Roy Itzhaki is one of Israel's true wine pioneers in not only what wines his Tulip and MAIA wineries release each vintage, but also regarding how he's managed to become a vintner with a conscience. I've had the honor of meeting with Roy several times over the years, along with the pleasure of enjoying his wines. After recently pouring Tulip and MAIA wines in support of lone soldier volunteers living in Raanana's Absorption Center, I wanted to share Roy's story with ESRA readers whom I thought (with all of ESRA's charitable efforts) would not only enjoy Roy's wines but also embrace his mission.
How did you and your family first get interested in making wine?
"My family are wine lovers - in fact, huge fans of wines. I grew up as a child, always having fine bottles of wine on the Shabbat table, for holidays or even without a special occasion. My father used to take my brother and me to wine exhibitions in Israel and always to vineyards and wineries on our trips abroad.
One day we visited a wine expo for garage wineries and small boutiques, and we thought to ourselves that we had to have our own winery because of our great love for wines and passion for this industry and for winemaking.
I opened Tulip on June 2003 and it was the best decision I have ever made."
How and when did your winery first get involved with the village of Kfar Tikva?
"When we discussed opening Tulip, it was very clear to me that there would be some kind of contribution to the community. As a commander in the army, I used to take my soldiers to help those in need as an act of solidarity to the community. It was obvious to me that my own business would contribute as well on a regular basis. Since I grew up in Kiryat Tivon, I was familiar with the nearby community of Kfar Tikva (the village of hope), a village for adults with special needs, and I wanted to open my winery there and have these residents work in the winery and be a part of the wine industry.
I offered the idea of opening the winery to the village's manager, and he embraced it. Today we employ more than 40 people from the village and I'm very proud of that. For me, a huge part of being successful is knowing that we give back to those whom our society too often neglects. I'm fortunate to have their residents, who are amazing people, at my side, and the most important thing is seeing in their eyes what it means for them to work in Tulip, meeting people from all over the world in the visitors' center and being part of making the wine."
How has your relationship with the village and its residents evolved over the years?
"We've been in harmony since the beginning. The residents of the village became a part of my family and my team's families. Naturally, working with special needs adults requires from each one of Tulip's employees to be 100% attentive to their needs, showing them love and appreciation and giving them feedback for the amazing job they're doing; but, it comes so naturally to everyone that we see it as a huge bonus and great honor to have the opportunity to change someone's life in a positive way."
How much of what happens at Tulip and MAIA is the vision of the winemakers and how much is that of the ownership and the brand you want to convey?
"When we opened Tulip, I brought Dr. Arkadi Papikian on board as our consultant, and together with my brother, Doron Itzhaki, they set the tone of winemaking at Tulip. When Tulip started to grow rapidly, Doron wasn't able to continue as it wasn't his main job, and a new winemaker continued, together with Dr. Papikian, as the winemaking team at Tulip. Despite the fact that I'm not a winemaker myself, it was and still is important to me to be involved. When winemaker, David Bar-Ilan, arrived in 2012, he maintained the style of the winemaking at Tulip and even improved it.
I'm glad that we've worked with three winemakers because each of them was the perfect person for that period. David was the perfect one to continue with us and to bring us to even better results and to the level that we we have achieved today. David and I will be working together hopefully for a very, very long time.
When opening MAIA I knew we had to find experts in the Mediterranean winemaking style, and that we could only find them abroad since this style of winemaking is pretty new in Israel. Therefore, we reached out to experts in this area and recruited them as MAIA's consultants. Our Greek consultants, Dr. Yiannis Paraskevopoulus and Dr. Kostas Bakasietas, set the tone for MAIA wines and together with our resident winemaker, David Bar-Ilan, produce the four unique and fascinating MAIA blends."
What inspired you to launch a sister winery, MAIA? How do the brands of MAIA and Tulip differ in their wines and their marketing goals?
"Tulip and many other Israeli wines have excelled in making great examples of familiar international wines from mostly Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. MAIA was a vision I had of creating Israeli wines using less familiar Mediterranean style grape varieties such as Mourvedre and Marsanne that will grow ideally in the Israeli terroir, and not only suit its land and climate but also complement its amazing culinary diversity. The winemaking style in Tulip and MAIA are completely different from one another, starting with the location of the vineyards, the professional team, the different tanks and barrels for MAIA's varieties, and also in terms of marketing. It would have been much easier, but it didn't feel right, to add another wine series to Tulip and call it the Mediterranean series. Therefore, I decided to create MAIA with its own vision: Mediterranean Approach, Israeli Art. MAIA will be the winery that will truly reflect what it means to be "Israeli wine" - wine you cannot find anywhere else. We hope that in the future we will be able to plant more Mediterranean varieties and extend the uniqueness of this brand."
Is there one bottle of wine you'd have someone try if you wanted to dispel misconceptions about Israeli wines, and why? I've used your Tulip Syrah Reserve to dispel conceptions that Israeli wines are not good or that they are overpriced, for example.
"I agree that I would have to choose the Syrah Reserve. It's a top quality wine that reflects the best of Israel's territory and is a great value for money for about NIS100. This wine was chosen by the United Nations to represent Israel in a wine event, increasing the awareness of wine consumption worldwide. At this event 60 countries were invited to participate with only one wine to represent each country. It was a huge honor for us and I think it speaks for itself that a wine can change any misconceptions about Israeli wines."