Talk about the Rothschilds and you will automatically think of finance, the arts and philanthropy. However scratch below the surface and then wine, the Jewish community and Israel comes to the fore as an ongoing thread through the remarkable family story. Their influence in the building of the State of Israel is unparalleled.
Some of the most fundamental institutions in Israel were founded with financial support from this most famous of Jewish families. The Knesset and new Supreme Court Building were funded by the Rothschilds. Some towns such as Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina were named after Rothschilds. These and others such as Rishon Le Zion and Caesarea, remain monuments to their support and generosity.
The Rothschilds, the world’s most pre-eminent wine family, have also had a lasting effect on Israeli wine. They created a modern wine industry, renewing a 5,000 year old tradition.
The three Rothschilds most relevant to Israeli wine are as follows:
Baron James Jacob de Rothschild (1792 – 1868)
The five arrows in the family logo symbolize the five sons sent by Mayer Amschel Rothschild from Frankfurt to the main capitals of Europe in order to found banks. The youngest son, James Jacob, turned out to be the most successful. He was sent to Paris. There he became the richest man in France, an advisor to two Kings and a man of power and influence to match his financial brilliance. He was known as ‘the Great Baron’.
His English nephew, Nathaniel, was the first Rothschild to enter the wine world by purchasing Château Mouton in Bordeaux in 1853. In 1868 Baron James purchased another famous winery Château Lafite for the Rothschild family. The naming of Zichron Ya’acov, which means ‘In Memory of Jacob’ was in his honor. So Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars is privileged to be named after the Rothschild, who bought Château Lafite for the Rothschild family.
Baron Edmond (Benjamin) de Rothschild (1845-1934)
Baron Edmond, the third son of Baron James, paid an important role in the history and development of Israel. He was known by David Ben Gurion as the ‘Father of the Yishuv’ and he spent close to 40 million francs purchasing and reclaiming land, supporting thirty new villages and sponsoring new agricultural settlements. Initially he was known as ‘Hanadiv Hayadua’ – The Well-Known Benefactor, because his donations were given anonymously.
In 1882 he began his involvement in Palestine by sending France’s finest agronomists to survey the land. He supported the new farming villages of Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov and then sent his own viticulturists to plant vineyards, which quickly became the dominant form of agriculture. He built the large wineries at Rishon Le Zion in 1890 and Zichron Ya’acov in 1892 and sent Bordeaux winemakers to make the first vintages.
His investment in Carmel Winery was 11 million francs – an enormous amount when set against the 4 million francs needed to buy Château Lafite Rothschild or the one million francs that Château Mouton Rothschild cost.
Today he is remembered as one of the founding fathers of Israel. When the shekel currency was reintroduced in Israel in the early 1980’s for the first time since Biblical times, each of the shekel notes featured one of the main founding fathers. Herzl, Ben Gurion, Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Montefiore & Baron Edmond de Rothschild were each commemorated. The 500 shekel note featured Baron Edmond and appropriately on the reverse side was a bunch of grapes.
Tishbi Winery was founded in 1985 by a family of growers, whose previous generations had planted vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880’s. In honor of the Baron Edmond, the winery was registered as Baron Wine Cellars Ltd. Only later was the name changed to Tishbi Estate Winery.
Baron Edmond died in 1934 and his remains were re-interred in 1954 in the State of Israel at Ramat Hanadiv, a place on the southern Mount Carmel slopes appropriately overlooking Zichron Ya’acov, Binyamina and Caesarea.
James Rothschild (1878-1957)
James Rothschild, the son of Baron Edmond, was French born, but went on to become a British citizen and even a politician serving as a Member of Parliament in England. However he inherited his father’s love of Israel and his generosity. He was a great friend of Chaim Weizmann, doing much of the groundwork with him that resulted in the Balfour Declaration.
In 1924 he was appointed by his father to manage and direct the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, known as PICA. He was therefore involved in founding the village of Binyamina, which was named after his father’s Hebrew name, Benjamin.
In 1952 PICA approved the formation of a new winery in Binyamina called Eliaz. This was situated on the premises of a perfume factory called Jasmin that was built by James Rothschild in 1925. Now Binyamina Winery is the fifth largest winery in Israel.
In 1957 just before his death, PICA was disbanded. James Rothschild donated the funds required to build the Knesset and both Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov wineries, were donated to Carmel. This brought to an end the Rothschild involvement in Israeli wine, which had lasted from 1882 to 1957. However his foundation, Yad Hanadiv, continues to this day to support both Jewish and Israeli causes.