? ?Towards the end of the 1990?s the quality revolution that had swept Israeli wine, had seemingly passed Carmel by. Whilst still the largest winery by far, and still very dominant in the mass market, Carmel Mizrahi ?had sat on its laurels and not changed enough to counter the new quality of others.
All this changed over a 15 year period due the actions of three CEO?s. Success has many fathers and credit should be given where it is due. Avraham Ben Moshe, the managing director from 1887 to 2002, may be credited with two decisions that were to benefit the revolution that was to come after his departure. Firstly the planting of vineyards in the Upper Galilee from 1998 onwards was crucial to the success. This was a brave move because Carmel?s vineyards up till then, were based in the coastal regions of Mount Carmel and the Judean Shefela. Today, most of Carmel?s quality wines, including its leading Carmel (Limited Edition, Single Vineyard) and Appellation labels come from the Upper Galilee, showing the foresight of this decision.
Secondly it was Ben Moshe?s idea to open a small winery at Tel Arad. Who would have thought that an area surrounded by Bedouin and camels, would be the site of production of some of Israel?s finest wines? It was initially referred to as Ramat Arad Winery, and it was to be Carmel?s own boutique winery. It was set up as a 50% joint venture between Carmel and the growers of the region. The Ramat Arad vineyard, next door to where the winery would be, had been planted in 1988 and the first vineyards in Yatir Forest were planted in 1996.
David Ziv took over as CEO in 2002. He was realistic about Carmel?s position and creative. He took immediate action to correct things. He employed Peter Stern as winemaking consultant. Peter Stern had been the winemaking consultant for 20 years for the Golan Heights Winery. He brought in new winemakers like Lior Lacser and Sam Soroka. Lacser had studied in Beaune and had worked in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Australia. Soroka graduated from Adelaide University and had worked in Australia, California, France and Canada.
He then built new small, state of the art wineries at Carmel?s Zichron Ya?acov Winery in 2003 and the Ramat Dalton Winery (later renamed Kayoumi Winery) in 2004. He came out with the new idea of single vineyard and regional wines. The first regional wines from the 2001 vintage and the first single vineyard wines (2001 and 2002 vintages) were launched in 2003. It was very symbolic that Carmel the mass market winery, usually making huge blends at its wineries, reverted to making small quantities of handcrafted wines in the vineyards.
Ramat Arad Winery was renamed Yatir Winery. The first vintage was 2001 and the Yatir wines were launched in 2004. From the beginning the underlying principle was that it was an independent winery with its own manager, winemaker and vineyards.
At this time, wine critics first started noticing something was happening with Carmel wines. Wines like Zarit Cabernet Sauvignon and Ramat Arad Cabernet Sauvignon received good scores for the first time ever from Israel?s premier wine critic, Daniel Rogov. To represent the new focus on wine quality, the company was renamed Carmel Winery in 2004.
However during the beginnings of the quality revolution, all was not peaceful at the country?s oldest commercial winery. There were financial losses a few years in succession. So in 2005 a new person was appointed. Israel Ivzan, z?l, became the new Chairman of the parent company, SCV des Grandes Caves. ?At the end of 2006, he was also appointed CEO of Carmel Winery.
By implementing his well-known management skills and using his immense experience, he managed to effect real change. He brought stability and order to this historic company and was largely responsible for a turn around in its fortunes. He introduced a new management structure, new procedures and returned the winery to profitability. At the same time he also continued the improvements in wine quality and oversaw a soaring in the winery?s image.
In 2005, he stopped production of all fringe products so Carmel could concentrate on wine. The production of spirits, liqueurs, gourmet food products and olive oil, ceased almost as soon as he took over. The number of wines produced was drastically reduced and the main labels went through a program of renewal. Selected, the largest selling brand in Israel, Private Collection, once known as ?Rothschild?, and Carmel Single Vineyard wines, all received new brand identities and new labels during his tenure. He launched the two flagship wines of the winery. Carmel Limited Edition, a Bordeaux blend, was first launched in 2006 and Carmel Mediterranean, a Mediterranean inspired blend, was launched in 2010.
He consolidated the relationship between Yatir Winery and Carmel. The 50% share was changed to 100% ownership by Carmel, but he still gave Yatir the winemaking independence crucial to its success.
In 2007, at the annual Israeli Oscars for wine, the Kayoumi Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 and the Kayoumi Shiraz 2003 both won gold medals at the annual Eshkol Ha?Zahav wine tasting competition. People were beginning to realize something had changed at Carmel.
Ivzan closed Carmel?s traditional visitors? centers at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya?acov Cellars and opened the original and innovative Carmel Center for Wine Culture at Zichron, in their place. In 2011, the Rishon Le Zion Winery was closed as a production center and the center of winemaking operations moved to Zichron Ya?acov. There, the winery was totally renovated at a cost of 30 million shekels, in order to bring the winemaking technology into the 21st century. The new technology may be seen set within the historic buildings founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
Carmel became a pioneer leading the way in the new use of Mediterranean varieties, including reviving grape varieties such as Carignan and Petite Sirah and coming out with its Mediterranean style blend. The winery also became known for making wines in an elegant, old world style as opposed to the oaky, high alcohol, more bombastic styles common at the time.
The rewards came in third party recognition at the highest level. For example, the Carmel Single Vineyard Kayoumi Shiraz 2006 won the Decanter International Award in 2010, arguably the finest award ever received for an Israeli wine. When the Robert Parker?s Wine Advocate (the world?s number one critic), first tasted Israeli wines, Yatir Forest 2003 scored 93 points. This was at the time, the highest score received for an Israeli, Eastern Mediterranean or Kosher wine. Carmel Limited Edition twice received 91 points in Robert Parker?s Wine Advocate and Carmel Mediterranean twice received 90 points.
The leap in quality of Carmel wines was a credit to the direction the winery took under Ivzan?s leadership, who built on the foundations of his predecessors. Whilst his control was absolute in every aspect of the running the company, the winemaking and professional departments were given total support and leeway to make the right decisions in the search for ever improving quality. Unfortunately he passed away after a short illness in February 2013, but the new Carmel is a testament to his work. His memory is a blessing.
The old Carmel still exists. This is the historic winery where three Israeli prime ministers have worked, and where the first electricity and telephone were used in Israel. Israel?s first brand and first exporter, Carmel has made wine in three centuries, under the Turks, the British Manadate and the State of Israel. However the new Carmel is making wines to match with some of the best in Israel.
?Now a change of ownership will propel the winery forward again. After 107 years as a wine growers cooperative, Carmel was purchased by a consortium of private investors at the beginning of 2013. The next chapter of this historic company has still to be written, but the new ownership will enable the winery to continue the journey onwards and upwards.