Kosher wine shop a spirited addition to Pico-Robertson

Jewish wine enthusiasts in Pico-Robertson now have a specialty shop of their own where they can taste, talk about and buy kosher wines from all over the world. The Cask, which opened its doors in April, plans to offer more than 500 kosher wines and 125 scotches when fully stocked, in addition to other spirits. Although the store does not carry kosher certification, owner Michael Bernstein said he will not stock anything that is not kosher.

The nearly 2,000-square-foot store, at 8616 W. Pico Blvd., is located in the heart of the Orthodox community, a step into the trendy for a mostly traditional neighborhood. In addition to the shop, The Cask has a walk-in cellar, which houses some of its most expensive wines, and a tasting room that can also be rented out for parties and other events.

Bernstein said he wants people to start buying their kosher wine differently.

“We believe that, up until a few years ago, people’s perception of kosher wine was: ‘Manischewitz is what you’re going to get if you want to drink kosher wine,’ ” Bernstein said. “That’s not the case. There happento be some excellent [kosher] wines that have been made [in] different regions of the world.”

The Cask emphasizes the growing Israeli wine industry but also stocks labels from California, France and Spain, among others. Bernstein said he works hard to bring in wines that normally wouldn’t be available locally.

Even though The Cask opened during the tail end of the recession and in the middle of an area where kosher wines are readily available in other shops nearby — notably Glatt Mart and The Nut House — Bernstein says he is confident in his business model.

“I think that the community, the Jewish community, can really benefit from something like this,” Bernstein said, tweaking a famous movie line: “We built it, and, hopefully, they will come.”

Noah, a wine purchaser for Glatt Mart, who would give only his first name, said he thinks The Cask is fantastic for the Jewish community, and he isn’t worried about losing any customers. He believes shoppers will remain loyal to him, even while others will be loyal to The Cask. Noah said people from as far as Mexico and Canada buy from only him, because they trust his expertise.

The Cask offers a new flavor for the neighborhood. Its raised ceilings evoke a Napa wine cellar atmosphere. A computer program allows shoppers to track their purchases to remember what they’ve liked and disliked and what they might want to try in the future. The tasting room might be a fixture in upscale wineries but adds something different to this neighborhood. For now, Bernstein said, he doesn’t have competition because no other shops like his exist in the area.

“We want people to experience something special when they come into our store,” Bernstein said. “We don’t want it to be, ‘There’s the kosher wine section; help yourself.’ Instead, we try to guide people to help make purchases that we know will suit their needs.” 

The wine business is relatively new to Bernstein, who also works in real estate and owns a property management company but is currently focusing on The Cask.

Bernstein’s entry into the industry comes from a long love of wine and spirits. He said he and his friends have always enjoyed sharing a good bottle of wine or a drink of scotch. But sometimes the company you keep is far more important than the wine you drink.

“I can open up a $50 bottle of wine and not enjoy it as much as a $10 bottle if I’m not with good friends or family,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein knows some kosher markets can sell wine for less and make up the difference in profit on food. But Bernstein disdains the notion that The Cask is an expensive store. His goal is to get the Reform and Conservative communities interested in drinking kosher wine outside of Shabbat and the holidays.

“I believe that the Orthodox crowd is somewhat [aware] that there are some good kosher wines in the world,” Bernstein said. “The Conservative and Reform communities need to be exposed to the concept.”

Bernstein often refers to The Cask as his “project,” even as he speaks with obvious passion. He calls his first three months a success for the business, despite being open during a relatively dry period in the Jewish community after Passover.

“I’m really excited,” Bernstein said. “It’s something different, something new. I can tell you that if somebody else opened up this business, I would be a customer. This is how I want to buy a kosher wine.”