Kosher Wine - a growing market
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But what is it, exactly

By Frank Smith in Australia

Mostly made in Israel, it was usually cheap and sweet. But all that has changed. Now wineries in Australia, South Africa and the US have realized that kosher wine can be a lucrative niche market for their premium wines.

But what is kosher wine?

'Kosher means fit to consume,' explains Lenny Zeilinger of Perth Hebrew congregation. 'The requirements are set out by God in the five books of the Torah. God intended humans to be vegetarian, but when men wanted to eat meat, God set down certain rules.'

These rules - Kashrut - set out how food must be prepared and what food is permissible. Jews are only allowed to eat meat or drink wine that is kosher.

'Wine is very important in Jewish society. It is a symbol of joy and has a central place in many ceremonies. Blessing the wine is an important part of the Sabbath.'

Religious Jews use kosher wine the whole time. Non-religious Jews use it for special occasions, Bar-mitzvah, weddings and especially seder, the Passover dinner. 'We get a big demand for functions,' explained Noni Ilic of Beckett's Flat vineyard in Western Australia.

There are two essentials to producing kosher wine. Firstly the ingredients are restricted to those permitted in the Passover. Secondly the whole process has to be carried by shomrim - Sabbath-observant Jews - under the supervision of an orthodox rabbi.

'Crushing the grapes, pressing, filtering and fermenting, all the jobs of the winemaker, must be done by Jews. And more than 90% of kosher wine is pasteurized,' he said. 'It seals in its kosher status.' Once that is done non-Jews can handle it.

Lenny makes kosher wine for Beckett's Flat, owned by Bill and Noni Ilic.

Bill Ilic is not a Jew. In fact he's an electrical engineer, originally from Croatia, who took up wine making in 1996. Now he sells kosher wine to Jewish communities in Australia and especially to New York City.

Skyview, a wine emporium in New York, stocks more than 400 kosher wines, reflecting the increasing sophistication of American Jewish wine tastes. 'Thirty five years ago kosher wine was always sweet,' Bill said. 'Now it tastes just like any other wine. Kosher wine has improved out of sight.'

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