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by Fred McMillin
for September 29, 2000


Winery of the Week  
Was Noah's Wine Kosher?


This is the period of the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). So, let's talk about Kosher wines. (In Hebrew, kosher means "correct.")


Hagafen painting
by Veronica DiRosa.

The Rest of the Story

After the flood subsided, Noah planted the vine and made wine. To decide if it was Kosher, let's look at the origins of the concept.

From the beginning, the Jews embraced wine, but not its misuse. Other cultures used it in the worship of idols. It could cause drunkeness. Hence, wine should be kept under strict contol by rabbis. Its production and consumption should not be associated with Gentiles in any way.

About 400 years ago the restrictions were standardized...including the requirement that a rabbi must certify that no prohibitions had been violated. Hence, by these standards, Noah's wine was not Kosher.

So much for the past. Let's find a producer of fine varietal table wines that meet the religious restrictions.

California Kosher

1864—Professor Thomas Pinney tells us that Benjamin Dreyfus, a Bavarian Jew, made what was probably California's first Kosher wine in San Francisco.

1920's—Prohibition reigned, but Louis M. Martini had a rabbi living on the winery grounds and so made legal Kosher wines.

1979—For the prior four decades, the U.S.A. Kosher wines were sweet, syrupy types. But it was clear that the Jewish restrictions did not prevent the making of sound, dry table wines, which were pioneered in 1997 by...

Our Wine of the Week

My panel tastings agree with the Wall Street Journal, that reported:

"The wines for our tasting of Kosher wines came from all over the world, including France, Italy, Israel, Chile, etc. It included the four major varietals, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The most succesful variety was the Merlot, and one stood out, a 1997 by Hagafen.

However, the best single wine of the entire tasting was a Cabernet Sauvignon by...Hagafen! Last year, one of the Kosher standouts was a Cabernet Hagafen."

My panel also sipped the Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc and gave it a RECOMMENDED. For more winery info...
The Winery—Hagafen Cellars, P.O. Box 3035, Napa, CA.
Contact—The office of Susan Stanfield, (707) 252-0781, FAX (707) 252-4562


About the delicious 1997 Merlot that charmed both the WSJ writers and my panel: It's not 100% Merlot. It also contains something else the Journal liked...some of the tasty Cab Franc.

Research Assistance—Judith Lorentz


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


This page created September 2000