Wine in modern times in Israel did not begin with the Golan Heights Winery in the 1980’s. Or even with Carmel Winery in the 1880’s. It began in the Old City of Jerusalem in the mid 19th century, with Karliner Hassid called Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galin, who made aliyah from White Russia in 1835 and settled in Safed. When he was made Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferet Israel, he moved to Jerusalem. In those days the Jewish community was very poor. For this reason, his son, Rabbi Yitzhak Galin decided to open a winery, in order to gain an income.
He married the daughter of Aaron Shor, the owner of a wine store and decided to adopt her surname in order make use of the permit they had from the Turkish authorities, allowing him to open a winery.
Shor Winery was opened in the Jewish year 5608, which corresponds to 1847-48. It was situated in a cellar in Haggai Street alley backing on the Western Wall. Family members relate that a row of wine barrels were placed along the part of the Holy Wall adjoining the winery, so that forgetful workers would not touch it by mistake!
The family used to receive table grapes from Arab communities in Hebron.
Most of the wine was sweet, simply because a sweet wine was more likely to last. The main market was for the Jewish community wishing to make Kiddush. There was also a Christian market seeking Altar or Communion wine from the Holy Land.
In 1925 the British decreed that businesses had to move out of the Old City. This and the Arab riots of 1929, encouraged Shor Brothers to move to a new home in Beit Israel, near Meah Shearim. The building was on three levels and included a cellar, winery, living quarters and a synagogue. The cellar was to prove an attraction during the 1948 War of Independence when Jerusalem residents joined the family in sheltering there.
By 1951 the family had grown too big for the business and the brothers, Avraham and Moshe, decided to go separate ways. Moshe and his son, Yitzhak, opened a new business in Tel Arza, mainly producing spirits and liqueurs whilst Shor, later renamed Yikvei Zion, continued to produce wine and grape juice. In 1958 the Tel Arza business split again and Hacormim, another winery branch of the Shor family was formed.
In 1976 Mordechai (Motti) Shor took over the running of Arza Winery. He was the seventh generation, and the grandson of Moshe, the M Shor Bros. In 1982, Arza moved to Mishor Adumim. Grapes by this time were more likely to be Carignan and Alicante.
Motti Shor oversaw a period of growth which resulted in Arza becoming a major player in the Israeli wine scene. In 1999 and 2000, Arza harvested only 600 tons of wine grapes. By 2012 Arza was harvesting three times as much and had grown to become the seventh largest winery in Israel.
In the mid 2000’s his son, Elchanan, the eighth generation, became involved and Arza Winery began its own mini wine revolution. Firstly they employed an internationally trained winemaker. French born Philippe Lichtenstein joined in 2005. He had studied at Montpelier, had experience in France & Corsica, and was for many years the winemaker and manager of Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Cellars, then the second largest winery in Israel.
Motti gave a new direction. Philippe added the quality and Elchanan brought a new creative marketing mind. Firstly they launched a very innovative range of sacramental wines called Hallel, which were in touch with the modern consumer. The wines included a traditional Kiddush wine, but also low alcohol and semi-sweet versions. To cap it all, the wines had a zork closure, very user friendly & easy to open.
Then they launched a secret wine with a QR code as a label, which could only be read by smart phone. This innovative idea had the whole wine industry talking and many first tasted the wines not knowing where they were from but also with no preconceived ideas. When revealed, consumers found out the wines were part of a new series called Tel Arza, with an attractive drawing of the Montefiore Windmill on the label.
Finally they launched the most prestigious wine called Auteur. This is the flagship wine of the winery, with a silhouette of winemaker Philippe Lichtenstein, on the stylish black and white label.
Today, over 160 years later, the Shor family is still making wine, now split amongst three separate wineries, Arza, Hacormim and Zion. They are all situated in the same street in Mishor Adumim. A few years ago, an onlooker would have said that Hacormim is the one famous for Kiddush wine with its Conditon brand, that Zion is most well-known for its table wines with its 1848 and Armon labels and that Arza is mainly known for grape juice. Today this would no longer be true. Arza with its Auteur, Tel Arza and Charisma table wines and Hallel sweet wines, is today flying the quality flag for the family.
Baron Philippine de Rothschild that once said: Making wine is not so bad. The first 200 years are the difficult ones. Then it gets easier. Well after 165 years, the Shor family is well on the way.