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Winemaker Brings Kosher to Oxnard

by Carin Davis

January 22, 2004 | 7:00 pm

Fruity, oaky and sugary; I taste blackberries, vanilla and sugar, lots of sugar; full-bodied, strong finish, and very sweet; horrible and, yet again, very sweet. That was the kosher wine tasting of yesteryear.

Today, we can raise our glasses and toast the groundbreaking of the new Herzog Wine Cellar in Oxnard. Herzog kosher wines, which buck the sugar-heavy stereotype and have earned accolades from leading industry publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, will soon be produced in our own neighborhood. After 20 years of generating kosher wines in Northern California "rent-a-wineries," Herzog now looks to put itself on par with the best of the state's other vintners and own its own home. Upon completion, Herzog's $13 million, 73,000-square-foot cellar will be the largest new winery in California and the largest kosher winery on the West Coast.

Founded in 1848, the Herzog family winery was the royal wine supplier to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. After Nazis seized that winery during World War II, family head Eugene Herzog moved to New York City. He worked as a winemaker, truck driver and salesman for the Royal Wine Corporation, earning much of his pay in company shares. By 1958, he was the majority shareholder and purchased Royal Wine Corp. Today Royal Wine Corp. is a worldwide producer, importer and distributor of upscale kosher wines, liquors, spirits and grape juices. The Oxnard site will produce Royal Wine Corp's Baron Herzog and Herzog Premium Reserve labels.

"If you are selling premium wines and you are growing, you need a larger home," said David Herzog, current CEO of Herzog Wine Cellars and Royal Wine Corp. The Oxnard facility, which will replace the Herzog's leased space in Santa Maria, will produce approximately 130,000 cases of wine in its first vintage and has the capacity to produce 220,000 cases in future years. The new winery will feature advanced warming tanks to spur fermentation, a 50,000-gallon blending tank and a climate-controlled aging room to help the barrel aging process. An in-house laboratory will allow for more comprehensive wine analysis and the temperature-controlled warehouse will maintain the wines' high quality after bottling. The additional resources also provide Herzog Cellars the opportunity to experiment with small runs of specialty wines.

Royal Wine Corp. hopes the new site will help develop stronger community relations. Just 50 miles outside of Los Angeles, the winery may be a popular day trip for Southland Jews. The winery will offer guided tours, a Herzog Wine Club and wine tasting events for consumers and members of the trade. The Herzog Wine Cellar will even boast an onsite kosher deli and kosher catering facility.

"We looked to build a facility that would be in close proximity to a large observant population," said Eitan Segal, Royal Wine Corp.'s director of public relations. "We wanted to serve the community and we wanted to make life easier on our observant employees, many of whom were commuting from Los Angeles to Santa Maria."

Cellarmaster John Goodman, his wife, Jordana, and their three children tried to lead an Orthodox life in Santa Maria, but found it increasingly difficult. In search of Orthodox schools, synagogues and a more active Jewish community, the Goodman family relocated to Agoura Hills five months ago.

"From a professional standpoint, I'm excited about the move to Oxnard since the winery's expanded capabilities will allow us to produce even better wines than we currently produce," Goodman said. "From a personal perspective, I am looking forward to reducing my current commute from 135 miles to 30 miles when the winery moves to Oxnard."

The Herzog Wine Cellars is expected to open by fall 2004 and release its first vintage in 2005.

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