by Fred McMillin
for September 10, 1999


Winery of the Week

Happy New Year!


Since tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we've chosen Hagafen Cellars as our Winery of the Week.


March 24,1988

Dear Fred,

In the 1970's, as I completed my studies at U.C.-Davis, I began to dream of making the best quality Napa Valley wines using modern methods but infused with my Jewish cultural identity. Now, a decade later, we are about to release our first Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, both kosher.

Ernie Weir
Vintner and General Manager
Hagafen Cellars

Did The Dream Come True?

Was Ernie successful? He certainly got the attention of the Dean of American wine writers at the time, Leon Adams, who put it this way.

    For decades after Repeal, a kosher wine--kosher is the Hebrew word for religiously proper--meant a syrupy-sweet, purple, piquant wine with a Concord grape flavor. However, in California's Napa Valley, there is one winery making dry, vintage-dated kosher wines. (To be called kosher, a wine must be made under the strict supervision of an Orthodox rabbi, from picking to bottling.) That winery is Hagafen [hu-GAF-en], Hebrew for "the vine."

Furthermore, he certainly got the attention of the wine judges. For example:

  • The Cabernet Sauvignon he made the year he wrote me was rated 91 by the Wine Spectator..."exuberant and concentrated, stuffed with vanilla, plum and berry flavors."
  • Also, he had just released his 1987 Johannisberg Riesling, and Anthony Dias Blue had listed it as one of the "Year's Best from California." Now let's fast forward to 1999.

    This is the 20th anniversary of Hagafen Cellars, and the ultimate dream is coming true. Hagafen Cellars is building a new winery at its Silverado Trail Vineyard. Furthermore, the anniversary will be marked by its first releases of a Merlot and a kosher sparkling wine...which will be a MUST for celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the year 2000.

    Note: For more about the nine wines Ernie currently produces, contact Nancy Levenberg at (707) 252-0781, FAX (707) 252-4562, Napa, CA. Also, she can tell you which Hagafens have been served at the White House.


    Who was the first Jew to arrive in the New World? He was Luis de Torres, and he arrived in 1492. You see, he was Christopher Columbus' interpreter, and is said to have been the first person in the expedition to set foot on the soil of the New World. (World Book Encyclopedia)

    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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