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Published:  23 July, 2008

Kedem Europe Ltd is a subsidiary of The Royal Wine Corporation, a New York-based company that has the largest international selection of kosher wines in the world and is responsible for 80-90% of kosher wine sales in the US and 50-60% of kosher wine sales in the UK. Joseph Sandler joined the The Royal Wine Corporation 11 years ago to launch Kedem Wines Europe Ltd. This year the eight-day Jewish festival of Passover starts on 23 April.

When was the company founded?

Kedem Europe Ltd is a subsidiary of The Royal Wine Corporation, a ninth-generation family business based in New York. The Herzog family has been producing wine since the nineteenth century, originally at their winery in Slovakia. During the Second World War, the non-Jewish employees of the company hid the family, so they were able to reopen their winery at the end of the war. But in 1948, when the communists came and demanded all the profits, the fifth generation of the family, Eugene Herzog, handed over the keys, packed his bags and moved to Manhattan. He found lots of small wineries there, producing the traditional Jewish wines made from the Concorde grape variety. It is very acidic and so usually there is a lot of sugar added to the wines. The only business Eugene knew was wine, so he joined a small winery, The Royal Wine Corporation, as the twelfth partner and over the years he slowly bought out the other shareholders, eventually renaming the New York winery as The Royal Kedem Winery. The name Kedem was chosen because kedem' is a Hebrew word meaning to go forward'.

Why did the company decide to start making wines from Vitis vinifera grapes?

About 30 years ago the company realised Jewish consumers didn't necessarily want to drink the sweet, traditional wines and many would rather drink proper' wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. So one of Eugene's sons went to Italy and produced the first kosher Soave, which sold out immediately. In 1985, the company built the Baron Herzog winery in California. Now we produce kosher wines all over the world and the kosher consumer has the opportunity to drink what everyone else is drinking.

What do you think of the wines now being produced in Israel?

Israeli wines have undergone a complete metamorphosis. The wineries realised that if they wanted to compete internationally they would need to invest and they are now using top-quality technology and producing great wines. Israel also has perfect natural conditions for wine production.

Is the traditional, sweet style of wine still important for your business?

Traditional wine is still a very big part of our business and sales are still growing, but it accounts for a smaller percentage of our overall sales now because we are selling a lot more of the other wines. The new wines now make up about 25-30% of our sales.

What makes a wine kosher'?

In short, it means that from the crushing of the grapes to the bottling of the wine, the entire winemaking process is carried out by Sabbath-observant orthodox Jews. We also don't use certain ingredients during production; for example, all our yeasts are natural yeasts. That means that our wines are also compliant with the slightly more stringent Kosher for Passover' rules, which take into account that during the Passover festival Jews can't eat any food that is leavened. We do about 40% of our business during the Passover season because every member of a Jewish household is required to drink eight cups of wine, over two nights, as part of the Passover ceremonies.

How much of your wine is sold to non-Jewish consumers?

About 80-90% of our market is still Jewish consumers, but we know from our supermarket sales that not all of the wine is going to the Jewish market. Our motto is: World-class wines that happen to be kosher'. We've turned the kosher wine industry upside down by making good wines that just happen to be kosher. A kosher consumer can feel comfortable drinking our wines and perhaps serving them to non-Jews, without feeling they are serving an inferior product.

How did you get involved in making kosher Rothschild wines?

In 1985, a man called Pierre Miodownick came to us because he had a contract to produce a kosher Rothschild wine at Chteau Clark. We bought the contract from him and from there moved on to make wine at Chteau Yon-Figeac, Chteau Labgorce, Chteau Loville-Poyferr and, most recently, Chteau Pontet-Canet.

How does it work?

We have a winemaking team based in France that goes from winery to winery at harvest time. Before they leave, the wine is put into tanks, sealed up and left alone until they return.

Does kosher production cost more?

It depends. With boutique wines the kosher production does cost a bit more. But for our California wines, which we make in large quantities at our own winery, the manpower is pretty similar, so there isn't much additional cost.

How does the customer know your wines are kosher?

The most internationally recognised Kosher symbol is called the OU' - simply a circle with a U' inside. It appears on all our labels, along with a sentence in Hebrew explaining that the wine is kosher. Apart from those two things, our labels are exactly the same as those on the non-kosher wines.

Kedem Europe Ltd, 23 Leicester Road, Salford, Manchester, M7 4AS

Tel: 0161 708 9909