Royalmanwho makes Barons
KOSHER WINE has come a long way. The days of sweet, red kiddush wine are long gone. It is possible to fill your kiddush cup with some of the best wines in the world, including some of the top Bordeaux vintages. T h e man responsible for overseeing the kosher versions of these world-class kosher wines is Menachem Israelievitch, chief kosher winemaker for Royal Wine for all of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
As he explains, these wineries and others in the region producing top quality wines don’t need to boost their sales.
“In Bordeaux, they sell their wine almost before it’s made.”
Yet several of these top-flight wineries now produce a kosher vintage — normally a direction taken by non-kosher wineries to tap into a niche market in order to boost sales.
The process of kosher wine production involves far more than simply allowing Israelievitch and his team of 30–40 shomers access to the wineries to check the rules are being adhered to. It’s more of a total handover.
“To ensure wine is kosher, it must be made exclusively by Jewish hands,” explains Israelievitch. “The winemakers may not touch it, so the mashgiach (shomer ensuring kashrut) must do it all — although the winemaker still makes all the decisions.”
Even so it’s a huge leap of faith for the winemakers: “These bottles come out under their label, which means it reflects on them, and their chateau is judged by the wine that we produce. The barrels and the grapes are for them like children which need constant attention and warmth. And then we come in and tell them that they cannot touch the barrel from the beginning until the end of the process; it’s a very difficult proposition.”
Israelievitch was born and bred in France’s City of Light. He spent his early education in a yeshivah in southern Israel but wine always had its place in his life.
“I would come back each year for two months at grape harvest time. When I was 16, a friend suggested I go with him to work as a mashgiach, which I did. I found it interesting and so every year during my vacation I did this job. When I finished at the yeshiva hin 1999, I took over the responsibility for vinification for the Loire Valley all year round and looked after all the wines in the Loire and in Burgundy.”
At that point, Israelievitch was employed by Royal Wines to oversee the three wineries in the Loire and four in Burgundy who made kosher vintages, with a team of men who helped cover the large geographical area. He and the others visited each winery regularly to ensure kosher production.
“We have to be there for each step — for the racking, for the addition of each ingredient for example.”
In 2009, he stepped up into the shoes of his predecessor and mentor, Pierre Miodownick, who was in charge of Royal Wine’s kosher wine production for two decades, and who initiated the production of kosher wine in France.
“Miodownick produced the first kosher French wine for Chateau de Paraza in 1982 and in 1986, he persuaded the makers of one of the most famous estate wines in France, Baron Edmund de Rothschild, to make a kosher wine.”
Miodownick established the relationship for Royal Wine with many chateaux in Bordeaux and the winemaking regions. “When he made aliyah I took over charge of production of Royal’s wines in France and Spain,” explains Israelievitch.
Now, with 40 years of experience and endless courses in oenology under his belt, it is Israelievitch who is responsible for maintaining the relationship with the winemakers. “Rather than pop in at harvest time, I retain a personal friendship with the winemakers throughout the year.”
“It has always been with reluctance that they have taken us in; they are very proud winemakers. However, and this has been the secret of our success, Royal Wine has become known throughout the world as a company with serious respect for wine and winemaking tradition.”
It is a mark of Royal Wine’s success that the makers of Champagne Barons de Rothschild — a collaboration between three great Chateaux: Lafite, Clarke and Mouton Rothschild, approached them to make a kosher vintage of their champagne.
His remit also includes sourcing new wine makers to make wines specifically for the kosher market.
“In that situation I am the wine maker. I know the kosher market and what my customers like to drink. I have to take decisions on the style and type of wine. Each winery has a different method of working, so I’m continually learning.” Israelievitch is a constant visitor to the vineyards and wineries. a kosher Barons de Rothschild champage is now available
In order to source new non-kosher wines when negotiating a kosher vintage, Israelievitch and his team need to taste them.
“Kosher rules allow us to taste the wines but not swallow them,” he explains. “That’s the best way to taste wine anyway.”
As there are very few, if any, Jewish communities in the wine heartlands he spends a lot of time travelling between the different vineyards. “I have 25 to visit this year, and as they cannot do anything in the process without us there, that keeps me and my team very busy. The extent of our involvement is what keeps kosher wine prices up, as it takes so long to produce. It can take two years to make a wine, from the harvest through to it being bottled; and we may have to visit two or three times a week at some points of the process.”
The French kosher wine market is still growing and it seems that kosher wine drinkers are getting a taste for the finer wines. “Last year Royal’s French wine market grew by 20 per cent and the top end wines grew by 30 per cent whereas their kosher wine market worldwide grew by 10 per cent.”
Israelievitch, believes that as people have become more interested in wine generally, they are drinking more wines from France.
“It is the source of winemaking, where all the tradition and technique is handed down from generation to generation.” Menachem Israelievitch will be at the Kedem Food and Wine Experience 2016. Details at: kfwelondon.com