This year, the Jewish holiday of Passover begins on March 30th and goes through April 7th, 2018. Briefly, Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt. Not listening to God’s warning to the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, God placed 10 plagues upon the Egyptians. During the final plague, all of the Egyptians’ first born were killed, but it was said that God passed over the houses of the Israelites, sparing their children, and thus leading to the name “Passover” for the holiday. After these killings, the Israelites were chased out of Egypt, and made their way to Mount Sinai and begin their journey as “God’s chosen people”.
It is during this time in the Sinai desert that the requirement that all Jews abide by kosher laws was born. Specifically, Moses wrote the framework for kosher laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, which were taught to the Israelites in the desert and passed down through the generations for thousands of years.
What is kosher?
According to Chabbad.org, “the kosher laws emphasize that Judaism is much more than a religion in the conventional sense of the word. To the Jew, holiness is not confined to holy places and times outside the everyday; rather, life in its totality is a sacred endeavor. Even the seemingly mundane activity of eating is a G-dly act and a uniquely Jewish experience.” So, in other words, keeping kosher is to abide by the laws handed down through the generations.
Due to the complicated nature of most food processing, any processed foods must be certified kosher by a reputable rabbi or a kashrut supervision agency. In order to be certified kosher, the processing must be performed following very specific procedures and must be observed by the qualified certifying agent(s). Not only does this apply to food products, but beverage products as well, including wine.
Kosher Viticulture and Winemaking
In terms of the grape side of kosher wine, it is actually very easy to keep kosher during the grapegrowing process. In fact, grapes – and all fruit – are inherently kosher, so all the winemaker needs to do at this point is choose which grapes she or he would like to use to make the kosher wine.
While visiting DO Montsant on a recent press trip, Anna Rovira, Technical Manager and Winemaker at Celler de Capçanes, described for us how they make kosher wine at their cooperative winery. Basically, “the process [of making kosher wines] starts when we press the grapes”. Once the grapes are pressed, the kosher winemaking process begins, and Capçanes in DO Montsant and all other kosher winemaking facilities must abide by strict rules for their wine to obtain kosher certification.
In a nutshell, to make kosher wines, several conditions must be met. First, the tanks and other equipment used in the process must be designated for kosher wines only. At no point can a non-kosher wine be made in these tanks and then used again later for kosher wines. Next, any product used in the winemaking process must also be certified kosher. Also, prior to the must being transferred into the tanks after crushing the grapes, the tanks must be filled with water 3 times with 24 hours in between each filling. Finally, all winemaking procedures must be done by a rabbi or another qualified Jewish person(s). At Capcanes, kosher winemaking is supervised and carried out by Rabbinate OU from the US, and Kosher Federation of London in collaboration with local Rabbis of Chabad Lubavitch.
According to Rovira, “the main points [of kosher winemaking] are that we cannot touch or see the wine”. If someone who is not a rabbi or Jewish person part of the qualified team sees or touches the liquid must or wine, the entire barrel or tank is no longer considered kosher. So, after the grapes have been crushed, all the juice and subsequent wine must be hidden from view from the winemaker. To do this, tanks and hoses must be solid in color and not transparent or translucent, with any spout outlet or hose connection ports well sealed with solid tape (again, non-transparent). Any manipulation to the wines must be done by a rabbi or other qualified individuals, who are told what needs to be done by the winemaker. So, if something needs to be added to the wine, or the wine needs to be manipulated in any other way, the winemaker tells the rabbi/team what needs to be done, and they are the ones to go and do it.
While they can use a little sulfur in the winemaking process, Capçanes produces as close to a “natural” wine as possible, with limited additives and manipulation. Part of this reasoning is that anything that is added to the wine must be certified kosher as well, and must have physical certification documents to prove it, so adding a lot of things to the wine could get very complicated very quickly.
If the winemaker needs to take samples for blending trials or other tests, she or he must tell the rabbi/qualified Jewish team member what exactly needs to be done, and from which tanks/barrels to take samples. They take out samples for her from the tanks or barrels and bring them to her in a separate waiting area. These samples are no longer kosher and are disposed of after testing.
Finally, at kosher wines at Capçanes do not undergo fining (again, because of additives that would need to be certified kosher), go through a small amount of filtering, and are then bottled.
Examples of Kosher Wines – Celler de Capçanes
While kosher wines sometimes get a bad rep due to popular, mass-produced, sugar-laden wines, there are many different styles of kosher wines on the market for a variety of palates, with many of them garnering high praise from even the toughest critics. Because of the minimalistic approach to winemaking process, at Capçanes, they try to ensure the finished kosher wine will be the best quality possible by choosing the best grapes possible at the very beginning.
While visiting Celler de Capçanes in the DO Montsant, I tasted two of their kosher wines: a kosher red blend Peraj Ha’abib and their kosher rosé, the Peraj Petita Rosat.
The Peraj Ha’abib from Capçanes is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Carignan (Samsó in Catalan). It’s a beautifully complex, full-bodied wine, with lots of dark fruits and toastiness. You’ll find this wine in the $50+ price category.
The Peraj Petita Rosat from Capcanes is a 100% Grenache rosé, bursting with ripe strawberries and fresh acidity. A lovely choice! You’ll find this wine in the $20-$30 range.
Celler de Capçanes also produces several other kosher wines, all of which are available in the United States through NJ importer Royal Wine Corp (RWC). RWC distributes their wines all over the United States, and if you can’t find them in a store near you, you can always ask the store to contact the importer for an order.
And to find out what makes a spirit kosher, please click here. L’chaim!
Becca Yeamans has a Bachelor's of Science in Biology from Saint Michael's College in Colchester, VT, and a Masters of Science in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She has extensive research experience as well as experience working in the wine industry. She is a freelance writer with a focus on wine science and research, and is the author/creator of the technical wine blog, The Academic Wino (www.academicwino.com). You may also follower her on twitter @TheAcademicWino.