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Israel on US push

Israel is preparing to reinvent the image of its wines in America, its biggest foreign wine market.

A consortium of some 30 wineries plan to spend $1m yearly to rebrand their wines in the US.

The program will advance the notion that the wines are Israeli and eastern Mediterranean rather than ‘the stereotype – Jewish, kosher, sacramental,’ says Michal Neeman of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute’s food and beverage division.

Israeli wines are perceived as primarily kosher in America, even if some from boutiques are not kosher. In addition, America’s kosher-wine sector is increasingly filling up with competitors from other wine countries.

Having introduced labels that downplay the image of Jewishness, producers want to broaden their appeal by attracting non-Jewish consumers.

Yehiel Assia, the institute’s director general, hopes to double wine exports to the US to $15m in three years.

The consortium’s members include Carmel Wines, Golan Heights Winery, Binyamina, Efrat and Tishbi wineries.

The total number of Israeli producers is elusive. ‘There are no absolute figures,’ Neeman says. ‘There are 25 wineries harvesting over 50 tons and at least 125 boutiques or home-based wineries. In all probability, there are more than that.’

With world-class winegrowing ranging from the far north, including the Golan Heights and Galilee, southward through the Jerusalem Mountains and into the Negev Desert, Israelis see no reason why they can’t rival New Zealand’s success in America.

In 2005, more than 50% of Israel’s wine went to North America, and more than 30% to Western Europe.

The rest goes to 30-plus countries on five continents. The main importers are America, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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