“The wine revolution is over” Guy Haran said to me. “Now we must begin forging an identity for Israeli wine, and wine tourism will be an integral part of this.” Haran is one of the young Turks of Israeli wine, part of the new, younger generation taking the wine industry forward. His expertise is broad, but his prime interest is wine tourism.
Wine tourism in Israel starts with one arm tied behind its back, and the restriction is self-inflicted. Wineries instead of being part of the agricultural scene, like everywhere else in the world, are tucked away in industrial estates. This is because the authorities see wine as an industry, rather than as an off shoot of agriculture.
In the world of wine tourism, we don’t have a natural agritourism like in Italy, where the local winery, vineyard, restaurant, hotel and olive press co-exist and blend into the nearby village. We can’t boast of sensational, breathtaking views, like in Stellenbosch, nor do we have a wine route seemingly designed for wine tourism, as in California’s Napa Valley.
We do however have a wine industry that connects the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, from the very beginnings of the Jewish people until today. This stretches back from Biblical times until the Start Up Israel of the 21st century. I always say it is possible to view Israel through the prism of its wines, wineries and vineyards. Through wine one can arrive at agriculture, archaeology, gastronomy, history, religion, technology, peoplehood and religion, and so much more.
When I first arrived in Israel, wine tourism amounted to a visit to Carmel Winery at Rishon Le Zion or Zichron Ya’acov. School children and soldiers used to go on a winery tour in their tens of thousands and leave clutching a mini bottle of grape juice or kiddush wine. This was a memory of so many Israelis of a certain era, which though remembered with nostalgia, scarcely gave a quality image to Israeli wine.
Since those early days, I personally have made a career of talking up Israel through its wine. I was proud to be working at the Golan Heights Winery, when they became the first winery to take tourism seriously. They were the pioneering winery in so many ways, but also in wine tourism. They were the first to understand it was important and that a visitors’ center was an integral part of a winery. They realized a wine tour had to be part entertainment, informative and part educational. They were also the first here to understand the importance of holding wine events and connecting wine with gastronomy. I suppose we, along with the rest of the wine world, all learnt that from the iconic Robert Mondavi and the Robert Mondavi Winery. The Golan Heights Winery visitors’ center reminded me of a Napa Valley winery, in style. Then, when they founded Galil Mountain Winery, it was even designed with the tourist in mind.
More specifically I worked in wine tourism when creating the Center for Wine & Culture at Carmel Winery’s Zichron Ya’acov Cellars. It was intended to be an innovative fusion of wine education and wine tourism. Amongst activities and cultural events, we hosted a seminar on Wine Tourism in Israel and held training workshops for tour guides wanting to specialize in wine. Unfortunately, though the name has endured, the lofty vision has not. However, my interest in wine tourism endures until today. I am partner in the Israel Wine Experience where we educate about Brand Israel, hosting visitors from abroad, with tutored tastings and winery visits. I have even lectured on wine tourism at Ramat Gan College and Ben Gurion University. It is though, but a drop in the ocean.
Each Israeli winery has its own charm. Many offer food, some offer a film and there are others that have their own unique selling points. I suppose the two outstanding pioneers in wine tourism in Israel are Assaf Winery and Tishbi Winery. Assaf Winery, at Kidmat Zvi on the Golan Heights, is part of the unique Kedem Wine Village which has high quality guest cabins, a spa, a restaurant-café, producing homemade food, along with the winery. Everything is run and managed by the Kedem family. It was founded by Assaf Kedem, wine grower, winemaker and winery owner, who had a vision and encouraged his family to follow and participate.
Tishbi Winery was founded by Yonatan Tishbi, 5th generation wine grower. His son Golan is now the winemaker and as he became more involved, the food side developed. He brought in a well-known international chef for the restaurant, began to represent one of the best prestige chocolate producers, initiated chocolate and wine tastings and also installed a bakery, a pizza oven and hickory smoked oven. This is a winery where wine is just one of the products available. They also sell jams and preserves, olive oil and honey produced by his sister, and ceramics crafted by his wife. Both Assaf Winery and Tishbi Winery are great models. They don’t only sell wine.
However, when I recently went to Tuscany and Portugal, I saw that every winery had a restaurant and most had accommodation. Sometimes, when I look at some of the internet sites or English catalogues, and the readiness of wineries to show an international face, I despair. We have so far to go. Those marketing wine regions or routes tend to be very Israel-centric, as though the only tourism is local.
We have three main established wine routes as I see it. Firstly, the north, which includes the Galilee and Golan Heights, then what I call the northern coast in the Mt Carmel, Zichron region, and finally the Judean Foothills and Judean Hills in the center of the country. To these I swiftly add the Central Mountains, which run down the spine of the country and the Negev, which have developed fast particularly since the turn of the millennium.
However, when I recently met Guy Haran, he was far more optimistic and chided me for my disparaging comments. He is slim, tall and young, with a mop of ginger hair. He has a European look about him and his parents’ roots are Romanian. He will normally be standing at events, quiet and slightly aloof, even shy looking, with a characteristic lopsided smile. However, underneath the cool exterior, there is steely countenance, someone who knows exactly what he wants. He has a well attuned international outlook, and a great attention to detail, rather than being a provincial Israeli, who blindly assumes everything will be ok.
Guy Haran has chosen to specialize in wine tourism because he knows it is critical to the future health of Israeli wine. He says we should be more proactive, stop moaning and start building. “It is up to us to take responsibility. It is all in our hands,” he told me. It was refreshing to hear someone with this outlook. He believes tourism is important for the country and wine tourism is essential for the wineries. He is certainly right about that. He explained: “Export and wine tourism are two sides of the same coin.” He told me that tourism, incoming and local, is both the key to increasing sales and consumption, and to marketing Israel as a quality wine producing country. He emphasizes we have a great country and need to learn to show it at its best and he is doing something about it.
He provides an active consultancy service for local wineries, regional councils and wine regions in how to gear up to the 21st century in marketing and wine tourism. What is good is that he not only knows what needs to be done, but is particularly keen to justify it by showing how it can work for them financially too. Investment is justified by results. To promote professionalism and raise the bar, he has organized an especially designed, educational tour for winery visitors’ center managers to Bordeaux. This will enable those in the heart of Israeli wine tourism to learn from their peers, and it will help create a sense of ambition and pride.
Haran’s international experience gives him a perspective that only boosts his credibility. Someone who knows his way around the world of wine, has a head start over the so called ‘expert’ who only knows Israel. Guy Haran is founder and CEO of Vinspiration, a company that deals with wine and culinary tourism. For wine tourists, he offers assistance on any level. This can range from giving advice on building a casual tour for a couple, family or group, to organizing every detail of a program for a large group. He has a team of expert wine guides, each of them specialists in different regions. They cover all the classic regions in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, as well as more exotic countries (wine wise), like England, Hungary and Slovenia. For any Israelis travelling abroad, this is your address. He is also developing a range of wine, culinary and gourmet tour modules for incoming tourists. Regular tourists, wine lovers, connoisseurs or those simply looking for something different to do, are all catered for.
Furthermore, Haran represents Israel at international conferences like Destination Vignobles, the IWINETC, the international Wine Tourism Conference and Must Fermenting Ideas. Such is the respect he generates, that he has been invited to make a presentation at the next IWINETC to be held in Friuli, Italy.
Guy Haran has steadily built up his knowledge and experience over the last ten years. He has graduated to level three of the WSET (the most famous wine school in the world) and is now studying for the diploma, which only seven Israelis have achieved to date. Before that, he was brand ambassador for Riedel in Israel, the most famous of all wine glass specialists. He was Haim Gan’s righthand man at Ish Anavim (The Grape Man), organizing and managing international wine tasting competitions, festivals, themed tastings and wine events. It was while there that he organized and led his first wine tours to the main wine regions of France, Spain and Italy, and became infected by the tourism bug.
He began his career with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, before slipping into the drinks business. Lior Lacser, ex winemaker of Carmel, was another who started in law, before turning to wine. Like so many, Haran’s first involvement with drinks, was as a barman. He opened the Jerusalem branch of Zman Amiti, the largest bartending school in Israel and gradually wine took over. He graduated to become the sommelier at the iconic King David Hotel, the 1868 Restaurant and was part of the founding team of Chef Haim Cohen’s Yaffo-Tel Aviv Restaurant. Whenever possible, he has always been an educator, firstly with Zman Amiti, then at The Grape Man and now he lectures at IWSI, the Israel branch of the WSET.
The wine tourism fruit is ripe for the picking. Already Tel Aviv has been branded as an ‘Outstanding Culinary Destination’ by Saveur, the gourmet food, wine and travel magazine. Then, Israel was listed as one of the ‘Top Wine Travel Destinations’ to visit in 2019, by VinePair. The latest third-party recommendation is from Forbes. They named Tel Aviv as ‘the Second Best City in the World’ to visit in 2020! The Export Institute is currently running a successful ‘Wines of Israel’ program in the USA. Large and small wineries are working together. Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism has made ‘Wine’ a key brand, which will be used to help market the country abroad.
The hope is that we can make the great leap forward in wine tourism, which we have already made in wine quality. With the help of the Guy Harans of this world, let’s hope wineries will understand that it is in their best interests to put wine tourism at the top of their objectives.
Wine trade veteran Adam Montefiore has advanced Israeli wine for over thirty years. He is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com