Step inside Tishbi, where the wine – and chocolate – are flowing
Tishbi is a family-owned vineyard that produces more than a million bottles a year. But it's so much more than a winery.
While perusing thousands of products at the Summer Fancy Food Show, I met the demure and dynamic Oshra Tishbi, who together with Michael and Stacey Kurtz of Fruit of the Land, oversaw an incredible booth full of award-winning products. Oshra told me about all of the happenings at her family winery in Israel, and threw out a casual, “Come visit us! We’d be happy to host you.”
I laughed, and told Oshra that although I was born in Israel and spent a gap year there after high school, I haven’t been back to Israel in a while. But the seed was planted, and within a few months, I had planned a food reporting trip to Israel, with the highlight being a visit to the Tishbi family winery. I traveled two hours each way from Jerusalem, but it was well worth my efforts.
The Tishbi family first arrived in Israel in 1882 with the name Chamiletzki. They settled on the southern slope of Mount Carmel. Baron Edmund de Rothschild chose their family to plant vineyards in the nearby village of Shefeya, and the seeds for a successful winery were born. The family hosted poet Chaim Nachman Bialik (a relative of actress Mayim Bialik), who proposed the family change their name to Tishbi – and it stuck.
Oshra’s parents, Jonathan and Nili Tishbi, her brothers Golan and Michael, and many other family members are involved in various aspects of the business. The fifth generation of the family has created a veritable culinary wonderland, serving award-winning wine, brandy, chocolate, breads, pastries and fine foods. In addition to producing one million bottles of wine annually, Tishbi has its own artisanal boulangerie-style bakery, two restaurants, a chocolate and wine-tasting room, and a smoke truck that has hundreds lining up on Fridays for a taste of Southern barbecue deep in the hills of Northern Israel.
I spent several hours with Oshra Tishbi, touring the restaurant, bakery and the chocolate and wine-tasting room, where I got quite the education on appreciating and understanding fine wines.
“My original dream was to create a restaurant and bar with an open kitchen, and a wine shop,” Oshra tells me, referring to her role in the family business, “We did that, and eventually doubled the space. My next vision was to start a food line – and have a store where everything was Tishbi. It really took off, became bigger, and we started exporting products all over the world.” She put some of her dreams on hold to raise the next generation of Tishbis, sons Ron and Ori, and is excited to get back to planning and implementing new ideas.
After enjoying a delicious breakfast of fresh foods under a shady awning of vines, we head off to explore the bakery, featuring a Le Panyol French oven. The bakery is a mouth-watering array of gorgeous sourdoughs, artisan breads, and yeast cakes. We take a peek into the milling room, where fresh grains of wheat are milled to make their own flour – something virtually unheard of for a family bakery. I can see why the lines at the bakery snake out the door – the quality and authenticity of all the products and experiences at Tishbi are top-notch.
Next we head off to see the barbecue smoke truck, which is surrounded by vintage farming equipment. Oshra’s brother Golan, in addition to being winemaker and VP of the winery, restores the equipment to working condition as a hobby, and the machines add color and old-world charm to the area.
The chocolate and wine-tasting room is our final stop – a cool, cavernous room surrounded by thousands of bottles of wine on a second level balcony, massive red brandy distilling machines, cubbies artfully displaying the Tishbi line of gourmet foods, and a huge array of glass jars full of Valrhona chocolates which the staff pairs with specific wines based on flavor profiles. We sniff incredible brandy near the distiller, and then sit down at the bar for a wine tasting.
“Some of my favorite wines are here in the wine cellar,” Oshra says, pointing to a deep red wine with an almost black color. “The flavor is more complex, more concentrated. Depending on the grape crop, we decide how to treat the grapes and what kind of wine to create from it.” Tishbi produces special reserve wines when they have an exceptional crop of grapes, and unlike other wineries, they don’t produce a special reserve each year – only when the grapes warrant a special run.
We taste a Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve Chardonnay, a dry white wine (my favorite), and a sweet dessert port, while Oshra patiently explains to the novices how to swirl the wine and open it up, inhale the scent deeply, and experience the wine with several senses. “Don’t be shy to stick your nose in it,” she tells her hesitant American visitors. We go all in, and the experience is incredible.
Tishbi also produces brandy, and Oshra tells us that in 1996, their first year of production, a Jonathan Tishbi three-year-old brandy won the gold medal for worldwide Best Brandy and the Domecq Trophy at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.
All too soon our driver arrives, and we cut our visit short with promises to return for a full tour of the vineyards and more time to chat about the family’s history. I am wowed by all five generations of the Tishbi family – from the early pioneering days of Michael and Malka Chamiletzki, to the diverse accomplishments of Jonathan and Nili Tishbi, and their children Golan, Michael, and Oshra.
As we say our goodbyes, Oshra’s nephew Shai approaches and gives his aunt a warm hug. I ask him what he plans to do when he grows up. “I want to do everything my father (Golan Tishbi) does,” he says with a shy smile.
Get ready for Tishbi 6th gen, folks; it’s looking very promising.
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