Not long ago, kosher wine sales in America were dominated by wines from California, New York and France, but in the last decade wines from Israel have become dominant in the kosher wine sector. Walk into almost any wine shop with a kosher section, and you will likely see a selection of mostly Israeli wines. Indeed, for many consumers, “Israeli wine” has become synonymous with “kosher wine” — and Joshua Greenstein wants to change that.
Greenstein is the youthful, energetic executive vice-president of the Israeli Wine Producers Association (www.iwpa.com), an organization formed last year whose goal is to become the voice of the Israeli wine industry in America. Descended from bootleggers, Greenstein is in the sixth generation of his family to work in the wine and liquor trade, and before helping to create the IWPA, he had worked for wine giants such as Gallo and Yellow Tail.
As the day-to-day head of the IWPA, Greenstein says that one of his major goals is to move Israeli wines out of the kosher wine aisle. “I go into a non-kosher restaurants and stores, I walk in and tell people, ‘These are wines from Israel’ … and if the store has [its wines organized] by varietal, then I want the Israeli wines to be mixed in. Why can’t Carmel Cabernet and Psagot Cabernet be in the Cabernet section?”
The IWPA was founded by the Royal Wine Corp., America’s largest importer of Israeli wines, and currently has 18 member wineries — all of which export wines to the U.S. through the Royal Wine Corp. — and pay dues to fund the IWPA’s activities.
IWPA member wineries are located in each of Israel’s wine-growing regions; collectively they for a representative sample of Israel’s entire Israeli wine industry. They include large wineries such as Carmel and Barkan, historic wineries such as Zion and Segal, new wineries such as Domaine Netofa and Psagot, and even boutique wineries with cult followings, such as Flam and Domaine du Castel.
What is significant about the IWPA is that IT is the first organization of its type in Israel to include so many wineries. (The only similar organization in Israel was Hand Crafted Wines of Israel, a short-lived marketing consortium of 10 wineries.) Greenstein believes that the IWPA has the potential to become an industry-wide organization “like Wines of Bordeaux or the Beaujolais Society.”
However, the fact that the IWPA was founded by the Royal Wine Corp., and is in part funded by them, has led some to question the IWPA’s commitment to promote Israeli wines outside Royal Wine’s portfolio. Greenstein is confident that more wineries will join, and says that he will promote all member wineries equally. Yet, when The Jewish Week contacted two Israeli wineries, whose wines are not imported by Royal Wine Corp., to inquire about the likeliness of their joining the IWPA, both said they were unlikely to become members. Even some of the members of IWPA expressed doubts as to the benefit of joining for wineries that do not export to the U.S. through the Royal Wine Corp. The IWPA has also failed thus far to garner any financial support from the Israeli government.
However, according to Jay Buchsbaum, the vice president for marketing and director of wine education at Royal Wine Corp., who spent more than eight years trying to create the IWPA, having the IWPA promote Israeli wine in general should boost the profile of each individual Israeli winery. He is particularly hopeful that the IWPA will help make the non-kosher wine world more aware of the quality and variety of Israeli wines.
If recent sales numbers are any indication, the IWPA is succeeding in its goals. “While overall sales of kosher wines went up significantly last year, the increase in sales for IWPA member wineries was more than double that of the kosher wine sector as a whole,” says Buchsbaum. “There has also been a significant increase in the amount of Israeli wine sold to non-kosher restaurants and retailers.” Buchsbaum also informed The Jewish Week that IWPA will be having its first general members meeting in Israel later this year.
Now that the IWPA has begun, Buchsbaum says, “It is in fact committed to being around, at least, for years to come.”
While the future growth of the IWPA remains unclear, its mere existence is a sign of how much the Israeli wine industry continues to grow — a sign that should cheer Israeli-wine fans everywhere. ◆