Bias and Prejudice in the World of Spiritsby Rabbi Jacob Rupp June 28, 2019
King Solomon famously said that there is nothing new under the sun. It should not surprise us that the same blinders, predispositions, and close mindedness that plague our society and government institutions are alive and well in the world of wine.
Standing at the forefront of the waves of change is San Diego’s own kosher sommelier Andrew Breskin, founder of “Liquid Kosher” and “The Cellar,” who for years has been dancing to the beat of his own drum when it comes to what he drinks and what he challenges his clients to enjoy.
You may think that something as trite and personal as what we like to drink should be just that; personal taste, but Andrew has over a decade of experience demonstrating why having an open mind and open heart is where the true fans are made.
High end kosher French wine had largely fallen out of favor in 2009 when Andrew began importing his own line from the legendary wine region of Bordeaux. A few companies had attempted to bring about a French revolution in the kosher wine world roughly ten years prior but had been largely unsuccessful. Of the available “fine wine” (bottles above the $60 range) the majority of it was coming from Israel.
Not to fall in the same trap as the famed spies in the times of Moses and ridicule the produce of the Holy Land, Andrew would rather say that the quality of wine from Israel at that time was not yet at the level that French winemakers were able to display at the same price point. Why were people buying it? Simple—it was available, and outside of a few selected trained palates, much of the kosher consumers spending that kind of money on a bottle of wine didn’t know what they should be getting for the money.
Andrew began the arduous process not only of bringing in the wine, but also educating his consumers about the ins and outs of fine wine. And while he did spend a lot of time outside of the mainstream wine world, his vision paid off in 2015 when French wine became the darling of kosher high-end collectors. Suddenly those early 2000’s bottles that had not been in favor became hot commodities, as did Andrew’s imports.
Ever the entrepreneur, Andrew set out to explore new horizons when French wine got hot. He was introduced to a wine maker named Joshua Klapper by California wine making legends, Gabe and Shimon Weiss of Shirah Wines. Klapper, from Timbre Wines in Santa Maria, was classically trained and started making some kosher wine at the request of his father. Joshua met up with a Chabad rabbi in San Luis Obispo and produced a very limited amount of kosher wine.
That small amount of wine was enough to convince Andrew that you could actually have a California wine (usually very fruity) that had the restrained flavor, balance, and texture of fine French wine. Andrew jumped at the opportunity to partner with Klapper and Timbre wines, and they produced a limited run of 2017 Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon. He was so enamored of Klapper’s style that he bought every last bottle of kosher wine that Timbre had ever made.
Selling French-influenced California wine to a market that was largely unfamiliar with the style was not a simple feat. As Andrew started pouring his wines for his usual clients and during his routine wine tastings he would conduct around the country, he found a lot of naysayers. It wasn’t that people didn’t want or like his wine, it was that they would initially refuse to try it.
The level of close-mindedness was most evident when Andrew was leading a wine tasting at a Pesach program. For those that aren’t familiar, Pesach programs are week long extravaganzas when a company will reserve much or all of a resort and provide amazing activities and programming for the duration of the Passover holiday. The entire experience had been paid for already, and Andrew was out pouring wines when participant after participant would turn down his offer to try his specific kind of wine.
“I remember one of the people saying, ‘Oh I don’t like Rosé,’” Andrew recalled. The former attorney turned wine entrepreneur had to use his best negotiation skills to convince the patron that the bottle was already open, so why not just try it. And in a moment that sounded eerily similar to the Dr. Seuss book, “Green Eggs and Ham,” the patron stopped and said, “SAY! This is delicious!” (No, Andrew didn’t ask if he wanted to try it in a boat or on a train.)
As was the case with the French wine, the Timbre wines were met with huge success once clients actually started trying it. With the French and California wines rolling, Andrew thought it would be a good idea to revisit his own bias that great high-end wine wasn’t coming out of Israel. He reached out to a well-known winemaker who had spun off from a large winery in Israel and had started producing wine under his own label and cultivated a relationship. Soon the wine maker had agreed to have Andrew import his wines from Israel and roll them out slowly to Andrew’s discerning but revolutionary client base.
I couldn’t help but to ask Andrew how he felt when he was trying wines that were still months or years away from becoming popular. More specifically, I was curious about his thought process when he would taste wine that he either didn’t like, or that his wine tasting groups wouldn’t like.
“Initially I thought I had to love the wine in order to sell it. But the truth is that once I got used to what my clients would enjoy, I actually found myself able to offer wines that I may not love but they did. Conversely, if I really liked the wine, I wouldn’t really care if the first test groups didn’t like it. I figured eventually, they would open their minds and come around.”
It seems funny that kosher wine has come so far. What was just a few dusty super sweet bottles in the local supermarket a few years ago is now a massive industry that produces world class wines across the world. But even this more recent phenomenon is but a throwback to earlier times in Jewish history when Jews were making world class wines both in Israel and abroad. And against that backdrop, Andrew answered my most directed question.
“What’s wrong,” I inquired “with people just liking what they like? Why do you have to bombard them with these ever-changing vintages and varietals?”
Andrew took a minute to think. “Look, you can eat peanut butter sandwiches all your life…” he trailed off. “No, it’s like you can eat meatloaf all your life and when you get to the Pearly Gates and they ask you how you liked steak, you’d give them this dumbfounded look and say, ‘Well I don’t know.’ Because just so much exciting stuff is available now, why not be as open minded as possible?”
And while I don’t know if steak and meatloaf make it into the discussion we have after 120 years on Earth, I do know that the Talmud teaches us that we will be held accountable for all of the pleasures we neglected to enjoy during our lives as opportunities we missed to enjoy G-d’s creations. So I suppose in that sense, Andrew is doing his best to fulfill a Talmudic dictum and help people not be boring when it comes to what is in their glass at their next Shabbat dinner.