In the past year, the number of kosher wine merchants in north London has almost doubled. Previously, the choice of kosher wine was limited to that sold in supermarkets and delicatessens or from the three existing stores — Sussers in Temple Fortune and The Grapevine’s two branches in Hendon and Stamford Hill.
With no newcomers in many years, December 2011 saw The Wine Cellar open in Stamford Hill and less than a year later The Wine Man has launched in Edgware. Both are serious wine merchants where investments have been made in all the latest retailing mod cons.
Morris Herzog, managing director of kosher wine importers Kedem Europe, believes the kosher wine market is “better than it’s ever been”. In his view, it is in part down to the improvement of the quality of kosher wine.
“The Jewish palate of our parents and grandparents was used to sweet kiddush wine. That’s what kosher wine was for many years,” he says. Gradually, since 1985 (when both Golan Heights Winery and Herzog in California planted their vineyards) kosher wine has improved and Jewish palates have changed.
Herzog believes the growth in the UK over the last few years has come from younger modern-Orthodox families spending money on fine wines.
He says: “The big shift is that younger generations are using regular kosher table wines for kiddush. They are enjoying first-class wines that happen to be kosher. Slowly, the community is realising that we can actually drink kosher wine, that we can make kiddush over table wine.”
He adds: “There are kosher wines from all over the world — without limit. Anything, from sherry and port to premium second-growth bordeaux or high-end Napa Valley.”
Edgware’s The Wine Man is modern and high-tech — all stainless steel, spotlights and mirrors. Owner-manager Danny Saltman, who has 10 years experience in kosher wine retailing, is passionate about his wines and brims with ideas for new innovations. The shop boasts two vacuum-operated tasting machines which chill fine whites and maintain fine reds at ambient temperature for up to 40 days, allowing optimum conditions for customers to taste wines before buying.
Saltman has carefully thought out selection ranges from £10 to £120. “It’s not just about making money. I want to educate the public on the quality of kosher wine, which is now at award-winning levels. There is no reason why Jewish, or even non-Jewish, customers shouldn’t be enjoying it,” he enthuses.
“Many Jewish people haven’t bought kosher wine because, up to 10 years ago, it was considered awful. Now it’s beating non-kosher wine. Price is an issue, of course, compared to the non-kosher market, but at the top end the differential isn’t that great.”
Saltman says he wants to “change the kosher wine market in North London” with wine tasting events and educational programmes.
Israeli-born Avi Roth, owner of The Wine Cellar, also believes education has played its part in increasing the demand for kosher wine. “Credit is due to Golan Heights Winery, who have done many tastings and education evenings within the Jewish community. The results show in the market place,” he says.
The Wine Cellar looks more traditional but also boasts the latest wine-selling technology. There is a temperature-controlled room to ensure bottles are stored correctly. There is also a tasting room for regular events and lectures by wine experts from around the world. Roth says that several hundred people have already attended.
“My idea was to open a shop that would make the purchasing of wine a pleasurable experience and also help customers to understand and better appreciate good wines.”
The Wine Cellar stocks a range of over 350 different wines from all over the world from £5 to £300 a bottle. “Our aim is to have a wine for every pocket and every palate,” says Roth.
Herzog says that the kosher market has grown in terms of both cases and value. Kosher wines can now be found in non-kosher wine shops, stores such as Selfridges, Harrods, M&S and in premium restaurants.
At a time of increasing boycotts of Israeli goods and a decline in wine consumption in the Israeli home market, the growing band of drinkers in north London could be a sweet New Year bonus for kosher wine producers.