Pitch Up: Community Voices – Tal Sunderland-Cohen, Israeli Wine Ambassador

A conversation between Jewish Museum London, & Tal Sunderland-Cohen, Israeli Wine Ambassador

Museum: Let’s start by introducing yourself and your role.

Tal: My name is Tal Sunderland-Cohen, I’m an Israeli wine specialist. I’ve been giving seminars and masterclasses about Israeli wines for around 30 years.  As a journalist I’ve written for Globes, an economic magazine in Israel, for wine and gourmet magazines and I’ve written several books about wine and spirits, especially Israeli ones which is my deepest passion. I am also a wine judge and a wine ambassador. My aim is to introduce Israeli wines all over the world, not only for Jewish communities, but to all, everywhere I go. So in China, Japan, Australia, Africa, wherever people drink wine, you’ll find me there introducing Israeli wines.

Museum :Do people sometimes need convincing about Israeli wines?

Tal: Well, Israeli wines are a hidden gem. Many people know about Israel, about our innovation as a start-up nation, about our fantastic agriculture, but Israeli wines are still quite unknown. First, we are a very small wine-producing country; some wineries in Australia or in France make more in one winery than all of Israel’s together. However, our wine is unique and because we don’t mass-produce we don’t have cheap wines but instead we have wines of high quality. And that’s why we receive a lot of trophies and medals in wine competitions all around the world.

When I introduce Israeli wine, I let the wine talk for itself and people can notice the quality. I also tell the story of the wine which goes back a really long time. European wine is often called ‘old world wine’, but that would mean Israel’s is ‘ancient world wine’ because we have been making it for over 4000 years. Wine was the hero of the Bible, and of every country that actually conquered our area in Israel. And when people try Israeli wine, they fall in love with it.

You can divide the history into parts; the ancient part is that we used to drink wine for health – 4000 years ago, drinking water was very dangerous because you wouldn’t know the source of the water of how clean it was. So water was mixed with the alcohol to make it safe. It was kind of a medicine. Then there was 1000 years of Ottoman and Muslim rule – what we call the ‘dry period’ and then in 1882 we have a renaissance, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild invested a lot of money to build the first two modern wineries in Israel. He was a true Zionist, and rebuilt Israel’s wine industry. After that, almost 100 years later, we had the modern new wave of wineries in Israel, especially in the Golan Heights, where red, dry wines are made. In the 1990s there was the quality revolution, with boutique and family wineries. From seven wineries in the 50s/60s, today, there are over 400 wineries.

Selecting an object

Museum: what have you chosen to display?

Tal: I think what binds us in being Jewish is keeping the Shabbat and during Shabbat dinner we’re celebrating life, family and friendship; wine is part of that celebration. There are many blessings for food in Judaism. But we have two specific blessings on Shabbat evening. One is for the bread – Hamotzi – which connects us to the earth and to life itself. And Pri Hagafen, which through wine connects us to the divine, to the spiritual, because of course the alcohol makes you feel a bit spiritual. That’s why the wine is so important and we not only drink it on Shabbat but on every holiday. For example at Pesach we are not satisfied with one glass of wine, we drink four glasses of wine.

For me the wine cup – the kiddush cup – is very symbolic, and cups get passed down the generations in families. This is because if the wine is holy, the wine cup is holy as well. We are lucky that our museums have some amazing examples of beautiful kiddush cups used for  the Shabbat wine blessing. These cups are works of art, usually made from pure silver, and by taking care of them, we’re reminded of that symbolism of the wine’s holiness.

I also want to show the journey of Israeli wine in the UK. Everyone will know Palwin 10; Palwin is actually short for ‘Palestine wine’, because this wine was created and sold to Jewish people in England before Israel was a state. It was created by the Carmel Wineries and when people think of Shabbat they think of Palwin, this red sweet sacramental wine. Yes, it’s good for the blessing. Yes, it’s good to remind us that the Shabbat is sweet. But actually, you can bless the wine with dry wine too. So I want to show one of the best Israeli wines that we have today. A really high-placed top wine that can actually stand proudly, shoulder to shoulder with the best wines from all over the world.

I want to show that you can have Israeli wine, you can have kosher wine, but most importantly you can have real quality wine to drink that comes from Israel.

You know for many years, Israelis didn’t drink a lot of wine. It was around maybe four and a half to five litres per capita per annum, which is quite low. But I think COVID-19 changed things and when people were at home and they couldn’t go out, they cooked a lot. They had dinners, family dinners, so why not get a bottle of wine? And that’s why I think increasingly, young people are drinking wine more than ever, and the average has gone up from five litres to around seven. Or at least that’s what I understand from talking to wine shops, supermarkets and restaurants.

I also want to feature grape juice, the juice of a grape itself in pure form, which kids and those who don’t drink alcohol can try too, and let people taste where all this comes from.


For more information visit: www.linkedin.com/in/tal-sunderland-cohen-3bb2b714b/

View an advert for Manischewitz Almonetta Wine with Sammy Davis Jr from the 1970s: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi7dArDXPeo

Discover how Hip Hop boosted Kosher Wine sales: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQJlfGkkYa0