Kosher Wine – The Rise and Fall of Manischewitz

– Kosher wine. The McDonald’s of vino, right? Imagine bringing a bottle to
your friend’s tasting party. How have Jews managed to
win over 100 Nobel Prizes, cure polio, and create the Marvel universe but screw up wine? Actually, they didn’t. Despite dozens of awards, the
Manischewitz stigma is real. But what’s crazy is that there was a time when Manischewitz was absurdly popular in non-Jewish communities – It’s a wild story, but first, we need to talk a little about history. During the years of the Kingdom of Israel, kosher wine was a big export to the Greek, and then Roman civilizations. When Rome expelled the Jews in 70 C.E., it was a major blow to kosher
wine making in the region. In the 7th century, Muslim
conquerors took over the land and, enforcing the
Quoran’s ban on alcohol, they uprooted the Jewish vineyards. With few exceptions, kosher
wine would be relegated to small Jewish communities
in the diaspora. Fast forward to the mid-19th century and the cultivation of a grape that would change Jewish wine forever. Say hello to this little
guy: the Concord grape. It’s cheap, easy to grow, resistant to difficult growing conditions such as too much rain and chilly weather. So if say, you’re a poor
Jewish immigrant living in New York, it just might
scratch your wine itch. Now the concord grape is high in acidity, meaning if you simply
ferment it into wine, it’s going to be sour. You’re going to need
a good amount of sugar to balance it out. Hence that overly sweet taste that has become so
synonymous with Kosher wine. In 1920 the United States
institutes prohibition. The production, import, and
sales of all alcohol is banned, with the exception of wine
for religious purposes. Suddenly there is a huge demand for kosher wine but government limits become so stringent that
there is hardly enough wine to go around to drink the
required four cups on Passover. Once prohibition ends in 1933, demand for Kosher wine skyrockets. Ready and eager to meet that demand was the Monarch Wine Company. The founders wanted a
name that was well known in the Jewish world to set them apart. So they reached out to the
Manischewitz food company to license the name and
thus we have the birth of the wine we all remember from Passover at Grandma’s. Then something weird happened. Monarch noticed that
while Jews bought a lot of their wine around Passover, they were doing great in
certain non-Jewish areas at other times of the year as well. Bottles had been selling
during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day. As it turns out,
Manischewitz had been popular in many Black communities. Evidently the Concord
grape is very similar to the Scuppernong grapes of the south where sweet drinks on a
hot summer day were king. When African Americans moved into then Jewish
neighborhoods like Harlem, the familiar sweet taste,
the religious imagery on the bottle, and the slogan, “Wine Like Mother Used to Make”
struck all the right chords. It wasn’t long before liquor stores were being asked if they
sold that “Mani” wine. With business booming, Monarch pursued the non-Jewish sales hard, in particular, the
African American market. ♪ So breakout the wine
and let’s drink a toast ♪ ♪ To the best there be ♪ ♪ The Mambo Shevitz ♪ ♪ Almonetta gentle Almonetta ♪ ♪ Almonetta for Manischewitz Wine ♪ – At one point, 85% of their magazine
advertising budget went to Ebony magazine alone. The marketing was so successful that in 1981 Forbes published a piece identifying blue collar African Americans as the primary consumer
over traditional Jews. With its astounding success, Manischewitz had begun turning
its back on Jewish consumers. Then the ’80s, and the
quality revolution happened. Wine tastes switched to
French and California styles of dry wines. Even the blue collar demographic was gravitating towards the
new, sophisticated palette. This sent Manischewitz
sales into a tailspin. Meanwhile back in Israel in the 1800s, philanthropists such
as Sir Moses Montefiore and Baron Edmond de Rothschild
made tremendous contributions to what would become a thriving wine boom, buying land and introducing
French grapes to the region. At one time there were
as many as 26 wineries in the Old City of Jerusalem alone. The Shorr Brothers even grew their grapes in a back alley opposite the Western Wall. Although most of those wineries are gone, a few still remain and are staples of the Israeli industry
today, Carmel, Teperberg, and the Shorr Brothers which split into Zion,
Arza, and Harcormim. In the 1970s, a professor
from the University of California visited the Golan Heights and discovered that the soil and altitude were ideal
for growing quality grapes. This sets the stage for Israel’s part in the quality revolution of the 1980s. Shortly after, the Golan Heights Winery is founded and pioneers
such wines as Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, and Viognier. Then in 1987, their Yarden
Cabernet Sauvignon turns heads as it is awarded not only a gold metal at the International Wine
& Spirits Competition in London, but also the Winiarski Trophy for best red wine at the competition. The quality revolution of the ’80s leads to the Israeli boutique boom of the ’90s where smaller vineyards
revolutionize viniculture and viticulture techniques even further. Israeli wineries start
getting more notoriety and awards from Wine
Spectator, Robert Parker, and Hugh Johnson. And in the 2000s, the big
wineries decide they want a piece of the quality pie and up their game too. Today the industry in Israel is huge: there are the big advanced wineries, the inexperienced but
passionate boutique wineries, moshav and kibbutz wineries, ultra orthodox wineries, Christian monks, and even an Arab-Israeli
family runs a kosher winery. Not to mention the U.S.
where kosher wineries such as Baron Herzog,
Hagafen from Napa Valley, and even boutique style wineries
like Santa Barbara’s Shirah have received acclaim and notoriety. The Manischewitz brand still has major cross-cultural
appeal even today, popular in Jamaica,
Asia, and still skewing to Hispanic and Black
communities in the US. There are even trendy cocktails that use the sweet grape wine. Next time you’re at the bar, try asking for a “Maccabee Blood”. Meanwhile the kosher
wine industry’s growth in Israel is happening hyper fast. Global Supply can’t meet demand. The point is, you may
associate kosher wine with a cough syrup taste and consistency, but Kosher wine has come a long way. Even if Jews aren’t always
the ones drinking it. Thanks for watching. If you like what we’re doing here, consider subscribing and if
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12 thoughts on “Kosher Wine – The Rise and Fall of Manischewitz

  1. Have you ever had a glass of Manischewitz? What are your thoughts on kosher wine?

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  2. I am French, so I know a thing or two about wine. Those Awards and accolades don't mean anything because wine is extremely subjective when it comes to people taste bud. as no one is going to admit that they spent $2,000 on a shity wine but apart from that. I had drank some of the wine you mention they're pretty good.

    Just an advice to anyone. Don't buy the most expensive wine unless you like it and certainly do not pretend to like it you're just insulting your own intelligence. Remember at the end of the day it is fermented grapes.

  3. Manischevitz sucks, I mean, people buy it because we need a lot of wine for Passover. If you're getting good wine for shabbat, you can do for a 20 dollar bottle and be pretty happy.

  4. Worst wine I ever had. Worse than MD 20/20. It was like something that you might have poured on pancakes before it went bad.

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