Bartenura, a kosher-for-Passover wine, not just for seders — or Jews

Joeann Wallace sweeps down the right-hand wall of Wells Discount Liquors on a recent weekday afternoon, grabs a bottle of Bartenura Moscato without breaking stride and steams three aisles over to snag a fruity vodka she likes to mix with her wine selection.

Wallace, who works in medical billing, lives near the shop in Towson, Md., and typically each week buys two bottles of the bubbly, semi-sweet white wine — not just for herself, she affirms with a broad smile, but for her mother and other guests to enjoy, too, after dinner.

“This,” she says of the Bartenura, “is perfect.”

Wallace, 33, expresses surprise at learning that the brand is kosher for Passover — or kosher at all — since she is not Jewish and such certifications don’t matter to her.

In that, Wallace typifies an unintended but lucrative market for the wine, which in recent years has caught on in a big way among African-Americans and non-Jewish customers more broadly.

Jay Buchsbaum, executive vice president for marketing at the New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corp., which owns Bartenura, says that the market for his Moscato is “overwhelmingly, more than 50 percent” among non-Jewish customers. As to sales figures, Buchsbaum reveals only that they are “in the millions of bottles a year.”

Indeed, at Wells Discount Liquors, which is five miles from the nearest distinctly Jewish neighborhood, Bartenura appears not in the kosher wine section but is grouped elsewhere with the 22 other Moscato offerings, Bartenura being the only kosher one.

The popularity of Moscato wines in the African-American community apparently derives from hip-hop and rap singers such as Lil’ Kim, Drake and Jay-Z, who worked the beverage into their lyrics and music videos.

In a way, the entertainers are following in esteemed footsteps. In the 1960s and ’70s, singer-actor Sammy Davis Jr., an African American who converted to Judaism, famously endorsed Manischewitz — a brand still a standard-bearer among kosher and kosher-for-Passover wines.

Bartenura Moscato sales took off about six years ago after the “inner-city, hip-hop, millennial crowd started latching onto it,” according to Buchsbaum.

While considered the market leader, Bartenura is hardly the only Moscato that’s kosher or kosher for Passover. Others include Dalton, Gamla, Carmel and Golan (all Israeli); Gabriele, Borgo Reale, Sara Bee and Rashi (all Italian); and Teal Lake (Australian).

Dubbed “the blue bottle” for its distinctive sheen, Bartenura is featured on more than 300 strategically targeted billboards in predominantly non-Jewish sections of New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of the Midwest where “we have a hot concentration of sales,” said Buchsbaum’s colleague, David Levy.

Last year, Royal ran its first national television commercial for Bartenura.

The company first noticed the brand’s mainstreaming about 14 years ago, when retailers serving Jewish and non-Jewish clienteles ordered it year-round, “not just with Passover in mind,” Buchsbaum said. That shift began in the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn and in parts of nearby New Jersey.

“It took off from there,” he said.

Lee Grandes, Wells’ wine consultant, said Bartenura was “one of the first” in America to take Moscato to greater heights at a time when “traditional producers” were devoting small portions of their vineyards to the grape. With Bartenura’s success, other Moscato growers followed suit.

Previously, what Grandes calls “the fun, light-style wines” consisted mainly of white Zinfandel and wine coolers. Now Bartenura and other Moscatos are taking a “big chunk” out of those sales in his store, he said.

Wells sells about seven cases of Bartenura monthly — 10 during the November and December holiday season. It’s “one of the biggest sellers” in the store, said Grandes, who said he expects increases for Passover, too.

Several miles away, at Miller’s Deli in the largely Jewish suburb of Pikesville, Jeff Karlin expects to sell up to 20 additional cases of the brand in the weeks leading up to Passover.

That’s over and above the six-case weekly average in sales to his mixed Jewish and non-Jewish clientele. The Moscato constitutes “my best-selling wine, by far,” he said, and “flies off the shelves” year-round.

Passover wines differ from regular kosher wines in that the enzymes and yeast used along with any sweeteners or added flavors must be free of chametz, the various ingredients forbidden during Passover. Still, most kosher wines are kosher for Passover, too.

At approximately $14 a bottle, Bartenura typically sells for about $3 more than non-kosher Moscatos, most also produced in northwest Italy’s Piemonte region. Royal Wine banks on customers’ fondness for the brand rather than price considerations alone, Buchsbaum said.

Wallace, the Wells Discount consumer, is one.

Compared to other Moscatos she’s tried that are either slightly bitter or too sweet, Bartenura’s higher price is “worth it,” she said.

“I would rather pay a little more for something I know I’m going to enjoy than be kind of iffy about one I may not like,” Wallace said. “This is the only Moscato I drink.”

Blocs Play Key Role in Villaraigosa’s Win


With his election as mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa now has the chance to deliver on the coalition approach he offered to the voters in the recent campaign. If he succeeds, Los Angeles government may start to find solutions to problems that have previously seemed intractable. If he fails, he will leave a city more balkanized than before, and one that will have a harder time than ever solving its problems.

Villaraigosa won, in part, because Mayor James K. Hahn’s coalition of African Americans and white Republicans and moderates evaporated. It partially re-formed for the mayor on Election Day, but not enough to carry him to victory.

Political fortunes aside, Hahn’s coalition also complicated his governance as mayor. It was difficult for Hahn to turn an alliance of African Americans, strong supporters of the public sector, and white Republicans, skeptical of government, into a problem-solving coalition. Firing Police Chief Bernard Parks pleased the Valley, but enraged South Los Angeles. Fighting secession pleased South L.A., but enraged Valley activists.

In each case, those who favored Hahn’s approach were much less grateful than those who were outraged by it. Hahn’s experience shows that just getting votes from two different groups is not the same as enjoying a trusting, enduring coalition. The less trusting the coalition blocs, the more they demand from the leader, and the easier it is to disillusion them.

This is all background to asking: What is Villaraigosa’s coalition? It is actually at least two coalitions, one tucked inside another like Russian nesting dolls. The first coalition represents those who voted for Villaraigosa in 2001; the second ring consists of those who shifted from Hahn to Villaraigosa, principally because of policy decisions made by the mayor. The first coalition is between Latinos and liberal whites, particularly Westside Jews. Even in his 2001 defeat, Villaraigosa drew a majority of Westside Jews, while Hahn took Valley Jews and the overall Jewish vote. But this time, Villaraigosa got out front with Jews on both sides of the hill, won the endorsement of former mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg and coasted.

In fact, this Latino-liberal-Jewish base has appeared before in opposition to Proposition 187 in 1994. Latino and Jewish leaders have been quietly cultivating each other for the past 10 years, as the black-Jewish Tom Bradley coalition eroded. So this coalition has some legs and some history.

The second coalition is a lot newer, and more tentative, but also critically important to the city: the one between Latinos and African Americans. African Americans have seen the rise of Latinos and have worried about it.

In 2001, African Americans voted overwhelmingly for Hahn over Villaraigosa; only younger black voters went with the Latino candidate. Villaraigosa won in 2005 in large part because many black voters abandoned Hahn after he fired Chief Parks, and also because many African American leaders endorsed Villaraigosa.

We know that African Americans were unhappy with Hahn; it remains to be seen whether that alienation can turn into a long-term alliance with Latinos. Meanwhile, some black and Latino high school students have had fights in the schools, an expression of ongoing black-Latino mutual discomfort. It will be a critical task to ease tensions between the city’s two largest and most mobilized minority groups.

Villaraigosa has at least a three-sided coalition to deal with, not to mention the other groups that will expect some attention and civic improvement (such as Valley residents angry about Hahn’s assertive anti-secession stance or airport neighbors furious about Hahn’s LAX expansion plan). Ironically, those who switched from Hahn may have more specific demands (namely, different policies than those pursued by Hahn) than those who supported Villaraigosa in 2001.

Nonetheless, Jewish voters will hope for a great deal from Villaraigosa. A coalition approach should appeal to those in the Jewish community who fondly remember Bradley. Jewish voters, especially on the Westside, are the city’s main reform constituency.

They will be watching closely to see if the new mayor takes action to clean up contracting at City Hall. Traffic, growth and planning issues (including the selection of a new city planning director) will be carefully watched among Jewish voters both on the Westside and in the Valley.

Fortunately for Villaraigosa, his disparate coalition is not as ideologically divided as Hahn’s black-white conservative alliance. While Jews and African Americans, for example, do not have much mutual involvement these days, they are also not ideological opponents. At the end of the day, keeping Jews and African Americans happy will take exactly the same qualities that it will take to keep everybody else happy.

Underlying the excitement of the first modern Latino mayor of Los Angeles is a city of Jews, blacks, Latinos and others who look with hope for a mayor who governs decisively and fairly for all.

Professor Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, was the Election Day political consultant to the Los Angeles Times Poll in 2005.


The Value of a Day

The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don’t seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans stopped trying to get white people to celebrate with us and recognized that we have been essential in making this nation?

As a black teenager attending junior high school in Hollywood, I was awed by the Jewish High Holidays. This was in the late ’60s before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a national holiday and before Kwanzaa had become a year-end holiday phenomenon for African Americans. When I saw the near-empty classrooms taught by substitute teachers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I saw a people, a fellow minority, with a celebration of their own — a celebration of their history and their deeply cherished values. In the recesses of my psyche, I was envious.

As I continued my schooling, black pride blossomed. The contributions of African Americans were integrated into textbooks, and black people were depicted with increasing frequency on television and in movies. During that period, the observation of Kwanzaa gathered steam. By the time I graduated college, Kwanzaa celebrations were hosted by major mainstream institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History. And after a long struggle, King’s birthday was made a national holiday. My heart let out a tiny "whoopee," and my holiday envy subsided.

Recently, there’s been a campaign to make Juneteenth a national celebration. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved black men and women in Galveston, Texas, finally learned they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two years earlier. Celebrations followed the reading of the proclamation, and that began a black tradition in Texas, where it is now a paid state holiday. It is officially recognized in some form by Florida, Oklahoma, Delaware, Idaho and Alaska. At least a dozen other states are considering legislation to officially recognize it in some way.

Yet, Juneteenth is still not treated with respect. The biggest insult came last year when President Bush celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a festival on the South Lawn, complete with mariachi music and folk dancers. But in June of last year, he issued a one-page letter honoring Juneteenth.

So Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), wrote Bush saying, "Juneteenth is America’s second Independence Day." She added, "The 19th of June is an important day for all Americans to observe."

"Bravo to that salvo," I thought at first. But on second thought, I questioned whether African Americans should push for official recognition.

I began to think about the Jewish High Holidays. Granted, it is a religious observance and an imperfect analogy. That said, what impressed me was that it is a time when Jews simply vanished. The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don’t seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans choose a period of time, a day perhaps — June 19 being as good as any — when we simply vanish? Not a paid or unpaid federal or state holiday, not a holiday that receives any official recognition whatsoever. African Americans would have to take a personal day or vacation time. It seems the least we can do for the then-newly freed black men and women of Galveston.

Some would argue that mainstream America should be forced to recognize black contributions. Yet, I wonder if the country as a whole has been edified by the way Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated. Does the holiday really function as a time to commemorate King, or is it simply some time off, an opportunity to run errands or to catch up on the latest Stephen King novel?

White people have never been shy about appropriating as they see fit from black Americans. Perhaps, one day mainstream America will spontaneously give us our due. Until then, African American feelings might continue to get bruised when the White House issues a single-page letter in recognition of what is arguably one of the greatest events in American history. But perhaps it is better to endure that hurt than to have our contributions reduced to a Juneteenth summer sale.

Eric V. Copage, is the author of eight books, including, “Soul Food: Inspirational Stories for African Americans” (Hyperion, $11.95).

Private Schools: “Many Who Apply Will Not Be Admitted”

Since August, all of us have been the targets of television advertisements supporting and opposing Proposition 38. No doubt proponents of the initiative will be quick to use the results of a recent Harvard University study that found an improvement in academic achievement of some African Americans, particularly low-income families that received vouchers and are enrolled in private schools.

Before these findings send us rushing to the voting booth to support vouchers, we need to examine Proposition 38 and how it relates to this recent study. The programs examined in the study bear no resemblance to what Proposition 38 mandates. Those programs were privately funded and targeted to low-income and minority students, underachievers and failing schools.

Proposition 38 does not focus on those in our community who are less privileged or underachievers. The $4,000 that will be available to school-age Californians will be available to everyone, no matter how wealthy or high achieving. In California, $4,000 does not come close to covering the ever-growing cost of private school tuition. Consequently, only the wealthiest among us will benefit from the “wisdom” of Tim Draper. We, as taxpayers, will be contributing $4,000 per year to those families who can already afford to pay private school tuition.

The hidden irony in this initiative is that the money taken from California’s budget to pay private schools for taking in students will not come from the education budget, but rather from that portion of the budget which funds community colleges, roads, low-income housing, health care and other social services that serve the poor.

Los Angeles School Board President Genethia Hayes, during a recent presentation to the Anti-Defamation League, cited a survey her office conducted of the South Central Los Angeles area she represents. The least expensive private school charges $4,666 for tuition alone. This does not include the cost of books, transportation, uniforms or other required fees. And before those of you who can afford the additional expense go running to the private school of your choice, be aware that many who apply will not be admitted. There just isn’t space.

Hayes noted that fewer than 1 percent of the private schools in her area (and there are few to begin with) have room for additional students. Most, she said, are full and have waiting lists miles long. And if a family should be lucky enough to find a school that does have an empty seat, an applicant still may not be admitted; perhaps because she doesn’t seem smart enough, isn’t wealthy enough, isn’t of the right faith, the school doesn’t want girls, or she has a disability, learning or otherwise. All of these are permitted exclusions under the ballot initiative. Hayes also stated that most experts estimate it will take up to 20 years for private schools to gear up to provide the extra seats needed in a growing community the size of Los Angeles.

Our public schools are the keystone of our pluralistic society. They are a mixture of races, ethnicities, abilities, religions and sexual orientations, which facilitates an environment where young people learn the civic skills that enable them to become productive members of society when they graduate. The truth is that private schools remain substantially segregated and look little like our society at large.

Unable to benefit from Draper’s concept, minorities and students in California’s poorest communities will remain in the public schools, which will suffer further as public funds are siphoned off into private schools for the wealthy.

As the debate over Proposition 38 heats up, beware of the uses to which the recently released testing data will be put. The beneficiaries of the Draper vouchers will not be those who need the most help.

Sue Stengel is the Western States counsel of the Anti-Defamation League. Connie Rice is co-director of the Advancement Project.