The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - WINE TALK - • ADAM MONTEFIORE

Some­one once de­scribed Italy as a coun­try made up of in­di­vid­u­als, bound to­gether only by a com­mon lan­guage. Is­raeli wine is like that. Hundreds of winer­ies doing their own thing, con­stantly look­ing anx­iously and jeal­ously over their shoul­der at their com­peti­tors. The idea of pro­duc­tively work­ing to­gether to in­crease con­sump­tion in Is­rael or ex­ports overseas is all good in the­ory, but in prac­tice it has not hap­pened on a national scale.

I have worked in the wine trade for many years, for both large and small winer­ies. Most of that time I have found my­self rep­re­sent­ing cor­po­rate Is­rael to the wine world. Yet if I have learned any­thing, it has been clear to me that the most important brand in Is­rael is nei­ther a win­ery, such as Carmel, Cas­tel or Yar­den, nor a region, such as the Galilee or Judean Hills. The most important brand in Is­raeli wine is... Is­rael. In truth, I have de­voted my ca­reer to ad­vanc­ing Brand Is­rael.

Maybe there are too many egos and what are mis­tak­enly seen as dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests. Quite apart from any­thing else, winer­ies are far hap­pier buying a new tank or press than in­vest­ing in mar­ket­ing. Some 25 years ago, most of the work done in a win­ery was within the gates of the win­ery (and vine­yard). To­day it is the op­po­site. Most of the work should be out­side the gates of the win­ery. To plant a vine­yard is easy; to make wine is not so difficult. To sell it is the prob­lem.

In 2003, I founded Hand­crafted Wines of Is­rael, a con­sor­tium of 10 small winer­ies. This was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment be­cause it was the first time Is­raeli winer­ies worked to­gether to ad­vance Brand Is­rael. It lasted two years, was very suc­cess­ful, im­age-wise, in gar­ner­ing PR, but less so in sales.

In 2005, I re­mem­ber sit­ting with own­ers of winer­ies with Ehud Olmert, then-min­is­ter of trade and in­dus­try, when it was an­nounced that there would be a gov­ern­ment-sup­ported con­sor­tium to mar­ket Is­raeli wine. We ap­plauded. Hand­crafted Wines was duly wound down, and we waited... and waited.

How­ever, noth­ing hap­pened for the next 15 years. Again, too many egos and too much internal politics. It al­ways in­fu­ri­ated me to see Wines of Turkey and Wines of Le­banon up and run­ning, but here in Is­rael – noth­ing.

That is, un­til now! The ex­cit­ing news is that the Is­rael Ex­port In­sti­tute has an­nounced the for­ma­tion of a Wines of Is­rael campaign that will take place in the United States over the next four years. America is def­i­nitely the cor­rect choice. It is the coun­try with over 50% of Is­raeli wine ex­ports and also re­mains the place with by far the most potential to ad­vance sales and the im­age of Is­rael as a quality wine pro­duc­ing coun­try.

The in­sti­tute is much ma­ligned be­cause it is an easy tar­get, but the truth is that with­out it, there would be next to no work done to ad­vance Is­raeli wine. The in­sti­tute has gal­lantly as­sisted the in­dus­try to rep­re­sent Is­raeli wine abroad, whether or­ga­niz­ing Is­raeli stands at in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions, or­ga­niz­ing generic tast­ings in New York, Lon­don or Tokyo, or invit­ing important peo­ple to Is­rael. For in­stance, the first-ever or­ga­nized visit of the In­sti­tute of Masters of Wine to Is­rael took place last year, cour­tesy of the Is­rael Ex­port In­sti­tute. Twelve Masters of Wine were able to learn about and ex­pe­ri­ence Is­raeli wine over an in­ten­sive, well-or­ga­nized five­day itin­er­ary.

The Wines of Is­rael pro­gram has been launched in part­ner­ship with the Econ­omy Min­istry, Agricultur­e Min­istry and the Wines & Grapes Board. The fund­ing will amount to $1 mil­lion a year, of which the gov­ern­ment will put for­ward two dol­lars for ev­ery dol­lar pro­vided by the winer­ies. At least 25 winer­ies have signed up to be part of this.

There will be a com­mit­tee to over­see the project. This is made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of nine winer­ies, three im­porter-dis­trib­u­tors in the US and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Ex­port In­sti­tute, the Econ­omy and Agricultur­e min­istries and the Wine Board. Only in Is­rael would you have a com­mit­tee of 16 peo­ple to over­see a project where there are only 25 par­tic­i­pants! How­ever, I sup­pose those con­tribut­ing money de­serve to have a say, and the process has to be seen to be fair and above board.

Colan­gelo & Part­ners has been ap­pointed to pick up the gaunt

let and man­age Wines of Is­rael in the US. This is an in­spired choice. They are spe­cial­ists in food, wines and spir­its in the are­nas of brand­ing, press relations, event mar­ket­ing, trade relations and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. They are one of the lead­ing com­pa­nies in the US, and have of­fices in New York and San Fran­cisco. They al­ready work with ma­jor wine-pro­duc­ing coun­tries such as Spain and South Africa, and also niche coun­tries such as Por­tu­gal and Greece, where the chal­lenges are very sim­i­lar to Is­rael’s. They are ab­so­lutely not from the kosher or Jewish niche, nor do they deal with the trade mar­ket­ing & sales. The dis­trib­u­tors do that. They were se­lected af­ter ex­haus­tive vet­ting by a com­mit­tee of winer­ies chaired by the Ex­port In­sti­tute. They are well cho­sen, be­cause their abil­i­ties are com­ple­men­tary to the ex­ist­ing ex­per­tise and role of the dis­trib­u­tors.

ADIV BARUCH is the chair­man of the Is­rael Ex­port & In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion In­sti­tute (to give its full, rather un­wieldly name). Ap­pointed in Jan­uary 2018, he has made the wine pro­gram his baby, and ow­ing to his author­ity, charm, de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­ci­sive­ness, the dream of many like me be­came a re­al­ity. He schmoozed the lead­ing winer­ies, en­thused the lead­ing dis­trib­u­tors and dis­played im­pres­sive lead­er­ship to help guide the ship over the rocky wa­ters as de­tails were be­ing fi­nal­ized and egos were ram­pant.

Baruch has been in hi-tech for over 30 years. He is chair­man of Jerusalem Tech­nol­ogy Investment­s, Maayan Ven­tures and Cover­tix, was one of the founders of Ness Technologi­es and served as pres­i­dent of Ny­otron. One could go on and on. I wanted to find out why some­one from the world of hi-tech would find in­ter­est in wine, which is a con­ser­va­tive, low-tech world, with ex­ports to­tal­ing only $50 mil­lion, a mere drop in the ocean com­pared to the worlds he comes from. So I went to meet him.

He ad­mit­ted he came to the project late, and gave full credit for the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, pas­sion and drive of what he re­ferred to as “the team,” re­fer­ring to Daphna Stern­feld, deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral and head of the con­sumer goods depart­ment, in­clud­ing wine; Yaara Shi­mony, the wine cat­e­gory man­ager; and Noa Cole­man, mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor.

How­ever, Baruch ad­mit­ted he helped pro­vide the glue to fi­nal­ize things and bring dif­fer­ent par­ties to­gether. He ex­pressed special sat­is­fac­tion that there are winer­ies of dif­fer­ent sizes par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram. He made clear: “We are aim­ing for brand aware­ness... the dis­trib­u­tors will con­tinue to take care of sales.” He ex­plained how proud he is of Is­raeli wine, but made the point that the world does not yet know Is­rael as a quality wine pro­duc­ing coun­try. So there is a great deal of work to do.

He de­scribed wine as fun­da­men­tal to the busi­ness dis­cus­sion. “A bot­tle will be on the ta­ble as part of the small talk of a ne­go­ti­a­tion. Wine is part of the busi­ness cul­ture.”

He said Is­rael is no longer a coun­try of hi-tech or low-tech, but a coun­try of in-tech – in­no­va­tion tech­nol­ogy. Wine is the in­dus­try that brings to­gether all the com­po­nents of Is­rael to­day, in­clud­ing a long his­tory from bi­b­li­cal times, the high in­no­va­tion, cre­ativ­ity and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

I ad­mire the com­mit­ment and pas­sion in Baruch’s words. He is a spir­i­tual man, with a deep feel for Ju­daism, a sense of his­tory, yet he him­self is a suc­cess­ful sym­bol of mod­ern Is­rael. Yet from the roots of his be­ing, he sees wine as bring­ing all these threads to­gether.

The fo­cus there­fore moves to Brand Is­rael, which in my view is at­tached by the hip to the Eastern Mediter­ranean. I have spent a large part of my time talk­ing about the Eastern Mediter­ranean wine region over three decades. Kosher is not a coun­try, and Is­rael is not an is­land. We are part of the Eastern Mediter­ranean region, which gave wine cul­ture to the world, and which now is un­der­go­ing an im­pres­sive and dy­namic re­vival. No doubt, our wines should be on the shelves along­side those of Greece, Cyprus, Le­banon and Turkey. We should use words like “Is­rael” and “Eastern Mediter­ranean” a lot more, and terms like “Jewish,” “kosher” and “Mid­dle East” a lot less!

The last word comes from Adiv Baruch: “We are all aligned with the same tar­get. We are doing something we be­lieve in with the pas­sion to suc­ceed, and we re­al­is­ti­cally un­der­stand our strengths and weak­nesses. That is the recipe for success.”

I think we should con­grat­u­late the Ex­port In­sti­tute and the winer­ies that have com­mit­ted to the campaign. Is­raeli food is now get­ting credit worldwide due to some en­ter­pris­ing, fa­mous chefs. Let’s hope we can match their ef­forts by build­ing Brand Is­rael. We need to con­tinue to ad­vance the im­age of Is­rael as a quality wine­pro­duc­ing coun­try, work­ing to­gether with a com­mon goal. This new ini­tia­tive is an important step in the right di­rec­tion.

(Pho­tos: Cour­tesy)

ADIV BARUCH (left), chair­man of the Ex­port In­sti­tute, with Daphna Stern­feld, deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral of con­sumer goods.

(David Sil­ber­man)

THE MASTERS of Wine visit the Golan Heights prop­a­ga­tion block and nurs­ery.

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