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Jewish World Review
Oct. 30, 2003
/4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
U.S. film producer rewrites the script for Israeli wines
By Fred Tasker
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT)
When Avi Lerner visited the old Eliaz Winery in northern Israel in 1992, he didn't know much about wine.
"I had no idea except that I like to have a glass of wine at lunch. I was not one of the more knowledgeable persons about it.''
But he knew what he didn't like.
"It was one of those sweet wines they make for Jewish holidays. It was so terrible I got heartburn.''
So he did what you can do when you're a big-shot Hollywood producer. He bought the rights, tore up the script and had it rewritten. That is, he and fellow Hollywood producer Danny Dimbort joined Tel Aviv businessman Itzhak Shani to buy the winery, rename it Binyamina Wines, and pump $13 million into it.
| HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
1999 Binyamina Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee: oak and cassis; powerful, intense fruit; big structure; big, ripe tannin; $17.
2002 Binyamina ''Fall'' Chardonnay, Samaria: crisp and lean, green apples and limes, bitter almond finish; $7.
2002 Binyamina ''Fall in White'' Semi-Dry White Wine (75 percent emerald Riesling, 25 percent sauvignon blanc), Lower Galilee Vineyards: soft, delicate and off-dry, with vanilla and honey flavors and a citrus finish; $7.
2002 Binyamina Special Reserve Chardonnay, Galilee: oak, limes and green apples; lean; $13.
1999 Binyamina Special Reserve Merlot, Galilee: oaky, with black cherries and black peppers, quite varietal, firm tannins; $17.
Nonvintage Binyamina Dessert Muscat, Samaria: flowers, oranges, honey and spice; viscous and very sweet; well-balanced; $11 per 500 milliliter bottle.
Note: Binyamina's regular wines are kosher for Passover and mevushal; its special reserve wines are kosher for Passover but not mevushal.
"I knew I couldn't do any worse.''
Lerner had the bucks because he's maybe the biggest, most successful independent film producer in Hollywood. His corpus de obra at Nu Image/Millennium Films includes The Howling, American Ninja, Prozac Nation and more than 100 others. His next: an action thriller with Wesley Snipes.
Lerner took his cue in part from writer-director Francis Ford Coppola, who bought an old Napa Valley wine estate that today produces a fabulous, $140-a-bottle cabernet sauvignon blend called Rubicon.
''It's very much like making a movie,'' says Lerner. "It's an artistic endeavor. The general manager is like the producer of a film. The master winemaker is like a movie director.''
Calling the shots at Binyamina is respected Israeli winemaker Sasson Ben-Aharon.
Lerner pushes the metaphor further: "In both industries [movies and wine], you concentrate on making a good product. Then, the success or failure of the product rests on the success or failure of the packaging and marketing.''
The $13 million investment has built a state-of-the-art winery that has switched from inferior, low-altitude, hot-weather grapes to top-quality fruit produced in cool, high-altitude areas such as Mount Carmel (altitude 1,791 feet) and Upper Galilee, where Mount Tabor reaches 1,929 feet.
The product is ready now, and Binyamina's wines are in foreign syndication that is, arriving into national U.S. distribution.
Awaiting reviews, Lerner adopts a Hollywood pro's philosophy: "Both films and wines are a matter of taste.''
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Fred Tasker is a columnist with The Miami Herald. To comment, please click here.
© 2003, The Miami Herald Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services