When I came to Israel in 1989, there were just twelve wineries and four of the smallest and most insignificant ones, were known collectively as ‘the Jerusalem Wineries.’ The phrase referred to those traditional wineries, with roots in Jerusalem, which mainly produced ‘liquid religion’ (grape juice and Kiddush wine.) The wineries were: Arza, Hacormim, Shimshon and Zion. All of them can trace their beginnings back to the Shor Family Winery founded in 1848 on Haggai Street, in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The winery cellar was adjacent to the ‘Kotel Ha’Katan’, the Little Western Wall.
After 77 years in the Old City, the Shor Winery moved to Beit Israel in Western Jerusalem in 1925. It became known as AM Shor Bros. As the family grew, the two brothers decided to split the family business into two halves in 1955. One of them, Avraham Meir Shor renamed the core winery ‘Zion Winery’ and continued the family tradition of making wine. It remains Israel’s oldest existing winery. The second brother, Moshe Shalom Shor, founded Shimshon Winery, which undertook to produce only spirits. They both operated out of the same family owned home with a partition in the basement separating the arak distillation from the wine fermentation, but sometimes the all-pervasive smell of the arak would seep next door and affect the wine.
The Shimshon Winery was passed down to Moshe Shalom’s daughter, Tzippora Shor, who only passed away in 2022, and her husband, Yona Mendelson. They returned to making wine. In the meantime, Tzippora’s brothers, Yitzhak and Yechiel Shor founded Arza and Hacormim wineries respectively. The Shors are a Jerusalem family through and through, so they did not move far away. In 1976 the Shimshon Winery moved to Atarot, in the northern outskirts of Jerusalem. By 1982 the other three Jerusalem wineries had moved to Mishor Adumim, just to the east of Jerusalem, in the Judean Desert.
In response to the success of the Golan Heights Winery and the boutique winery boom, the large wineries finally responded in the early 2000s. They invested in new equipment and built new wineries to improve quality. Names representing the past, like Carmel Mizrahi, Eliaz, Efrat and Askalon (sic) Wines were jettisoned and replaced by Carmel Winery, Binyamina, Teperberg and Segal Wines as each sought to improve their image. However, the Jerusalem wineries were left behind, still catering primarily for an ultra-orthodox and a religious clientele.
However, in the last 10-15 years, the Jerusalem wineries have gone through their own quality revolution. They focused more on table wines, invested in quality, appointed experienced winemakers and proven managers, and rebranded. The first to break out of mediocrity was Yossi Shor, the 8th generation of the Zion branch of the family. He was the first to notice what was happening elsewhere. He thought the best way to join the ranks of quality wineries was to start afresh and found a new winery. 1848 Winery was duly established as a small boutique winery in 2006. His objective from the outset was making quality wines. In 2011 he employed as winemaker French born Ilan Assouline, who had studied, graduated and worked in Bordeaux. The experienced Dr. Pinny Sarig, one of the leading viticulturists in Israel, became an active consultant. The professional team was joined by David Gronich (ex-Carmel, Yatir) as Marketing & Export Director. The 1848 Winery labels celebrate the generations of the family. The 2nd Generation label is the entry level; the 5th Generation is mid-priced and the 7th Generation label is for ultra-premium wines. The flagship wines are the Reserve and Special Reserve labels. Now, with Yossi Shor as owner-CEO, they are today producing some very high quality wines. My favorites are their 5th Generation Cabernet Franc, which is in my opinion one of the finest Cabernet Francs in Israel; The Orient Red (an original blend of Marselan, Argaman & Syrah) is very subtle and elegant, in an ‘Old World’ style. The 7th Generation Argaman and Petite Sirah, both single vineyard wines, are excellent.
Shimshon Winery reached a low point when Shlomo Zalman Mendelson (Yona and Tzippora’s son) passed away in tragic circumstances. In 2006 it was purchased by businessman Ofer Guetta, who renamed it ‘Jerusalem Wineries.’ These days it is more known as ‘Jerusalem Vineyard Winery.’ They started their own move to quality in 2015 by appointing Erez Winner as CEO, Canadian Sam Soroka (ex-Carmel, Mony, Kerem Montefiore) as winemaker and Carmit Ehrenreich (ex- Golan Heights Winery, Galil Mountain) as VP Marketing. They made many changes and took the winery a long way. Now the talented Lior Lacser (ex-Head Winemaker of Carmel) is the CEO & Winemaker, and the experienced Carmit Ehrenreich remains at his side. Their wines have improved no end. If you are seek good value, the Premium SLB (Sauvignon Blanc) and Rose are two great summer wines; If you want rarity, the strictly allocated Windmill Project Carignan & Colombard are great ‘Old Vine’ expressions of our heritage varieties; and if you want prestige, the Windmill Project Petit Verdot Single Vineyard, is one of the best Petit Verdot varietals in the country. They can claim to be the last winery truly in Jerusalem, and their innovative visitors’ center is based at the Montefiore Windmill in the Mishkenot Sha’ananin – Yemin Moshe neighborhood, which is in the heart of Jerusalem. Their Premium label may be recognized by large abbreviated capital letters giving a strong hint of the varietal or wine style. Their main high end label is called ‘The Windmill Project’, because of the connection with the windmill.
The Montefiore Windmill was built in 1857 by Englishman Sir Moses Montefiore, who visited no less than seven times in the 19th century. He was a forerunner of Zionism and the first to urge Jews to return to agriculture, including planting vines. He was a wine lover who drank a bottle of wine every day and purchased the local wine when in the Holy Land. He met Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galin Shor, the patriarch of the Shor family, who was Head of the Tiferet Israel Yeshiva. It was said that Montefiore, who believed Jews should work and not live off charity, was one of the inspirations behind the idea to establish Shor Winery. Moses Montefiore founded Mishkenot Sha’ananim, which he initially called “Moses & Yehudit’s Vineyard.” It was the first new neighborhood outside the Old City Walls, which was to become the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. It is wholly appropriate that the Montefiore Windmill has become a focus for Jerusalem wine and the tasting room for Jerusalem Vineyard Winery.
Arza Winery, headed by Motti Shor, created change in stages. Firstly they appointed Philippe Lichtenstein (ex- Zichron Ya’acov Cellars) as winemaker in 2010. With the creative marketing ideas of Elchanan Shor, Motti’s son, they were the first winery to produce a wine with a QR code as the label, and they initially focused on Mediterranean varieties and blends. They then decided they would have to totally change the branding, so they created Hayotzer Winery in 2015. They put the wine in fancy bottles with shiny noticeable labels and they started to make some very good value wines, particularly in the mass market sector. As far as I can make out, wines above thirty shekels are under the Hayotzer brand, and below that, they are sold as Arza wines. Many of their Hayotzer labels have musical connotations. The entry level label is Bereshit and the premier label is Auteur, but in between are Danza, Virtuoso, Legato and Lyrika. Examples of their wines I recommend are the Lyrica GSM, Virtuoso Shiraz and Legato Chardonnay. Their Virtuoso Gewurztraminer is very popular and the fun new, jazzy Danza label is also very drinkable.
Zion Winery has also gone through a revolution. The equipment and technology of the winery, were totally updated, renewed and revitalized by legendary CEO, Moshe Shor z”l. The changes are extremely impressive. In 2020 they introduced a new look combined with new quality, but unlike the others, kept the historic name. Family member Zvika Shor, who took over from his father, is the winemaker, and the aforementioned David Gronich, is in charge of marketing. Their wines range from the entry level Imperial, then Estate, Capital, up to the flagship wine, Crown. Their wines represent great value across the range. My favorites are the soft, round Capital Merlot; the spicy, fruity Capital Lions Gate (Petite Sirah, Merlot & Barbera); a flavorful Estate Shiraz; the refreshing Estate Chardonnay and aromatic Imperial Sauvignon Blanc. For 175 years the owners, managers and even the winemakers have always been members of the Shor family, until today.
Of course you could probably distill the story of Israeli wine down to the exploits of three wineries: Carmel, the Golan Heights Winery and Domaine du Castel. Carmel with French experts founded an Israel wine industry. The Golan Heights Winery with Californian experts introduced New World technology and brought about the wine quality revolution. Castel symbolized the small and boutique winery boom. The Shor family may not have been in the headlines, but they were always there. They remind us that Israeli wine did not begin with Carmel or Yarden. The Shors played their part in the resettlement of the Old City. Impressively the family was Haredi, yet they spoke Arabic with their Muslim neighbors and fought in the IDF, experiencing heartbreaking losses in the War of Independence. Members of the family were involved with many joint ventures under the radar. For example with Carmel Oriental in their Cairo branch, in the Mikve Israel Winery and even initially with the Teperbergs in a winery called Efrat! There were winery names or brands that came and went like Eshkol, but basically the names remembered today, are the wineries that are still exist. The Shor family opened the first shop cum wine bar in the Cotton Market of the Old City, which was managed by the legendary Rosa Shor. She later became the first female manager of an Israeli winery when her husband passed away before his time and she managed the move from the Old City to Beit Israel. Most importantly the family continued to make wine generation after generation, passing the tradition from grandfather to son to grandson. Though no longer at the helm of the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery, different branches of the Shor family still own the following wineries and brands: 1848 Winery, Arza, Hacormim, Hayotzer, Schorr (sic) Estate and Zion Winery.
Without anyone noticing, Arza-Hayotzer, Zion Winery and Jerusalem Vineyard Winery have steadily grown, producing far more table wine (as a percentage of total production) than before. Each of them is now comfortably amongst the largest ten wineries in the country. Furthermore, 1848 Winery and Jerusalem Vineyard Winery are producing award winning wines of truly fine quality, whilst Hayotzer and Zion Winery are producing wines with very good QPR. These are the names that represent the new dawn of the Jerusalem wineries.
The writer is a wine industry insider turned wine writer, who has advanced Israeli wines for 35 years. He is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wine and is the Wine Writer of the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com