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A Taste of Herzog

Eytan Kobre

Motty Herzog looks more like the mashgiach than the vice president of California’s award-winning gold-star kosher winery, but with “best buy” ratings from top industry regulators, he’s prouder than ever to be part of a generations-long chain of kosher vintners.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

herzogIt had been an evening of fine dining for a wealthy Los Angeles clan celebrating their patriarch’s 65th birthday at Tierra Sur, the five-star kosher restaurant located at the Herzog Wine Cellars on the California coast. As the party wound down and the many guests took their leave, one elderly gentleman stopped to chat with Motty Herzog, the winery’s vice president of operations, whose look and demeanor is that of a heimishe yungerman who wouldn’t get a second glance on a Boro Park street. The man wanted to know if he was the on-site mashgiach. Not wanting to shock the fellow, Motty nodded politely. The man responded approvingly, “Mashgiach is a good position for a yeshivah boy.” 

Motty is indeed a former ”yeshivah boy” — he learned at Bnei Brak’s Yeshivah Chasam Sofer and in Mir Yerushalayim both before and after his marriage — but a mashgiach he’s not. Known in the industry as Joseph Herzog, he has presided, for nearly a decade now, over the California arm of the Herzog family’s Royal Wine Corporation empire (owners of Kedem and other labels), establishing himself as a savvy presence in the upper echelons of the winemaking world. 

At the International Wine and Food Festival that Royal Wine hosts each year in Los Angeles and New York for wine experts, industry buyers, and private wine connoisseurs, it’s a sight to see Motty Herzog in action. Tieless and attired in a dark suit, peyos tucked neatly behind the ears, he moves smoothly from one aficionado to the next, talking up his array of award-winning offerings to people who inhabit a vastly different cultural planet from his, save for the love they share for superlative wine. 

Although the mention of Napa Valley brings to mind the rolling vineyards of California’s sun-drenched wine country, as far as the eye can see, the crown jewel of kosher winemaking is tucked away many miles to the south in Oxnard, a sleepy coastal city of 200,000 near Santa Barbara. There, in the town known as the Golden State’s strawberry capital, Herzog Wine Cellars, the world’s premier producers and sellers of fine kosher wines, makes its home. 

“Herzog” has achieved what few, if any, brands in the contemporary Jewish world have: more than a name, it’s a concept, standing for the marriage of Continental quality and class with fidelity to impeccable standards of kashrus. And Herzog’s very location in Oxnard, closer to Los Angeles than to the Napa region, reflects this duality: the winery needed to be far enough south for its all-shomer Shabbos production team to be part of Los Angeles’s thriving frum community, yet still within transport range of the vineyards up north that supply the rich bounty on which Herzog works its award-winning magic. 

 

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