By: Meni Peer
Published in Wine, Gourmet & Alcohol Magazine, Israel.
When Adam Montefiore of Carmel Winery received the prize for ‘The Best Wine’ of its category for Kayoumi Shiraz, at The Royal Opera House in London, he felt that he had closed a circle with his family in London and with Israel, the country where he made his home. Meni Peer tells the Zionist story.
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said that Sir Moses Montefiore was a forerunner of Zionism because of his efforts to get Jews to work for a living from the land. Seven times Montefiore visited Eretz Israel (‘The Land of Israel’). The first time was in 1827 and the last time was 1875, when he was already 90 years old. He lived until 101. Maybe it was because of his habit of drinking no less than one bottle of wine every day. He usually enjoyed Port, or ‘Claret’, the British slang for a red wine from Bordeaux.
The land he bought in Jerusalem was the first Jewish owned land outside the Old City. The plot was called ‘Kerem Moshe v’ Yehudit’ (Moses and Judith’s Vineyard). It was later renamed Mishkenot Sha’ananim and became the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. It was compulsory for every family that moved there to plant and grow vines and olive trees. Founders of the village of Gedera recognized the Montefiore’s love of wine and named two hills where vineyards were planned, Moshe’s Hill and Yehudit’s Hill, in their honor. In fact, the vineyards on Yehudit’s Hill were a success, whereas those on Moshe’s Hill did not survive.
The Montefiore Quarter in Tel Aviv was the site of the first Jewish owned orchard in modern times. Moses Montefiore purchased the land west of Jaffa, to encourage Jewish agriculture and this was the beginning of Israel’s citrus industry. In the diary of their second visit to Israel in 1839, Judith wrote about residents from Safed, who travelled all night in order to present the Montefiores with wine, which she recorded was: “very good.”
Exactly 150 years later, Adam Montefiore, great great grandson of Sir Moses’ nephew and heir, made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. By 1989 Adam Montefiore was already an experienced and knowledgeable person in the drinks and wine trade in Britain. When he made his intention clear to make aliyah with his wife Jill and three children, Liam, David & Rachel, his Grandfather advised him: “Don’t use the name Montefiore. They will think you are Rothschild!” In fact, Sir Moses Montefiore was a brother-in-law to Nathan Mayer Rothschild and they were also business partners. They were partners in finance, insurance and in bringing gas lighting to Europe. Moses and Judith did not have children and their nephew, Joseph Sebag Montefiore became their heir. Adam was not left with much memorabilia, apart from a few books, buttons with the family crest from Sir Moses’ coat and an original porcelain tea cup, which was shattered into tiny pieces by a cat the family used to have. The former family house of the Sebag Montefiores in Kensington, West London, became the permanent Israeli Embassy many years ago.
Despite the Zionist nature of the family, Adam was the first member of the English branch of the family to make aliyah. He previously worked in England for Bass Charrington (then owners of Alexis Lichine, Hedges & Butler, Augustus Barnet, Château Lascombes etc) and was manager of the Wine & Liquor Department for Bass Hotels (then Crest Hotels International, Holiday Inn International, now InterContinental). At that stage he was to witness firsthand the lack of knowledge about Israeli wine in England. They were not to be found either on wine lists or on the shelves of wine shops.
He began to work in Israel at Carmel Mizrahi. So many people in Israeli wine have worked at some stage at Carmel. It was then, like today, the largest winery in Israel. Then he worked for almost eleven years for the Golan Heights Winery. He returned to Carmel, by then renamed ‘Carmel Winery’, in December 2002. Today he works as Wine Development Director, which he says: “involves everything concerning wine that is outside the gates of the winery and vineyard”, with typical British humor. “The point is meant to be serious. Even if you make the best wine in the world, you won’t succeed if it is not marketed and presented correctly.”
More than 20 years after the wine revolution in Israel, through the efforts ofsmall boutique wineries like Yatir and the larger wineries, like Carmel, Israel is still not known enough as a quality wine producing country. This is the case, even though it is true there are quality restaurants beginning to stock Israeli wines. Adam explains: “We suffer from a double problem due to pre-conceived ideas. It is surprising how many people are amazed to hear Israel even makes wine and others are surprised the wines are even drinkable,” but as Adam continues: “…the image is still soured on one hand by those familiar with the Jewish world who assume Israel only produces sweet, oxidized, cooked wine (mevushal) for a Jewish market or by those more interested in politics than wine, who claim Israel destroys Palestinian villages to plant vineyards. Neither of these perceptions are close to the truth. So this award from Decanter will help to change the image as the winning wine was both Israeli and kosher!”
Nearly 11,000 wines from 41 countries participated in the Decanter World Wine Awards competition. Other Israeli wines were in the competition and received medals, but the Carmel Single Vineyard, Kayoumi Shiraz 2006 won The International Trophy ahead of all Rhone varieties from around the world, including French Syrahs, Rhone blends like Chateauneuf du Pape and Shiraz wines from Australia. Stephen Spurrier, chairman of the Decanter Judging Panel, said that Israel was the surprise of the competition.
……and Lior Lacser did not want to wear ‘Black Tie’.
I am not sure if the surprise win will turn the British into admirers of Israel. Traditionally they have a greater loyalty to Lebanese wines, especially Château Musar, and in England, Lebanese wineries are still better known than those of Israel. Though in America, it is true to say, the opposite is the case.
Those who saw Decanter’s video of the award presentation could not fail to have heard the loud whistle that accompanied the announcement that “the winner was from the foothills of Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee….” http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-video/498291/video-decanter-world-wine-awards-2010. When I asked Adam who it may have been, he answered: “I was so caught up in the excitement, that I did not pay attention. It was such a special moment.”
From the time he studied wine at the WSET, and became a founder member of The Academy of Wine Service, he worked to advance wine culture particularly in hotels & restaurants. “I remember one wine waiter telling me with pride that he sold a rare bottle of Burgundy for £1,000. This was never the sole objective as far as I am concerned. For me I get more pleasure from showing someone new to wine how to enjoy it by offering the right wine at the right price. The expensive wine will always find a home with those that can afford it. In my view our Carmel Appellation label of regional wines fulfills the correct criteria. Exactly at the right quality to attract those interested in wine, but at a price people can afford.”
Whilst working for the Golan Heights Winery in the 1990’s, Adam Montefiore organized ‘Pras Yarden’ (The Yarden Award for Wine Service). “One year I presented first prize to a young law student, by the name of Lior Lacser, who was then working at Dixie Restaurant in Tel Aviv. He followed this by studying winemaking at Beaune, in Burgundy and a few years later, arrived at Carmel Winery as chief winemaker. Fifteen years later, I couldn’t persuade him to wear a bow tie and tuxedo at the Royal Opera House in London. Anyway, who would have thought we would be invited together, representing Carmel, to receive one of the very top prizes? All this crossed my mind as we went up together to receive the glass Decanter Trophy, produced by Riedel, from Stephen Spurrier.”
He went on: “Many Israeli wines have received medals from Decanter and other competitions, but this prize outweighed them all. And believe me, I have been involved in a few other prize winning ceremonies in the past. When Yatir Forest 2003 was given the best score yet received for an Israeli wine by Robert Parker, I remember the reverberations both in Israel and abroad. However the surge of interest caused by the success of the Kayoumi Shiraz today, seems even greater. The reason may be that Yatir competed against other Israeli wines, whereas the Kayoumi Shiraz was pitted against the best in the world in its specific category, and was adjudged the best.”
“This closes the personal circle both for me, because I learnt to love wine in London and it was so special for Carmel to receive the biggest prize ever received by an Israeli winery, and all this in the year that we celebrated our 120th harvest. After the ‘tsunami’ of new boutique wineries, and the trend of thought that small wineries have to be better, it showed that size does not have to be a disadvantage. A large winery can also make handcrafted wines, of the highest quality.“
Adam feels like Elvis in Memphis when he conquers London
Adam Montefiore returned to London big time. He was pleased to point out that Israel is today receiving better awards and recognition than the other wine producing countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. ‘
He went on to tell me: “When I worked with Bass Hotels & Crest Hotels in particular, I succeeded in placing Israeli wines on the wine lists, alongside Lebanese ones. I therefore introduced an Eastern Mediterranean section to the wine list.”
The Lebanese wine was Château Musar, which was present on so many of the important wine lists in London. It was known as the Bordeaux of the Middle East.
Adam continues: “Owner Serge Hochar is a good friend, and I know and admire many of the owners of Lebanese wineries. In the 1980’s I organized a rare vertical tasting of Château Musar, for famous wine writers including Oz Clarke. My dream is that one day we can all taste together & visit each others’ wineries. Both Israel & Lebanon share a common terroir. Lebanon is more associated with French traditions, and Israel with advanced new world technology, but the similarities of the wine industries are greater than the differences. Who knows, one day we may even do regional tastings and represent together this unique ‘ancient, old and new world’ appellation of the Eastern Mediterranean!”
To the credit of the British, they may even be reading Adam Montefiore’s mind. In the special edition of Decanter Magazine announcing the results of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010, the chairman of the judging panel for the Middle East region, wrote: ”But in the broader perspective, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire Middle East were making more wine than war?” To this final thought, I say ‘Amen’.
The article was published by Wine, Gourmet & Alcohol, Israel’s leading wine magazine.
It was written by TV celebrity, Meni Peer, who has written about wine for many years for both the Maariv Newspaper and Gourmet Magazine. He is today Editor of Wine Gourmet & Alcohol.
In the Photos:
Adam Montefiore & Meni Peer talk & taste wine together, under the gaze of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, founder of Carmel Winery
2000’s: Adam Montefiore and Lior Lacser, both from Carmel Winery, receiving the Regional Trophy from Stephen Spurrier of Decanter.
1990’s: Adam Montefiore, then of Golan Heights Winery, presents The Yarden Award for Wine Service (Pras Yarden) to Lior Lacser
1980’s: Adam Montefiore with Serge Hochar of Château Musar from Lebanon and Oz Clarke