The Jerusalem Wineries
As Jerusalem Day approaches, it is a good time to consider the ‘Jerusalem wineries’, which are so called, even if they are no longer situated in Jerusalem. These are not small wineries. In the 2011 harvest, Arza Winery was Israel’s 7th largest winery in terms of tons of grapes harvested. They harvested 1,340 tons of wine grapes. Zion Winery was the ninth largest winery, harvesting 1,224 tons. The Jerusalem Winery was the 11th largest, harvesting 1,111 tons and Hacormim was the 14th largest, harvesting 498 tons.
Arza, Zion and Hacormim are all today situated in Haharuvim Street in Mishor Adumim, the industrial estate near Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem. The owners and managers of each of these wineries all descend from the Shor family, which opened the first recorded winery in Palestine in 1847/1848. The Jerusalem Winery was a less well known off shoot of the Shor family, known as Shimshon Winery. In 2005 it was sold and renamed.
However, the statistics are misleading because much of their production is for grape juice and Kiddush (sacramental) wine. Their relative size to other wineries would be smaller, if the criteria was for table wine only. However they still form an interesting, largely unknown part of the Israeli wine industry.
The story began when Rabbi Mordechai Avraham Galin made aliyah to Israel in approximately 1835 from what is now Belarus. After a few years in Safed, he was appointed Head of The Tiferet Israel Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. In those days the Jewish population within the walls of the Old City was very religious but also very poor. For this reason, his son Rabbi Yitzhak Galin, decided to open a winery in order to gain an income.
At this time there were no less than 25 wineries in the Old City of Jerusalem. All were localized, family affairs. They were domestic wineries using Arab grown table grape varieties of grapes from the Bethlehem and Hebron areas, in order to make Kiddush wine for the family’s use. (Wherever there were Jewish communities there were always home-based winemaking, wine being essential for practicing Jews.)
Rabbi Yitzhak saw a market supplying the community resident in the Old City. He married the daughter of Aaron Shor, the owner of a wine store and decided to adopt her surname in order make use of the permit they had from the Turkish authorities, allowing him to open a winery. The winery was known as ‘Shor Brothers’. It was situated in a cellar in Haggai Street in an alley backing on the Western Wall, near the Mosque of Omar. The alley led from the Damascus Gate – one of the entrances to the Old City. Family members today relate that a row of wine barrels were placed along the part of the Holy Wall adjoining the winery, so that forgetful workers would not touch it by mistake!
Another winery of the 1840’s was established by the Geneo family, descendants of Spanish Marranos and members of the Saloniki community. However it is the Shor Winery that is remembered, because it was the only one to stand the test of time.
The other winery remembered from the mid 19th century belonged to the Teperberg family. Rabbi Avraham and his son Rabbi Zeev Zeida became the first known drinks distributors in 1852, specializing in delivering spirits & liqueurs for the Christian market. In 1870 they formed a small domestic winery called Efrat.
The Shor family operated freely for nearly 80 years in the Old City. In 1925, the British Mandate, which had taken over Palestine from the Turks, decreed that businesses had to move out of the Old City. The Shor Winery then moved to Beit Israel, an area near Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. The new winery was built above a reservoir, which was turned into a large wine cellar. They supplied sweet, mainly red wines, to the locals. The grape varieties were mainly Alicante and Carignan, still from Bethlehem and Hebron vineyards.
In 1940’s there was an edict that businesses could not be named after a family name. This was the first time the name Zion Winery (Yikvei Zion) was used, but to the loyal consumers, the winery was still referred to as ‘Avraham Moshe Shor’ – after the two brothers running the business. However in 1947/8 as production and the family had grown, they decided to split the business. Avraham Shor stayed in Beit Israel, agreeing to produce wine and grape juice. Moshe Shor began a business in Tel Arza in the outskirts of Jerusalem (near Atarot), focusing on production and selling of spirits and liqueurs. The Tel Arza business later split into two and Arza Winery and Hacormim Winery were the result.
Efrat also moved out of Jerusalem. In the 1930’s the winery closed and only reopened on the founding of the State. In the 1960’s it settled in Moza, in the outskirts of Jerusalem. When Moti Teperberg, the current owner took over from his father, it was a small winery mainly supplying sweet wines and alcoholic beverages to the strictly religious Jewish market.
Arza Winery is today managed by Mordechai (Motti) Shor. Hacormin is today managed by Yechiel Shor. His son Eli Shor is the winemaker. Three generations of the family currently work at Zion Winery. The Co-Chairmen are brothers Elisha and Peretz Shor. The manager of the winery is Elisha’s son Moshe Shor. The winemaker is Zvika Shor, who was handed down the job by his father, the previous winemaker. Yossi Shor the marketing director is the 9th generation.
All the wineries have traditionally sold wine, grape juice and alcoholic beverages, primarily to an orthodox and ultra-orthodox clientele. Arza, the largest of the three, was mainly known for its grape juice and Hacormin for its Conditon and Kings Kiddush Wines. Conditon is a very popular brand for the strictly religious.
Each has recently tried to come to terms with modern needs. Arza employed an internationally trained winemaker, Philippe Liechtenstein, who graduated from Montpelier University in France. He was for many years the winemaker at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Winery. They have recently moved away from their old image, producing quality table wines under the Auteur and Tel Arza labels. They also marketed a modern, innovative range of sacramental wines under the Hallel label, including low alcohol and varietal Kiddush wines.
Hacormim’s winemaker, Eli Shor, participated in the Cellar Master Program at Tel Hai College, however they still seem to remain focused on their popular sweet wines. Zion Winery has been most progressive. They invested in new equipment including small temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, a pneumatic press and new small oak barrels. They decided to purchase better quality grapes and employed Arkadi Papikian as wine consultant. Dr. Papikian worked for Carmel at Rishon Le Zion and was winemaker of Dalton for a few years. He is now the most prominent winemaking consultant in Israel, much in demand by small & stat-up wineries. Zion Winery also rebranded themselves and launched a series of good value table wines. Their best wines are under the 1848, Armon and Tidhar labels.
Three years ago the Jerusalem Winery employed an experienced winemaker called Zvi Skaist, who for 18 years had worked for Carmel Mizrachi at both their Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov facilities. They too have started producing dry table wines.
There were successes to highlight the new drive for quality. Zion won four gold medals at the Terravino Competition. Arza created great interest by launching their new dry wines with an innovative Secret Wine, marketing using a QR code, read only be a smart phone. Jerusalem won medals in the Best Value competition for two wines under the Ugav label.
As for Efrat, under the baton of Motti Teperberg, they have developed & grown fast. They employed two international trained winemakers, Shiki Rauchberger and Olivier Pratty, one studied in California, the other in France. They then built a new winery at Tzora, near the Tzora Kibbutz and Dir Raffat Monastery. They renamed the company Teperberg 1870 and have won numerous awards in the good value category. It is one of the most improved wineries in Israel. Today Teperberg 1870 is the largest family owned winery in Israel and the fourth largest winery overall. Their best wines are under the Teperberg Reserve and terra labels.
So there are signs of a quality revolution in these most traditional wineries, or at least a change in focus. The Shor wineries may no longer be in Jerusalem, though they are still collectively known as ‘the Jerusalem wineries.’ The last winery to leave modern Jerusalem was the Einav Winery, which closed in the 1990’s.
The Shor wineries and Teperberg are what remains of the Jerusalem wineries. They were around before the Rothschilds founded a modern Israeli wine industry in the late 19th century. They remain an example of how families have maintained their family profession of producing wine, whilst at the same time being loyal to their religion. Now, they have also recently started to make some very good wines too.