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California vintners downplay kashrut to lure Israeli patrons

Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
SAN FRANCISCO, April 20 (JTA) — California’s kosher wines are hot not only in the United States. Israel is consuming increasing amounts of wine, fueled in part — like the United States itself — by more studies showing the health benefits of moderate wine drinking. Ernie Weir, owner of Hagafen Cellars in Napa, Calif., exports about 20 percent of his annual yield to Israel. Weir is also a consultant to Israel’s Carmel Winery, which now sells a Carmel Choice California White Zinfandel, a semidry blush wine. Meanwhile, Wente Bros., based in Livermore, Calif., is entering its second year of exporting a Monterey Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, sold jointly in Israel with the Segal Winery. This year Wente Bros. is exporting 5,000 cases of cabernet. It’s economics, maintains John Schwartz, Wente Bros’ vice president of international operations. “Wine consumption per capita is up, and the grape harvest production in Israel is flat,” he says. The Israeli wine world, once ruled by the old-line Carmel, turned around in the early 1980s with the first releases by the Golan Heights Winery’s Golan and Yarden labels. Golan, which hired such leading winemakers as Sunnyvale’s Peter Stern, soon was winning international wine competitions. Today Israel’s wine scene is booming and consumption is climbing. Some wines are exported to Europe and the United States, and a few dozen smaller, microwineries are even cropping up. Wente Bros. says it is packaging its cabernet as an upscale Israeli wine, and downplaying the kosher aspect — just as U.S. kosher winemakers market their product as premium wines first, kosher second. Ironically, Hagafen’s Weir says one Israeli told him that the Napa wine’s label was just “too Jewish” for secular Israeli drinkers.

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