Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate recently tasted ten-year old Israeli wines. Interestingly, the best scoring wines were Carmel Limited Edition 2008 and Margalit Cabernet Franc 2008. Both scored 92 points. It was an interesting reminder of two important wineries in the Israel wine story. Carmel is the historic winery of Israel and Margalit was the first quality boutique winery.
Carmel was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, an owner of Chateau Lafite. The winery has made wine in three different centuries. Three prime ministers of Israel worked there and Israel’s first ever use of electricity and the telephone was at the winery. In 1906 it became a cooperative under the name SCV des Grandes Caves. For over 120 years Carmel was the largest wine company in Israel and Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov Cellars were the two largest wineries.
Carmel may be summarized by a number of iconic brands like Selected, Private Collection, Tirosh Grape Juice and King David Kiddush wine. The quality side of Carmel was represented by names like Kayoumi, Yatir (a subsidiary), Mediterranean and Limited Edition.
Carmel Winery was in 2013 purchased by an international consortium. The Rishon Le Zion Winery was closed, and Alon Tabor, where the bottling plant and operations are now situated, was opened in its place. Zichron Ya’acov became Carmel’s main winery. It was established in 1892 and it remains Israel’s oldest industrial building (and winery) still in use, with the deep underground cellars built by Rothschild. Since being under new ownership, the winery has suffered with numerous changes of CEO, almost one a year for an extended period, plunging sales and a declining image. Barkan Winery overtook Carmel and became Israel’s largest winery. Lior Lacser, one of Carmel’s most successful winemakers ever, was replaced.
The new team has now been in place for a couple of years introducing welcome stability. This includes Nadav Arens, the CEO and Yiftach Peretz, the winemaker. Both had contact with Carmel before their appointments. Arens is from a grape growing family, which was part of the SCV (Agudat Hacormim). Furthermore, Nadav’s father was on the management board of the wine growers’ cooperative for many years. Nadav whilst being CEO of Strauss Coffee, was also on the board of Carmel. Yiftach had been part of the winemaking team at Zichron Ya’acov under Lacser. He left to join Binyamina Winery, and has now returned to Carmel as Chief Winemaker. The fact they both have previous knowledge and experience of Carmel in the past can only be beneficial.
Under the new management though, the winery seemed to change direction and focus only on mass market, inexpensive wines. These included the old soldier Selected, a reasonably new brand called Buzz and the newly created labels Excellence and Mojo. Observers could have been forgiven for thinking Carmel was only interested in supermarket wines.
This week though, Carmel have launched its 2017 vintage flagship wines with new heavy bottles, new labels and a new brand name. It is certainly welcome that the winery has returned to give focus on its quality wines and a brave move to change the iconic labels of their two prestige wines.
Paradoxically changing a label of a well-known brand does not always work. Carmel has had a lot of personnel changes in the 2010’s, and as a result, the Selected label has been changed numerous times, not always resulting in increased sales. On the other hand, a winery like Teperberg changed logo and labels with great success. Interestingly, the truly successful wineries very rarely change labels. Examples? Yarden, Recanati, Castel, Clos de Gat, Margalit and Yatir. They don’t have the need to constantly reinvent themselves.
Carmel Signature is the new umbrella brand under which the upper level wines will be labelled. The first wines with the new look are Limited Edition and Mediterranean. The Carmel Limited Edition is a Bordeaux style wine made mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon along with other Bordeaux varieties. It was first made in 2003 and launched in 2006. It became the prime example of Carmel making better wines. The 2008 and 2014 received 92 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, the highest score Carmel has ever received from this influential newsletter. The label featured a drawing of the original building of the Rishon Le Zion Winery.
Carmel Mediterranean is a Mediterranean style blend made mainly from Syrah and Carignan. It was first made in 2007 and launched in 2010. The 2016 wine won a gold medal and scored 96 points in the Decanter World Wine Awards. This label showed a drawing from a plan of Zichron Ya’acov Winery. (In each instance, the award winning wines mentioned, were made by ex-winemaker Lior Lacser.)
Now Carmel has launched Limited Edition 2017 and Mediterranean 2017. Both are in new heavy bottles, with new labels and they will be marketed under the new brand Carmel Signature. The Limited Edition is made from 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% merlot, 13% Petit Verdot and 8% Malbec. Recommended price is NIS 230. The Mediterranean is made from 41% Syrah, 22% Carignan, 20% Mourvedre, 8% grenache, 7% Tannat and 2% Viognier.
It is possible the new management stability has stopped the rot and good days have arrived in Israel’s historic winery again. Time will tell.
Photos: Eyal Keren; Carmel Winery