Lesser-known wine countries have become hotbeds of excitement for restaurant and retail buyers in recent years, but Israel’s growing wine industry faces a unique set of challenges in the U.S. market—chief among them its association with kosher wine, which is often characterized as sweet and low in quality.
“Everyone thinks Israeli wine is Manischewitz,” says Joshua Greenstein, the executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Israel Wine Producers Association (IWPA), “which isn’t even from Israel!”
Greenstein is a fifth-generation wine industry member; his father works for a distributor, which Greenstein credits with giving him a taste of the “old-school” business mentality (“The old-school people stick together,” he notes). When he graduated from college in 2003, Greenstein worked as a merchandiser before taking positions at E. & J. Gallo and Yellowtail.
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights. Sign up for our award-winning Daily Dispatch newsletter—delivered to your inbox every week.
In 2010, Greenstein joined Royal Wine Corp. to form the IWPA, which includes over 30 member wineries and imports nearly 75 percent of all of the Israeli wine that comes into the U.S. Over the 12 years that Greenstein has helmed “brand Israel,” as he calls it, awareness of the country as a wine-producing region has changed dramatically. “Israeli wines weren’t even talked about [before I got into the wine business],” says Greenstein. “It’s only in the past couple of years that it has become more of a hot topic.”
Exclusively selling wines from a lesser-known wine country can be difficult—but it also offers opportunities to introduce buyers to a new discovery. “One of my favorite things to do as I travel the U.S. is to simply ask people: ‘Have you ever had a wine from Israel before?’ The answers I get are all over the map,” says Greenstein. Interest in emerging regions and new grape varieties has bolstered Greenstein’s ability to make inroads with buyers.
“The challenges are always there [when selling wine], but with Israel, it’s more the fact that U.S. buyers don’t even know they are making wines,” says Greenstein. “But it’s becoming less of an obstacle. People are looking for experimental stuff and trying new things.” The best technique that Greenstein can employ is to share the stories behind the wines in his bag—and though the vast majority of the wines in the IWPA’s portfolio are kosher, he rarely leads with that, preferring for the wines’ quality to speak for themselves. Greenstein also encourages retailers—which compose the majority of his sales—to include a dedicated Israeli section to their selections rather than hiding them with miscellaneous, dusty bottles in the back.
When Greenstein shows wines to buyers, he has a hard time picking just a few. “I’m showing a country, a map,” he says. “The biggest thing I want people to take away is that the wines are from Israel. To just introduce them to the category—that’s what’s in my bag.” (Listed are suggested retail prices for the New York market.)
Bottle 1: Vitkin White Israeli Journey 2020; $25.99
“This wine really represents what I’m doing—it’s a journey throughout the country,” says Greenstein. An aromatic, fresh blend of Viognier, Colombard, and Gewürztraminer, Vitkin’s White Israeli Journey comes from vineyards across Israel. It also represents the Israeli market’s shift towards white wines, which are devoured amidst the country’s notoriously hot summers.
Bottle 2: Segal Native Marawi 2019; $24.99
Though Israel works with a number of Bordeaux grapes, Mediterranean grapes, and beyond, it also has a handful of indigenous grape varieties, which producers are newly turning back to. Ido Lewinsohn, MW, who is now the winemaker for Barkan Winery and Segal Winery, was one of the first to make a varietal Marawi (also known as Hamdani) through his previous position at Recanati Winery. “The reason why this wine is in the bag is because it’s fun and it’s an attention-grabber—which many buyers are looking for,” says Greenstein, who notes that the Segal Native Marawi is a clean, fruity, lighter-bodied example.
Bottle 3: Tabor Adama Rosé 2021; $19.99
Located in the northern Galilee mountains, Tabor Winery has been an industry leader of environmentally friendly agriculture and biodiversity in the country’s vineyards, helmed by passionate CEO and viticulturist Michal Akerman. The Adama Rosé is crafted from Barbera, with plenty of juicy, red fruit aromas and flavors.
Bottle 4: 1848 Winery Argaman 2019; $29.99
Though many U.S. wine professionals think of Israel as a young winemaking country—and indeed, its modern wine history is fairly recent—the Shor family has crafted wines in Jerusalem since 1848. In this bottling, 1848 Winery (which was officially founded in 2006) works with the Argaman grape, a crossing of Carignan and Sousão that was created to “imitate the grape mentioned in the Bible, which was so inky and dark that it was used to dye clothes,” says Greenstein. Though some wineries blend it with other grapes to craft a deeply colored wine, here it’s seen as a varietal wine.
Bottle 5: Tulip Winery Black Tulip 2019; $62.99
Founded in 2003, Tulip Winery sits within Kfar Tikva, a “Village of Hope” community for adults with developmental and cognitive disabilities, and it employs many members of the local community at the winery. “We do have some classic grapes, and Cabernet is king throughout many parts of the country,” says Greenstein. The flagship wine of the producer, Black Tulip is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, with a label designed by one of the Kfar Tikva community members.
Sign up for our award-winning newsletter
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.
Courtney Schiessl Magrini is the executive editor for SevenFifty Daily and the Beverage Media Group publications. Based in Brooklyn, she has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir, and her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, GuildSomm, Forbes.com, VinePair, EatingWell Magazine, and more. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines. Follow her on Instagram at @takeittocourt.