Cart 0 items: $0.00
Your Account  |  Log In
March 24, 2011 |

Interview: Wine writer Blake Gray's take on the Israeli Wine Scene

In 2010, wine writer W. Blake Gray visited deep into the Israeli wine world, his first trip back to Israel after having first visited 20 years ago.

Last November, Food & Wine magazine published Blake's report from that trip, and he also wrote about it here.

I met and began interacting with Blake on Twitter and recently he was gracious enough to respond to some questions from me via email. I am always curious to explore how others view Israel and the (re)emerging Israeli wine scene.

What follows is the entire unedited written interview. It's lengthy, and substantive, and (I promise!) will make you think.

Many thanks to Blake!

Soon, Blake and I will invite all of you to a Live Chat where you can ask us your own Israeli wine questions LIVE!

p.s. I'm a regular reader of Blake's The Gray Market Report, and you should be, too!


How did you fall in love with wine and the wine world?
I started drinking wine while doing volunteer work in France. The French government paid our food bill, and of course at the time there was no such thing as a meal without wine. The first wine I really drank a lot of was a vin ordinaire that we filled our own 5 liter jug with every day. Once I showed some interest, the chemist at the local fromagerie made it his business to introduce me to wines from every region nearby. My wine appreciation took off from there.

Why should anyone care about wine from Israel?
Well the obvious answer is that Jewish people from every country should care. I'm sorry if that's not the answer you want, but it's the reality. If you want to support Israel, you should buy its products.

I am not Jewish, and I care about wine from Israel because there are a lot of interesting things going on there. The quality wine revolution is less than 20 years old there and we don't have any idea yet how good the wines can be, but some of them area already quite good.

What are some misunderstandings Americans have of wine from Israel?
Twenty years ago wine from Israel was mostly bad, bad, bad. It tended to be sweet, and wines that were mevushal have a big disadvantage because they're boiled. These days very few of the top wines are mevushal, so people who keep kosher might have to serve themselves, but it's worth it because the wines are so much better.

A lot of Americans connect Manischewitz with Israel. To my knowledge there is no connection. Manischewitz is made in New York and owned by Constellation Brands.

Is Israeli wine Old or New World? What’s the difference anyway?
That's a very good question. Israel is close to Europe and many people in the wine industry have connections in Europe, so there are a lot of people there with European palates: they want restraint, balance, savory flavors rather than big fruit. I think they may be denying Israel's true nature; that the bright sun even at altitude means Israel should be making wines more in the bold American style. That's what Golan Heights Winery is doing, and very effectively, and if you taste Barkan's reserve level wines that's also what they're doing. I think that's probably Israel's future, but even in California this is never a set issue for everyone, because in this state full of blockbuster wines we have plenty of people working in the Old World style.

What surprised you the most during your recent time in Israel, not just wine-related but even beyond the wine scene?
I went to Israel in 1990 and the atmosphere was very tense, especially in Jerusalem. The news headlines from the country haven't changed much, but what surprised me was how calm everything seems. I'm sure that's not the case in Gaza, but I did visit the West Bank and things seemed very calm there too.

In the wine scene, I was surprised by the number of high-end, artisanal wines that are not kosher. They can't be sold in most supermarkets or hotels or restaurants, but they're doing it anyway and making a living.


What do you see as the major marketing challenges for the Israeli wine industry as they continue to play in the US wine market?
Price is a concern. I don't think Israeli wines are overpriced but shipping costs makes it just about impossible for them to compete in the under-$15 category.
The kosher aisle is a mixed blessing. There is a captive audience of Jewish people who want to keep kosher, but there is little reason for non-Jewish people to wander into the kosher wine section. For Israeli wines to successfully cross over beyond the Jewish audience, they'll have to be in a section of their own. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to happen. Americans don't buy wines from anywhere around Israel: Greek and Lebanese wines are very minor here. Maybe a clever marketer can get them shelved next to Italian wines.

What were several of your favorite wines you tasted there and why?
The five wines I originally chose for Food & Wine magazine I picked because I liked them and they're available here: Tulip Winery White Tulip 2008, Dalton Reserve Upper Galilee Viognier 2008, Golan Heights Winery Yarden Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Domaine du Castel Grand Vin Judea Hills 2007 (this was my very favorite), Binyamina Chosen Ruby Galilee Syrah 2006.

Here are some wines that didn't make the cut, either because they're not widely available or the winery made something else I liked better:
Tulip Winery Black Tulip 2006, Binyamina Chosen Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah-Petit Verdot 2007, Teperberg Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Ella Valley 2007, Galil Mountain Galilee Yiron 2006, Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. I also want to single out the delicious Yarden Heights Wine 2007, a dessert wine made from Gewurztraminer. If you do want a sweet wine from Israel, it's hard to beat that one.


Which wineries are ones Americans should keep an eye on?
Golan Heights Winery is the obvious choice because they have an American winemaker and they're very focused on this market. Plus, they're good at what they do. I'd buy all the Domaine du Castel Grand Vin you can get.

How is the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) of Israeli wine overall?
The QPR gets better for Israeli wines as they get more expensive. I don't think Israeli wines are good value below $15; you get better wines domestically because of the shipping costs, or from Europe. But the best wines from Israeli rarely top $75 or so, which isn't really that much for the best wine from a country. I think Golan Heights Winery is going to test that upper limit so that might change the equation.


What grapes "work" well in Israel? where? any grapes not being used you think ought to be? or grapes being planted in places you think they ought not to be?
I liked Carignane and Petite Sirah wherever I saw it. Cabernet Sauvignon was up and down, but there were some good ones. Also Syrah, which can grow anywhere. I also liked the Viogniers, which doesn't seem to make sense with the climate, but they were fine.

I don't think Israeli Chardonnays are particularly good, nor did I like most of the Sauvignon Blancs I tried.

If you were designing a marketing roadmap for the (re)emerging Israeli wine industry, what would be key tasks and milestones?
I know what the long-term goal is, but I don't have any suggestions for how to get there. The long-term goal is to get non-Jewish people to try the wines and to think of Israel as a wine region, not a political country.
At the same time, with an entirely different crew, Israeli marketers need to work the Jewish market hard and convince people to buy Israeli wines instead of kosher French and Spanish wines. I know they're already doing that, but they can't stop. You make more money selling products to people who already like them then by chasing people who don't know them.

We know that kosher winemaking doesn't result in wines that are worse (or better) than non-kosher wines and we know that not all wine from Israel is kosher BUT has "kosher" as a marketing category been limiting for the broader acceptance of Israeli wine in the US?
Yes, and it's strange because "kosher" is a huge plus for food items. I know plenty of non-Jewish people who only eat kosher hot dogs, for example.
By the way, I'm sorry to say this in this forum, but I'm going to because I'm not Jewish: being kosher is a handicap for wineries. It won't show up as a negative in most wines, but the winemaking world is normally very international -- you see South Africans working in France, Australians working in Portugal, etc. You don't get quite as much of that in Israel, and the kosher restrictions on what winemakers can do are one reason.
After all the nice things I've said, I can imagine various readers' shoulders drawing together as they read this. But one thing I noticed in Israeli wineries was this scene, repeated often: a passionate non-orthodox winemaker, who has to have everything executed by a bored-looking guy with a long beard. Apparently there's a big shortage of Sabbath-observant workers, which gives those who qualify an arrogance that you don't see at wineries anywhere else in the world. That has to be a management problem for the wineries. Obviously many have found ways to make great wine despite it, but I'd be lying if I didn't say the attitude of the only people allowed to touch the tanks is a hurdle no other wineries in the world face.

What’s the state of wine tourism in Israel in your opinion?
Not very good, from what I could see. Some wineries have tasting rooms, but most of them are no-frills industrial-looking places. This would seem to be a big growth area. American tourists love to visit wine regions and with all the Americans who visit Israel, I think there's big business to be earned by having some more California-style tasting rooms.

Do you have plans to return to Israel again someday?
I'd sure like to, and I don't want to have wait 20 more years. Israel is one of the most interesting countries I've visited. This time after doing my wine touring I finally took a dip in the Dead Sea. I also had some very emotional moments in Jerusalem. I'm not a very religious person, but seeing the various sites where Jesus spent his last moments and the rock where his body was laid out, I found it all moving in a way I didn't expect.
I also got over to Jordan and had a blast there: saw Petra, spent two nights in the Wadi Rum desert and did some diving out of Aqaba. I don't think most Americans realize how easy and safe it is to visit Jordan from Israel, and how much there is to see. For political reasons you never see Israel/Jordan talked about as a single trip, but they're so different and very complementary for tourism. (The food's better in Israel, I must say.)
Jerusalem is the heart. As I mentioned above, it's very moving there for people of all religions, whether you expect it or not. The city has an energy and a serious soul that I can't describe. The air seems more important there.


press releases distribution's Gravatar
press releases distribution
@ Jan 29, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Sparkling wines are made from both white and red grape varieties. Expensive Champagnes use extremely high-quality grapes, while inexpensive domestic sparkling wines often use inferior grapes. Chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are popular grapes to make sparkling wine from, but it varies from country to country. Thanks. Regards,

green coffee bean's Gravatar
green coffee bean
@ Feb 4, 2013 at 12:18 AM
The well known variations result from the very complex interactions between the biochemical development of the fruit, reactions involved in fermentation, and human intervention in the overall process. The final product may contain tens of thousands of chemical compounds in amounts varying from a few percent to a few parts per billion. Thanks.

essay writer's Gravatar
essay writer
@ Feb 8, 2013 at 10:59 AM
Written simply and tastefully. It’s pleasant to read. Thank u.'s Gravatar
@ Feb 28, 2013 at 3:49 AM
Get initial start-up capital. Costs are a few thousand dollars, depending on the type and size of winery you want to develop. Expenses include a facility, equipment, machinery, consultants, labor and marketing. You may want to start your winery with investment partners and hired professionals.'s Gravatar
@ Mar 5, 2013 at 11:42 PM

Review the options: selling wine, opening a wine bar, or starting your own winery or vineyard. You also can operate a business determining how wine products are made or shipped. Thanks.

satiereal saffron extract's Gravatar
satiereal saffron extract
@ May 7, 2013 at 5:35 AM
The Department of Agriculture and other state departments of agriculture require employees to have at least a high school diploma to be hired. A high school education provides the background needed in the fields of science and biology. It also gives the individual additional educational experience in other areas such as writing and mathematics. Thanks.

best search engine optimization service's Gravatar
best search engine optimization service
@ May 10, 2013 at 12:15 AM
At dinner parties or in restaurants, properly presenting and serving a bottle of wine honors the guests and is a time-honored ritual. Ceremonial in nature, the formal presentation of the wine follows old traditions but also serves practical purposes. Thanks.'s Gravatar
@ May 27, 2013 at 2:48 AM
Write a budget for how much you can afford to spend on your exhibition or demonstration. Include the price of your entry, a stand, marketing materials and staff. Thanks.

how to edit a manuscript's Gravatar
how to edit a manuscript
@ Jul 1, 2013 at 5:33 AM
This allows the consumer to purchase directly from the source ensuring that wines have been stored correctly and not subjected to extreme conditions that can occur in transport which can occasionally result in spoiled wines. Thank you.

Fred's Gravatar
@ Jul 9, 2013 at 11:17 AM
Awesome information. I am really surprised with this topic. Keep up the good work and post more here to read. online writing services

John Lin's Gravatar
John Lin
@ Nov 9, 2013 at 3:23 AM
I agree that Jewish people from every city and continent should care. I'm sorry if that's not the response you seek, but it's the fact. If you want to support Israel, "you should buy its products" then.

John Lin's Gravatar
John Lin
@ Nov 9, 2013 at 3:27 AM
I agree that "Jewish people from every country should care. I'm sorry if that's not the answer you want, but it's the reality. If you want to support Israel, you should buy its products."

bella's Gravatar
@ May 23, 2014 at 7:58 AM
Lots of useful information here. I am sending it to a few friends of mine. And obviously, thanks to your sweat! Thank you

Iftekhar Ahmed's Gravatar
Iftekhar Ahmed
@ Sep 26, 2014 at 9:16 PM
Glad to read your post :). It is very informative!

Walker's Gravatar
@ Oct 18, 2014 at 5:19 AM
Grеat post. I was checking constantly this blog and I'm imprеssed!

Very helpful іnfo speckally the last pаrt :) I care fоr sucҺ info much. I was looking for this certain info for a vеry long time. Thank you and best of luсk.

Faraz's Gravatar
@ Dec 15, 2014 at 1:07 AM
Amazing Blog Post. Blog Post provide acceptable obsession. The offer impacts on numerous standard worries of your brain..'s Gravatar
@ Jan 5, 2015 at 2:36 PM
Magnificent blog. Appreciation for distribution such a pleasant blog. I truly enjoyed understanding it excellent effort....

Jonathan Oliver's Gravatar
Jonathan Oliver
@ Apr 8, 2015 at 11:54 PM
This is a very helpful and informative post. Thanks it to share keeps it up.

plastic extruder's Gravatar
plastic extruder
@ Apr 30, 2016 at 1:14 AM
Expert plastic extrusion companies serve the vital function of creating specific shapes out of hard plastic that are used to make various other products like tubing, casing, and more. a ceramic heater the current is automatically minimized. If you are seeking for the best ways to find biodegradable plastic extruders to get custom products for your company, contact Hall manufacturing.

plastic extruder's Gravatar
plastic extruder
@ Jun 16, 2016 at 7:52 AM
Lesser sibling or possibly A variety of Twist Extruder. Distinctive single screw extruder have unique functioning characteristics, and comprehensive comprehension of their running properties can provide whole engage in to the functionality of your machine. If you are seeking for the best ways to find biodegradable plastic extruders to get custom products for your company, contact Hall manufacturing.

programming homework's Gravatar
programming homework
@ Sep 25, 2018 at 10:51 PM
Things Are Very Open And Intensely Clear Explanation Of Issues. Was Truly Information. Your Website Is Very Beneficial.

99 rupees domain Godaddy's Gravatar
99 rupees domain Godaddy
@ Jan 10, 2019 at 12:17 AM
I am so glad that i got a chance to visit your site. You share all good blogs.

neha's Gravatar
@ Sep 28, 2019 at 12:11 PM
Hi! I could need to offer a goliath continue for the noteworthy information you have here on this post. I will return to your blog for significantly more soon.

shreedurgapg's Gravatar
@ Dec 16, 2019 at 4:55 AM
I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article

Raipur Escorts's Gravatar
Raipur Escorts
@ May 11, 2022 at 11:57 PM
Hello, gentlemen if you find the best sexual satisfaction by your dream girls meet our very high-class profile and top desirable sexy Raipur call girls. They give you the best enjoyment and happiness. Book the girls from our agency Raipur Escorts.

Noida Escorts's Gravatar
Noida Escorts
@ May 25, 2022 at 6:11 AM
Never-endingly Nice article. The writer portrays the article well as reasonable. All central affiliations related to this subject are covered.

Pearson's Gravatar
@ Jun 11, 2022 at 3:46 PM
Crystal mеth iѕ the common name fоr сrуѕtаl methamphetamine, a ѕtrоng аnd highly addictive drug that affects the central nеrvоuѕ ѕуѕtеm. buy meth online

Pearson's Gravatar
@ Jun 12, 2022 at 3:11 PM
Crystal mеth iѕ the common name fоr сrуѕtаl methamphetamine, a ѕtrоng аnd highly addictive drug that affects the central nеrvоuѕ ѕуѕtеm. buy meth online

Eddielstunna's Gravatar
@ Jul 15, 2022 at 8:06 PM
Moon Rocks for sale

WHAT ARE MOON ROCK WEED AND HOW ARE THEY MADE? Moon Rocks for sale – Buy moon rocks online

JessicaP's Gravatar
@ Jul 15, 2022 at 8:08 PM
Stoney Gummies 350mg – How To Get Real Stoney Patch Gimmies

JessicaP's Gravatar
@ Jul 15, 2022 at 8:17 PM
Punch Edibles >> Best THC Edibles For Sale Online

Find Punch >> Where to Buy Punch Edibles Near You

Buy weed online today from Legal Online Cannabis Dispensary and get it delivered at your doorstep.Best US Weed Store to buy vape cartridges.

JonnerR's Gravatar
@ Jul 15, 2022 at 8:20 PM
LEGAL ONLINE CANNABIS DISPENSARY. 11314 Venice Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90066. Tel : +1 (213) 306 6356.

Buy rove carts online,Buy glo carts online,Buy kingpen cartridges online,Buy choice carts online,Buy heavy hitters cartridges online,Buy stoney patch online,Buy stoner patch online,Buy punch bar edibles online,Buy cheeba chews online,Buy nerds rope edibles online,Moon rocks for sale,Moonrocks pre rolls,Moonrockets pre rolls,Rick Simpsons Oil

Elagant's Gravatar
@ Jul 15, 2022 at 8:22 PM
nationwide thc vape shipping,thc vape juice discreet ship australia,thc vape juice worldwide shipping,thc vape pen worldwide shipping,thc vape juice discreet shipping,420 vape juice australia,thc vape juice discreet shipping uk,buy thc vape online,thc vape juice usa,thc vape juice delivery,vape cartridge,open vape cartridge refill,thc vape cartridges online,vape store usa

Selective school exam's Gravatar
Selective school exam
@ Aug 9, 2022 at 12:36 AM
Nice post.

Selective school exam's Gravatar
Selective school exam
@ Aug 9, 2022 at 12:37 AM
Nice post.

jhonpeter's Gravatar
@ Aug 9, 2022 at 4:09 AM
Outcome based education with highly successful learning methodology for scholarship preparation classes, children get complete and exclusive real time tests to succeed at Scholarship preparation in Melbourne.

buy european passport online's Gravatar
buy european passport online
@ Aug 15, 2022 at 1:37 PM
where you can buy citizenship and a second passport. buy european passport online

Travelling North's Gravatar
Travelling North
@ Sep 22, 2022 at 8:21 AM
Get looking for Immigrate to Canada with Express Entry? So we will help Canadian immigration option for skilled workers and foreign worker. Canada aims to welcome about 120,000 Express Entry candidates each year.

b2b database providers's Gravatar
b2b database providers
@ Oct 27, 2022 at 12:42 AM
Are you looking for a B2B Companies list in India? If “yes,” you need not worry about it, as you can get reliable and accurate data from 99datacd.

exporters list in India's Gravatar
exporters list in India
@ Oct 27, 2022 at 12:44 AM
Are you searching for an exporters list in India? If “yes,” what are you waiting for? You must have words with the 99datacd experts; with their guidance, you will understand the worth of data and buy the same.

Database Company's Gravatar
Database Company
@ Nov 7, 2022 at 1:15 AM
Contact 99datacd which is the best database company in India. You can download the list of database companies in an Excel format. For more information visit 99datacd.

slotsite's Gravatar
@ Nov 18, 2022 at 8:23 PM
I'm writing on this topic these days, slotsite but I have stopped writing because there is no reference material. Then I accidentally found your article. I can refer to a variety of materials, so I think the work I was preparing will work! Thank you for your efforts.

Best Data Provider's Gravatar
Best Data Provider
@ Nov 24, 2022 at 9:52 PM
Email marketing is a necessity for taking your business toward success! You are pitching your brand and connecting with your potential customers by sending your email. Get the latest email IDs from 99datacd, the best data provider.

List of Manufacturing Companies in India's Gravatar
List of Manufacturing Companies in India
@ Dec 2, 2022 at 3:56 AM
Check out the list of manufacturing companies in India & download it from 99 data cd in an excel file.

Commenting has been turned off.