08 Apr Meet the Covenant Crew: Sagie Kleinlerer, General Manager, Covenant California
MEET THE COVENANT CREW:
SAGIE KLEINLERER, GENERAL MANAGER, COVENANT CALIFORNIA
Each month, we introduce you to a member of the Covenant Winery crew. All of us are passionate about fine wine. And we strive to produce the best wines we can from vintage to vintage. In this series, you will discover the faces and stories behind Covenant.
How did you get involved in the wine biz?
I discovered wine when I was 22 years old and took a five-night wine tasting class in New York, where we tasted 40 wines per night—every night covering a different wine region. I was amazed at the diversity flavors and styles. And I realized that wine was really cool. Little did I know that someday I would become a wine professional.
Tell me about your background. You speak fluent Hebrew, yet you grew up in New York City.
My mother was Israeli; my father was from Poland. My parents spoke English to each other, but it was not their native tongue. Growing up, my mother spoke only Hebrew to my sister and me. My father, although born in Poland and having lived in France after the war, spoke English to us—not French, alas.
Growing up in New York, a truly international city, I was exposed to art, food and culture from all over the world. And in the summers, I would be in Israel with my family there. We also had family in France. So we always had a European or Israeli influence in our home. Thanksgiving, for example, was pot au feu or schnitzel! So the culture of wine—essentially an Old World culture—was part of my life. There was always wine on the table.
How long have you worked at Covenant, and what exactly do you do?
I’ve been with Covenant for a little over two years. I manage day-to-day marketing and sales operations at the winery and plan and implement long-term branding for the winery.
You’ve worked in both the non-kosher wine world and the kosher wine world. Are they different? In what ways?
The last winery I worked for was a boutique non-kosher winery in Napa Valley. It had a very educated consumer base. Our customers were accustomed to paying a lot of money for some of the best wines in the world. This was considered “normal.”
Part of what excited me about coming to Covenant was creating an experience for the kosher wine consumer that was similar to high-end non-kosher wine tasting experiences. I wanted to share my knowledge with a consumer base that might not have as broad-based experience in wine, due to the fact that the kosher wine world is smaller. I was also excited to share top-notch kosher wine with those who don’t necessarily drink kosher wine—if only to overcome the stigma of the Concord grape kosher wine stereotype.
It makes me feel great to pour our wines for people who say, “Wow! This wine tastes great. I’ve never tasted kosher wine like this.”
The kosher wine world has definitely come a long way in the last two decades, with great kosher wines now made in Europe, Israel and the New World. However, many kosher wine drinkers still need to open their minds and think of fine wine as the fine art that it really is. It’s a respect thing. And it’s happening…but maybe not fast enough for me.
The moment that a great wine crosses your lips—with flavor, fruit, earth and history—something special happens. I don’t want people to simply drink wine; I want people to experience wine. And the better the wine, the more memorable the experience.
How would you say that wine has changed your life?
Well, to start with, it has changed my career focus. I was a lawyer for eight years in both New York and California. And prior to that I was an online branding and marketing account executive for a major advertising firm in New York. I used to work during the week as a lawyer and then volunteer to work on weekends in the cellar at a small winery in Sonoma County. My wife, Sophie, would tell me that I looked tired but happy after those days in the winery.
So when I had the opportunity to work full time at a winery, I decided to quit the law and take a leap of faith. It’s the best career choice I ever made.
Where do you see the kosher wine world in five years? Ten years?
I see incremental progress on all fronts. Both the quality of the wines and the appreciation of consumers has improved noticeably over the last 10 years. So why shouldn’t this continue in the 10 years come? It will. As long as wine lovers—particularly kosher wine lovers—continue to further their appreciation for fine wine and share it with those who may not yet have discovered the joy of great kosher wine.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
One of my greatest pleasures working at Covenant is to marry my Israeli background and passion for Israel with my passion for what we do at Covenant California. This is the only winery doing it in both worlds. That connection is very meaningful to me. And I feel fortunate to be part of it.