When it comes to gauging the health of the high-end kosher wine market, Andrew Breskin is the canary in the wine cellar, so to speak: The healthier the market for pricey kosher wines, the busier Breskin is.
And he’s plenty busy these days.
Breskin, who is based in San Diego, is a wine lawyer, importer, broker, appraiser, cellar master and former sommelier. Six years ago, he took a risk and launched a retail and import operation, Liquid Kosher (liquidkosher.com), specifically to cater to what was then a fledgling high-end kosher wine niche. He said he began Liquid Kosher on the strength of his “belief that the high-end kosher consumer would and should exist, with the right products, service and expertise. … Same as what was available in the broader wine world.”
The risk seems to have paid off.
“The high end of the market is strong,” said Breskin, who now has warehouses on both coasts to service his clients. “It’s really in a healthy place right now.”
One sign of a mature wine culture is the development of a high-end market. Over the last decade or so, a large and growing variety of expensive kosher wines have been introduced, and they have sold well, according to anecdotal evidence. These wines are pitched to consumers with significant disposable income who are eager to shell out serious money for perceived quality and rarity in wine; they embrace the notion that better costs more, and they are eager for better. A distinct high-end kosher wine niche, then, has clearly taken root.
“The high end of the kosher market is really vibrant,” said Jay Buchsbaum, vice president of marketing and director of wine education for Royal Wine Corp., the largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines and spirits.
Likewise, Dovid Perelman, CEO of the JCommerce Group, which owns both jwines.com and kosherwine.com online retailers, agrees. “The high end of the kosher wine market,” he said, “is just doing phenomenally well right now.” (No one interviewed for this story would share specific sales figures, which tend to be closely guarded, especially for private companies.)
As a trend-spotter, Breskin essentially harnessed his years of professional experience in the non-kosher market to try to offer something unique in the kosher market. In this he was also “armed,” as he put it, “with a new [kosher] Bordeaux no one ever heard of, a cache of vintage assorted kosher wines, and a bunch of Yarden Rom [an early and successful high-end kosher effort from the Golan Heights Winery].”
Today, Breskin is the exclusive importer of a line of critically acclaimed premium French kosher wines from Domaine Roses Camille and winemaker Christophe Bardeau (see story on page 3). And he also buys, sells and facilitates trade in the kosher wine after-market: commerce in private high-end and rare kosher wine collections, largely among and between other private collectors. As Breskin put it, “one of the things I did was to professionalize, perhaps even invent, the kosher wine after-market. Now, instead of a handful of guys in Brooklyn trading bottles, there are legitimate market-tested prices, as well as proper vetting of provenance and storage.”
Mirroring professional services that are specialized but widely available in the non-kosher wine market, Breskin characterized what he offers this way: “Someone looking to find or collect great premium kosher wines” or enter the high-end after-market can now turn to professional advice for “personalized selections, wine cellar and wine collection planning and evaluation, sourcing of rare bottles and bottle-formats, or to simply have their wines properly appraised.”
When it comes to the actual prices for kosher high-end wines, “the sweet spot is $65,” said Breskin. “The $40 range is kind of a dead zone,” he added, “though under $40 there are some excellent values.” Perelman agrees: “We sell far more in the $60 range then in the $40 range.”
Explained Perelman: “$15-$20 seems to be the most popular [price category], with $18 about average, but the $30 range is where the wines begin to get really serious, and the $60 range is where it just pops; [at this price range] folks are in the zone for high-end wine, they are eager and ready to spend more money and so tend to jump well above the average.” Indeed, this $60 range is, said Perelman, “just an awesome price point these days.”
For Breskin, average prices for good or decent quality kosher table wine is between $18 snd $25, while for Mendel Ungar of Red Garden Imports, which imports a variety of well-regarded European and Israeli kosher wines, the average “would start at $12-$13,” with “over $40” being high-end territory.
Part of what drives this push for premium-priced wines is perceived value and heightened consumer appreciation for quality. According to Buchsbaum, “The market is really appreciating these [expensive] wines now — consumers have really developed a palate for serious wine; it’s not just the show-off value, but real sophistication in their appreciation for and approach to these wines.”
This growth of the high-end segment is related to the fact, observed Breskin, that the “overall quality of the higher-end wines has increased while the prices have remained relatively stable”; that, he said, has created a perception of real value in the higher-end wines. So “while the wines from producers like Covenant, Castel, Yatir, Flam, and the like have gotten better,” he said, “the prices have remained good and stable — so they mostly all represent good, solid value to consumers.”
Kosher producers have, of course, been eager to meet this growing consumer demand with a wide variety of expensive wines. “If anything,” Buchsbaum said, “demand exceeds supply, and the market is moving faster than production.” Wineries like Covenant from California and Domaine du Castel from Israel or Capçanes from Spain have developed and held firm footholds in the high-end segment of the market long enough, he noted, that “they are able to plan better for the growing market and so we can keep them in stock.” After all, he explained, not only does the creation of premium quality wine take significant time and resources, and a substantive and sustained effort and ethos to constantly improve, it also takes proper planning.
“Covenant, for example,” noted Buchsbaum, “sold out in the first six weeks in the beginning; only once they realized and understood the demand for premium kosher California cabernet, did they begin to plan appropriately for growth; now production has caught up so that we can just about keep it in stock vintage to vintage.”
By contrast, he lamented, “the Herzog single-vineyard range is basically all gone for now. “There really isn’t anything else that’s mevushal from California in this price range, so there is an added restaurant-based pressure on these wines.” Regardless, Buchsbaum added, “no matter what we produce in this category, we seem to sell out fast. Premium wines take time and simply can’t be brought online fast enough.”
Despite robust sales, this kosher high-end market is still in its cultural infancy. “Almost all of the high-end wine being sold today is for immediate consumption, rather than cellaring,” Buchsbaum said. “People want a nice wine for Shabbos, or a special occasion — their buying habits aren’t much different from the rest of the market, except that they are looking for premium wines, rather than more affordable wines.”
Being exclusively focused on this high-end space, Andrew Breskin’s account is similar: “I would say that definitely more is being purchased to consume than to age; most people just don’t have cellars and they’re not buying wine fridges. For everyone laying down a half case of Castel [Grand Vin], there are probably three or four who buy one bottle for that Shabbos. Maybe they accumulate a small collection now and again, but it’s mostly still for near-term consumption.”
For Breskin, though he believes the high-end market is strong, it clearly still has a way to go. But he maintains that “the wine-collecting culture” in the kosher wine market “is definitely on the rise,” and people are “beginning to see the value in keeping wines.” Overall, he concluded, the market trends in this space are “really positive.”
The canary, it turns out, is doing well, thank you. ♦