By Jewish Link Wine Guide Staff
Over this past year, during our wine tasting process and the editorial work of researching, interviewing and writing about the winemakers and professionals who make the kosher wine in our bottles, several of them stood out as absolute innovators. The passion of these five individuals bring merit and strength to the entire kosher wine industry.
Whether it was a youthful exuberance and passion for his family’s estate winery (David Cohen Aletà), action on behalf of sustainability in winemaking (Michal Akerman), intensity in helping kosher wines travel as far as the internet can reach (Dovid Riven), advocacy for bringing “start-up nation” technology to the winemaking process (Jacob Ner-David), or literally making more wines from never-before-seen-in-kosher wine making regions accessible to the consumer (Ari Lockspeiser), we were simply blown away.
Innovator David Cohen Aletà
The Brand Ambassador
For David Cohen Aletà, wine is a way of life. He literally grew up in his family’s vineyards, Elviwines, in Spain. His father, Moises, is operator, and his mother, Anna, is winemaker. Together, the family runs the first all-kosher winery to operate in Spain since 1492. Cohen Aletà, just 24, has been working formally for three years as the winery’s sales and export manager.
He is also the quintessential brand ambassador, hosting tastings and telling the story of the Elviwines around the U.S., Europe and Israel, and spreading his family’s unique message of kosher wine excellence. “In our case, this is not only a business, but a way of understanding life; we are wine people. This is what I grew up with.”
What is next for Cohen Aletà? “My main goal in the kosher wine industry is trying to be the bridge between the land, the grapes, the wine, the slow tempo of the vines and the final consumer. Being able to break this wall that exists in the consumer world where we want everything now and fast, while in the field and winery we have to appreciate what has been given to us and give respect to nature, to the land, to wine, to life.”
Innovator Jacob Ner-David
Building the Future of Israeli Winemaking
Jacob Ner-David, who has been part of Israel’s tech startup scene for the past 25 years, co-founded the startup Jezreel Valley Winery with Yehuda Nahar in 2011, with a never-before-seen-in-Israel Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, bringing a millennial vibe to an already modern-thinking winery.
Ner-David thinks of himself as working in Israeli wine, not specifically kosher wine. “While we are certified kosher, that doesn’t define us,” he said. Rather, using native Mediterranean grapes and combining them in ways that reflect Israel’s specific terroir is part of Jezreel’s self-definition.
One goal Ner-David would like to be remembered by? “That people stop thinking ‘kosher’ when referring to Israeli wine, and instead think ‘excellent Israeli wine.’”
Outside the wine world, Israel has become known as a place of innovation—not copycat tech but a place that celebrates unique and authentic ways of developing and using technology.
It’s Ner-David’s goal to bring the same innovation that worked with Israel as a “Start-Up Nation” to the wine industry.
“I will be most proud of us as we deepen our identity as an innovative winemaking region with varieties, both historic and modern, that belong here and when you taste them, you think— Israel! And yes, we need leaders in using experiential tech to bring people closer to what we are doing, through NFTs [non-fungible tokens], bringing Israel wine into the metaverse, and more.”
Innovator Dovid Riven
The Direct-to-Consumer Revolutionary
Dovid Riven’s foray into the kosher wine industry began with an operations and administrative role seven years ago. After some self-paced studying, including lots of tasting, and some formal training through WSET, he took on procurement and sourcing responsibilities.
Today, as a partner in KosherWine.com, he helps curate a website that sells approximately 1,200 kosher wines, with 150 wines that are exclusive to KosherWine.com, meaning these wines can only be acquired by consumers directly from the website.
These labels include Shiran, Nevo and Yaffo from Israel, wines from Europe, as well as U.S.-made wines from Sheldrake Point, Doubleback, Sleight of Hand and Eola Hills.
What’s next for Riven? “The kosher wine industry has come a long way over the past few decades. Today, you can find premium kosher wines in many categories, with productions covering some of the more obscure styles and regions. When I started out in the industry it was the norm to hear that ‘the kosher wine scene is five years behind non-kosher wine trends.’ Today, that gap has narrowed.
It’s exciting to be part of this evolution. The best part of my job is bringing new and exciting wines to the market, and sharing in this effort with all the amazing winemakers, producers, importers, critics, reviewers and industry members. It’s really a testament to the kosher wine consumer base, eager to advance their knowledge and appreciation for wine.”
Innovator Michal Akerman
Promoting Ecological Excellence in Winemaking
Michal Akerman, an agronomist and viticulturist, has been working for 19 years in the kosher wine industry. She spent her first five years at Barkan, one of Israel’s few commercial wineries, which produces 10 million bottles a year, and where many top Israeli winemakers also began their careers.
For the past 14 years, however, she has been the winery manager at Tabor Winery, which produced a more boutique number of bottles of wine annually: 1.8 million bottles. Akerman has spent her time at Tabor transforming its vineyards into “ecological vineyards,” Israel’s first.
To qualify for this international certification, Tabor uses minimal pesticides, welcoming wildlife back to the vineyards; it is believed this leads to better fruit growth, more natural growth conditions and therefore better and more sustainable winemaking.
What’s next for Akerman? “It’s easy! I want people to remember me as the woman who started the viticulture revolution, a sustainable ecological revolution. And [I would like] Tabor winery to be known as the winery that understood that climate change has consequences and that we acted accordingly.”
Innovator Ari Lockspeiser
Ari Lockspeiser, who has studied, taught and worked in the wine industry for the last eight years, currently acts as a négociant, bringing in wines for both KosherWine.com and The Cellar Lakewood. The much-lauded kosher Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point wines are his projects, exclusively available at KosherWine.com, as is the Sleight of Hand Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla, Washington.
The wines from these regions have not previously been widely available for the kosher consumer, and their entry into the marketplace last year has made a splash. At this writing the Sheldrake Point Riesling 2020 had been sold out for six months, and Lockspeiser doubled his 2021 riesling production, in the hopes of meeting consumer demand.
Lockspeiser’s wines for the well-regarded wine store The Cellar Lakewood, where he is a partner, are Israeli wines Ma’ayan, made by Tom Winery; Italian and Spanish wines made under the Viniferia label at Cantina Giuliano and Elviwines, respectively; and Allegory, wines made in California by Shimon and Gabriel Weiss.
These affordable wines made under The Cellar’s private labels have made products by established winemakers more accessible to the public. As The Cellar Lakewood now sells its wines on the web, they are now available for kosher consumers to enjoy nationwide.
What’s next for Lockspeiser? “I want people to look at wine in both a fun and serious way. We can be knowledgeable about wine, know what we are talking about, take it seriously, but still have fun and enjoy the wine, the company and experience of drinking wine together. I would love to take the pretentiousness out of wine. I also would love it if people view what I am doing as opening up their minds and tastes to a whole new world of wine that they never had the chance to experience before.”