February 8, 2003
by Dennis Manuel
There was a time when kosher wine meant bad wine. It was sweet and usually made from Concord or Niagara grapes. Since the mid 1980s they have come a long way.
Despite the terrible Kosher wine that used to bless the table of the orthodox Jew, throughout history rabbis have encouraged the moderate consumption of wine for health reasons. Obviously they were ahead of their time. Considering what was offered in the kosher wine department, especially in the United States, it was probably consumed more for health reasons than for taste. Today, Kosher wine is made all around the world, in France, Italy, South Africa, Morocco, Australia, Chile, the United States, and of course Israel. And it’s good!
When one takes into account how difficult it is to make any kind of good wine, making good kosher wine has another set of problems added to weather, insects, mold, etc., such as the religious laws the winemaker has to follow.
Here is a list of the laws. (THE OXFORD COMPANION TO WINE: Jancis Robinson, 2nd edition, p. 388)
° No wine may be produced from a vine until its fourth year.
° The vineyard, if within the biblical lands, must be left fallow every seven years.
° Only vines may be grown in vineyards.
° From arrival at the winery, the grapes and resulting wine may only be handled by strictly Sabbath-observing Jews, and only 100 per cent kosher materials may be used in the wine-making, maturation, and bottling processes.
*The fourth law applies only to those who handle the must or the wine itself.
You can imagine what difficulties these laws present. Leaving a vineyard fallow every seventh year is devastating to a winery. Sometimes the winery is leased to a gentile for that year to cover some of the costs. Also, waiting four years before harvesting wine from your vines is a serious burden to new wineries, or older wineries with new plantings. With new growing techniques, a lot of vines are producing good grapes the third year. So, having to let that year go by can kill a start-up winery. Nonetheless it’s done, and done very successfully.
Good kosher wines are being produced from Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and all the other varietals. But if you want a decent selection, you will probably have to go to a quality wine store.