In the course of the last decade, Israel’s wine industry has bloomed, with many Israeli bottles earning the recognition of the world’s major wine experts for their quality, and becoming appreciated anew by wine lovers and connoisseurs alike.

The annual sommelier exhibition in Tel Aviv, which took place in February, provided an opportunity for professionals and the public to witness the new quality and variety of Israel’s wines, as well as to experience the remarkable landscape from which Israel’s wines have emerged.

The event featured tastings of Israel’s award-winning vintages from both large commercial and small boutique wineries, opportunities to meet Israel’s new wave of internationally trained winemakers and to talk with professionals connected to the wine industry.

Michael Averi, winemaker at Galil Mountain Winery, reflected on the changes he has seen in the industry in the last 15 years since. Since moving to Israel after growing up on Australian vineyards and studying winemaking in Adelaide, Australia, Averi has seen a “revolution” in Israel—first starting with Israel’s culinary scene, which carried over to the boom in its wine scene.

“The quality of smaller boutique wineries and even larger ones have jumped up,” he told JNS at the Sommelier exhibition. “When I went out for a drink 10 years ago in Israel, I’d tell my friends who wanted to try local wines, ‘Oh, you don’t want to drink that,’ but now, you get a very good level of quality for your money.”

Adir Winery CEO Yossi Rosenberg at the sommelier festival in Tel Aviv. Photo by Zohar Halal.

According to Averi, as the Israeli palate matured with its grapes, Israelis began to drink more Mediterranean blends, especially white and sparkling varieties that have trended in the global market, and are suitable for the climate and food in the region.

Now, he said, Israel’s wine industry is moving towards more R&D, international collaboration and sustainability. Referring to these various trends, he said, “it will happen, but it will take time. Wine is a slow-moving industry compared to high-tech because it’s traditional.”

He continued, “Because it is a small industry here, collaborating and education, as well as understanding our climate and terroir are important,” explained Averi. “We will need to share knowledge and resources to make that jump.”

According to Averi, Galil Moutain Winery is leading the push towards sustainability by using fewer chemicals and pesticides in its wine-making process.

“Eventually, we will all have to go in this direction, and reducing chemicals makes the wine taste better,” he maintained.

‘We separate politics from business’

Katalin Pintacsi, managing director of European Coopers, has been selling Hungarian barrels to Israeli wineries this past decade as the industry has developed. Distributing to more than 10 wineries in Israel, including Yatir, Tulip, Psagot, Gvaot and many others, she told JNS that she has seen some Israeli wine surmount even some of France’s iconic wine.

“I’ve been in the wine industry for 15 years and now … I couldn’t imagine that I’d find such high-quality wines,” she said. “Israel is small, but within the country there are big differences in the climate, which create different and high-quality varieties of wine.”

Though aware that some European countries boycott Israeli products such as wine, Pintacsi maintained that “we separate politics from our business.”

Katalin Pintacsi, managing director of European Coopers, has been selling Hungarian barrels to Israeli wineries this past decade as the industry has developed. Photo by Eliana Rudee.

Adir winery’s wine-bar manager Mordecai Kohelet Israel, who has worked for the company for eight years and participated in the Sommelier festival this year for the first time, called it the “best wine event to date.”

He noted that the Israeli wine industry “has grown rapidly over the last decade, and we are now producing excellent wines. Almost all the wineries are successful with very few closures.”

Some 50 percent of Adir’s 200,000 bottles produced per year, Israel told JNS, are exported, mainly to the United States.

Making aliyah to the Jewish state in 1994 from London, he said the move “made me a more complete Jew by coming home and retaking the gift God gave us thousands of years ago.”

At the same time aliyah is central to the Jewish faith, so, too, is wine, he stated. “Wine was part of the libation sacrifice in the Temple. God only wants the best, and Adir and all the other Israeli wineries are working on just that!”

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