Ronnie James is no longer with us. He passed away on the night that Israwinexpo closed . The euphoria of winding down after a well-run exhibition, attended by many famous wine personalities, was shattered by hearing the news. There remains a sadness and hollowness throughout the whole industry.
Ronnie was a pioneer, but remained the same lovable, unspoilt character, not changed one iota by success. Thirty years as a grower, passionate about his vineyards, he supplied fruit to Carmel for years. Then in 1993 he became the first grower to open a boutique winery blazing a trail that was to be followed by many growers. He had faith in his vision and overcame many obstacles, but he succeeded in making this dream come true.
His wines had many successes. In one tasting conducted by Jancis Robinson MW a few years ago, his Ilan Misty Hills was judged Israel?s best wine. Fast forward to the first tasting by the Wine Advocate, only two months ago, and his desert wine , Or, received 92 points. This was worldwide recognition, up there with the very best Israeli wines.
His winery was the first kibbutz winery and he was the first to concentrate his winemaking efforts on finding an Israeli terroir. In his final years , after the cruel illness hit, he managed to organize the future of the winery, through the distribution with Shaked and recruiting a new young winemaker, Eran Pick. Due to his care and professionalism, the winery harvested nearly 100 tons in 2007 and is well placed for continued growth and development.
I knew Ronnie as a warm person, with an infectious sense of humor and an uncontrollable laugh. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Handcrafted Wines of Israel concept while it lasted. He was always kind, helpful and happy to talk about wine and share his passion with fellow wine lovers. My efforts to speak Hebrew and not so occasional use of the wrong word at the wrong time, used to give him endless amusement.
He was always a man of the soil. A ?salt of the earth? person, who became the ultimate wine man. He was loved by all who came into contact with him. The number of people currently working in the wine trade, who passed through and became touched by his passion and learnt from him, is true testimony to his legacy. It is reassuring that one of his sons continues his work in his beloved vineyards. As for Ronnie ? we love you and will miss you. Thank you for touching our lives and for enriching our wine industry.