What exactly do you do for Covenant Israel?
I wear many hats: from day to day tasks like processing orders, visiting our warehouse and counting inventory, to delivering wine and managing our export and import of Covenant Israel and California wines. I also manage our Covenant Israel Wine Club. And I’m in charge of hospitality, which means I run our tasting room in Tel Aviv, meet with media and trade in the city, and organize special events at restaurants and other locales. While I’m not part of the production team, I visit the vineyards as much as I can and work on the blends with Ari Erle (winemaker), Ari’s associate, Bat El Menachem, and my dad (Jeff Morgan). But perhaps most important—and I’m not kidding – I’m my father’s chauffeur when he comes to Israel.
How old are you?
Zoe, you grew up in the Napa Valley, surrounded by vineyards and wineries. Most of your friends’ families also worked in the wine business. How has this contributed to the way you do your job?
Growing up in the Napa Valley allowed me to understand the importance of family in a family business and winery. I know that sounds obvious, but seeing how hard my own family and my friends’ families worked gave me a basis for my own work ethic. I learned about wine quality from my parents. But I also learned about the importance of a strong, supportive wine community from everyone I grew up with. I hope that I can apply these lessons learned growing up to my work here in Israel, in order to build Covenant Israel and also contribute to our Israeli wine community.
What are the biggest differences between the winemaking communities of Israel and Napa Valley?
Napa Valley is a very condensed area—25 miles long and only five miles wide. You can drive the entire valley in a half hour. We all lived in the same town, went to the same school and saw each other every day. And so our wine community, so to speak, was really very close knit.
In Israel we are more spread out. Our growing regions are more dispersed than in Napa; and even though Israel is a small country, we have to make more of an effort to get out and visit our colleagues. Whether we make wine in the Galilee, the Golan or the Jerusalem Hills, we are all part of the same Israeli wine community. That’s part of why it’s so exciting to be here. Everyone is putting a lot of energy into bringing the whole country together.
You’ve now lived in Israel for four years. And you’ll be getting married soon to someone who grew up in Zikron Yaacov, where one could say that modern-day Israeli winemaking began a century ago. Do you get the same sense of wine history living in Israel as you had living in Napa Valley?
Israelis have a profound sense of pride for the land, and you can feel that with any winery you visit. But the origins and history of winemaking in Napa Valley and Israel are very different. The wine history in Israel goes back to ancient times. You can see this throughout the country—ancient wine presses in the middle of a hiking trail, archaeological digs discovering different winemaking techniques, and modern day wineries rediscovering ancient varietals. It’s never lost on me that I get the privilege to call both of these wine growing regions home.
How do you think Israeli wines are perceived in America?
There’s a buzz about Israeli wine in America that’s similar to what’s going on with Israeli cuisine right now. And it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily about kosher. It’s about Israel, first and foremost. But there’s still confusion. You go into a wine shop in America and you see all the Israeli wines in the kosher section (even though not all Israeli wines are kosher). There should be an Israel section—just like France, Greece, California and Italy, for example. It’s fine to have a kosher wine section, too. But that moniker is not geographically directed. Nor does it respect the concept of terroir. And it certainly doesn’t define our wine industry here in Israel.
Do Israelis embrace their own local wines, the way the French do in France or Californians do in California? How would you say that Israeli wines are represented on wine lists in Israel?
I see Israeli pride in our wine industry every day in the restaurants and shops I work with. Israelis are drinking and buying Israeli wines all the time. Some of our restaurant customers carry only Israeli wines, too. And it’s important to remember that Israelis were supporters of Israeli wine long before it was a trend anywhere else.
What are your long-term goals?
I want to build a Covenant Israel winery in Israel. I want my family to set down more permanent wine roots here. I’d also like to be more involved in wine production and maybe work a few harvests in other wine regions, perhaps in the southern hemisphere. I’m only 26, so I’ve still got a lot to learn. But whatever I do, I want to have a place here in Israel, and I want to continue to contribute to the Israeli wine renaissance.