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The Herzog Family Winemaking Dynasty

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The Herzog family’s winemaking story begins in the early 19th century in the town of Vrbové (Verbó) in the Trnava Region of Slovakia, where Rabbi Menachem Herzog (c. 1750-1822) established the family’s distillery, winery and brewery, which would sustain the family for the next century and beyond.

Menachem Herzog, known to his non-Jewish customers as Emanuel, produced wines (Rieslings and other dry white varietals), beers and spirits (gin, slivovitz and liqueurs) for the general market. He also produced kosher wines for the Jewish community as a side business. . . .

A key moment for the family involved one Rabbi Menachem’s great-grandsons, Shraga Feish (“Philip”) Herzog (1843-1918). After the death of his father in 1857, Shraga was called back from yeshiva to run the business and help support the family. His rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda Asad, a renowned Torah giant, prevailed upon him to leave the yeshiva in Szerdaheli (modern-day Dunajská Streda in southwest Slovakia).

Shraga worked hard, and the family prospered. According to the family lore, around 1875 Herzog was awarded the exclusive contract to provide wines and spirits to Kaiser Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and given the title Freiherr or Baron (at the time Baron was commonly used in social and commercial settings even in writing). Shraga Herzog’s example of religious commitment and real world accomplishment has stayed with the Herzog family to this day.

Between the First and Second World Wars, the family business, much like the region generally, experienced highs and lows. In 1928, Rabbi Yonah Tzvi Herzog left his studies at the famed yeshiva in Galanta, where he learned directly under Rabbi Yehoshua Buxbaum (1887-1944), and entered the family business. He was the sixth generation and the last to run the business in Slovakia. During the interwar years, Yonah helped rebuild the Herzog winery, distillery and brewery into a thriving empire.

According to the family oral history, Yonah Herzog was much loved for his generosity and kindness even by his non-Jewish employees, business connections and customers, and so found willing help from his friends and neighbors during troubled times ahead, often despite great personal risk for those caught helping a Jew. Yonah used these resources to help save much of his family and as many Jews as he could when the Nazis took over. He liquidated his fortune to secure safe passage, bribe officials, pull strings, secure safe houses, and do whatever else was needed to escape. Tragically, his father and mother were betrayed by one of the “bribed” Nazi officials and were deported to Auschwitz and murdered there on July 8, 1944.

Yonah decided it was time to flee Europe following the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. After coming to America, Herzog’s winemaking reputation led to several competing offers to produce kosher wines for Jewish storefront wineries.  

Herzog twice sought the advice of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (known as the Friediker Rebbe). He advised that Herzog go to work for the struggling start-up winery called the Royal Wine Corporation on the Lower East Side. He also gave Herzog a blessing for success, provided he use the chasidic kashrut supervision of the Tzehlimer Rav, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Greenwald (his supervision was universally accepted).

Herzog readily agreed and received both the blessing and $1,000 in additional seed money from Rabbi Schneersohn. He settled in with the Royal Wine Corp. in 1948 as a winemaker, salesman and truck driver, receiving much of his pay in mostly worthless shares in the company. Eventually, Herzog bought out his partners.

As Philip Herzog, one of Yonah’s three sons still in the business put it, “They thought we would never make it.” Yonah’s children entered the business and in 1958 they family established the Kedem brand, from the Hebrew words Chadaish Yameinu k’Kedem — “renew our days as before.”

The family became determined to build a reputation for excellent wines that just happen to be kosher, following the example of their forbearer Rabbi Menachem “Emanuel” Herzog. It always bothered Yonah that kosher wine in America was simple and sweet. As Royal’s Jay Buchsbaum points out, “For centuries, kosher wine tasted like the local wine of any given country. Only in the last 80 years did kosher wine turn sweet. It’s actually a very modern tradition.”

Yonah’s children finally began the effort to push consumers towards drier wines, by importing dry wines in the 1970s and branching into making California wine in the mid 1980s. According to Daniel Rogov, “The true kosher wine revolution in America started … when the [Herzog] family expanded to California.”

Royal has grown every year since 1958, and today 10 Herzogs work in the business, putting in long hours and carving out time every day to learn Torah and daven. Every member of the Herzog family remains religiously observant. The Royal Wine Corporation, say family members, has fulfilled Rabbi Yonah Tzvi Herzog’s dream to renew and surpass what the Herzog family had lost in the old country. As his grandson, Michael Herzog, winemaker at the Kedem Winery, put it, “We pray and learn every day. We don’t want to work so hard that we forget about what’s important.” ‘’Source

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The story of the three Herzogs

. . . The story may be told through the lives of three Herzogs, spanning more than 160 years.

It was Philip Herzog who began the winemaking dynasty in 1848 in Slovakia. He made wine for the Emperor Franz Josef, and for this he was granted the title Baron Herzog.

Generations later, it was Eugene Herzog, who survived the Nazis and the Communists, who planted the wine roots in America. He arrived in New York in 1948 with his wife and eight children. He started with nothing, found work with a company called Royal Wine, acting as winemaker, salesman and driver. In the bad times, he was paid in shares, which turned out to be a blessing because in 1958 he was able to take over the company. He created the famous Kedem brand. Manischewitz may generate more sales overall, but Kedem wines are far more revered on the kosher table for Shabbat and festivals.

Fast forward until now, and David Herzog is at the helm. He brought the Royal Wine Corp. to where it is today. The offices and warehouses are situated in Bayonne, New Jersey, on a site the size of a small airport. Royal owns two wineries – Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California, and Kedem Winery in Marlboro, New York.

They are the most international producers, and both the largest importers and distributors of kosher wine in the world. The wines are distributed in many countries. A sister company, Kedem Europe, looks after the portfolio in England; and Zur Agencies, from Bnei Brak, imports a large part of the range to Israel.

Out of all Royal’s successes, perhaps its best achievement has been in their California winery. In 1985 it moved to California, first producing its Baron Herzog wines. In 2005 it opened their modern, state-of-the-art Herzog Wine Cellars Winery in Oxnard. The winemaker is Joe Hurliman, who previously worked at Alban Vineyards and the Sine Qua Non Winery. In 1998 he joined the winemaking team, and in 2001 he took over as chief winemaker. If you meet Hurliman, he is the last person you would expect to see at the winery. Baseball cap, earrings, a bouncy, irreverent humor, and he is not even Jewish. But that is not the point. He is employed as a wine guy dedicated to making great wine rather than being there to make up a minyan. His role is to make Californian wine, and he has a mandate to source fruit from the finest vineyards.

Taste the wines, and you almost forget the wines also happen to be kosher. The Herzog Limited Edition wines, including the rare and strictly allocated Clone 6 and Generation VIII, are handcrafted in very small quantities from individual plots. The Herzog Single Vineyard wines are not far behind. These will stand tall in any competition for the best kosher wines on the planet. Source

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Royal Wine Corp. -- owned and operated by the Herzog family, which has been making wine for more than a century -- now produces kosher wine in nine countries. And the company recently broke ground in Oxnard, Calif., on a 77,000-square-foot winery, the largest kosher facility in the country. ‘’Source

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