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Dec. 21, 2007

Israeli wines now available


Ten Israeli wines are now available in many B.C. liquor stores. All of the wines are kosher and kosher for Passover and one is mevushal (cooked/boiled, so that it retains its religious purity no matter who opens, pours or drinks it). And, what's more, the wines taste great.

International Cellars Inc. is currently representing three Israeli wineries: Galil Mountain, Golan Heights and Dalton. According to Israeli Wine Festival chair Rochelle Golumbia, the main champion of bringing Israeli wine to the province, Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wines (2007) ranks Galil Mountain Winery as No. 6 in the list of Israel's top 10 wineries and No. 1 in the list of the 10 best value producers, Golan Heights Winery is No. 1 in the top 10 list and No. 2 in the best value list and Dalton is No. 3 in the best value list and No. 4 in the top 10 fastest-improving list.

"I visited wineries in Israel for the first time in 2005 and was inspired by the wineries themselves – the physical places and their stories, and with the calibre of the wines and how the industry was taking off because of the innovation and leadership of the winemakers – classic modern Israeli success stories that are rooted in the land itself," Golumbia told the Independent. "That every drop of wine is made from Israeli grapes, grapes grown on land that has produced wine for thousands of years, land that our ancestors walked, evokes a connection for me that defies any kind of logic.

"Wine seems to be an internationally recognized language of celebration," she continued. "For me, Israeli wine presented a wonderful vehicle to create a celebratory community event ... to benefit a community organization, bring people together and help the Israeli economy and promote Israel in a very positive way."

The first Israeli Wine Festival was held in 2006. In addition to supporting the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library with the volunteer-driven event, Golumbia said she had "the goal of one day having Israeli wines in an Israel section of B.C. liquor and wine stores." To that end, she promoted the wines before, during and after the festival to the local wine trade, including to International Cellars Inc. and the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB).

Norman Gladstone, International Cellars' principal director, said he has known Golumbia for years – they're both from Saskatoon and their families know each other. However, friendship was not enough to sell him on her passion.

"She came to with an idea about two years ago," said Gladstone. "She was quite inspired to promote Israeli wines in B.C. and she came to me and I said, 'I don't think it's a terrific idea. We have no interest whatsoever from a commercial viewpoint,' and she was absolutely not taken aback in the least."

Golumbia was persistent, said Gladstone, and she eventually won him over. As well, the BCLDB approached International Cellars, since the company had imported Golan Heights Yarden wines in the past, and asked Gladstone and his colleagues whether or not they still had viable connections in Israel. When the answer was yes, the BCLDB asked if International Cellars would help it establish an Israeli wine sector. International Cellars agreed, said Gladstone, on the condition that the wine was placed under an Israeli banner, rather than a kosher banner.

"While we have a natural emotional tie to Israel," explained Gladstone, "we're also in the wine business and we see Israeli wines as being as good as, if not better than, what's on the shelf right now. Israel can compete on a world basis, strictly on its own merits. Obviously, it's the Jewish communities in the Diaspora that are the first line of support and we recognize that but our main objective is to sell these wines to the community at large and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do that."

International Cellars has no business relationship with Golumbia, said Gladstone. "She is strictly doing this on her own enthusiasm for Israel and for Israeli wines and to see Israel do well and she has, more or less, handed the ball over to us."

It is now up to the community to keep the wine flowing.

"The liquor board will take a look at this and say, 'How are these wines doing?' and they're going to look at this strictly from a commercial basis," said Gladstone. "We'd like the community to get out there and support it, and to look at these wines as good, solid wines; the secondary benefit, of course, is that they're kosher or kosher for Passover."

Normally, it is up to a company like International Cellars to go into each and every liquor store to get them to sell their wines, but, because the BCLDB is so supportive of this venture, "the liquor board is doing an initial introduction to 23 stores and our [International Cellars'] sales staff are going out to get it into more stores as well," said Gladstone.

David Hopgood, portfolio manager for wines of Europe for the BCLDB, was instrumental in getting the Israeli wines to British Columbia, said Golumbia and Gladstone.

Last June, Gladstone, Hopgood and Michael Procopio, director of purchasing for the BCLDB, attended the Vin Expo in Bordeaux, France. They agreed on 10 Israeli wines that they thought would sell well here.

"We were very impressed, very impressed, with the quality of wines and the quality of the packaging as well," said Hopgood. "I actually think that these wines, although they're more expensive than the Carmel wine, which were in the $12-$13 range, I think these wines will be successful."

The lowest-priced wine is the Dalton Winery Canaan Red, at $16.99, and there are several at the $17.99 level, "and they deliver at that price point," said Hopgood. At the higher end, there is the Galil Mountain Winery Yiron Cabernet Merlot Syrah at $29.99 and the Golan Heights Winery Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, which is also a blend, at $39.99.

"We realize that this needs to happen," said Hopgood about why the BCLDB is promoting these wines by putting them into more than 20 of their stores, with additional inventory of the popular-priced wines for other stores to order if there is demand for them. As to why the wines arrived a bit behind schedule, he explained, "This has been a bit of a Murphy's Law situation. Whatever could go wrong seemed to go wrong.

"It took forever for the wineries to get the labels compliant for Canada. All the wine was apparently ready to go and booked on a boat that would have arrived very early November and the boat left a day or two early without the wine. Then, the next boat they could get did a slow crawl, virtually stopping at every port in the Mediterranean and then all the way up the West Coast here ... and the wines were supposed to arrive on the 28th of November, but it was delayed by a full week; they didn't arrive until Thursday [Dec. 6]. That we got the wines cleared through customs, into our warehouse and out to the stores within a week, is pretty quick, and we had everything else set up because we knew time was of the essence."

Hopgood said that of the stores that carry the wine, there are six where the full selection is available: 39th and Cambie, Park Royal on the North Shore, Richmond Brighouse, Westwood Centre in Coquitlam, Fort Street in Victoria and Kelowna Orchard Park. Wines will also be available in Prince George and Nelson.

"Buy them and enjoy them," recommended Gladstone. "Take them to your friends, Jewish and non-Jewish. Spread the good word, because these are top-notch wines and they represent very good value for quality."

For more information, visit The next Israeli Wine Festival – which will support the Ohel Ya'akov Community Kollel – will take place May 4, 2008.