Boutique wineries: a model for the survival of Israeli agriculture?

by Maskil on October 23, 2007

Does the example of boutique wineries provide a model for the survival and even growth of the rest of the Israeli agricultural sector? I believe it does. Consider the following.

Winemakers in general (and boutique wineries in particular) have succeeded in getting their consumers to care about almost every aspect of their product; the region and vineyard, the soil and climate, cultivars/varieties, the vintage/year, processes and methods, the winemaker and his/her background, even the bottle, label and stopper used. Consumers worldwide have bought into the whole mystique and ritual around the making and imbibing of wine.

The challenge now is to get consumers to extend this passion to other agricultural products. I’m not suggesting that we can completely “port” this whole body of folklore across to the rest of the agriculturally-based products we consume. We can, however, identify a number of trends, niches and markets where some of it could be applied. The list might include:

  • The Slow Food movement
  • Organic produce
  • Vegetarian fare
  • Meat produced without growth hormones, animal by-products, etc.
  • Non-GM (genetically modified) crops
  • Support for locally grown food and/or family farms
  • Kosher food
  • Eco-Kashrut
  • Fair trade (no reason why the principles should be restricted to coffee)
  • Local and export markets
  • The Produce of Israel/Made in Israel brand (this is equally likely to be the subject of boycotts, but many will go out of their way to buy products from Israel)

All of these serious trends allow the producer- to a greater or lesser extent – to command a premium on his products.

Once appropriate niche markets have been identified, other aspects of this boutique winery revolution might prove useful in other contexts, e.g.:

  • Combining agriculture with agri- and eco-tourism
  • Direct sales through “farm stalls” and outlets located on the farm or co-operative itself
  • Opportunities to cross-sell own or related products, e.g. cheese and wine
  • Looking at new distribution models, e.g. farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) and food communes.
  • Other changes to the structure of Israeli farming, such as a shift to crops (e.g. tree crops) that do not require extensive irrigation (a perennial criticism of this sector).

In summary, I believe that the boutique model could provide a way to shield Israeli agriculture from the various damaging forces at play, until such time as sanity returns to our outlook on the food we eat and how it is produced. Adopting lessons from this model might allow more farmers to remain on the land, and allow the country as a whole to retain the capacity and capability to produce its own food.

Boutique wineries: Pioneers and dreamers

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