We have recently celebrated some important anniversaries: 30 years of Domaine Castel and Tzora Vineyards; 40 years of the Golan Heights Winery; 70 years of Binyamina Winery and 140 years of Carmel Winery. Zion Winery beats them all. It is this year celebrating its 175th anniversary. Contrary to what many believe, modern Israeli wine did not begin with Carmel Mizrahi. Zion Winery was founded in 1848 by Rabbi Yitzhak (Galin) Shor in Haggai Street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The Galin family were Karlin Hassidic Jews from Ukraine. They made Aliyah in the 1830s and moved to the Holy Cities of Safed and Tiberias. The name was thought to be Galin, but an old stamp in the family’s possession shows the name as Galina. (This may be the difference between the feminine or masculine version of the same name.) After the earthquake, they moved to Jerusalem and the patriarch of the family, Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galin was appointed Head of the Tiferet Israel Yeshiva.
Here there is a family interest. Sir Moses Montefiore, the most important visitor to Jerusalem of the period, had written in 1839 that Jewish residents of the Holy Land should work to earn a living instead of living off charity. He suggested they returned to agriculture and encouraged the planting of vines and olive trees. When Montefiore arrived in Jerusalem he was introduced to local VIP’s and met Rabbi Mordechai Galin. It seems the Galins were impressed and inspired. Rabbi Yitzhak, Mordechai’s son, then a young man, decided to found a winery. Here they met with what appeared to be an insurmountable problem. They needed a license from the Ottomans, which was almost impossible to procure. However, by a stroke of luck, Rabbi Yitzhak’s brother-in-law, Baruch Shor, did have a license to trade in alcohol. So, they were able to use his license and also, decided take his name. Therefore, from then on, they became known as the Shor family. The word Shor in Hebrew means a bull.
The winery cellar backed onto the Little Western Wall, and they placed barrels strategically so no one would inadvertently touch it. They purchased grapes from Hebron, dealing with the same Arab grower for decades, and using those same indigenous varieties people are talking about today (Hamdani, Jandali, Dabouki etc). The grapes would be brought to Jerusalem from Hebron in a drove of donkeys. Most of the wines they made were sweet and they were sold in small barrels. The dry wines were described as “sour.” Bottles were rare and difficult to come by. If a family were lucky enough to have one, they would send the daughter of the house to refill it whenever needed. This was because the boys were studying and the men were working. She would then return with a piece of cloth covering the bottle to preserve the Kashrut from prying eyes and to avoid inflaming the Muslim street. Anyway, the Shors spoke Arabic as well as Hebrew, and were thoroughly acclimatized to the cosmopolitan world of 19th century Jerusalem.
The Shor family in a way symbolized the resettlement of Jerusalem. When Moses Montefiore visited Jerusalem for the first time, Jews were a minority in the Old City. By his last visit, there was a clear Jewish majority. In 1855 Montefiore purchased the first land outside the Old City Walls. It was stony, sparse and covered with wild vines and olive trees. So, Montefiore called it “Kerem Moshe and Yehudit” (Moses & Judith’s Vineyard). Part was renamed Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1860, and the remainder, Yemin Moshe, in 1892. Mishkenot Sha’ananim was the first neighborhood outside the Old City Walls, and became the cornerstone of modern or Western Jerusalem. Montefiore also purchased the first land for agriculture, the ‘Montefiore Orchard’ then in Jaffa, which became the Montefiore Quarter in Tel Aviv. He was a wine lover who drank a bottle of wine every day. On his visits here he tasted “Hebron wine” and bought small casks as a souvenir to take home. It is quite probable he drank wine from the Shor family winery. Ironically and appropriately, the first evidence that the Shor family were in the wine trade surfaced in the Montefiore Census, commissioned by Moses Montefiore.
The most famous personality of the Shor family was the legendary Rosa, wife of Shmuel Shor, the third generation. She founded the first ever wine bar cum shop in the old Cotton Market, which rises to the Temple Mount. It was called the Hamara of Rosa. She was apparently quite a character. She would offer arak and wine to the locals, and keep order with a 19th century equivalent of a baseball bat always handy. When Shmuel passed away before his time, Rosa took over the management of the winery. After 77 years in the Old City, the winery was forced to move. The British decided to ban industry from the overcrowded residential area, and in 1925 the Shor family winery moved to Rappaport Street in Beit Israel, in Western Jerusalem. Rosa lived opposite the winery which was both a winery and home. Members of the family lived on the first floor, the ground level was the winery, and the third level was the cellar. Rosa was the first female General Manager of a winery. The next would not be until the 2000s. It was an impressive milestone, especially in the Haredi world.
By the founding of the State of Israel, the winery was managed by the Shor brothers, Avraham Meir and Moshe Shalom. These days many ultra-orthodox do not serve in the army, but the Shor family did. Unfortunately, in the War of Independence, they experienced three tragic losses which shook the family to the core.
As the family grew, the brothers decided to split the business in 1955. It was agreed Avraham Meir would continue producing wine at Zion Winery. Moshe Shalom Shor undertook to leave the wine business and produce spirits. His business was named Shimshon Winery. It was a totally amicable arrangement and they continued production in the same building with a partition separating the two businesses. Youngsters of the time recall sometimes the aromas of arak would waft into the winery area.
Zion Winery continued to make wine as it had since 1848. Shimshon Winery was passed down to Moshe Shalom’s daughter Tzippora and her husband Yona Mendelson. They returned to make wine and today under new ownership, it has been renamed Jerusalem Vineyard Winery. Moshe Shalom’s sons, Yitzhak and Yechiel, each also decided establish new wineries. After a few false starts and joint ventures, they eventually respectively founded Arza and Hacormim Wineries in the 1950s. 1848 Winery was separately founded by Yossi Shor in the early 2000’s. He was from the 8th generation of the Zion branch. Comparatively recently, Arza started marketing their wines under the name Hayotzer Winery and Hacormim decided to produce table wines under the brand name Shorr (sic) Estate.
After 134 years in Jerusalem, Zion Winery moved to Haruvit Street in Mishor Adumim, in the outskirts of Jerusalem in 1982. This is in the beginnings of the Judean Desert. At the time it was regarded as one of the so called “Jerusalem Wineries” producing mainly liquid religion (grape juice and Kiddush wine) for the Orthodox community in Jerusalem. When the late Moshe Shor z’l took over as CEO, he began a total refurbishment of the winery, investing in state-of-the art equipment. As such the winery made the same move to quality that Carmel Mizrahi, Eliaz, Efrat and Askalon (sic) did when they respectively changed their names to Carmel Winery, Binyamina, Teperberg and Segal. Zion Winery today is unrecognizable from what it was and extremely up to date and impressive. We first noticed the change when Zion Winery snapped up four gold medals at the Terravino competition held in Eilat in 2007. It was the first sighting of a winery on the rise.
Today, Zion Winery has grown to become the 6th largest winery in Israel, but it remains a family winery through and through. The atmosphere and work practices are more in keeping with a small boutique winery. For all the years of its existence, the owner and CEO have been from the family. This is pretty rare amongst medium or large family wineries. However, in this case, the winemaker is also part of the family. That is unique. Zvika Shor took over as winemaker from his father in 1982. He is one of Israel’s longest serving winemakers. Whilst renewing the winery, they also decided to upgrade the vineyards. They employed the services of Dr. Pinny Sarig, one of the most well-known and experienced viticulturists in Israel. They now have vineyards from all over the country, including the Golan, Galilee, Coastal Plain, Judean Foothills, Judean Hills and the Negev. They can therefore cherry pick the region most suitable for each particular variety. However, most of the best wines come from the Judean Hills and the Galilee.
In 2020s the winery went through a marketing makeover and launched a new range of wines. The fresh new look and bright labels gave the impression of a new winery, let alone one that has been around for so long. David Gronich, ex Carmel & Yatir, became Marketing & Export Manager and the winery was reborn. Zion Winery began winning awards in major local competitions, like Eshkol Ha’Zahav and Best Value in Israel, and international competitions, like Challenge International du Vin in Bordeaux. The famous Israeli chef, Yonatan Roshfeld, even selected Zion wines as his pouring wine by the glass in one of his local operations.
Zion Winery is known for producing quality and good value wines at every price point. These begin with the entry level ‘Imperial’ label. Then there is the ‘Estate’ label. The premier label is ‘Capital’ and the prestige wine is called ‘Crown’. The inspiration of the crest on the label is taken from an old family label. Zion Winery still produces sweet wines, but the quality ones are made under the ‘Moscato’ and ‘Old City’ labels. The Moscato wines are low alcohol, frizzante and lightly sweet; whilst Old City are rich, full bodied red dessert wines, including a Port style. My favorites Zion wines are the aromatic Imperial Sauvignon Blanc, the refreshing Estate Chardonnay; a spicy, flavorful Estate Shiraz, and beautifully balanced Capital Merlot. Capital Lions Gate is an edgy, vibrant Mediterranean style blend.
Zion Winery has been ever present. They have made wine in three separate centuries, under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire, British Mandate and State of Israel. Generation after generation the baton has been passed down from grandfather to son and from son to grandson. Now, 175 years young, Zion Winery remains Israel’s oldest existing winery.
Adam Montefiore is a winery 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