“Of course I know Montefiore wine,” the well-to-do woman boasted confidently to Arnon, “we drink it at our house all the time.” Arnon smiled smugly, remembering this incident, which took place months before the first bottles had even been filled. “It was at that moment that I knew our brand would be a major success.”
Arnon is the CEO at Montefiore Winery, named after none other than Sir Moses Montefiore, arguably the most influential Jewish philanthropist of the 19th century. He led me through the quaint cobblestone alleyways of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the first neighborhood established beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1860 by Montefiore. “So this was my childhood,” Arnon announced, spreading his arms dramatically toward the famous windmill that has become iconic of modern Jerusalem. He recalled what it was like growing up in this historic neighborhood, constantly being rudely awakened to the sounds of tour guides mumbling the significance of his backyard through crackling speakers in English, Chinese and Russian. “At the time, I didn’t really appreciate any of it,” Arnon admitted, shaking his head, “but now I truly feel like I am continuing the legacy of Moses Montefiore every day.”
You might be able to tell from the regal photos of him, but in addition to being a successful banker and philanthropist, Montefiore was quite the wine enthusiast. “He drank a bottle of wine every single day and lived to be more than 100 years old,” Arnon told me excitedly, “but he didn’t just love the wine. He loved the entire process, especially the agricultural aspect. Combining wine with his Zionist ideals was the perfect expression of his values.”
Born in Italy and raised in London, Montefiore first came to Israel in 1827 with his wife, Judith, and then six times after that. He established Mishkenot Sha’ananim in order to develop the industry, education, agriculture and health infrastructures of the New Yishuv, but was careful to include his love of wine into the plans. “This whole area used to be vineyards,” Arnon explained, motioning toward the valley that spreads down from the windmill all the way up to the fortress walls of the Old City. As I gazed out to the area, now full of upscale shops, galleries and restaurants, I tried to imagine that just a few decades ago it was lined with trellised green vineyards. There is no question that Montefiore’s passion lives on through the winery established in his name.
Arnon dreamed of establishing Montefiore Winery for years. He worked at one of Israel’s largest wineries together with wine industry veteran, Adam Montefiore, Moses’ great-nephew and the first member of the Montefiore family to ever move to Israel. “Every morning I would go to Adam’s office with my coffee and try and convince him to start a winery together,” Arnon recalled with a smile. Whereas Adam has a thorough understanding of the international and Israeli wine industry, Arnon is more business and marketing oriented, and he simply could not drop the idea of having a bottle of wine with the Montefiore name stamped on the sticker as a brand, especially given the romantic place the man and his story played in his childhood. Finally, after more cups of coffee than he could count, Arnon’s passionate tenacity paid off. “I can’t do it,” he remembers Adam telling him, “but my kids will.”
And, just like that, Arnon teamed up with Adam’s children, David and Rachel, and established Montefiore Winery to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. “We are looking to make wines that are appropriate to the culture and climate of the land of Israel,” Arnon told me. Making wines specifically with varietals that feel at home in the Mediterranean sun and crafted to delight the Israeli palate is no easy task, but Montefiore Winery is nailing it. With the Montefiore name on the label and the amazingly talented team behind it, there is no confusion as to why this young winery has quickly become a household name in high scale restaurants and wine shops all over the world. Montefiore Winery tells not only the story of Sir Moses Montefiore and his family, but that of modern Israeli history, Zionism, and the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
Tasting: Montefiore Red 2014
Arnon is not just interested in selling quality wine, but also in shaping the drinking culture in Israel. “There needs to be affordable wine that is easy to drink and complementary to food,” Arnon insisted. This delightful Mediterranean blend of Malbec, Shiraz, and Petit Syrah, is a perfect example of what Montefiore Winery is all about. Snobs who might scoff at an unoaked bottle of red wine will have their tail in between their legs after pouring themselves a glass of this wine. Medium body and geared towards a full plate of food, you will not believe how quickly this bottle will go down at your table. Although the blackberry tones of this wine are very forward and exciting, it is the spice and kick of pepper that really make it so delightful. Drink this wine over a several course meal when you need a little Zionism pick-me-up, while listening to Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” or U2’s “October.