April 12, 2010

Veteran Kosher Wine ÒEducatorÓ Predicts a More Upscale Movement

Bayonne, NJ…Jay Buchsbaum spent his Pesach with the Chevra (an upscale Passover program) at the Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa in Litchfield Park, Arizona, educating Jews about fine kosher wines. He was taken aback when one of the participants wagged his finger in an apparent gesture of J’accuse: “You cost me $10,000!” When Jay recovered, he realized that the man had learned to appreciate an assortment of some of the most expensive wines which he skillfully mixed in with the haute Pesach cuisine at the resort and that the whole incident was rather a striking compliment to someone who has emerged as an iconic kosher wine educator. Jay predicts that this new appreciation for a maturing kosher wine industry whose products compare favorably with non-kosher wines will not only gain it acceptance amongst kosher consumers but will extend to the general population as well. When he first began his impressive career at Royal Wine Corp. (Kedem), a wine tasting meant responding to such basic questions as to what makes a wine kosher. Today he is preaching to a younger generation that is not only knowledgeable but is increasingly associating fine kosher wines with upscale dining or as Jay puts it “alongside the Sushi bar.”

When Jay turns back the clock to his early years at Kedem, he reminisces about trying to convert Jews who were used to the sweet sacramental wines. The two best known wines in those days, he points out, were Concord and Malaga. Today, Bartenura Mascato is a basic staple in most kosher households, so much so that the kosher version is the best-selling Mascato wine imported from Italy and that includes many non-traditional kosher consumers. Compared to the newer exotic kosher wines that are available today, even Mascato seems to be dated. To prove his point of just how far kosher wine has come in these last two decades, Mr. Buchsbaum mentions the Baron Herzog line which has received high praise from formidable wine critics as being of equal or better quality to comparable non-kosher wines. The addition of the attractive and luxurious Herzog Winery in Oxnard, CA was yet another turning point in what Jay routinely refers to as “the evolution of kosher wine.” Israel’s emergence as a relatively new center of some of the best wines in the world is another major development in that evolution. In fact, wine producing countries now consider Israel a formidable competitor. “Kosher wines have been a centerpiece of lifestyle changes amongst young Orthodox Jews,” Jay emphasizes. “It is no longer a case of just having a good bottle of wine at the Shabbat dinner or at an upscale kosher restaurant; it’s having good wine every night for dinner.” Despite these obvious changes, Jews are still well behind the general population in per capita wine consumption. And he is very careful to point out that having a great kosher wine experience is not synonymous with consuming an excessive amount of alcohol. Even when Jay’s wine demonstration at the Chevra included pairing great dishes with fine wines including champagne, lighter wine, richer red, and sweet dessert wine, “it still need not add up to excessive consumption of alcohol.” Jay recently lectured a group of restaurateurs on how to effectively promote their wine program, beginning with a cocktail while waiting for a table. For Jay no matter how sophisticated his market becomes, when it comes to kosher wines, he will always be the consummate educator.