Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Conversations With Naomi: Kosher Wine Guy

It is with great pleasure that I present to you my interview with Rafi Schutzer, The Kosher Wine Guy. In approaching a candidate for Conversations With Naomi, I look for a feeling of comradeship, gained through a combination of intuition and intellectual curiosity. I like wine, and have great respect for the kosher food industry. The word 'kosher' means different things to different people. Rafi Schutzer is the reigning kosher wine expert, with definitive opinions on Israel. Rafi illustrates with his Jewish heart in everything he tweets, and I feel comfortable asking Rafi for his opinions. He is open to sharing his knowledge on all things Kosher, while doing battle on Twitter with Jews for Jesus, and other lunatics. I am happy to share the Left Coast with the Kosher Wine Guy. Without further ado, here he is!

Naomi: You got my attention on Twitter because you are the KosherWineGuy. I was surprised when I read your website and learned that this is a future endeavor. Is this a start-up? Can you please explain this interesting concept? What makes you a négociant?

Rafi: I am not a négociant in the sense in which it has customarily been used in France. I don’t make wine under my own label with grapes or barrel wine purchased from various vineyards and wineries. With I am putting together a “wine deal” of another sort. My aim, instead, is to make a kosher version of a high end California wine through my project known as the Premium Kosher Wine Collective. The basic idea is to develop a network of high end kosher wine consumers who will buy allocations of these bottles forward. Essentially, we will collectively finance the wine for future delivery. This is similar to a process that has been done in Bordeaux for generations, but with a kind of kibbutznik twist to it.

Naomi: What is a “wine evangelist”? I thought evangelists didn't drink alcohol?

Rafi: I believe you’re thinking of “Evangelicals” although I don’t think that that Christian sect is prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages per se. In any case, I was at first hesitant to use the term “evangelist” because of its non-Jewish connotations. After some discussions with others, I decided that since I wanted to find people who could help spread the word about my project, educate and maybe even “convert” people so to speak, I thought that the juxtaposition of the words “kosher” and “evangelist” would draw people's eyes and so serve the purpose of getting the public’s attention.

Naomi: Who is the kosher swine guy? And why were you suspended from Twitter?

Rafi: I see you’ve really been mining the Twitter data stream. Well, with the Mexican Swine Flu becoming an issue on Twitter earlier this year, someone in a discussion on Twitter made the comment that I should be the “KosherSwineGuy” instead of the “KosherWineGuy.” So I went and made the new Twitter name of “KosherSwineGuy.” It was a joke, perhaps in bad taste, but it was still just a joke. When I (KosherWineGuy) and about ten thousand other people were mistakenly suspended from Twitter by some computer glitch for about ten hours a few months ago, I still had a working KosherSwineGuy handle to use and so I used it to ask other people what was going on. I was a little paranoid at first but then we saw that it was a general outage, a mistake and nothing personal.

Naomi: I would love to try a good kosher wine. Is that an oxymoron? Or juxtaposition?

Rafi: There is no shortage of good kosher wine today, quite the contrary in fact. There are even some great kosher wines. I don’t think “good kosher wine” was ever an oxymoron. I would say rather that it was just unavailable or virtually impossible to find before fifteen years ago. In fact one of the greatest kosher wines in the world is now being made in Napa. The winery is called Covenant Wines and it currently produces three of best high end kosher wines in the world. The winemakers are Jeff Morgan (of Winespectator) and Lesley Rudd (of Dean & DeLuca). Their flagship is the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, its little brother is Red C and soon there will be a white wine, Covenant Levan. I have a few cases of another great kosher wine from Bordeaux called Chateau Valandraud. I know you like researching things online. Why don’t you go online and take a look at the price at which a bottle of 2001 Valandraud retails. Another interesting story is the excellent Four Gates Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That's where Binyamin Cantz makes the only kosher and organically grown wine in the United States. [photo of Rafi Schutzer and Binyamin Cantz]

Naomi: I was surprised to learn from one of your tweets that "Wine must be made by Jews for it to be Kosher." Please explain? Why does that not apply to bagels? (I used to be in the kosher bagel business)

Rafi: As far as the differences between the laws of kashrut as they apply to baked goods such as bagels, the halacha (Jewish law) is more strict about wine because of its sacramental use for Kiddush on Shabbat and Jewish festivals. As an aside, there is a concept of Pas Yisroel in which some (usually Chassidic) Orthodox Jews will only eat baked goods made by Orthodox Jewish bakers.

Back to wine, on a very basic level, it is true that in order for wine to be kosher it must be made by Jews. More specifically, said Jews must be “Sabbath-observant” which is actually a euphemism for “Orthodox.” This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for wine to be kosher. In addition, no non-kosher additives such as certain fining agents derived from animals may be used. Anyway, the Orthodox Jewish workers are the only people permitted to come into contact with the wine from the time the grapes are crushed until the finished bottles are corked and capsuled.

There is, however, another protocol that allows non-Jewish workers to actually handle the wine during production. In this type of facility, the must (crushed grapes and juice) is first flash pasteurized. After this process, the “cooked” juice can no longer become non-kosher simply by being handled by non-Orthodox Jews. At this point it could even be handled by non-Jews if necessary. This type of kosher wine is called “mevushal,” a Hebrew word which means, “cooked.” Whether the wine suffers through the mevashelling process is a matter of controversy but most high end kosher wine and almost all kosher wine from Israel is not mevushal. In some social settings where kosher wine is to be served it is halachically preferred for the wine to be mevushal because either some of the guests/customers or the wait staff (or both) may not be Orthodox Jews.

Naomi: You are known as a twitter warrior for Israel? What can American Jews do to support Israel, when we don't know where the heck our donation dollars actually go?

Rafi: Financially, the only real way Americans can help Israel is by buying and promoting the sale of Israeli made products. Subsumed in this is working to defeat any attempts at boycotting Israeli products. As far as charitable donations are concerned, there is always the Magen Dovid Adom (The Red Star of David) in Israel, which I consider to be a very fine organization doing great work that directly helps Israelis in times of crisis. You should avoid organizations such as “The New Israel Fund” which is an umbrella group supporting several insidious radical left NGOs which foment division and strife within Israel. They don’t need the money anyway. In my opinion, they get enough support from the likes of Saudi Arabia.

Naomi: Can you tell us about your daughter's experience being in Israel? How do you feel about this?

Rafi: My daughter is having a wonderful time learning for the year in Jerusalem. We hope to join her there by making Aliyah because it seems that she doesn’t want to leave. My wife and I are so proud of her, more than we can express.

Naomi: What can we really do to fight the boycott of Israeli products?

Rafi: Each of us has to take the initiative to stay aware of the efforts of our enemies though some of us will undoubtedly take the reins of leadership in this matter. I for one made sure to go to each of the Trader Joe’s stores in San Diego (seven of them) last June when I heard that there was going to be an organized “deshelving” of Israeli products on a particular Saturday. If it had not been on Shabbat I could have been present at the stores on that day but our opponents knew that the pro-Israel activists are mostly Orthodox Jews and so would not be able to oppose them on Saturday. But I visited each store during the week before the planned event and I made sure that all of the store managers were aware of the proposed day of vandalism at Trader Joe’s. Our enemies were turned away at the door here in San Diego. In other areas like up in Oakland the Trader Joe’s managers actually let the scoundrels in the stores (with video cameras in hand) to create YouTube propaganda. One thing you and your Bay Area readers could probably do is find out why that Trader Joe’s manager hasn’t lost his job or been read the riot act by Trader Joe’s Corporate.

Naomi: What is your opinion on the Gilad Shalit proposed trading of terrorists for his freedom?

Rafi: You don’t want to know, believe me. Suffice it to say that I agreed with the thrust of Jonathan Pollard’s recent prescription for solving the problem.

Naomi: If you have a 'burning issue' please put it here!

Rafi: Friend me up on Twitter and Facebook!

Please check out:

Naomi: Thank you Rafi! L'Chaim!


  1. wow that was a great interview thanks Neill

  2. Fascinating discussion Naomi. Even though it is 8 months old, there are parts of it that are still absolutely relevant to the political climate right now!