Sir Moses & Lady Judith Montefiore’s Diaries and the account by Dr. Louis Loewe, their secretary and companion, contain many references to wine. Moses Montefiore was a wine lover and connoisseur. Dr. Loewe wrote: “He never gave up the habit of taking wine himself and it was his greatest pleasure to see his friends enjoy it with him.” Apparently he particularly enjoyed persuading those from the abstinence movement to drink “the choice wine of his cellar.” Moses Montefiore wrote: “When I recite the blessing of Kiddush, being always supplied with the best wine, I made the cup pass round as often as possible.” Dr. Loewe confirmed: “I invariably heard him pronounce the blessing before he touched the exhilarating beverage, in such a tone as to leave no doubt in the minds present that he fully appreciated this gift of God.”
In the early years, it appears the Montefiores drank a variety of wines. With passing age, he settled on Port as the wine of choice. He would most likely ship a pipe of port, a barrel of 550 liters, and then have it bottled in London for his use. Montefiore had a couple of glasses of Port for lunch and a few more glasses in the evening. He drank a bottle of wine every day, which may have contributed to his long life. Montefiore frequently sent cases of Port as gifts to his friends or to public figures he wanted to influence about Jewish rights. He also gave donations of wine to the sick and poor in large quantities. In his final year, his biography notes that he lived almost entirely on milk and Port. Not long before he died, he called Dr. Loewe and said: “Take a good supper and we shall have a glass of wine together in pleasing remembrance of what we have seen and endeavoured to do for our brethren.”
On visits to the Holy Land, communities would always present him with cake and wine as a sign of welcome. When wine was enjoyed, it was documented. The ‘best wine from Hebron’ was mentioned a few times. Judith Montefiore even describes that they occasionally purchased a small cask of wine as a souvenir. Their diaries make numerous references to the beautiful vineyards they saw on their travels, particularly in the Judean Hills and Jerusalem Mountains: “The mountains are cultivated in terraces and planted to the summit with vines and olives. Indeed it would be impossible to travel through a richer or more beautiful country” and “the country here is extremely rich in vineyards and their hills are clothed with olive trees….”
In 1839 Moses Montefiore was the first to recommend that the Jewish people living in the Holy Land return to agriculture. In 1855 he bought the first land for this use. He recommended planting of vines and olive trees to “to give people a taste of agriculture.” His last donation in 1884, was made to the new farming villages of Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov, which became the center of the new Israeli wine industry.
Two curiosities. Moses Montefiore once received a letter from a ‘Yosef of Brisk’ from Safed, offering to prepare a bath of wine for him on the Sabbath! Also there is a red grape variety, registered in America, called Montefiore. It was named after Sir Moses.
Sir Moses and Lady Judith were frequent tourists. Apart from visiting Israel seven times, they also visited France, Italy and Germany amongst other places. Sometimes they visited wine regions. For instance on a visit to Germany, Judith was wine knowledgeable enough to note this was the area where the best wine was made. On a visit to a winery, she remarked on the start of the harvest. She also made amusing comments about the practice of pressing grapes with the feet. She wrote: “The manner is rather disgusting that of standing in tubs and stamp with their feet on the grapes, but it is of no consequence as it…becomes purified.”
During Moses Montefiore’s long lifetime, the wine world was formed as it is known today. The quality wine regions became well-known and London became the center of the world’s wine trade. This the period that Bordeaux Claret red wines, Burgundy white wines, Champagne sparkling wines, Hock German white wines, Port fortified wines and Sauternes sweet wines became celebrated as being amongst the world’s finest wines. Montefiore’s associates and friends drank the best quality wines ordering the finest Claret, Hock, Champagne and Port. Mid-century, Jewish families, like the Foulds and Perreiras, began to invest in Bordeaux. Most prominent of these were the Rothschilds, who were relations. Moses Montefiore’s nephew, Nathaniel Rothschild, purchased Chateau Mouton in 1853. The brother of his brother-in-law, James de Rothschild, bought Chateau Lafite in 1868. These are two of the most prestigious wines in the world. Last but not least, the nephew of his brother-in-law, Edmond de Rothschild, founded the modern Israeli wine industry in 1882.