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Building Variety and Depth at Kosher Wine’s High End

There was a time when it was difficult to get even one great kosher wine from a historic wine region. Andrew Breskin’s mission is to give the kosher consumer a choice among great wines.

By Elizabeth Kratz

Andrew Breskin
Andrew Breskin

In large and mid-sized American Jewish communities, 2022 means one can get a kosher version of virtually anything. While this is certainly sufficient for many consumers, a growing community of aficionados of gourmet food and beverage, particularly wine, sometimes laments the lack of opportunities to help kosher wine drinkers fully understand the taste or terroir of a particular region.

Terroir accounts for both minor and major changes in characteristic taste and flavor imparted to wine by the environment in which the grapes are grown.

Andrew Breskin, a boutique kosher wine importer based in San Diego, has a passion to deepen and strengthen the variety available in today’s kosher wine marketplace, especially in the world’s most historic wine regions. Kosher wine, generally, is dominated by a single importer, the privately held Herzog family-owned Royal Wines/Kedem, which imports, in broad strokes, about 85-90% of the world’s kosher-certified wines, from $10 bulk-produced California and Australian wines to high-end French wines that retail for $150 and more.

The rest of the industry is dominated by smaller niche importers who focus on specific regions or producers. None other than Breskin, however, operates a club that specializes entirely in high-end, limited-availability kosher wines.

“It’s true you can get ‘a kosher anything’ but you can’t get 10 ‘kosher anythings.’ The difference is not in availability, it’s in diversity,” explained Breskin in a recent interview. “If you want cabernet franc from the Loire Valley, you can find one, but you can’t taste 50. You can get 200 cabernets from Israel, yes; and if you want to get a Priorat [a Spanish wine from Catalonia], no problem. But if you want to ‘taste’ Priorat, no can do.

“If you want to learn about wine and taste a region you have to go deeper, not wider,” Breskin continued. “You are looking to taste and get the purest sense of place. I don’t necessarily want to talk about kosher; I want to talk about wine.”

Many kosher-keepers do want to talk to Breskin, and each other, about wine. Generally, kosher wine education in America is formalizing as individuals seek to become more knowledgeable. In fact, in spring 2021, when partnered with an Israeli wine school to run the first Wine Spirits & Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 Award in Wines ever offered publicly in America using entirely kosher wines, 30 Americans signed up.

Courses like these, a mainstay for wine lovers and industry professionals in the non-kosher world, can help wine enthusiasts turn a hobby into a profession, or amp up one’s academic knowledge measurably.

The interest in learning more about wine can grow from a hobby into a lifelong passion that evolves only with investment, time, travel and memories. Precious few, if any, kosher-keeping American Jews have yet to successfully complete the WSET’s PhD-equivalent program, the Master of Wine, or joined the Guild of Sommeliers. Many Jews who enjoy wine actively seek out opportunities to try a variety of wines like the ones Breskin imports.

The real education, Breskin says, is in the tasting. “Being able to taste a pinot noir grown in Burgundy from 20 meters apart and 20 miles apart, it’s an experience you can’t really explain,” he said.

“In Burgundy, for example, the wine in the bottle over time, as it matures and develops, will change the most dramatically, in a good way and a complicated way. It’s the definition of why people age wines. Burgundy provides the most action in this regard; it has to do with terroir and acidity and tannin. It’s very sensitive to soil types and climate.”

Breskin’s company and wine club, Liquid Kosher, specializes in importing high-quality kosher wines from France and Israel. He also buys private wine collections, sells “instant wine collections,” and helps clients find the specific types of wine they like most.

No bottle on his website tends to be priced under approximately $50, and prices can run as high as $500 or more for individual or extremely limited-inventoried bottles. His label also distributes hard-to-find California wines, including some from the vaunted Timbre and Mayacamas Vineyards.

Experience in the Non-Kosher Wine World

Breskin’s passion, however, is not specifically for

expensive wine; it is driven by his experiences as a young adult working in the non-kosher world as a certified sommelier, with a particular interest in and affinity for the well regarded wines of Pomerol, a small winemaking commune in the larger Bordeaux region in southwestern France.

Breskin is 38 years old, and his foray into importing—and exclusively tasting—kosher wines is already in its bar mitzvah year. For the past 13 years, in fact after his first year of law school, when he became more religiously observant, Breskin sold off his valuable non-kosher wine collection. “That was a doozy because I had a lot of niche Rhône wines, some interesting rieslings and some California wines that were irreplaceable,” he said.

Breskin had worked his way up and learned about digital sales and wine auctions from expert wine collectors and dealers, and made a living working in wine before and during college. He worked a number of “odd jobs” on sales floors in a wine store, and made long-distance deliveries. He also learned from an expert in terms of building, managing and selling wine collections for clients.

His depth of experience brought him to France and elsewhere, and tasting about 250 wines a month, his palate became highly attuned to quality. He took and passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified Sommelier exam in 2006.

Also in San Diego, tasting, studying and working alongside Breskin at that time was Dan Pilkey, now a well known Chicago-based sommelier who builds and maintains wine lists in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants. Pilkey passed the Master Sommelier exam in 2018 and is a current Master of Wine candidate. In an interview, Pilkey said that Breskin’s attuned palate is an essential guide to quality.

“Having that Rolodex of information and experience behind tasting those benchmark wines, he has amassed a serious palate, so he can taste through a series of kosher wines to find those on par or perhaps even above those from what you might consider a ‘regular’ winery,” said Pilkey.

In fact, Pilkey explained, though he primarily works in non-kosher dining, he has placed Breskin’s wines on various lists he’s worked on for restaurants. The Concours, a private club in Miami that has kosher-keeping members who use its personal chef services, has Breskin’s imports of Domaine Roses Camille, Timbre and one of his red Burgundies on their wine list.

“From a business standpoint, for me to be able to shop France, Israel and California, it’s important for me to have access to a variety of wines that are both very high-end and kosher,” he said.

Transitioning to Kosher

Before he went to Israel for the first time, close to 15 years ago, Breskin made a decision to drink only kosher wine.

“I’m not growing out my payos or anything, but I don’t taste non-kosher wine today for business reasons or otherwise. That was it for me,” Breskin said, explaining that his experience tasting non-kosher wine earlier in his career led him to understand and seek out high quality, and he uses these memories to bring the same flavor profiles to his clients.

“That’s my edge; because I feel like if I’m going back and forth [between kosher and non-kosher] then I might not value the full picture. It’s got to be good enough for me, and my clients.

“I am all in and my clients are all in.”

‘Let’s Talk About France’

France is Breskin’s main focus, and in addition to enjoying its wines, he holds a lifelong familial connection to the region. “Some of the best wines I have ever tasted come from France. I have always found it an interesting place. My dad was born there. His parents were refugees from Austria; my grandmother had been on Kindertransport, and went to France after the war to find her father. My grandmother still lives in London, so it’s easy for me to do business there.”

Breskin’s paternal grandfather was from Poland, and he met his wife, Breskin’s grandmother, when she was in France. But there’s a wine connection even as far back as Poland.

Christoph Bardeau of Domaine Roses Camille

“My great-grandfather on my grandfather’s side was a wine broker in Poland. My grandfather used to tell me that as a child, before the war, he would sneak into his father’s warehouse. He knew which was the sweet wine because they were Tokaji barrels. They would find him there because he had fallen asleep in the cellar.”

“The philosophy is to listen to the terroir. We are located in the most prestigious appellation on the planet, and the most qualitative.” –Christoph Bardeau

Today, Breskin’s import focus is on only a few well chosen winemaking regions and producers. “We’re in Pomerol and Bordeaux and a little bit in Burgundy, and we are in Israel in the north, in the Western Galilee with Lahat, and central Israel, with Yaacov Oryah.”

‘Discovering’ Domaine Roses Camille

“What makes our wine special is that these are all family-owned wineries with direct relationships with growers. Pomerol’s Domaine Roses Camille is the crown jewel of our portfolio. It’s being tended to by the third generation to run it, and it’s now a 100% kosher production,” Breskin said.

Breskin explained that the winery launched in 2005, and made just 75 cases. That’s three barrels. All of it was kosher. “Somehow, Wine Spectator got ahold of it and this wine made it to the top 100 2005 Bordeaux wines. It was not a kosher or non-kosher list. This was the top 100 Bordeaux overall.”

Christophe Bardeau is Domaine Roses Camille’s winemaker.

He explained that five years of work goes into producing a single bottle of his estate’s wine. “The philosophy is to listen to the terroir. We are located in the most prestigious appellation on the planet, and the most qualitative,” he said. Bardeau added he has already been using an organic biological approach for making wines, and the winery is now officially converting to organic.

“I heard about the wine from the Rogov forum [an early wine email list/message board that ran in the early days of the internet where many wine enthusiasts met and networked, moderated by Israeli American wine critic Daniel Rogov, z”l], so I reached out to them. They sent me a couple of bottles.

At that point I was keeping kosher, but with this wine I was taken back to the late nights in the wine shop tasting through Bordeaux. It was hitting every note. From there I made a small purchase of the 2005 and 2006, and we were charging $300 a bottle. It was the most expensive wine you could buy in kosher at that time,” he recalled.

Why does Bardeau entrust his few and precious bottles to Breskin for distribution? Instead of sharing facts and numbers, “we learned how to grow up together, to talk, to listen to each other, and also to taste and enjoy,” said Bardeau.

Meet Yaacov Oryah

Acclaimed for his artistic genius in Israeli winemaking, Yaacov Oryah is a commercial winemaker, notably for Psagot, previously, and currently for other commercial wineries such as Pinto in the Negev, but he also makes small batch wines under his own name. He said he uses his personal brand to “explore winemaking ideas,” and enjoys doing that alongside making conventional wines with conventional methods in a commercial environment.

Yaacov Oryah

Oryah has attained relative cult status for his avant-garde methods of making skin-macerated unoaked whites, often known as “orange wines,” with which he has been experimenting for about 10 years. He also works on lowering the alcohol level of red wine and reducing the influence of oak even when wines are aged in oak. He believes he is exploring ideas unique to the wine world itself, not just for kosher wines.

“It’s finding the consumers that are looking for these special wines and not just for regular, oaky, ripe cab, or something like that. There is a nice correlation between what the wine does and what people expect of the brand, and overall that works,” he said.

“Within my brand I have wines that are more conventional, red wines, but the white wines are not really conventional. They are unoaked, harvested early, meant for aging and develop beautifully over time, sometimes at the price of not being so friendly in their youth,” Oryah told the Jewish Link Wine Guide. “I have a whole program of skin-macerated wines.

Today that’s a big trend, having orange wines, but when I started, I knew nothing about the trend and it was just starting in Europe, in 2007. I just wanted to know what happens when you don’t throw out the skins at the beginning of the process, as most wineries do, and allow them to be—and see what they add to the wines.”

These wines often have a more floral or earthy bouquet, because the skins, said Oryah, impart more of the surrounding terroir to the wines, and he is able to coax from them an array of more subtle complexities.

Oryah wines are exclusive, hard-to-find and many of them have offbeat, unexpected names, like “Queen of Hearts,” “Eye of the Storm” and “The Human Touch.” Breskin started importing Oryah wines to the States in 2018. “Oryah wines are refreshing and they are sort of like people, like individuals,” he said.

“They will change over the course of the day. They are predictable but they can also surprise you. That keeps it interesting. You want a wine to be reliable, and to taste consistently the same, like you want a chardonnay to taste like chardonnay, not a sauvignon blanc; but with Oryah wines there are little gems, little sparks, that you get based on when you taste it, or what you pair it with. It provides a good and welcome wine experience and a good moment.”

Oryah explained that he does not necessarily want his wines to be available in stores, which is one of the selling points of working with Breskin. “That’s something I am very concerned about. I don’t want my skin-macerated chardonnay on a shelf and have someone reach out and buy it because it’s a chardonnay, because if they don’t know anything about skin-macerated wines they will be very disappointed.

“I like when there is someone who can intermediate what is in the bottle to the client, and with most other alternatives for exporting to the United States I would be mainly in stores; I can’t be in restaurants because my wines are not mevushal,” he added.

Breskin, according to Oryah, “has a clientele and he intermediates the wines to them in a professional way.”

“Also, a lot of my wines are small scale, with very good fruit, and made with expensive materials. You end up with a not-cheap product. I wish I was able to sell my wines much cheaper and still be profitable, but lowering my prices would not make it worth it to continue producing. Andrew has the ability to sell these wines despite the fact that they are not cheap. He knows how to direct the product to the clientele who are looking for high-quality, cutting-edge wines. It works for him and it works for me,” said Oryah.

In Depth on Israel’s Terroir With Itay Lahat

Itay Lahat, an experienced winemaker in Australia and France before becoming the winemaker at Barkan, also consulted for many wineries in Israel over the past two decades and teaches at several universities in Israel.

When he felt it was finally time to channel his passion for Rhône varietals into a winery under his own name, he started producing small-batch wine in the Western Galilee under his own label, Lahat. His wines went fully kosher in 2018. While still small, the winery has worked its way up to 10,000 bottles annually.

Said Breskin: “I thought it would be 10 more years until we found another Israeli winery [after Oryah] that had similar values to ours: small-production wines, made by visionary winemakers, creating wine from Israel that plays to the land’s many strengths, instead of trying to replicate a generic style in an unfriendly climate. We found all that and more with Itay Lahat, a winemaking visionary and master of terroir.”

Lahat focuses his efforts on making “local” wines, using his intimate knowledge of the area. “Itay’s wines have a unique character, with a consistent style and identity. These delicately made wines are unapologetically restrained and balanced, with a low percentage of alcohol, high natural acidity and deliberate dryness not often found in Israeli wine,” said Breskin.

Itay Lahat

Like many cooler climate Mediterranean wines, Lahat wines are especially food-friendly. Lahat explained his wine is stylish and fun, complex and elegant, but also easy to drink. “I want it to be aromatically complex, acidic, and on the low-alcohol side. I want there to be lots of sub-tastes; nothing should be overcome. And I don’t want it to be too polished. We want more earthy, more Mediterranean notes of spices,” he said.

Breskin began importing Lahat in 2020, starting with his first fully kosher vintage, the 2018.

Lahat is very happy to have found Breskin as an importer, noting that while his wine cannot be found on shelves in the States, for him that’s not a bad thing. “It is important to me to not be part of the big market,” he said. “I want to be working with a boutique expert with personal service.

This has worked perfectly with Andrew, who has a wine club rather than the free market. It fits my numbers and encourages the exclusivity of the brand. The wine goes only to those who really want it.”

Lahat, through Liquid Kosher, has found a new and growing audience for his wines, which are often varieties that fit Mediterranean growth patterns. He enjoys making wines for a group who appreciate his skills and style.

“It’s like looking at modern art. It’s not too obvious, but you like it. I make happy wines,” he said.

A Taste of California With Timbre’s Josh Klapper

Josh Klapper founded the Central Coast-based Timbre (pronounced TAM-ber) Winery in Arroyo Grande, California in 2005, and the winery is now based in San Luis Obispo. He had been a sommelier for 10 years at Sona, a high-end restaurant in Los Angeles, curating a wine list of 3,000-plus wines. After his list, and Sona, won a Wine Spectator Grand Award, Klapper decided to make a career move into winemaking.

He worked with many winemakers and for eight years under Paul Hobbs, a legendary California winemaker, famous for his work with Mondavi and now known as one of only a few California expert-level winemakers/consultants. Hobbs and Klapper worked together initially at Brave & Maiden, a famous Santa Barbara region winery. “I learned under him like he was the Lubavitcher Rebbe of winemaking,” Klapper joked.

But Klapper’s winemaking skills were no joke, and his boutique winery with a focus on French varietals like chardonnay, pinot noir and Bordeaux blends made in classic French styles, but with California grapes, is no joke either. His encyclopedic knowledge of tasting wines as a sommelier led him to focus on France as his primary inspiration.

Timbre, his winery, is named for the French word that describes “the color” of music. His wines have been reviewed positively in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Wine Enthusiast. He started making some kosher wines at the request of his father, who lives in New York.

While Klapper is Jewish, he explained that he never worked in kosher restaurants or made kosher wines prior to making kosher runs in his own winery. “My dad had been bugging me to make kosher wine starting in 2010.

I finally connected with a Chabad rabbi in SLO (San Luis Obispo) named Chaim Hilel, and made our first kosher wines in 2011,” he said. Since 2011, the Weiss brothers, of Shirah Winery, have also made their wines in Klapper’s facility (though they moved to Oxnard this year). Today, kosher wines constitute about 10% of Klapper’s annual production.

Timbre first made kosher wine as a special order every year for a connoisseur who lives in New York. “It was a private label, so I would make 100 cases for him, and keep 25 for myself. At some point I had a lot of wine built up and I just didn’t have a market for it.

Somehow Andrew Breskin found me. If he wasn’t a pleasure to work with, I am not sure I would do it, because if I did not make kosher wine it would not severely affect my business.

“What I especially like about making kosher wine is that it connects me to my personal history. My dad lives in New York, so when I visit him, I really like that on Shabbat we are making kiddush and drinking the wine I made,” said Klapper.

Going forward, Breskin is looking to distribute more California wines under the Timbre label to the kosher consumer, including a 2021 Paso Robles zinfandel with grapes from a heritage vineyard.

Breskin believes his niche is specific enough and that there is enough kosher wine business for everyone who wants to take part; he’s specifically not interested in labels getting passed between importers. “I don’t have any kosher wine baggage. I am just a guy in San Diego. I want to sell good wine.”


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