Adam Montefiore: A Driven Passion for the Wines of Israel

06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

He always told me, "Never forget Israel." He, being Adam Montefiore, and his passion for his adopted country, and the wines they produce, left a lasting impression on me. At the time I knew Adam, he was my mentor as the export manager at the Golan Heights winery, and I was responsible to him for the sales and marketing of their wines in the United States. That time period was between 1998 and 2000. Since then, Adam has spearheaded a team that has brought life to Carmel Winery, and he has positioned himself as the voice of Israeli wine.

In 1989 Adam emigrated from England to Israel. This was a beginning of a growth era for both the food and wine industries in Israel, and Adam was poised to part of it. He already had a built a solid career in England, where he worked as the Wine Manager for the Bass Hotel Group. Some of the skills of that job: wine buying, wine training, and wine marketing, helped to formulate the unique spokesman for Israeli wines that Adam has become.

During his time in Israel, his accomplishments are lengthy. He was the first to advance the concept of 'wine by the glass'. He organized the first Wine Waiter competition, helped build the international reputation the Yarden brand, and since December of 2002, has helped to revitalize the Carmel winery. Adam, because of complicated distribution agreements, has represented at times as many as fourteen different wineries in export markets. He lectures college courses on wine, and has written pieces on wine that are included in some of the most notable publications writing on the subject of wine; such as; The Wine Route of Israel, Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, The Book of New Israeli Food & Wines of Israel, and The NY Times.

I spent some time asking Adam about current trends of wine in Israel.

Q: What role is "Kosher" playing in winemaking today?

A: Most of the wine produced in Israel is kosher. In the same way many countries make sparkling wine, but the best is Champagne, many countries make kosher wine, but the specialist is Israel. It is very easy to make kosher wine in Israel, so it is almost routine. However we still say we try and make the best wine we can that just happens to be kosher. An Israeli wine may be on a wine list next to Chateau Musar, or on the wine shelf alongside a Greek wine.

So Kosher plays as big a part as the customer wants ('It's kosher if you want it to be kosher'). However Israel has a big potential outside the kosher market too for any retailer or sommelier interested in the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Lebanon, Israel) or anyone interested in exotic, unusual wine regions.

Israel's top wineries according to the major critics; Daniel Rogov, Hugh Johnson, and Robert Parker are (whatever order you choose) Domaine du Castel, Yatir, and Yarden. All happen to be kosher. The next two; Margalit and Clos de Gat are not kosher.

Q: What is the hot winery?

A: The hot winery is Yatir Winery. Founded in 2000, wines launched in 2004. It has the highest score with Robert Parker for an Israeli wine (93), equal high score in Wine Spectator (92) and Tom Stevenson wrote in the Wine Report 2009 'that it was the classiest Israeli wine he had tasted.' If Yarden was the Israeli wine of the 1980's, Castel of the 1990's, arguably Yatir is the wine of the 21st century.

Q: What are the finest wines?

A: The best wines are Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux style blends. The best wines are Israel's red wines and dessert wines. Truly world class. Some of the white wines and sparkling reach a very good international standard.

Q: Talk of New World in the Old World , in relation to styles of wine, grape growing practices, and cellar practices.

A: Israel is a New World wine country. Israeli farmers are the best in the world, and Israeli growers are also technologically advanced. Israeli wine though, is a combination of the Old World, New World, and ancient world with a 5,000 year history. Three revolutions:

  1. In the 1880's Israeli wine was formed on a basis of French expertise with Bordeaux winemakers, cuttings from Chateau Lafite and consultants. Founded by the Rothschild family.
  2. The quality revolution (Mondavi movement) happened because of the Golan Heights Winery in the 1980's.
  3. Today, the influences have shifted more to Australia than UC Davis.

Q: What grape growing regions are showing "terroir" in current times?

A: Ten years ago only the Golan Heights was considered a good terroir for world class wines. Today the Upper Galilee may be considered as good for red wines, in particular Cabernet Sauvignon. The Judean Hills proved very well in the Wine Advocate tastings. Our terroir is eastern Mediterranean; fruit forward reds with Mediterranean herbs twist.

Q: What would be the most important point you could make to let people know about some of the high quality wines that are being made both in boutique wineries, and some of the more established wineries?

A: Israel is making some of the finest wines in the eastern Mediterranean today and the largest and best quality kosher wines in the world. There is incredible variety of terroirs and wine styles in so small a country. Taste the wines put them in your blind tastings.
Best trophy wines: Yarden Katzrin, Yatir Forest, Castel Grand Vin, Carmel Limited Edition, Clos de Gat Sycra Syrah.

Most interesting wines: Carmel 'Appellation' Carignan Old Vines, Carmel 'Appellation' Petite Sirah Old Vines, Segal Argaman, Ella Valley Cabernet Franc.

Not so long ago, if you were looking for the kosher section of a wine retail store, you could start your search by finding the stack of cases closest to the store's restrooms. Spearheaded by the passionate and tireless marketing efforts of Adam, and some of his disciples, you can actually find sections in key locations of the store that include the Eastern Mediterranean countries of Greece, Lebanon, and Israel. Israel has kosher wines too, if you want it to be kosher.