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Making Premium Wine That Just Happens To Be Kosher!

January 14th, 2020 by Jon Stein

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Technically, all wine is made with kosher grapes. But that doesn’t mean wine itself is necessarily kosher. That, in part, caught the attention of Hagafen Cellars founder and winemaker Ernie Weir. And he decided to do something about it. Weir returned to UC, Davis, for his degree in viticulture and enology; he began work at Domaine Chandon in 1973. In 1979, Weir and his wife founded Hagafen Cellars.

Hagafen means ‘the grape vine’ in Hebrew. It’s the last of a nine-word prayer, called Kiddush, traditionally recited over wine. Hagafen makes premium wine – “wine that just also happens to be kosher”, Weir likes to say. Kosher wine made its modern appearance in the United States in the early- and mid-20th century, following successive waves of Jewish immigrants. The East Coast saw the growth of vibrant Jewish communities, for which wine is an integral part of almost every major holiday and life event. They turned to the only varietal readily available: Concord grapes. As a result of (Concord’s) low sugar maturity, it makes very bad wine,” Weir relates. “So they added sugar to the wine to make it palatable.” That American-born “sugary, syrupy” wine became the face of kosher labels. It birthed brands like Manischewitz, one of the most famous kosher wines, which Weir jokingly calls “the M-word”.

There are about 20 kosher wineries in California today, according to Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz. As a rabbinic coordinator, Rabinowitz oversees the wine portfolio of the Orthodox Union, the supervisorial body that certifies Hagafen wines as kosher. Certified kosher wineries must adhere to kashrut, the guidelines defining what is and isn’t kosher. Wine, for example, must be handled through the winemaking process only by Sabbath observant Jews. Sabbath observant individuals must not perform any kind of work during Shabbat, which falls from sundown Friday until sundown on Saturday.

There are other kosher labels in Napa, though they’re produced by non-kosher wineries. St. Helena’s Marciano Estate makes a kosher Red Blend, called Terra Gratia; then there’s Covenant Wines, a kosher winery that relocated from Napa to Berkeley in 2014.

Napa is one of the hot spots for premium wine production, according to Gary Freeman, owner and wine buyer for Oakland Kosher Foods. Weir also goes on to say: “Talking about kosher wine – we can talk Cabernet Sauvignon, organic grape growing, that we’re fish-friendly and bee-friendly farmers.” In a sentence: “kosher” is not a flavor profile. “Some know, but some don’t even know when they leave that there’s anything here having to do with kosher,” Weir said, of the winery’s guests. “They just like the wine.” Here at Skolnik Industries, we know that people like our stainless steel wine barrel for the food industrys. Our stainless steel wine barrels are reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums here.

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