Maurie Rosenberg has been a chemical engineer, a business manager and a management consultant, (specializing in change management and turnarounds) in ceramic design as well as kosher catering and retail wine sales. Currently living in Silver Spring, Maryland, he enjoys sailing, skin-diving, golf .... (And along with his wife Susan, spoiling their grandchildren.)
When did you become interested in wine?
I have liked wine pretty much as long as I can remember. It is an extraordinary substance that can be enjoyed and appreciated at so many levels. As a child it was something exceptional we could only have a tiny bit on special occasions like Kiddush or Passover. In college I was not quite as, shall we say, flavor discriminating, as I am now. Then it was consumed more for subsequent biochemical effect than the sensory pleasure of tasting (I don't think we did much savoring or quaffing) but even then there was a social component.
As my tastes and perspectives matured I came to appreciate wine as an exceptional beverage that can be a metaphor for so many profound ideas in life like balance or sophistication or even life itself. Besides it was a delicious compliment with food, added flavor and character to cooking (even if the alcohol did mostly evaporate), and was wonderful just to savor and enjoy with the right person or people. I have long kept wine lists and tasting notes and learned with others who shared my passion. I was becoming a wine enthusiast. I guess I am now an enophile and officially out of the closet.
When I restricted my consumption exclusively to the kosher variety of wine, because of personal priorities of a higher order, it became necessary to make a significant compromise on the range and quality accessible to me, but kosher wine has now come of age. Gone are the days when kosher wine could only be described as sweet, sweeter and oh boy, it is so cloyingly sweet it hurts my teeth just to think about it.
What caused you to write a book about wine?
I conducted management consulting project with a kosher food company that had the potential to dramatically increase wine sales if only more properly structured and merchandized. Since I naturally apply my engineering background to the science of management with the fundamental principal that management is very much about metrics. I applied the same approach to the wine marketing with very successful results. In the process I researched and met many wine distributors and producers. I found myself choosing the wine for Embassy events and other prestigious kosher catered functions as you might imagine in the Washington DC area.
I found no shortage of books on wine or information on the internet including wine from Israel but nothing dedicated exclusively to kosher Wine. The information related to kosher wine was vague and confusing and often flat out wrong. I became motivated to change that. For me it was a classic application of the enduring principal that is was not a problem but rather an opportunity.
How do you rate the wines?
First, I should mention that I don't put quite as much emphasis on the scoring as some others do. There are other people and organizations that excel in that activity and sources for in depth reviews of individual wines. I use a simplified system that consists of only four rating scores and is based on the classic 100 point system where an 8 is roughly an 80 and 9 is roughly equivalent to a 90. I also use 8+ and 9+. So it is basically: good, very good, excellent and really outstanding; But I do not rate anything lower than 8. I have no interest in being mean, pejorative or insulting. There is a far more objective description in my book. I have no doubt there are wines I consider mediocre that others would like and I firmly believe: "Good wine is wine you like".
I see criticism as an opportunity for feedback and growth rather than ridicule or scorn. I think that is where a lot of wine snobbery comes from. It is the framework of the pursuit of excellence that produces the very best wine. It is one of those metaphors that make wine so interesting in that you can learn behaviors from which we can grow in other areas of our lives. Also I think that discovery is part of the adventure. I am more interested in distinguishing those wines that present outstanding value with my BB and BV ratings. .
How often will you update the book?
I think it will likely need updating every couple of years. At the turn of the century there would have been no practical purpose to a book. Fine kosher wine selections measured in the dozens. The title of my first book included a suffix more commonly applied to computers. It was an exploratory effort that included ratings for most of the 850 wines listed. I also started a web site with more frequent updates to a wine list, links to other wine resources and web log with news related to kosher wine, list of kosher wine retailers. I plan to include more recipes. I am even working on a kosher wine cooking book and book on kosher ethanol. My new book “Fruit of the Vine – The Complete guide to Kosher Wine” rates most of over 3,500 wines and the list is growing exponentially.
Where can you get the book?
It is available at amazon.com and affiliated web sites, retail book stores, kosher wine stores and Jewish gift shops. www.guidetokosherwine.com
Have you done other writing?
Yes, early in my career I had done some writing for trade magazines and even collaborated on two "Design Guides". I was in a unique niche market. We developed into one of the market leaders for Ceramic Transfers for graphic and technical application to vitreous surfaces. We got "globalized" in the 1990's and needed to close at the end of the decade.
It was a family business started in 1970. As we grew we had to learn much of the technology on our own as the production methods were rather closely held secrets and much of it was considered a black art. I think that was part of the attraction in the challenge to grow and improve the craft. There is certainly a parallel in wine making even today.
I recall a visit I made to a museum and library in 1983 in a place called Stoke on Trent in England. It was very famous for its current and historical contribution to my industry. I was so excited when I found reference to an abstract that looked like it might shed some light on what we were trying to do or at least provide confirmation for what we were already doing. On finding the article I was surprised with both disappointment and satisfaction to find that I was the author. It was an essay I had written for Ceramic Industry Magazine 18 months earlier.
What are some of your other interests?
They include sailing, golf, astronomy, and learning. My first joy is enjoying life with my wife, our son and daughter in law, our incredible grandchildren and our whole extended family.
My wife and I also have a passion for skin diving. We try to make an annual stress management trip to the Caribbean to spend some time in the water staring at magnificent shapes of the coral and fish creating an underwater pageantry of extraordinary beauty. Yes, you can get a taste by going to an aquarium but there is nothing quite like being in the water with the sensory deprivation that is so delightfully different from our normal experience. We get an astonishing sense of flying in another world over a spectacular terrain of unusual shapes and stunning colors with life that represents a symphony of motion and visual wonder with new discovery around every corner. It can be as simple of watching a piece of orange fan coral swaying to the motion of the waves, a school of hundreds of bright blue tang fish swimming together with the coordinated motion of a single organism, squid swimming backwards, feeding a stingray, listening to parrot fish using their beaks to chomp at the corral, watching a huge turtle lumbering by, swimming up a channel or around a huge mound of brain coral just to see if there is perhaps a queen angel, puffer fish or eel hiding in the crevices. Yes, we find it a delightful experience where you can literally feel any tension you may have dissolve. We describe it as: liberating, enchanting or even intoxicating.
The sages tell us we have an obligation to appreciate the wonders of the Almighty in the universe He created for us, in an application of the Anthropic Principal and compelling evidence of intelligent design. So I guess that is what guides many of my interests.
"In the future world, a man will have to give an accounting for every good thing his eyes saw, but of which he did not eat." Talmud Yerushalmi , Kiddushin 4:12 "
In the twilight years of his life, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the extraordinary leader of 19th century German Jewry, announced his plans to visit the Swiss Alps. When pressed for the reason behind planning so arduous a journey at his advanced age, Rabbi Hirsch replied, "I may have only a few years left:
"When I stand shortly before the Almighty, I will be held answerable to many questions... But what will I say when and I am sure to be asked: "Shimshon did you see my Alps?" Shimshon Raphael Hirsch"
Clearly, Rabbi Hirsch understood that everything in this world is an expression of God's will. He understood with equal clarity that the Creator intends for us to utilize everything under the sun in our divine service, so that we may come to a greater appreciation of Him by acquiring a greater appreciation of His works.
So, you'll bear with me at the risk of the silly implication I might presume to be anywhere near the level of Rabbi Hirsch but I figure if I am asked: " 'Moshe' have you tasted my wine or seen my fish?. I hope to be able to say yes to a significant variety of both."
What are your goals?
I want to raise the awareness of the unprecedented quality and quantity of kosher wine today. I look to champion further improvement in availability and help people to develop a more sophisticated palate to achieve a more nuanced appreciation for quality. I enjoy lecturing and teaching and introducing people to a deeper appreciation of this extraordinary beverage. I want to encourage a kinder and positive approach to kosher wine review. I look to promote growth and further the unremitting pursuit of excellence. My mother (zirchon l'vracha) used to say: "Growing old is compulsory; growing up is optional." After all, self actualization through continuous improvement initiatives is a fundamental High Holiday objective and core principal of our tradition.
I look forward to continued travel with my wife to visit vineyards and wineries, taste new kosher wines, in Israel and around the world. (in between visiting our grandchildren, of course). I plan to continue to write columns and articles on kosher wine and perhaps other related subjects.
I have had very positive feedback from people who have just been introduced to better wine as well as from those who have been wine enthusiasts for many years and claim they now enjoy it even more.
So, I leave you with the sentiment as celebrated in the lyrics sung by Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof.
"Be happy! Be healthy! Long life!
Drink, l'chaim, ... to life"