Gal Zohar DipWSET co-wrote the New Israeli Wine Guide and is the first WSET course provider in Israel. He shares his insights on the Israeli wine industry with us.
You are co-author of the New Israeli Wine Guide – can you share with us what developments in Israeli wine most excite you?
One of the most exciting developments is the quest towards an 'Israeli Wine'. Local growers and producers have been trying to create not only a local mediterranean style of wine but also to find the old varietals which were used in ancient times. This has led to the revival of old vine Carignan, the rediscovery of the only real Israeli varietal - Argaman, and to the rise of wineries focusing only on local mediterranean varieties. Regionality is also an issue of increasing importance and some of the country's best wineries (Tzora, Shvo, and Bar Maor) dedicate their work to one region only. The pioneers of quality (Flam, Domaine du Castel and Margalit) have not been left behind either as they constantly strive for better quality, dedicating attention to even the smallest of details and better equipment. Finally, one of the most refreshing developments has been the production of premium white wines. With a country where the sun is shining 10 months a year this makes perfect sense.
How has the Israeli wine landscape changed over the last 10 years? And what changes do you think are yet to come?
The wine scene I left in 2006 when I moved to London was completely different to the one I found on my return in 2010. A new generation of young, talented and educated winemakers were busy revolutionizing the local landscape. With a philosophy of creating crafted, complex but drinkable wines, quality was on the rise. Nowadays this ethos is very much alive. White wines are better than ever, and a quest towards forgotten indigenous grapes has resulted in the production of wines that are not only of good quality but also have an exciting history behind them.
Your business Zohar Wine has just become the first WSET Approved Programme Provider in Israel – can you tell us why you wanted to bring WSET to your home country?
My experience of studying at the WSET School London was an extremely positive one. It really opened my mind and made me appreciate how endless learning about wine can be. I’ve always found myself drawn to wine education, and essentially it has been a big part of what I’ve already been doing over the past five years, and I really believe in the platform of WSET. Apart from meeting many people from the industry – which can be both inspiring and advantageous – I believe that there’s added value to formal, internationally recognised studies in the sense that it is another step forward in the development of the local Israeli wine trade.
It’s always a good idea in all aspects of life to 'get out of your box' and see something else. It gives you perspective.
What type of students are you expecting to see attending your WSET courses?
Most of the students that have already enrolled or begun the courses are young professionals from the wine trade, mainly from the service and marketing side but also a few from retail. I've been impressed by how many young, eager to learn and develop, sommeliers I’ve encountered. Israel is very small; I thought I knew everyone in the trade! But apparently I didn’t, which was a very nice surprise.
I do have enthusiasts that are taking interest in the courses and I expect to see this increase once we begin offering the Level 1 Award in Wine.
Prior to setting up Zohar Wine you worked in London as a Sommelier and Wine Consultant. How important has gaining international experience been to your career?
I can’t even imagine having a proper career in this industry without having lived in London. First, it made me appreciate and believe that a love of wine could actually develop into a proper career, not something obvious to me at the time. Second, I learnt so much during my time there, by meeting so many interesting and knowledgeable people, through my actual work experience and my studies. It also really helps to have international experience, I think people appreciate professionals who have worked hard and achieved something. It’s always a good idea in all aspects of life to 'get out of your box' and see something else. It gives you perspective.