Passover glasses likely will hold Royal Wine

April 05, 1995|By Karen Hunter | Karen Hunter,New York Daily News

The menu: braised veal shank with tomato shallot sauce, baby vegetables, gingered salmon creme brulee, a three-pepper spiral soup, served with a Rothschild Haut-Medoc from the Chateau Clarke.

This is an example of what will be served this Seder, the first meal of the Jewish Passover, at one home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Being kosher is not a type, it's a process," said Jay Buchsbaum, vice president of marketing for Royal Wine, the largest kosher food company in the country.

His company created this Seder meal, which traditionally consists of boiled chicken with carrots, matzo ball soup, chopped liver, gefilte fish and a Concord grape wine.

But times have changed, and so have the people who make kosher foods kosher.

Royal Wine, started by Baron Herzog in Europe, makes up 80 percent of the $3.5 billion kosher market. Last year, it produced more than a million cases of wine and sold more than $300 million worth of kosher foods in more than 16 countries around the world.

Nestled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Royal Wine has served kosher needs for more than 40 years in the United States and another 100 years in Europe, where the Herzog family was the exclusive winemaker of Austria's ruling class.

During World War II, however, the family had to be hidden by their Czechoslovak workers during Adolf Hitler's rule.

In 1947, the Herzogs -- who shun publicity and stay in the background -- made their way to America, where they started their wine business again.

Instead of the natural sweet and full grapes of Eastern Europe, the Herzogs were forced to use the bitter, sour New York Concord grape.

They added sugar to cut the bitter taste and wound up with a thick, sweet wine under the Kedem label.

"That is the wine most people associate with kosher wine," said Mr. Buchsbaum. "But that was made out of necessity more than actual taste."

In 1973, the Herzogs began to import grapes from Italy and France and set up a winery in California.

Their first shipment was Bordeaux, which then sold for $4.99 to $5.99 a bottle -- a considerable jump from the $1.99 Concord wine.

"Everyone said we wouldn't be able to sell it at that price . . . that no one would buy a kosher wine for that money," said Mr. Buchsbaum. "We sold out in a day."

And the rest is history.

Royal makes 35 percent of its profits at Passover time, and "each Jew at the Passover Seder is supposed to drink four full glasses of wine," said Mr. Buchsbaum. "If every Jew did that, there wouldn't be enough wine in the world. We are strongly encouraging the custom."

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