially studying beer, and then wines & spirits. He learnt about production, how to taste and finally about the drinks market and took the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) courses & exams. England was a good place to learn about wine and Bass Charrington owned the Augustus Barnett chain of wine shops, the Bordeaux negociant, Alexis Lichine and wine & spirit shippers Hedges & Butler. They also owned Chateau Lascombes in Margaux and were agents for Chateau Mouton Rothschild.
He began as a regional sales manager selling wines, spirits, beer & soft drinks and learnt about the food & beverage world through the Bass public house, hotel & restaurant interests. Eventually Adam became director of Wine & Liquor Development for Bass Hotels (then Holiday Inn & Crest Hotels International, now called Intercontinental Hotels) responsible for the purchasing, marketing & selling of wine within the hotel group.
He was also responsible for compiling wine lists and wine education for wine waiters & sommeliers. He became known for the variety & quality of his wine lists and for the competitions he organised for sommeliers. He was a founder member of the Academy of Wine Service, formed to raise the standards of wine service. Eventually, in recognition for his work in this field he was eventually made an Honorary Member.
In this position he had the opportunity to work with wines from all over the world
and in the mid 1980’s he came across the wines of the Golan Heights Winery for the first time. He saw the big improvement in Israeli wine and was quick to put Israeli wines on the wine lists of sixty Bass Hotels throughout England.
THE LAST ZIONIST
He enjoyed his job in England, but something was missing. He had a nice house in a Cotswold village in Oxfordshire, England, but it was important to Adam that his children were brought up in a Jewish environment – difficult abroad. His family was very Zionist – so the only place to go was Israel! Adam had visited Israel seven times as a tourist, liked the country, the history, the food & the people. He was prepared to give up everything to make aliya and immigrate to Israel.
To make aliyah is difficult especially for a couple with three children, (Liam was then 13, David 6 & Rachel 3) without work or job offers & without knowledge of Hebrew. Adam was not sure if he would find work where he would be able to use his expertise in wine, but despite this, thought the risk well worth taking. In November 1989, he arrived in Ra’anana, which became his roots in Israel. Adam liked the country immediately. For the rest of the family it was more difficult and took longer.
He looked for a place within the wine industry but at that time there weren’t so many opportunities. He was in contact with all the wineries but to no avail. He then looked for work systematically in other drinks companies, food companies & hotels. After six months of searching, he finally received an answer & accepted an offer to work with Carmel Mizrahi with both hands. He was made responsible for Hotels & Restaurants – an area he was familiar with from his work in England.
AT WORK IN ERETZ HA’KODESH – THE HOLY LAND
Initially, Carmel was unsure whether or not to take him on. On the one hand, they saw a person with a knowledge & experience from the world of wine that no-one else could match yet. On the other hand he did not have the language. In the end, Avraham Ben Moshe, CEO of Carmel, decided to take Adam after weighing up what he could offer. Carmi Lebenstein , Sales and later Marketing Director, did not hesitate to warmly recommend Adam because she recognized the great potential. “I knew Adam could make a great contribution to the company” she said. “I took the responsibility to help him with the language, and wrote his letters for him in Hebrew. That’s how it began.” Adam was responsible for being the wine consultant for restaurants & hotels and began to get a reputation for the advice & assistance he gave. Much of his time was spent compiling wine lists in new stylish & informative ways, teaching people how to sell wine and also on wine education for the professional market.
His professionalism was appreciated by hoteliers & restaurateurs. “From Adam I first learnt it was possible to speak about wine for days on end without a break!” said Carmi. “All my memories are good – he was professional, a nice person, fun to be with. It was difficult for him to cope with the Israeli mentality at first, but he eventually adapted.” Carmi complimented him for pioneering wine by the glass, which did not exist previously, in order to overcome the customers’ opposition to the quantity & price of a bottle. He also taught waiters how to sell the second bottle to those that were prepared to buy.
Adam worked for Carmel for two years, learnt to be ‘Israeli’, studied the language & the local wine market. Wanting to progress & develop, he then moved to the Golan Heights Winery as Market Development Manager. From 1992 he dealt with sales promotions, training & tastings – concentrating as before on the ‘on trade.’
In England he had organised sommelier competitions with the participation of famous wine & food personalities. In Israel he started ‘Pras Yarden’ – The Yarden Award for Wine Service, which he organized & managed for five successful years. This was the first competition for wine waiters in Israel. Professional wine service improved year on year. He also organized the country’s first ever sommelier course with an emphasis on his special interest, matching food & wine.
AMBASSADOR OF ISRAELI WINE
In 1994, he became Export Manager firstly only for Europe, then later International Marketing Manager worldwide. To his regret he gradually gave up the education & training role, but he was able to devote himself to exporting Israeli wines.
He started the job, which was in effect ‘The Ambassador of Israeli Wine,’ marketing Yarden, Gamla and Golan wines. During a three year distribution agreement, he also worked with Tishbi Winery and later he was involved with the early years of Galil Mountain. Shalom Blayer, Managing Director of Golan Heights Winery from 1998, who worked with Adam for five years said: “Adam Montefiore is a man of wine culture. We did not have this sort of person in Israel; he was someone who understood all aspects of the business & knew how to deal in wine. In addition his knowledge increased all the time.” Shalom continued: “Adam is an encyclopedia about wine – there is no book or magazine about wine that he doesn’t know. His legacy to us was the professional library he set up. He has an interest & awareness of the written history & presentation of wine, which is not usual amongst Israelis. I enjoyed working with him & respect him. He is a good friend.”
After nearly 11 years at Golan Heights Winery, he returned to Carmel, where there were many new developments, including a new CEO & a new atmosphere of change. Adam was put in charge of the Export Department as International Marketing Director.
David Ziv, CEO of Carmel Winery, commented: “I am pleased Adam has returned to where he began. He has come home. Adam brought with him, both previously & now, his knowledge & experience. He gave us a great deal at the beginning, did excellent work at the Golan Heights Winery, and has returned to give more. Apart from his professionalism, he has excellent contact with people, an understanding of marketing and the ability to provide quick management solutions. Adam is also very modest. I see in him a very serious business partner in all the changes we are making.”
David Ziv adds: “I think he has a future in other things not just marketing.” Adam adapts quickly & we are happy he is with us.”
One of their first innovations was to form ‘Handcrafted Wines of Israel’ – a consortium of the finest boutique wineries in Israel (Amphorae, Bazelet ha Golan, Castel, Chillag, Flam, Hamasrek, Margalit, Saslove, Tzora, & Yatir wineries) which Adam set up & managed, to advance Israel as a quality wine producing country abroad.
Adam is an expert on our region. He obviously knows the Israel wine industry, but has special interest in the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean including Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey. He believes that maybe Israel is too small to be noticed on its own. However if you take the Eastern Mediterranean as a wine region, it could create new interest. Adam says: “There has been a revolution in wine in the southern & eastern Mediterranean. We are in the heart of the most historic wine region. Israel & Lebanon are similar in size; the food & geography are similar. One day I hope we can work more together.” To promote awareness of this region and encourage the pursuit of quality, Adam arranged sponsorship of: ‘The Carmel Trophy For The Best Producer in the Eastern Mediterranean’ at the International Wines & Spirits Competition in London.
He says “Israel will always keep its place in the kosher world, but a lot of work is required if we are to be effective in the general wine market. I am very proud to represent Israeli wine. We make some really high quality wines.”
If you could change something Israel, what would you do? : “The lack of pride in Israeli wine bothers me. It annoys me if local journalists write only about imported wines and when restaurants do not give enough attention to Israel wines. We should support & cherish our own as happens in other countries.”
“We have a great range of wines in Israel, different grape varieties & terroirs, and young people who have learnt abroad have returned to further develop our industry. I am proud to be a small part of the revolution but this is not enough. Missing is the pride in the national product and this I want to change.”
Whereas during the nineties, Adam Montefiore was an integral part of the team that built the successful brand of Yarden, since December 2002 he has been part of the rejuvenation and renewal of Carmel, and the launch of Yatir, one of Israel’s most exciting new boutique wineries. During his time in Israel he has been involved with the launch of some of Israel’s most famous wines like Yarden Katzrin, Galil Mountain Yiron, Carmel Limited Edition and Yatir Forest and been part of many of the positive changes that have occurred in Israeli wine. Now he is Wine Development Director of both of Carmel Winery and Yatir Winery.
In his spare time, Adam continues to write articles about wine for both Israeli and international publications. He wrote the forward and main essays in ‘The Wine Route of Israel’, the chapter on wine in ‘The Book of New Israeli Food’ and the main text for ‘Wines of Israel.’ He wrote the sections on ‘Israel’ and ‘Kosher’ for The Oxford Companion To Wine by Jancis Robinson. He also continues to contribute to Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, as he has done for many years, and readily supplies information on Israeli wine to other famous wine journalists, always trying to advance the Israel brand.
However though a passionate advocate of Israeli wine, he is not complacent. “We are on a journey. Don’t look where we are now. Look where we were 20 years ago and think where we may get to in the next twenty years!”
Mira Eitan is the editor of Wine & Gourmet, Israel’s premier wine magazine.
She originally wrote this article for www.israelwines.co.il and updated it for www.wines-israel.com