The new kosher era

What does it take for wine to be given the stamp of rabbinic approval?

dalton wine 298.88 (photo credit: Ofer Zemach)
dalton wine 298.88
(photo credit: Ofer Zemach)
As the quality of local wines has dramatically improved in the past decade, most Israelis have become accustomed to a higher standard and greater variety when choosing a bottle of wine, leaving the syrupy kosher wines of their childhood behind them. However, as most people know, kosher wines don't have to be sweet and bad, and they can be made from other grape varieties, not only carignan or concord. So, what does it take for a wine to be kosher? One requirement that has to be met is the practice known as orla, which forbids the fruits of a vine in the first four years following planting. The equipment and machinery such as crushers, presses, tanks and casks must be exclusively for kosher wine production. All casks must be brand new, or used exclusively for kosher wines; and only Shabbat observant people can handle the grapes from the time they arrive at the winery until the bottles are sealed. Regardless of growing methods, the harvest, or the type of grape, the same winemaking techniques are used in order to produce top quality wines, be they kosher or otherwise. These are the basic laws, but for wine to retain its kashrut (kosher status) when opened and poured by a non-Jew, it has to be mevushal, which translates literally as "cooked." Mevushal wine goes through a process which brings the liquid to boiling point (defined as heating it until air bubbles are brought to the surface and some wine is lost through evaporation). Once it has undergone this process, the wine retains its kosher status no matter who opens or pours it. The laws regarding mevushal wine have been refined, and modern winemaking techniques now allows the "must" (that includes pulp, skin and seeds) to be flash heated in a pasteurizing unit. The "must" is then cooled down just as quickly and the rest of the fermentation and winemaking process goes on. While large and medium wine establishments in Israel often make kosher wines, it's mostly the boutique and smaller wineries that produce non-kosher varieties. As most wines in our country are sold in supermarkets where all products are kosher, for a small-sized winery in which the annual production is less than 10,000 bottles, it is sometimes not financially worth adding the extra staff (rabbinical supervisors) to turn their production line kosher. THE ZION WINERY Established by the Shor family in the heart of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter in 1848, the Zion winery is one of the oldest in the country. When the Jewish Quarter was evacuated during the War of Independence the Shors moved the winery to the Beit Yisrael neighborhood where they continued producing kosher wines. After the state was established, the winery continued to grow and the Beit Yisrael establishment eventually became too small to contain its production. In 1982, the winery relocated to a large, modern facility in Mishor Adumim. After producing only sacramental wines for over 150 years, the Zion winery branched out in the 2004 vintage and begun to produce three new series of modern table wines: Erez, Tidhar and Armon, produced from quality grapes harvested at vineyards in Lower Galilee and the Judean Hills. Chief winemaker Tzvika Shor uses modern winemaking techniques in order to craft quality wines that are fruity, refreshing and approachable for everyone. THE EREZ SERIES of dry red wines (NIS 40) reflects the aromas and quality of the different grapes varietals and includes Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2004, Merlot 2005, Petit Syrah-Merlot 2005. The wines in THE TIDHAR SERIES (NIS 30), bear a green label and feature young, fresh, fruity flavors. They include three dry red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Carnigan-Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2005 and a semi-dry white wine Emerald Riesling 2006. In the run up to Rosh Hashana, the Zion wineries are offering three bottles of the Erez series for NIS 100, and four bottles of the Tidhar series for NIS 100.