The Terravino Lifetime Award 2019 goes to Eli Ben-Zaken, the owner-winemaker of Domaine du Castel. The Lifetime Prize, awarded by Terravino and presented by Haim Gan, is the main award of this type, for the individual who has contributed most to the Israeli wine industry. Haim Gan is the owner, creator and manager of Terravino and of Ish Anavim (The Grape Man). Terravino is the main international wine and spirits competition in Israel.
Eli Ben-Zaken was born in Egypt, studied in England, spent time in Italy and became a restaurateur. In 1992 he founded his winery, and as a confirmed Francophile, called the winery Domaine du Castel, and wrote the region on the label as Haut Judée, French for the Judean Hills. In 1995 Serene Sutcliffe MW, head of the Sothebys Wine Department, tasted the wine wrote it was the best Israeli wine she had tasted. In the late 1990’s the wines were Decanter Wine of the Month on different occasions. The winery grew to become a 100,000 bottle winery, and the old chicken coop at Ramat Raziel became one of the most beautiful wineries in Israel. In 2002 they made their first Kosher batch and in 2003 converted the winery to becoming fully Kosher. Amongst many accolades, Castel was the first Israeli winery to be given a Four Star top rating in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, and the Castel Grand Vin 2013 scored 94 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, a highest score ever for Israel, and 93 points on three separate occasions. Furthermore all their main wines regularly score over 90 points in the Wine Advocate.
In 2015 Castel, now with active participation of his three children, built a new winery at Yad Shmona and production grew to more than 300,000 bottles a year. It is arguably the most beautiful winery in Israel and arguably one of the most technologically advanced. Eli Ben-Zaken is a Zionist and patriot and immediately supported consortiums such as Handcrafted Wines of Israel to advance brand Israel, and later the Judean Hills Quartet, to advance the growing region. His passion, perfectionism, attention to detail and professionalism has been an inspiration to the wine industry in Israel. He has been the main pioneer for both style and quality, and the pioneer for the Judean Hills Region. Only this month the family have launched a new winery at the old Ramat Raziel site, called Raziel.
Eli Ben-Zaken is a very good choice as this year’s recipient of the Terravino Lifetime Award.