Tel Aviv…Israel’s wine industry continues to score big with wine reviewers and in international competition, but its sales do not reflect its new status, several Israeli wine experts told Kosher Today. The experts say that the quality of Israeli wines “is still very much a secret, although it is slowly gaining traction.” In the first 10 months of 2010, Israel exported $18 million worth of wines, according to an extensive report released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. But given its new prominence, say the experts, the figures should have been at least double. The latest confirmation of the quality of the Israeli wines came from noted wine critic Mark Squires who tasted 76 wines from 17 wineries, including such well-known wineries as Yarden and Golan Heights Wineries. As reported in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 12 of the wines scored 90 and above. The top scorers were Castel Grand Van, Domaine du Castel 2008 and Sycra Muscat, Clos de Gat 2006, with 93 points each. Carmel Limited Edition, Carmel Winery 2007 and Yatir Forest, Yatir Winery 2007 were each ranked a 91. Avidan Winery’s Fringe Full Wine, 2008, and Tagkaton Blend des Noirs, 2008, each scored 90 points, as did Petit Castel, Domaine du Castel 2008 and Yarden Heights Wine, Golan Heights Winery 2008. Experts believe that the Israeli wines could better compete with other European wines, for example, if “there was a budget for marketing.” Others thought that the answer would come from better sales and distribution. There was a sense amongst the experts that the Israeli wines would “pick up steam” in the coming years but that “it will be a slow process.”
Tel Aviv…In the first 10 months of 2010, Israel exported $18 million worth of wines, according to an extensive report released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The fact that such a report was released by the Foreign Ministry is an indication of just how important Israel’s surging wine business has become to Israel. Adam Montefiore, Director of Wine Development at Carmel Winery, confirms that “Israel has joined the world of quality wine producers” and believes that the time is right for Israeli wines to serve as “good ambassadors.” “Once it was the Jaffa orange and the kibbutz that symbolized Israel, now it’s quality wine and high-tech,” Montefiore summed up. Israel’s mostly-cooperative climate; new, quality grape varieties; and the expertise of young winemakers who’ve studied abroad, add up to up to a wine revolution.
Daniel Rogov, the highly-respected resident wine and restaurant critic at the Hebrew-language Ha’aretz daily, says of the industry today: “We have a retinue of winemakers who are internationally trained and internationally experienced, some Israeli-born, some not. We have world class winemakers and that’s very important. The wineries have gone really state-of-the-art. The big and medium wineries all have very modern facilities, and all the techniques for making very fine wine. Most important, we are learning more and more and developing our vineyards better in terms of technology.” Still, despite the awards and expansion of Israel’s wine scene in recent years, all is not rosy, with the industry struggling with the issue of export vs. local consumption. While Israelis consume between five and seven liters annually, “that’s simply not enough” to maintain the industry, which must count on local sales to survive, says Rogov, noting similar problems in vineyard-saturated California and Australia. “Twenty years ago, everyone was uprooting apple orchards to plant vineyards; now they’re uprooting vineyards to plant apple trees, and we may face a situation like that in the end.” Too much expansion is to blame, he says, predicting that as many as half of those passion-driven boutique wineries may close. The other problem is the lack of an Israeli wine culture, he says. “When Israelis started traveling abroad, they began to realize that wine is a part of the cultured place in life, and you would’ve thought that it would have increased local consumption. It hasn’t. What it has done is that people who really understand wine are drinking better and better wine, but overall, not more people are drinking wine.
Rogov’s best 10 Israeli wines for 2010 include Clos de Gat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Har’El, 2008; Clos de Gat, Merlot, Har’El, 2008; Clos de Gat, Ayalon Valley, 2006; Golan Heights Winery, Chardonnay, Odem Organic Vineyard, Yarden, 2008; Golan Heights Winery, Syrah, Ortal Vineyard, Yarden, 2004;Golan Heights Winery, Syrah, Yonatan Vineyard, Yarden, 2007; Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom Vineyard, Yarden, 2004; Margalit, Enigma, Special Reserve, 2007; Margalit, Cabernet Franc, 2008; and Carmel, Shiraz, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2008.
In the US, the Kedem Wine Group (Royal Wine Company), based in Bayonne NJ, is the largest importer of Israeli wines.
Tel Aviv…Has Israel become too small for Israel’s largest supermarket chains? It would seem that way from the recent buzz that both Supersol (Shufersal) owner Shulem Fisher and Co-Op owner Rami Mandel are expanding outside of Israel. Mandel has already gone public with his plans, announcing two years ago of plans to open as many as 10 stores in Jewish neighborhoods in the UK and the United States. Last week, Co-Op announced plans to open its first major kosher food supermarket in Moscow by the end of 2011 and then perhaps in St. Petersburg. The head of the Kashrut Department of the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, Rabbi Yosef Verzub, explained that this will be Russia’s first large kosher food supermarket.
Mr. Fisher has not as yet made his plans known but is said to seriously eye opening several stores in the US. The buzz began with the closing of the Pathmark store in Monsey, which sources say will be taken over in “some form” by Fisher. It was unclear whether the Monsey store would be modeled after the Yesh stores that cater to the Charedi (Orthodox) sector with bulk packages, discounted items, and other promotional programs geared for many of the large families that shop at some of the 53 Yesh stores. The sources also noted that the Fisher foray into Monsey will merely be the first of several stores the retailer plans to open. Ironically, the Super-Sol name, which was not affiliated with Israel’s largest chain, will soon disappear in the US. The first of four Super-Sol stores in Queens and Manhattan is set to open in Kew Garden Hills early next year under the name Seasons.
I was responding to one of the many pre-Kosherfest press interviews I routinely give each year, when one of the questions struck me. “Is the boycott of liberal Jews who disagree with Israeli policy hurting Israeli products in the US?” First off, I was not aware of any organized boycott, particularly by Jews who have historically suffered most from boycotts. Second, the numbers provided by the Israel Export Institute for the first half of 2010 show a significant increase in the export of kosher foods. It reminded me of the reporters who went so far as to argue with me that Jews were “boycotting” Agriprocessor just after the infamous raid and then again when a new heksher tzedek was established by Conservative Jews to confirm that kosher products were produced in plants that were scrupulously observing social justice.
Setting aside any prejudices that I may have against any of these boycotts, there was an attempt to make it appear that the dynamic growth of kosher foods was affected by these campaigns when in fact the numbers showed no such effect. In each instance, I consulted with retailers and wholesalers and could not find an iota of truth that any of these campaigns were having an effect. Even in the days when Agriprocessor was in the news, there was not even a trace of a boycott as customers continued to be guided by quality and price. After a quarter of a century of experience in this industry, I have learned that kosher consumers do not bring their social consciousness to the marketplace. When they look for kosher products, they simply consider how the product will benefit them and at what price. Kosher consumers are too savvy to be taken by people with an agenda that they consider to be suspect and unkosher.
Jerusalem…by Idele Ross, Kosher Today Middle East Bureau Chief…Eden Teva Market, Israel’s first chain of retail groceries specializing in organic and whole foods, is now certified kosher under the supervision of the Israeli rabbinate. The markets are owned by Guy Provisor, the businessman who founded the chain in 2003. He told the Index website that they never had kashrut status because most of the products were imported from the Far East. During the last year, the company has acquired 700 new items which are now certified kosher - mostly dairy products and Oriental foods such as seaweed and sushi which are imported. He said the kashrut certification will cost the chain $150,000. Provisor emphasized that Teva market branches were never open on the Sabbath. Even though there was no kashrut certification, they never sold products containing seafood or pork so going kosher was natural. There are 10 Teva markets throughout the country. Provisor said the company plans on opening several more branches through 2011.
Jerusalem…by Idele Ross, Kosher Today Middle East Bureau Chief…The Israeli demand for organic produce and whole foods is clearly more than a passing trend as major supermarkets are now offering more than a few pesticide-free vegetables and fruits in their produce section. Major food retailers are now realizing that the organic and whole food sales are potentially a multimillion dollar market that is on the rise in Israel. The Super-Sol supermarket chain has just opened its first organic foods department under the name Super-Sol Green. The first branch of the new retailing format, which opened inside the Super Sol Deal branch in Ra’anana, is a store within a store. The venture is intended to compete with the Eden Teva Market chain which opened seven years ago and has stores throughout the country. Haaretz reports that the Super-Sol Green department at the Ra’anana Super Sol Deal has about 1,500 products for sale over about 90 square meters of floor space. It features health foods, organic products, wine and cheeses and special gluten free products. Super Sol plans on opening three additional Super Sol Green locations in the center of country by the end of the year. These will be supplemented in the next two years by similar natural food departments at other Super Sol deal branches and at Super Sol big locations.
Secaucus, NJ…Kosherfest 2010, the 22nd edition of the International Kosher Food Trade Show, opens here on Tuesday (October 26th) at the Meadowlands Exposition Center for two days in what organizers say will be the largest and most impressive showcase in its history. Produced by Diversified Business Communications and co-produced by LUBICOM Marketing Consulting, the show will feature some 350 exhibits and host more than 7,000 food professionals from some two dozen countries around the world. The number of products with kosher certification has reached 125,000 in an industry valued at nearly $13 billion in sales, topped only by Israel with an estimated $17 billion in sales. With 13% annual growth amidst the continuing recession, the industry has reason to be optimistic. The show was sold out weeks in advance of its opening tomorrow. The 2010 edition of Kosherfest will mirror some of the latest developments in kosher, including the expansion of kosher in such countries as Canada and Argentina, the rapid rise of healthier kosher foods (i.e. spelt, gluten-free, natural and organic), a much younger market with its demand for many new specialty foods and even targeted cookbooks, and an impressive list of new and exciting products, highlighted by this year’s winners of Kosherfest’s highly coveted New Product Competition.
Tel Aviv…Greece is emerging as a growing market for Israeli foods, particularly in light of the improved relationship between the two countries after the flotilla fallout with Turkey. Israeli ready-meals company Hamim VeTaim and Greek food distributor Veropoulos have signed the first ever food-distribution deal between and Israeli and a Greek food companies, Mazon reported. According to the website, Veropoulos will import a line of Hamim VeTaim ready-meals specifically formulated for the Greek market. The initial order is for €50,000, and Hamim VeTaim estimates orders will come to hundreds of thousands of Euros annually. Trade between Israel and Greece was estimated at under $500 million. Israeli food sources are hoping that Greece will emerge as a major client for Israeli foods in the years to come.
Copenhagen…As the executive chef of the five-star Dan Acadia in Herzliya, Ariel (“Arik”) Porat is already considered one of Israel’s leading kosher chefs. But earlier this month, Arik brought his mastery aboard the new Costa Deliziosa in a cruise to the Baltics, sponsored by Kosherica, a leader in the growing popularity of kosher cruises that include resident scholars and world-class entertainment. For the more than 200 vacationers (out of 2160 passengers), the 7-day cruise was also a week-long culinary experience, as it has been on many of the Kosherica cruises that featured Arik. Each evening, passengers in the elegant third floor hall dined on a five-course meal that included several choices of beef, poultry, and fish, much like those served in some of the finest hotels and restaurants. For Helit Edelstein of Kosherica, the logistical challenges of having a world-class chef of Porat’s reputation “is all part of the experience,” which on this particular cruise included Rabbi Stephen Riskin of Efrat and Cantor Yaakov Motzen. The “challenges” also included recruiting reputable kosher supervisors and, of course, acquiring the best meats, fish and other ingredients for the world-class chef. Ofi Fishman, Helit’s brother, and a key player in planning the menus, prides himself on the quality of the baked goods that is prepared on board as well as the quality natural and fresh ingredients. While their acclaimed culinary delights have become almost routine, they still are busy “educating” the ship’s staff and most importantly catering to the needs of a “very sophisticated clientele” that on this particular cruise came from as far away as Melbourne and from such places as Gibraltar, Tel Aviv, Montreal, Toronto, London, and New York. Kosher industry sources say that kosher cruising has increased by more than 20% in the past five years, despite the recession. While some travelers still prefer going on a cruise with the cruise ship providing “kosher airline-like meals,” the trend is towards joining the total kosher experience that companies like Kosherica offer. David Wallace of Eddie’s Travel, which partnered with Kosherica for the kosher cruises, sees a growing number of kosher travelers opting for organized kosher travel to many destinations throughout the world. He is already joining Kosherica for Sukkot programs at the Dan Caesarea and Hacienda Forest View hotels in Israel and for many winter cruises in the Caribbean. As the kosher passengers disembarked in Copenhagen after visits to Tallinn, Estonia, Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia and Stockholm, Sweden, the talk was about “the experience” which meant the Kosherica program and, of course, the food of Arik.