Oshra Tishbi of Tishbi winery serving up wine jelly
In Israel, as elsewhere in the world, winemaking has predominately been a career path for men. As chauvinism subsides, women winemakers, winery owners and executives are becoming less of a rarity. The accomplishments of five Israeli women demonstrate different avenues available to aspiring vintners of the fairer gender.
One way women have broken the glass ceiling in other industries is to buy or build the ceiling themselves. Orna Chillag, of the Chillag Winery, is one such Israeli woman. Orna might be the only notable Israeli woman who owns a winery and makes the wine as both the CEO and chief winemaker. She studied winemaking in Milan, Italy after having worked as a politico in Israel’s peace movement and Tel Aviv’s municipality. It’s not uncommon for successful people from various fields as diverse as dentistry, music, film and sports to start wineries, but they’re typically not women and their wines don’t generally receive the accolades that Orna’s wines have garnered.
The most common course for woman winemakers is as part of a husband and wife team. Generally, these are smaller boutique wineries that don’t need to be a full-time occupation throughout the year. A couple with flexible work schedules, some discretionary income and a passion for wine can invest their time and money into creating something special. The Alona Winery was started by husband and wife physicians, Micha and Ilana Rabau, with their partner Eli Azoulay. Their winery won best small boutique winery in Israel in 2007 at the Terravino competition in Eilat and has won several individual medals for its wines as well.
Of course if you have couples starting wineries, don’t be surprised if opportunities arise for their children. Canadian-born Roni Saslove of the Saslove Winery has worked every harvest at her family’s winery since 1991. In 2008, she missed her first harvest while she spent a year at Brock University in Canada furthering her studies in winemaking and viticulture. Few daughters become the heir apparent at a winery, yet Roni has proven herself to be a valuable asset at the Saslove Winery. She has grown into the role of a partner in winemaking with her father Barry, and like her father she’s a captivating lecturer. Even though Roni has always been active around the winery, she did pursue a vocation as a veterinarian nurse only to find out that her true passion was closer to home. Roni is expected to become the family’s senior winemaker sometime in the next five years.
Oshra Tishbi is another Israeli woman who has managed to thrive thinking outside the box. Her family’s Tishbi Winery, located in Binyamina, is the largest family owned and operated winery in Israel. As her older brother Golan grew into the role of winemaker, Oshra created her own opportunities that complemented the winery’s production and distribution of one million bottles of well regarded kosher wine. Oshra launched a separate restaurant/tasting room for the winery at the gateway into Zichron Ya’acov. She has since moved on to create and manage their line of Tishbi Fine Foods which produces its own extra virgin olive oil and wine jellies that have been incredibly popular with chefs and gourmets. With flavors like Cherry-Shiraz and White Riesling, these jellies have been selling more quickly than the Tishbis can make them. As Oshra introduces new flavors of both red and white wine jellies, they’re finding favor as treats for breakfast, a substitute for wine in cooking, and a great complement to cheese plates.
One of the most inspiring yet accessible career paths for women to follow is that of Na’ama Mualem, the chief winemaker at the Dalton Winery. Na’ama was hired soon after finishing her wine studies and internship in Australia and California. British-born owner Alex Haruni says that Na’ama was the most impressive candidate he interviewed for the position. Alex utilized outside consultants to bolster Na’ama’s skills in the early years; but now, after several years of growing into the role, she supervises the winemaking and vineyard management for one of Israel’s most prolific and consistently appreciated wineries.
With women in place and thriving as winemakers at wineries of different sizes throughout Israel, it should be evident that women are quite capable of fulfilling a role previously beyond their reach or anyone’s imagination. As their wines have done quite well in sales and competitions in comparison to wines made by men, Israeli women winemakers and entrepreneurs are an undeniable success and a beacon for future generations.