The return of KFWE NYC (AKA NJ) – March 2022
So much has changed in our lives, so much has been forced upon us, for the good and the bad, and so much has been lost over these past two years. I still remember having to call my brother and tell him I cannot come to his son’s wedding, as California had just shut down the state. I missed that and so much more. We lost so many to this pandemic, but thankfully, we are slowly coming out from under the cloud that has clouded our lives for too long.
There is no way to talk about any KFWE, unfortunately, without talking about COVID. The 2020 KFWE in NYC ran right into COVID, I have many stories about the flights I had from the KFWE in Paris and London before the KFWE in NYC and L.A. Stories like, many people being taken off the planes, in advance of disembarkment of the overall plane and many other such stories. This was in the early days of COVID, and no one knew what we were facing.
Today, we are far better equipped, both humanly and emotionally to see the damage that this pandemic has done and to see how the Jewish community as a whole coped with the tragedy. To say KFWE was one of those things that we lost would be to undermine the horrible loss we all went through, in so many ways. However, like all liberties that we lose for reasons outside of our control, eventually, we come to a list of things we lost. Whether those are trivial, futile, or important is all relevant and belongs on a scale. Still, KFWE and other wine shows that are the backbone of kosher wine education were lost for a good two years and, as such, it would be impossible to start a post, discussing the return of KFWE, without highlighting that, and understanding the subsequent return of KFWE within that overall perspective.
KFWE 2022 NJ
So, everyone in the kosher wine world knows about KFWE (they even have a website), laugh track inserted here. It is the largest kosher wine and food event in the world. It started in NYC, then Herzog came with the IFWF, then KFWE, London/Europe, Israel jumped aboard, Miami, not in that order, but those are the players. Royal wine is the largest importer and producer of kosher wine, a fact I bring up very often in my year in review posts. I never posted my 2020 NYC/Cali KFWE posts, I did not feel it was the time or appropriate, too much death, too much horror, too much bad for me to post about KFWE. Still, it would not be fair to ignore it all, and now that we have gotten past what we have lived through, I think a few lines about each would be appropriate.
Simply said, the 2020 NYC event was probably the most crowded and over the top east coast KFWE ever. It met its desired outcome but at the cost of anyone getting to taste wine, even at the “trade” portion that was before the public, though to be honest, it did not feel like that either way.
I liked the 2020 KFWE L.A., again, and I know some did not like the hall, but to me, it is more about not liking the Cali vibe than it is not liking the hall, again, my take! The 2020 Califonia KFWE excelled in so many ways. It was the first year where all the wines, or almost all of them, that were poured in NYC, were in L.A. The food was leaps and bounds better than the NYC event and we had great weather to smoke cigars on the rooftop, which sadly did not happen in 2018 because of rain. So, that is my take on 2020.
So, with the return of KFWE, the east coast version, we can start with the first of many changes this year, the fact that it happened in NJ instead of NY.
This seemed to maybe have affected the number of people who signed up, so that leads us to the second large change, fewer people at the event, overall.
Mind you, the numbers of people are relative to the space they take up! In this case, the square footage seemed smaller, but that also takes us to the next BIG change, the layout!
The event this year occurred at the Hilton Meadowlands, an OK hotel, overall, not one I would stay at, but one that works for what was intended, a convention/event.
Another large change was the manner the venue was laid out. This year they split Israel out from the rest of the countries. They had all the Israeli wineries in one hall room and the rest (France, Spain, Italy, USA, New Zealand, Canada, etc.) in another. The only exception, that I know of, was the Covenant Israeli wineries. As you know, Covenant makes wines in both Califonia and Israel. The largest footprint for them is in California, so they poured their Israeli wines next to their Califonia wines.
The next big change was the wineries, there were fewer, mostly for reasons related to COVID. Some wineries or winemakers could not travel, like New Zealand, because of restrictions and concerns. Some could travel, but the timing did not work out, as the southern hemisphere, as they are making wine now!! Think New Zealand again, South Africa, and more. Some Israeli wineries were also not available and well, sadly as much as we hope COVID would pause life’s wrecking machine, not everyone was in that place.
An interesting aside, Omicron calmed down just in time for many to feel safe to travel, for Israel to allow their citizens to leave and come to the USA. It could have held out for a few more weeks to allow gatherings in NYC without proof of vaccination. Still, that would have been an even later date, and March was too late already.
Finally, the last large change was the food. Instead of having many restaurants making food to highlight their dishes we had Tierra Sur’s chef Gabe Garcia at the event showing off their dishes in the USA room, along with acclaimed Zahav’s chef Michael Solomonov showing off Israeli dishes, in the Israeli room, all prepared onsite by Catering by Michael Schick.
There were a few other subtle changes that I will talk about below, along with my over feelings about the event overall. In the end, if you ask me about the changes – again, not the event, I would say, I liked the changes. The real question is will/can they keep this style of event going forward?? Again, more on that below.
The next logical thing to ask was what about the wines and the food – it is called KFWE: Kosher Food and Wine Experience??? Well, that is where things get a bit wonky.
The wines were really good, being that the date is later than in past years, it allowed for more wines to be available to pour. The wines showed well, the French wines, the Califonia wines, and so on.
The issue for me was that the room was recently remodeled and I could not get past the smell of glue that was ever-present. It drove me crazy but there were some places where the smell was tolerable. This is not a new thing, I have had this issue at other events, I worked around it.
The other small change was how pourers poured the wines. In the past, pourers had their own pitcher of water, and that pitcher was close to them, sadly, that changed this year. This year, there was a central bucket, with a spigot on it, that served as the water for that table. The issue here was that when the pourer wanted to clean a glass they had to move around the other pourers and clean the glass. Essentially a bottleneck was created. It was done for good reasons, as it is hard for the venue managers to keep all those pitchers filled. IMHO, this is NOT an “all-or-nothing” answer. The nice central bucket was a great idea for the venue managers. What can be added, is quite simple, bring back the pitcher, or a bottle, or whatever serving mechanism that the pourers can use. The pourers can fill those pitchers from the large bucket and be more nimble and remove the bottleneck.
Finally, there were not enough pourers, we had winemakers pouring wines and we had marketing folks pouring wines, it worked, but again, more pourers would have been better.
Finally, we get to the food, there I really cannot be kind. The food concepts were fine, the recipes and what the chefs wanted the food to look like were quite appetizing, the problem was all in the execution. The food was overcooked, dry, and in some cases almost tasteless. It was a real shame, and while I am not pro the single approach of having one purveyor for all the food, if done correctly, it can work. Look at what we had in London VIP in 2020 in comparison to London VIP in 2019. Remember, that this iteration of the KFWE was VIP for all. As such, the VIP concepts were expanded to meet the scale of a larger number of people, the execution was lacking, but the ideas were there and if this continues going forward, I am sure the execution will be fixed, B”H!
I did not want to go through all the wines that I tasted at the event, mostly because there were far too many, but here is a smattering of wines I had the chance to taste and good examples of what KFWE had to offer:
In the Israel Room (I passed through it quickly):
- Gush Etzion’s 2021 Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer – were all very nice. 2021 is shaping up to be a great Israeli vintage, at least for whites, anyway. The Viognier was not interesting.
- Or Haganuz’s Amuka Blanc 2021 showed nicely
- I did not get the chance to taste the 2021 Tabor Rose but the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, Adama showed well.
- The Tura Mountain Heights Merlot, 2018, showed nicely. Same with the 2018 Tura Cabernet, again, these are not mind-blowing wines, but nice enough.
- The 2021 Matar Rose and 2021 Matar Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon both showed well
- The 2021 Flam Rose showed OK, not the best of that room at all, but drinkable.
In the USA/French Room):
- The 2021 Rimapere Sauvignon Blanc Rimapere – was a no show, but I tasted it the next day and while it is nice, the 2020 O’Dwyers Creek is better, still, both the 2021 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc and the 2021 Rimapere are both a solid 91.
- The 2020 Ramon Cardova Albarino is showing better than the 2019 vintage, so far, and one I will buy more of again.
- 2020 Covenant Chardonnay Lavan is showing better than before and one I would buy
- The 2019 Herzog Pinot Noir, Reserve, and the 2019 Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir continue to shine.
- The Rose Sparkling wine is the bomb and I will need to get some of that for sure! It is not yet released, it was an early tasting.
- The 2021 Herzog lineage Sauvignon Blanc showed well.
- The 2018 Herzog Generation VIII Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon showed nicely, I am just not sure about the price!
- Sadly, I did not get a chance to taste the other Herzog wines, it was a hectic day.
- I tasted the three Roubine Roses that were there and I think, once again, the mevushal process is messing with these wines, but again, I need to sit with them to make a more definitive decision.
- The 2019 Chateau Pontet Canet was there and it was lovely
I want to make clear, IMHO, this KFWE was a smashing success for many reasons!
- Royal pulled off a large-scale kosher wine event at the tail-end of the Omicron wave and did it successfully.
- Folks were able to meet each other for the first time face-to-face for the first time in many years!
- The wines showed very well, other than my minor issue around the glue smell, most folks did not have that issue at all.
- A large number of people saw and tasted wines they may never have heard or could never have tasted otherwise.
Essentially, the purpose of these events was 100% met and as such, I am personally thankful to the Royal team for all the efforts they put in to meet the growing demand for Kosher wine education.
At the same time, I think that the definition of success would be defined by what you were looking for when you bought the ticket. When I looked around, and I was far more people/wine watching than tasting, I saw many people who were quite happy. Winemakers, chefs, marketing folks were all intermingling and interacting with each other, akin to what we always had in the past.
If you came for a night out with your significant other, to be seen and not to see, maybe you would think less of the level of success than I do. However, to be honest, I saw fewer of that group of people, which were a larger percentage of the attendees in past iterations.
Overall, the event was a success on all levels. The food was a miss, and one that can/should be improved next year. I liked the splitting out of the rooms to allow people to focus more on certain areas. Whether that is Israel or other countries. I would like to see it broken down even more, in future years. Maybe USA, New Zealand, and South Africa in one room. Europe in another, and Israel in yet another. If you want to be fair, based upon the sheer number of labels and wineries, maybe Israel needs two rooms.
At times tables were a bit crowded, but that was more about the issue around the number of pourers than it was around the layout. Still, breaking some of the wine regions out a bit more will help accentuate Galilee from Judean Hills or the USA from France.
Future KFWE Dates
Thankfully, the USA KFWE is not the last one for the year. Though the dates are not 100% locked down, there will be, KFWE events in France, London, and Tel Aviv, in the late days of June 2022. We still have no news on Miami 2022 or should I dare ask – Herzog??? What about a min-IFWF?? Why not guys??? Come on, let’s go retro, bring back the IFWF my friends!! Further, reward California residents, and make it a requirement for entry! What the heck, I am throwing down the gauntlet – Herzog Winery – the ball is in your court!
My many thanks to Royal for allowing me to attend and to the entire staff and pourers for making the event such an enjoyable success! Europe and Israel, you are up next, with Herzog Cellars to follow!