A Visit to The Carmel Winery

The history of the wine industry in Israel can be told in the history of the Carmel Winery. This granddaddy of Israel’s wineries predates the State of Israel and also predates the British Mandate. In 1820, when the region was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and no wines were produced in the Holy Land, a group of pioneers from Romania came to work the land. They were initially unsuccessful in their efforts at farming, but sought support and advice from Baron Edmund de Rothschild who had purchased Chateau Lafite in his homeland, France. He saw the potential for growing grapes and making wines here and brought the first vines to be planted. However, the wine produced rapidly turned to vinegar. Subsequently, a great deal of money and energy were invested in an underground natural cooling system to combat the initial spoilage of the wine due to the high temperatures of the region.  The then named Carmel Mizrachi Winery became the largest producer of Kosher wines in The Holy Land. These were known and drunk throughout the world, but the quality of the wines was mediocre at best.

About 10 years ago the Carmel Winery changed its name, management, and source of grapes, focusing more on the production of higher quality wines. They acquired two of what are now gems in their collection of vineyards, Kayoumi and Yatir, which produce small quantities of single vineyard wines. They also have nine wines, each from a specific wine growing region, and call these “Appellation.” The Carmel Wineries still produce more bottles of wine than any other winery in Israel, but they are more focused on higher quality wines than ever before.

They also have a unique interface with the wine drinking public. Rather than the usual wine tasting center, they have an integrated Wine Culture Center. This is a multifaceted program built around “Wine Workshops,” including a tour of the winery (which could even start in the vineyard) and a virtual tour of the faraway vineyards while drinking the vine they produce. Depending on the desires of the visitor, a meal in the restaurant of the Center, “Bistro de Carmel,” a Mediterraneal style diary restaurant, could also be included.

On our visit, Yossi Cohen, the manager of the Wine & Culture Shop, introduced me to the history of the winery as walked around the outside, and then Adam Montefiore Wine Development Director, elucidated in more depth, the changes in the winery which have brought it up in quality in recent years. We visited one of the original wine cask storage rooms deep underground and for me, it was “déjà vu all over again,” as I immediately knew that I had been there before. It was 21 years ago, when, as a volunteer at Kibbutz Hanaton, all of the kibbutzniks spent an evening of wine, food and song in this very same room. It was like a coming home for me, making this visit so very special.

After the tour, Naftali and I tasted three of the wines, two from the Appellation series (Petite Sirah and Carignan) and one of their very special wines called Mediterranean. This is a blend of grape varieties from this part of the world, including Carignan, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and a little Viognier, It is aged for 15 months in French oak barrels. I have yet to taste their flagship wine, Carmel Limited Edition. I cannot report anything about it other than the price, which is 250 shekels per bottle. Maybe someday I’ll get to taste it. In the meantime, we purchased two of the “Appellation” wines and in one of the posts to come, I will talk about tasting of them.

Adam Montefiore & The Israelwinetaster

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3 thoughts on “A Visit to The Carmel Winery

  1. Shalom
    For a one-week wine tour scheduled for Oct. 2012 I am looking for support in the area of wine. It is our intention to bring connaisseurs but also business men from Switzerland, Germany and Austria to Israel for a one-week degustation tour in combination with cultural highlights and sightseeing. I would like to ask, whether you can advice me less known producers which are worth a visit or who could send a sample to the hotels where we will stay (Jerusalem and Tiberias). Also, I am in search of a professional local who can introduce Israeli wines of the North to our customers.
    Thanks in advance and I hope we will get in touch.

    Hans Szameit

  2. Hello Hans,

    I think I should be able to help you. First of all, I am tempted to do the guiding myself despite lack of any credentials or experience. On the other hand I have a relative who has an advanced degree in archeology and who is a professional tour guide. he is really very good. My third idea is for your group to be guided by a Esther Cohen, who is a tour guide specializing in the wines of Israel. She is returning to the USA in January but plans to continue her business of wine tours and will be designating someone to do the guiding. I can work with you and give you their web sites and email addresses and you can be in direct touch with them.

    How long would the services of the guide be required? Would it be the whole week that they are here? There are now about 30 wineries in the Judean Hills, all close to Jerusalem. I can send you a list of them and how you can contact them. Alternatively, if you desire, I can be in telephone contact with them and scout out if they would be willing to send some sample wines to your group.

    Get back to me if I can help you. Have a good day. Dan Kovnat

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