Tabor wine: it's the real thing

The might of Coca-Cola has propelled a boutique Galilee winery to world class status.

By Anthea Gerrie, July 10, 2014

It's a very modern Israeli fairytale. A grape grower - the fourth generation of growers in his village - decides not to sell his grapes to wine makers any more. Instead, he finds a wine-maker to help him produce his own wine. The results are so good that a subsidiary of multi-national Coca-Cola notices and invests millions.

The grower - Arie Sela - and wine-maker, Arie Nesher, have both stayed on to see their bottles win top national and international accolades.

This is the story of Tabor, named after the biblical mountain in the shade of which the winery sits.

The winery was founded in 1999 with a tiny production of just 30,000 bottles per year. Since its 2005 takeover by IBBL - which markets Campari and leading international spirit brands as well as Coca-Cola in Israel - it has become Israel's sixth largest winery, making nearly two million bottles. Its Adama Merlot has just won an unprecedented 93 points from the highly respected Wine Enthusiast Magazine - the top award the American publication has given any Israeli wine and its wines - which are kosher - landed in Britain for the first time this spring.

The Sela family who founded it remains at the heart of the operation.

"Arie (Sela) the grower, and his son Oren, who has managed the winery since its foundation, are central to Tabor's evolution," says David Montefiore, the company's wine culture manager.

Nesher is one of the oldest and most respected winemakers in Israel and his talents were not lost on IDBL.

"They looked everywhere from Carmel to Golan and discovered that little Tabor was the one with the most potential to grow," says Michal Akerman - one of the country's top viticulturists - who herself was hired within two years of IBBL acquiring the winery.

Akerman has overseen the planting of many new grapes and varietals, as well as the purchase of many more vineyards in all Israel's top wine-producing regions - from the Golan Heights to the Jerusalem Hills and even, most audaciously, the Negev.

"It's like a dream," says Akerman. "We go to the big wine industry fair in Italy and I walk through the aisles saying: 'I'll have this, I'd like that.' Every kind of equipment I could possibly want is provided.

"I even asked for a meteorological station on every vineyard, and for me to be texted the weather conditions every hour from every location. A tall order, but it was done - really you couldn't want more in the way of technological assistance, although you also need the talent of the wine-makers to judge what to do with the wine once it's in the barrels."

The company is also at the forefront of pioneering white wine cultivation in Israel - where the focus has previously been mainly on reds; and Nesher's skills have won Tabor many national gold medals for three unusual wine blends in its Adama II series including Chardonnay with Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was down to Akerman though that Tabor was the first winery in Israel to make a white wine with just Roussanne grapes. This is something rarely attempted in the grapes' native Rhone Valley, where it is generally only used to blend with other grapes.

"I saw that we got much more aroma from Roussanne than in France because of the climate, so I was the first to plant it in Israel, in the Golan in 2009," says Akerman of the wine which has won a bronze in Israel's leading wine competition.

No wonder, given the talent on hand, that even when it was a tiny boutique winery owned by four partners, the company sold out of every one of its vintages and still has difficulty holding on to its signature, gold medal-winning Sauvignon Blanc from one year to the next.

She says that IBBL leaves its talented employees to do its own thing. "They have given Tabor a great economic background, but they don't interfere in anything we do."

And clearly they see no harm in giving a face to what is now a big corporate operation, in the form of the Sela family who have hung in rather than selling out and taking it easy.

"The original vineyards have come of age and the fact Tabor is now producing the best wines it ever has is due not only to Michal's talents in the vineyards and Arie Nesher's special style of winemaking but the Sela family's heart and soul," says Montefiore.

Tabor wines are available on Amazon, and in various stores specialising in kosher wines through their UK distributor Kedem,

Last updated: 5:47pm, July 10 2014