Israeli wines are the Rodney Dangerfields of the wine world: They don't get any respect.
Wine can be confusing. It is made in so many different countries and regions, from so many different grapes, and no one can know everything about all of these wines. Thus, consumers sometimes rely on incorrect preconceptions, especially if wine stores help to perpetuate those preconceptions. Trying to correct wrongful preconceptions can be an arduous task. This is a difficult challenge faced by some Israeli wine makers.
I arrived a bit early for a recent Israeli wine tasting and sat down, watching everything get set up. A man sat near me, we started talking and I soon learned that he was Sam Pelter, the father of Tal Pelter, the owner and winemaker of Pelter Winery. Sam works for the winery, primarily dealing with foreign marketing.
As we chatted, Sam mentioned one of the biggest challenges that Israeli wine makers face in the U.S., overcoming the preconception that all Israeli wines are "kosher." This is similar to something previously said, at the last Israeli wine tasting, by Richard Shaffer of Israeli Wine Direct. In his speech, Richard mentioned that the kosher label had been a marketing mistake.
How much do you know about Israeli wines? If you are like most people, you probably don't know a lot and may also believe that Israeli wines are all Kosher. Wine stores often feed into this preconception. Many wine stores separate their wines by country or region, such as France or California. Yet when it comes to Israeli wines, these same stores generally list them as "Kosher" rather than as "Israel." So why wouldn't an uninformed consumer consider all Israeli wines to be Kosher?
Sam, and wine makers from four other Israeli wineries, directly encountered this issue. They recently visited a New Jersey wine store which had a sign for Kosher wines but not one for Israel wines. Now, four of those wine makers did not make Kosher wines. They wanted the wine store to create a new Israel designation, rather than place their wines under the Kosher label. They met some initial resistance to the idea, until the wine store buyer began to taste their wines. He was so impressed with the quality of the wines, that he mentioned that he definitely would add an Israel designation to the store.
What led to this success was a unified effort by the five wine makers. Sam felt that if a single Israeli wine maker had shown up, the wine store would never have changed anything, no matter how excellent the wine. Even wine store owners may have preconceptions and a single example may be insufficient to change that. But working together, a group of wine makers can help change thoughts and minds. That certainly is a good lesson to wine makers from any country or region which hopes to make inroads to consumers.
This is also a lesson for consumers who want to be advocates for the wines of Israel. If your local wine store only has a sign for Kosher wines, suggest they replace it or add a sign for Israel wines. The more people that make that suggestion, then the greater the chances the wine store might make a change.
There are plenty of excellent wines from Israel that are not Kosher and they deserve respect and acknowledgement. People need to learn that not all Israeli wines are Kosher and that they are well worth drinking. There are some excellent Kosher wines out there too but that is not the entirety of Israeli wine. Together, let us help educate consumers and correct their misconceptions about the varied wines of Israel.
Let us give some respect to Israeli wines.