Mordy Herzog wanted something bigger for this year’s Kosher Food and Wine Experience.
At the end of last year’s show, Mr. Herzog, a partner in Bayonne-based Royal Wine, KFWE’s sponsor, watched a boat pass through the harbor near the Statue of Liberty. The result of that inspiration was a yacht docked outside Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers with two levels of dessert wines, mixed drinks, and desserts. Darker mood lighting and tables created a different atmosphere for attendees, and allowed Royal Wine to add another 400 people to the event.
“We try to add something new and exciting and this year we went really big,” Jay Buchsbaum, Royal Wine’s vice president of marketing, said. “The first year we did KFWE, it was an intimate wine tasting event with some food. We never imagined how big it would become.”
|The food and wine tasting attracted a crowd of 1,600 to the Chelsea Piers event.|
More than 1,600 people attended KFWE on Monday night, making it the biggest show in KFWE’s eight-year history. In addition to the dessert yacht, KFWE showcased more than 200 wines from around the world that are distributed by Royal Wine, as well as 22 restaurants, caterers, and food companies.
Joe Hurliman of Herzog Wine Cellars in California brought with him a 2011 single vineyard cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley for its first public appearance. In addition to showcasing a variety of flavors, KFWE is an opportunity for Mr. Hurliman to connect with consumers and wine purchasers.
“It’s an energizing thing to talk about wine for me,” he said. “It’s what I love.”
Israel always has new stories in the world of wine, Mr. Herzog said, and, surprisingly, one of the great stories in Israel now is the boycott Israel story. The Israeli wine industry has felt the impact of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israeli businesses, but not in the way the movement had hoped. West Bank-based winemaker Psagot, for example, has seen a growth in business, according to Mr. Herzog.
Shiloh Winery, also based in the West Bank, has not experienced any loss in sales, according to its CEO, Mayer Chamer.
“They just miss the opportunity to drink amazing wine,” he said. “Wine for us is culture. Let the people talk about politics. We don’t talk about that.”
For Mr. Chamer, the stigma now attached to kosher wine is that the kosher wine consumer drinks only carbernet.
“Kosher consumers are looking for different things,” he said. “They love good cabernets. They love good shiraz. I think they’re starting to love again good merlot. The more they get to be educated, the more they look for different things.”
“The kosher market is a relatively young market, and what people tend to do is if they like something they stick to it,” Mr. Herzog said. “It used to be on high end it was always about cabernets. Now we’re finding people are more open minded.”
White wines are really starting to take off, he said, pointing to a new Cabernet Franc from Psagot and a Sauvignon Blanc from Goosebay, which smells like jalapeno.
Five years ago, Royal Wine approached the Drappier Winery in Champagne, France, about making a kosher Champagne. Owner Michel Drappier at first refused, thinking kosher wine would be too complicated and affect the quality. Royal Wine convinced him to give it a try, though, and the first run was a success. Two years ago Mr. Drappier moved the Champagne to market, he said.
“The quality was there,” he said. “Before producing kosher wine, we were already organic. So the way we do it is very orthodox in the wine-making way, so it was very easy for us to make kosher wine. The result is the non-kosher and kosher are similar. For me, it’s a great success.”
It’s hard to walk around wine stores in New York these days, though, without seeing an ad for Bartenura Moscato. In the last three years the moscato category in the non-kosher wine world has grown tremendously; while last year it showed only 14 percent growth, Royal still saw 30 percent growth for its brand, according to Mr. Herzog.
“We were making a good kosher moscato, and then the entire category took off and we were really poised as the category grew,” he said. “We don’t see that slowing down. We believe moscato may be a trend, but Bartenura Moscato will outlive that trend. We believe it will be that one wine that defines the moscato category.”
Kosher wines in general are becoming more mainstream, he said. And while some articles still start off with how kosher wine isn’t your grandmother’s sweet wine anymore, that is an old story at this point.
“It’s no longer news,” Mr. Herzog said. “The only people that still remember the grandma stigmas are the grandmas. As the new generation comes in, they’re already exposed to great kosher wines, and the stigma of kosher wines is disappearing by the generation.”
While Mr. Herzog says kosher wine is no longer sweet, a large wine bottle near the entrance to the dock is pure sugar -literally. It is a six-tiered cake sculpted in the shape of a wine bottle and covered in fondant. Krystina Gianaris, founder of Teaneck’s Cake & Co., which made the bottle cake, pointed to small indentations left from people poking to see if it really was a cake.
“You have to be like an architect to know how to construct it,” she said. “We were inspired by the Herzog bottle, and just made something fabulous to celebrate the event,”
Winemakers weren’t the only ones showing off new products. KFWE gave some chefs the chance to unveil new creations as well.
“You eat with your eyes,” said David Heisler of Silverleaf Caterers. “It has to sound interesting. They’re not looking for a stuffed cabbage anymore, as much as I love stuffed cabbage.”
Ben and Shifra Miller brought their Long Island-based catering company, JEWmaican Cuizine, to introduce kosher consumers to something they likely had never had before: authentic Jamaican food.
“Everybody’s had steak and everybody’s had sushi, but anybody who’s kosher hasn’t tried jerk chicken and real beef patties,” Shifra Miller said. “This is authentic. Some people throw a little bit of jerk seasoning on and think that’s jerk chicken. It’s a whole process of cooking and marinating and putting it on the grill.”
JEWmaican Cuizine’s menu includes traditional Jamaican dishes such as braised oxtail, beef patties, and, of course, jerk chicken. A hallmark of Jamaican food is fresh herbs and spices, like the very hot Scotch bonnet pepper used in the jerk sauce, Ms. Miller said.
This was the first time at KFWE for Hillside-based Abeles & Heymann, which used the opportunity to unveil a new line of hors d’ouvres, including spinach and potato puffs, spicy beef turnovers, and cocktail franks in puff pastry. A&H has been making hot dogs since 1954, but never got into the hors d’oeuvre market.
“We’ve been receiving letters, ‘how come you guys don’t make hot dogs in a blanket?'” said Seth Leavitt of Englewood, a partner in A&H. The line will hit shelves after Pesach, he said.
As the hall began to fill with people early in the evening, announcements encouraging attendees to head to the boat began coming every 10 minutes as organizers worried that it wasn’t enticing people. By 9 o’clock, however, security was turning people away from the at-capacity yacht.
“So I guess worrying will continue to be in our DNA, and next year we’ll worry about something else,” Mr. Herzog said.
As for how Royal Wine will top this year’s show, Herzog hasn’t had an inspiration yet, but knows there’s an expectation.
“The expectation of the consumer continues to grow,” he said. “They want bigger and better, and we’ll have to continue to live up to that expectation.”