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Kosher Wine Production Is Booming Around the World. Why Hasn’t Tourism Followed?

From the late 1980s and into the mid-2000s, the range of available kosher wines—bottlings made in accordance with Jewish dietary laws—widely expanded. Not only did they evolve from cloyingly sweet Manischewitz to a wide variety of well-balanced, complex options, but they became vastly more plentiful. Today, excellent kosher wines from Israel and around the world are on U.S. shelves in larger quantities than ever before.

It would seem, then, that global kosher wine tourism would follow. It largely hasn’t.

The category’s absence has perplexed many who say there’s demand for it. Wine tourism is naturally a key marketing strategy for many non-kosher wine businesses, and wineries report selling more bottles after in-person tastings. Tourism elements, from ticketed tastings and tours to on-site restaurants and accommodations, are not only potential moneymakers, but can also help build dedicated customer bases.

“Kosher consumers are demanding these experiences, and everyone is more open to travel post-Covid,” says Chanie Apfelbaum, kosher cookbook author and owner of the blog Busy in Brooklyn. “People are more passionate about food and wine than ever before.”

Of course, there are kosher wineries with established tourism presences in Israel, among them Carmel Winery, Yatir Winery and Domaine Du Castel. Wineries began popping up in the land of milk and honey in the 1970s; more arrived by the early 2000s, many with tourism offerings. But kosher wine lovers shouldn’t have to trek to the Judean Hills to enjoy a winery experience.

Today, of the roughly 4,500 individual labels of kosher wine from all over the world, only a handful of the wineries associated with them offer a tourism element. Here’s why that is—and how some operations are going against the grain and doing kosher wine tourism right.

A Kosher Wine Primer

To understand the kosher wine tourism landscape, one first must understand how kosher wine is made. The main difference between traditional wine and kosher wine is that a Sabbath-observant Jew supervises the entire process, explains Erik Segelbaum, advanced sommelier and founder and principal at the hospitality consulting company SOMLYAY LLC. Additionally, kosher wines are typically made without the use of additives, and wines are often made with fruit farmed through regenerative methods. There is also an emphasis on giving workers time to rest and giving back to the community.

“Kosher is basically caring about the environment, caring about humanity and community and caring about self and what you’re putting into your body,” explains Segelbaum, who’s written extensively about kosher wines.

Additionally, some kosher wines bear the label “mevushal.” These wines have been flash-pasteurized, which means the wine is heated for a short period. (Segelbaum assures this doesn’t affect the taste.) This allows kosher wines to be handled by anyone, including non-Sabbath-observing Jews and non-Jews.

Why Kosher Wine Tourism Is Rare Outside Israel

Many kosher bottlings are produced in small batches by non-kosher wineries in collaboration with kosher wine négociants. For example, Laurent-Perrier and Château Clarke in France and Cantine del Borgo Reale in Italy all produce kosher bottlings. However, they generally lack kosher tasting rooms to welcome potential tourists. (There are exceptions, though: Some non-kosher wineries can accommodate kosher guests through tour companies like Winerist, or with advance notice.)

On average, these wineries dedicate about five to 10% of their total production of a given vintage to kosher bottles, according to Gabriel Geller, director of public relations for kosher wine distributor, manufacturer and importer Royal Wine Corporation. This partnership looks different depending on the winery, but generally, a négociant—a wine merchant who purchases grapes or barrels from growers to sell under his or her own brand—will arrange for a team to supervise the harvest, crush (with kosher equipment that is sealed when not in use) and winemaking to ensure the resulting bottlings meet kosher standards. Finally, the kosher wine négociants bring the wine to the U.S. and European markets.

This approach is often preferred because it’s difficult to attract year-round workers acceptable under kosher law. Religious Jewish individuals have many lifestyle requirements, which can make it difficult to live just anywhere, Geller explains.

“Most of the wine regions and wineries are located relatively far away from the big cities like Paris, Lyon and Nice, where most of the Orthodox communities are located,” he continues. These communities provide access to kosher food, places of worship and more. “I don’t see a fully kosher winery opening in France in the future.”

“It is even more difficult [to have a kosher winery] if the harvest period coincides with the main Jewish holidays,” adds Daniele Della Seta, co-owner of Terra di Seta kosher winery in Italy. In such an event, “you have to suspend the grape harvest or interrupt the necessary processes in fermentation, all to the detriment of quality.”

Plus, kosher wine production is inherently more expensive, says Segelbaum. Employees cannot work on the Sabbath, so there is one less day to work. The winemaker must hire more staff, pay more for workers and have longer days to make up for lost time. “It’s a cost that isn’t returned unless they can sell their entire production to kosher-observant people,” he explains.

Kosher Wineries Doing Tourism Right

Despite the difficulties of maintaining a totally kosher winery outside of Israel, several operations are making it work—and inviting guests to experience it firsthand. If you’re interested in visiting a kosher winery, these are the ones to know about.

Herzog Wine Cellars

California

Kosher wine historically had a reputation of being of low quality, largely due to the popularity of sweet, Concord grape-based wines like those made by the Manischewitz brand. But kosher wineries like Herzog sought to change that perception when it kickstarted operations in the late 1980s. The first kosher winery to open in Napa received high ratings from publications like Wine Enthusiast, signaling a sea change in the kosher wine landscape.

Located on the southern end of Central Coast wine country, Herzog winery crafts wines from grapes sourced from the Russian River Valley, Lodi, Clarksburg and elsewhere in Ventura County.

“They have a very robust tourism program,” says Jeff Morgan, owner and founding winemaker at Covenant Winery in California. “I think a large portion of people who go there have no idea it’s even kosher.”

Geller agrees, adding that he believes Herzog offers “the most thorough tourism program outside of Israel.”

Herzog Wine Cellars offers tastings in its massive tasting room and tours of the cellars, barrel room and bottling line. Make time to dine at the on-premises kosher restaurant, Tierra Sur, which highlights local and seasonal ingredients. The menu features items rarely found on kosher menus, including bone-in bison ribeye and a charcuterie board featuring beef biltong and chicken liver mousse.

Hagefen Cellars
Image Courtesy of Vincent Costanza

Hagafen Cellars

California

For many, Hagafen is synonymous with kosher Napa Valley wine. Owners Irit and Ernie Weir founded it in 1979, building a property inspired by Tel Aviv, Israel. The winery produces rarely seen organic kosher offerings, like dry Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, alongside popular wines such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Being kosher isn’t the wines’ only appeal. “A lot of people stop in and don’t even notice it’s kosher,” says Morgan.

Guests can take part in wine flight tastings with stunning vineyard views by appointment. The flights showcase a variety of current releases from the winery’s three boutique labels.

Covenant Wines
Image Courtesy of Covenant Wines

Covenant

California

This urban winery in Berkeley, California, has made kosher wines for more than 20 years. Crafted from grapes sourced from Napa Valley, Carneros and Sonoma, the offerings include bottlings of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and more. Plus, Covenant produces specialty brandy for those looking to imbibe something other than wine

Stop in for a wine tasting on the patio, and, if you’re lucky, score a seat during the summer concert series. Choose from a tasting flight, wines by the glass or bottles or a signature tasting experience guided by a hospitality manager. On weekdays, guests can sample wines and walk through the winemaking process with winery staff by appointment only.

Terra di Seta Winery
Image Courtesy of Daniele Della Seta

Terra Di Seta

Italy
Apfelbaum describes Tuscany’s Terra di Seta as a “magical place.” She recently toured the vineyards and gardens, where she learned about organic wine production and dined in the on-premises kosher dairy restaurant.

“It’s something that’s never been available to the kosher traveler and it’s such a special experience,” she says. The winery, located in the Chianti Classico region, started producing organic kosher-certified wine in 2008. It is one of only two kosher wineries in Europe that grows its own grapes (the other is in Spain). Visitors can sample Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG and a Toscana IGT Rosato made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. The winery also offers Toscana IGT made with Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and Grappe di Chianti Classico, among other bottles.

Want to stay the night? The winery’s owners—the Della Seta family—rent out a small farmhouse with guest apartments.

Cantina Giuliano

Italy

Cantina Giuliano, located in the center of Tuscany, has produced kosher wine since 2014 using grapes sourced from Tuscan vineyards. Visitors can sample wines, tour the property or attend an on-site pasta-making class. The winery also hosts excursions off the property, like truffle hunting or boat trips.

A standout component of the property is the kosher restaurant, which offers house-made cheese, oil and bread. The multi-course menu rotates between dairy and meat days, in accordance with kosher laws that prohibit mixing the two. Guests can also opt to spend the Sabbath on-site and enjoy a weekend of prepared meals; nearby apartments are available for rent.

Bottles are produced by owners Eli and Lara Gauthier in partnership with winemaker Luca D’Attoma. Stand-out selections include the Vermentino, which can be difficult to find kosher, and a Chianti DOCG made from a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Ciliegiolo.

Elvi Wines

Spain

As the only 100% kosher winery in Spain, Elvi Wines (also known as Clos Mesorah Winery) produces traditional Spanish wines. Some are made on the property, while others are produced under supervision at other non-kosher wineries. Across five kosher wine labels, Elvi Wines’ offerings are made with grapes grown on its small vineyard in Montsant and from Ribera del Jucar, Priorato, Rioja and Utiel-Requena.

Guests can sample wines spanning a variety of price points and styles, including a Rioja, Cava, rosé and more. Tastings are offered in Catalan, Spanish, English, French and Hebrew. With advance notice, guests can stay on premises with access to kosher food and wines selected by winemakers and owners Moises and Ana Cohen.