Kosher wine in America is an ever-changing, ever-growing multi-million-dollar industry. In order to try to get a grasp on some of the trends in the dynamic kosher wine market The Jewish Week recently talked to Gary Wartels, the owner of Skyview Wines and Spirits in Riverdale, one of the largest kosher retailers in the New York area.
Jewish Week: Looking back over the past few years what do you see as the recent major trends in kosher wine?
Wartels: Overall, there really continues to be an explosion in really top-quality kosher wines that are being produced from all over the world, and in particular from Israel. In the last few years Israel has really started producing top-quality Wine Spectator- and Robert Parker-rated wines that are beginning to compete with some of the best wines in the world.
What are some of the new kosher wines that consumers should expect to see released this year?
There are really too many to mention so I’ll just list a few. In the more moderate price range, I really enjoy the Benyamina Zinfandel Reserve and the Carmel Appellation Cabernet Franc. In terms of whites, from California there’s Covenant’s Chardonnay Lavan and Hagafen’s Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, which is a very nice sweet aperitif or dessert wine. There are really just so many. At Skyview we carry more than 600 kosher wines and spirits at any one time, and I have at least 60 new wines that are coming in for Passover. So it is very difficult to name just a few.
As a kosher wine retailer, have you noticed any significant changes in the demands of your patrons in recent years?
Yes, the demands have changed. People are demanding much better quality wines that are at a moderate price point, say the $15-$25 range, and I think that is, of course, primarily driven by the economy. Some of the higher-priced wines in the last year or so have had some challenge selling. In terms of quality, the consumer that is coming into my store is demanding good, top-quality wines. The whole movement in kosher wines has, of course, been in that direction.
Where do you see the kosher wine industry headed over the next five years both in terms of both what will be produced and what consumers will be demanding?
I think in terms of demand, the trend will continue to be for top-quality wines in a more moderate price point. Also, the demand will be for greater choice, as consumers would like a broad range of wines to select from. For instance, there are a growing number of dry kosher rosés on the market. I’ve also started to notice a slight uptick in the demand for organic kosher wines, and in the last few months there’s also been a resurgence in the demand for French kosher wines.
What advice will you give to customers when they come into your store to purchase wine for their seders?
This year, I would really encourage them to be open to change. If you’re traditionally used to a sweet, sacramental wine, try a semi-sweet wine — and there are a number of new semi-dry and semi-sweet wines that are now on the market. If you now are into semi-dry wines, you may want to move up a notch and try dry wines. Be open and explore some of the new choices in wine that are out there.