Chateau Roubine’s Valerie Rouselle, right, at KFWE Tel Aviv.
Menahem Israelievitch (Credit: Moshe Yonatan for Ari’s Kosher Wine)
Later this summer, during this year’s wine-grape harvest in Provence, in southeastern France, Royal Wine Europe’s winemaker, Menahem Israelievitch, will make the most rosé he’s ever made. He is doubling the kosher production of his salmon-hued wine at Châteaux Roubine and Sainte-Béatrice.
Valerie Rouselle of the Rouselle family, which owns Roubine and now also its neighboring winery, Sainte-Béatrice, touts Roubine as one of the oldest wineries in France. Roubine is one of only 18 wineries in Provence that holds the prestigious “Cru Classé,” (classed growth) designation for rosé, a light pink wine served well chilled, often as an apéritif. However, the premium label, origin and designation identifies it as a gastronomical rosé, one constructed to be served with food. It is a wine served the world over in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Between the two wineries, Israelievitch projects he will make 10,000 cases of kosher wine, at several price points ranging from $18 to $30. The number of bottles rivals the entire annual production of Israeli boutique wineries like Flam, Netofa and Yatir, and is double the amount of the 2019 Roubine and Sainte-Béatrice kosher wines that, at this moment, are virtually sold out in the U.S.
While it might not seem surprising on the surface that a French winery is making 10,000 cases of a single type of kosher wine, it becomes clear that all this wine must be made kosher not simply because there is such a demand for kosher rosé, but also because Royal Wine Corp. has, as of this year, become Châteaux Roubine and Sainte-Béatrice’s sole U.S. importer. As a Jewish-owned company, privately held and operating for the past 70 years in America by the Herzog family, Royal does not import non-kosher wine; so all the Roubine and Sainte-Béatrice wine destined for the U.S. must be certified to the highest standards. Israelievitch projects that most of the wine meant for the U.S. will be mevushal (literally, cooked; a kashrut designation that today resembles flash-pasteurization and largely does not affect the taste or quality of the wine), but the wine meant for the European market will stay non-mevushal.
Royal Wine Corp. owns Royal Wine Europe, Kedem, Kayco, Baron Herzog and Manischewitz. It also holds import licenses for 85% to 90% of the world’s kosher wine, distributing wines worldwide to the kosher market from wine regions not just in France, but also from locations in Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and California. Royal Wine Europe began its current business operations in France 30 years ago, when the Herzogs created a relationship with the Rothschild family to do small kosher runs of some of the world’s most famous Bordeaux. That first wine, the Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Haut-Medoc 1986, was released in 1989, and is one of dozens of high-end, much-lauded French wines that have been created for the kosher market since.
While Royal has distributed many rosé wines in recent years, Château Roubine’s premium bottles are la crème de la crème. “At their best, the rosé wines of Château Roubine and Château Sainte-Béatrice—both owned by Valerie Rousselle and family—are bright, sunny, light-to-medium-bodied, dry, crisp, refreshing, elegant, distinctive, well-balanced and hugely pleasurable,” said Joshua London, a kosher wine critic and writer.
“If it is all now kosher for the U.S. market, then that’s pretty cool and a relatively big deal. It may suggest more about the state of the rosé wine market here than the kosher market, but it may also suggest that Royal’s sales and distribution figures pushed it to the head of the pack,” mused London.
It’s true that the prices of high-end rosé—both kosher and non-kosher—are similar in this case, and Royal Wine’s ability to step in for Roubine’s prior importer, Quintessential Wines, shows that the price of making a good wine kosher can be competitive in the marketplace, and one single distributor can be beneficial to a non-kosher-keeping or non-Jewish owner. “We make the wine 100% the same way, using our workers in the winery to press the grapes,” explained Israelievitch. “The process of vinification is the same. We have been there already five years so we know how to work together with everyone. The team is there during the harvest. The work you have to do is the same for 50,000 bottles as for 5,000,” he explained, adding that staff must be present during the entire harvest in late summer and then at least two to three times a week the rest of the year, to ensure the wine’s kashrut.
The competitive price that the Roubine bottles demand has also been consistent with other Côtes de Provence bottles of similar quality. “We could not have made this deal if the price was not similar for kosher and non-kosher,” Isaelievitch said.
Israelievitch has worked at Royal Wine Europe for 26 years. “Before I was old enough to drink the wines, I was working,” he joked. He worked for the kosher wine world’s living legend Pierre Miodownick until his aliyah in 2009, where Miodownick successfully launched a second career as owner/winemaker at the Israeli boutique winery Domaine Netofa. Master winemaker Miodownick oversaw all of Royal Wine Europe’s vintages until 2014, when Israelievitch took over.
Previously, Royal Wine Europe met market demand by doing small kosher runs from well-known European wineries, many of them French, and importing these wines to an enthusiastic cadre of consumers in the kosher marketplace. But in recent years, interest in previously-unavailable-to-the-kosher-market brands, varietals and generally higher-end kosher wines has increased, following along the “gourmet-experience-seeking” trend for food and wine in the general population.
Israelievitch noticed that between 2005 and 2010, interest in rosé was trending in non-kosher French winemaking. “Rosé used to be a wine that nobody wanted to drink. It was a wine made from leftover grapes from the red wine grapes no one wanted to use,” he said.
Over time, however, the refreshing quality of a good, dry rosé with fruit and light mineral notes drew attention. Better and better bottles became available and Provence became a vibrant, inviting destination for tourists seeking a cold glass of rosé on a summer afternoon. Rosés made their way to gourmet restaurants as well. The price remained reasonable and steady because rosé requires next to no aging and is meant to be drunk young.
“That’s how high-end rosé became ‘something new’ in the non-kosher market,” Israelievitch explained.
“In 2015, I told Nathan Herzog [president of Royal Wine] and Morris Herzog [managing director of Kedem Europe], from London, that we should find a good rosé to make kosher. I started to test and to meet with a few different wineries. I found Château Roubine, which makes a gastronomical rosé. It’s a great rosé to drink during a meal.”
What sets Château Roubine apart from rosé winemaking in, say, Israel or California, is twofold. First, Provence is the birthplace of rosé, and second, the winery produces grapes and grooms the vineyard specifically for the blend of grapes for their rosé wine. Their blend comprises the wine grapes cinsault, grenache, mourvedre, roll, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.
“We decided to make one wine together, in 2015, the Château Roubine Cru Classé Prémium. We made 500 cases worldwide. It was the first experience for the Rouselle family in kosher. They are not Jewish, but they knew some of my partners with whom I have worked for many years; Rollan de By, and Rothschild. The quality of the wine was great, very special,” recalled Israelievitch.
When preparing for the harvest in 2016, Israelievitch registered that the winery made several other wines, including La Vie en Rose, a less expensive wine with a similar yet less complex taste profile, also meant to be drunk very young. That year, he made 700 cases of La Vie en Rose, and 600 cases of Cru Classé Prémium, all of which were very well received.
In 2017, Valerie Rouselle bought the winery next door, Château Sainte-Béatrice.
“We decided to add kosher runs of ‘The B’ from Sante-Béatrice in 2017, then we had three different categories/levels of rosé wines from Provence. The quantity and quality was up every year, and we were always out of stock after three or four months,” said Israelievitch.
“That year, I invited Valerie Rouselle to come to London, to the KFWE [Kosher Food and Wine Experience, Royal Wine’s annual tasting event/tour that now draws thousands of kosher consumers to taste wine in many cities worldwide]. She saw how the company is not just a small distributor of kosher wine. She saw these as great events with professional people. For her it was interesting because in the non-kosher market, people are already used to the wine, and here it was ‘something special,’” he said. “The kosher consumer is interested and excited about this wine. They are asking a lot of questions to the winemakers, so it made the experience very good.” Based on her experience in London, Rouselle started to attend the other KFWE events in France, other cities in Europe, Israel and the U.S.
“This is something I noticed with other producers in France. When they come to KFWE, they are surprised. They think it will be a small tasting, but it’s a ‘wow’ event. From my point of view it’s a good kiddush Hashem. The Jewish consumers are very good and very interested in the new wines.”
Israelievitch added the clincher that shows how this well-priced, high-quality wine can be sold kosher all over the country, and will even be available in quality wine stories in “kosher wine deserts.” “Usually we can’t compete with kosher wines in the non-kosher market [because of price], but for Valerie and Roubine it makes sense financially and puts this wine in a good position.” A well-made, well-priced young wine with staff already in place at the winery, combined with the relatively large quantity being made, makes the additional cost of kosher supervision negligible.
“The wine is exceptional for both kosher and non-kosher markets. For them, it’s a good deal for them to have distributors who can sell this wine to both markets,” Israelievitch said.
By Elizabeth Kratz