January 4, 2011

Israeli Wines Raise the Bar as Exports Rise Ever so Slowly

Tel Aviv…In the first 10 months of 2010, Israel exported $18 million worth of wines, according to an extensive report released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The fact that such a report was released by the Foreign Ministry is an indication of just how important Israel’s surging wine business has become to Israel. Adam Montefiore, Director of Wine Development at Carmel Winery, confirms that "Israel has joined the world of quality wine producers" and believes that the time is right for Israeli wines to serve as "good ambassadors." "Once it was the Jaffa orange and the kibbutz that symbolized Israel, now it's quality wine and high-tech," Montefiore summed up. Israel's mostly-cooperative climate; new, quality grape varieties; and the expertise of young winemakers who've studied abroad, add up to up to a wine revolution.

Daniel Rogov, the highly-respected resident wine and restaurant critic at the Hebrew-language Ha'aretz daily, says of the industry today: "We have a retinue of winemakers who are internationally trained and internationally experienced, some Israeli-born, some not. We have world class winemakers and that's very important. The wineries have gone really state-of-the-art. The big and medium wineries all have very modern facilities, and all the techniques for making very fine wine. Most important, we are learning more and more and developing our vineyards better in terms of technology." Still, despite the awards and expansion of Israel's wine scene in recent years, all is not rosy, with the industry struggling with the issue of export vs. local consumption. While Israelis consume between five and seven liters annually, "that's simply not enough" to maintain the industry, which must count on local sales to survive, says Rogov, noting similar problems in vineyard-saturated California and Australia. "Twenty years ago, everyone was uprooting apple orchards to plant vineyards; now they're uprooting vineyards to plant apple trees, and we may face a situation like that in the end." Too much expansion is to blame, he says, predicting that as many as half of those passion-driven boutique wineries may close. The other problem is the lack of an Israeli wine culture, he says. "When Israelis started traveling abroad, they began to realize that wine is a part of the cultured place in life, and you would've thought that it would have increased local consumption. It hasn't. What it has done is that people who really understand wine are drinking better and better wine, but overall, not more people are drinking wine.

Rogov's best 10 Israeli wines for 2010 include Clos de Gat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Har'El, 2008; Clos de Gat, Merlot, Har’El, 2008; Clos de Gat, Ayalon Valley, 2006; Golan Heights Winery, Chardonnay, Odem Organic Vineyard, Yarden, 2008; Golan Heights Winery, Syrah, Ortal Vineyard, Yarden, 2004;Golan Heights Winery, Syrah, Yonatan Vineyard, Yarden, 2007; Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom Vineyard, Yarden, 2004; Margalit, Enigma, Special Reserve, 2007; Margalit, Cabernet Franc, 2008; and Carmel, Shiraz, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2008.

In the US, the Kedem Wine Group (Royal Wine Company), based in Bayonne NJ, is the largest importer of Israeli wines.