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Linda-Marie Singer is...THE LIVEWIRE

Linda-Marie Singer - Click to Enlarge Israeli Wine Barons:
Jonathan and Neely Tishbi
Are Israel’s Barons of Wine

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TEL AVIV, ISRAEL: “Friendship is the wine of life” reads the sign greeting visitors to Baron Wine Cellars in the Galilee.

Jonathan and Neeley Tishbi, owners of Baron Wine Cellars, toast a glass with Wine Maker Arieh NesherDon’t be surprised to see owners Jonathan and Neely Tishbi pouring wine and leading you on tours of their family-run business that began in 1984. Along the way, you’ll undoubtedly bump into Arieh Nesher, their Russian winemaker, who likes to tell the story of how fortunate he is to have landed at the Tishbis. “It was unexpected to find such a welcome,” Nesher says. “It was lonely when I first made aliyah (immigration). I was all alone from Russia. I had a degree from the Polytechnical Institute, but I knew no one here. I was so homesick when I met Jonathan and Neely and became their winemaker. Now I feel we are like family. They have fulfilled my dreams. ” (Picture: Jonathan and Neeley Tishbi, owners of Baron Wine Cellars, toast a glass with Wine Maker Arieh Nesher)

Michael and Malka Tishbi had a dream of their own back in 1882 when they followed Baron Edmond Rothschild to Zichron in the Galilee, and planted the first wine grapes in Palestine. More than a century ago, it was clear to Rothschild and to the new settlers that the soil and climate along the Carmel mountain range was ideal for growing quality wine grapes. Jonathan grew up with his parents’ desire to produce good wine, and took a job with the Carmel-Mizrachi winery and became their biggest grape supplier.

Family is never forgotten at the Baron Wine Cellars“I visited vineyards in France and Italy, and gradually learned many techniques which I passed onto them,” reveals Tishbi, “but they weren’t eager to do anything new. Out of frustration, I formed my own business called Baron Wine Cellars in honor of Baron Rothschild.” (Picture: Family is never forgotten at the Baron Wine Cellars)

Neely Tishbi listens to her husband and welcomes a group of wine tasters. As she begins pouring glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon from their Tishbi Private Cellar, she talks about their aim for excellence. “We did not want to compromise on quality,” she says. “It would be worthless to start up an enterprise only to be mediocre. Things had to be done honorably.”

By 1994, after only ten years in the business, the company won the Bronze for their Cabernet Sauvignon at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London. The next year they garnered a Silver for their Muscat Dry and Sauvignon Blanc. In 1996, Baron Cellars was awarded the Domecq Trophy, winners of the Gold Medal in the Best Worldwide Brandy International Wine & Spirit Competition.

“Sometimes we think this is all a fairytale,” says Neely, a woman whose personality radiates warmth. “We had no real money to advertise our product,” she says, “so I investigated all the good wine shops in Israel, and stood outside to give away our bottles. It was very lonely in the beginning, but gradually customers stopped to have a taste and always said it was very good. ‘Where can we buy it?’ they wanted to know, so it happened by word of mouth...just a swallow.”

It also helped the struggling mom and pop operation when renown South African winemaker, Sidney Beck, took a personal interest. “Sidney came to Israel for a visit,” explains Jonathan. “For some reason he was never quite satisfied with the quality of wine here. We met in 1988 when he went to all the wineries and stopped by Zichron. He told us immediately that we would succeed. We must! ‘You will hear from me,’ he promised.” Eventually, Beck gave the Tishbis their start-up money, but with the request that they use the South African method where the wines produced are light and airy.

“Financially, he gave us the opportunity to buy new equipment that we desperately needed,” Jonathan declares. “The more modern machinery you have helps reach a superiority. By the time we were ready for harvest, he had become like family. We never forget that it was Sidney Beck who gave us prestige and confidence. The proof is that he went into a joint venture with us and helped develop brandy.” The venture paid off. In 1996 Baron Wine Cellars won The Best Brandy Worldwide.

Today Baron Wine can be found in Denmark, Australia, Germany and France, and of course Israel. “Our selections begin as low as $4, a great price for high quality. For awhile, TWA sold only Baron champagnes and that was a wonderful promotion,” Neely adds. What’s more. She doesn’t have to stand in front of wine shops any longer.

Visit Baron Wine Cellars
33 Hameyasdim Street
Zikron Yarcov

Phone: 011-972-6-380434-5

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Linda-Marie Singer "The LIVEWIRE" for Travel Watch. Former President of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, and created the national writers conference, "The Days of Wine & Proses." She is a travel and entertainment reporter living in the San Francisco Bay Area. (More about this writer.)

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