Area oenophiles, rejoice!
On February 6 at the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, you’ll have an opportunity to take a sip of your favorite varietal, savor it — and then take five or six steps in either direction and start all over again.
It is the Kosher Food and Wine Experience, where well over 100 wineries from around the world will be showing off their wares. And for the record, it’s not your father’s concord grape anymore.
There will also be an as-yet-unspecified number of restaurants, caterers, and specialty food companies offering samples of their signature dishes.
KFWE has been around for about 15 years. This one returns after a two-year covid-related hiatus. It follows a sold-out show in Miami last December and precedes another KFWE show February 8 in Los Angeles and more of them in London and Israel later in the year.
Sponsored by Bayonne-based Royal Wine Company — which now includes dozens of brands, including Herzog Wine Cellars and Kedem Wines and Grape Juices — it is indicative not only of the growing interest in kosher products, but also the staggering number of types of wine.
What is today Royal Wines goes back to the early 19th century, when it was founded by Rabbi Menachem Herzog in a small town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its wines (and beers) became so highly regarded that by the middle of the century Emperor Franz-Joseph gave the head of the family, Phillip Herzog, the title of baron, and the company was among the royal family’s wine purveyors.
The company prospered — until the Nazis seized it at the start of World War II. Phillip’s grandson, Eugene, survived the war— his parents did not — and was able to reclaim the business. But as the communists took over what became Czechoslovakia, he decided it was time to leave.
Eugene came to the United States in 1948 and took a job with Royal Wine Company, a struggling Lower East Side maker of kosher wines. He worked as a winemaker, truck driver, and sales manager, who, according to legend, was paid at least part of his salary in stock. Jay Buchsbaum of Elizabeth is Royal’s executive vice president of marketing and director of wine education. “They made him a partner because they couldn’t pay him,” he said about Eugene Herzog. “Eventually he ended up owning the business because they” — the other partners — “just left, so he ended up with it.”
Mr. Buchsbaum has been with the company for more than 30 years, and he’s witnessed its growth, from the producer of sweet concord grape wine to the maker of dozens upon dozens of varieties. Royal opened a winery in California and created America’s first line of premium kosher wines, the award-winning Baron Herzog brand. Then there is Kedem wines — and the grape juice served to minors on the holidays.
Royal also began importing kosher wines from overseas — by now, from more than 15 countries — and has added some kosher foods, as well.
The company’s growth seems counterintuitive, since religious observance seems to be on the decline. “It used to be that when the seder came, everybody would go out and buy kosher wine because of grandpa,” Mr. Buchsbaum said. “Today, they’re buying Mondavi or they’re buying Gallo if they have a seder at all. So in that respect, there’s a much smaller group to draw from.
“On the other hand, the Orthodox community has expanded greatly, not only in terms of its numbers, but in terms of its spending, so our business has grown enormously.
“The other thing that’s happening, which is why our business, thank God, is very good, is that because we’re making such good wines that there’s a lot of crossover into the general” — that is, the non-Jewish — “market.”
He guesstimates that between 40% and 60% of the company’s wines are sold to non-Jews.
Virtually all the wines and food brands Royal makes or represents will be available to sip and nosh on February 6. Cost varies from $113 for groups of 20 or more to $240 for a VIP experience. There’s more information at kfwe.com.