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Is It Kosher?
by Clive Smith
Magazine Issue: AUS/NZ Issue Four

The demand for Kosher wine is on the up and it's not just for religious considerations. Clive Smith explains the process and surprises of kosher wine.

If embattled Melbourne Football Club president Demon Joe Gutnick suddenly finds himself with some mid-season time on his hands, perhaps he could help out his brother. Rabbi Mosha Gutnick is one of a very few Australian Jewish elders skilled in the production of kosher wine.

Kosher wine you say? Yep, untouched by animals from vine to bottle and religiously supervised at every oenological stage in between. Since when did animals ever get involved with wine, might be your next question. Well, quite often gelatin is used for filtration and the gooey stuff is made from rendered beef bones. But the process of kosher can be far more involved than simply steering clear of lesser creatures.

"The whole production has to go through a process called hecher," says Andre Pavlic, director of Wine Emporium, a new Sydney wine merchant selling more than 400 varieties of kosher wine, spirits and beer.

"From the grape, to the vats, to the bottle, to the seal on the bottles, everything must be approved," says Pavlic.

At the Normans winery in South Australia's Riverland district, winemaker Roger Harbord instructs Gutnick at each stage of the process and it is the Rabbi's hands, not Harbord's, which handle the grapes and equipment.

Normans' managing director, Rob Byrne, said in a Sydney Morning Herald article that as well as physically making the wine, each piece of equipment must be individually and rigorously cleansed under kosher supervision.

"The kosher system is one where cleanliness is close to godliness," said Byrne. "Everything has to be steam cleaned and double checked in the most demanding type of environment."

Before winemaking begins, all equipment, tanks, and hoses are cleaned under Rabbi supervision. Particular ingredients, like tartaric acid and enzymes are used, and the wine must be pasteurised - super heated after fermentation to 86(C and then brought quickly back to the more usual conditions of around 16(C. Every storage vat is sealed with kosher tape, as are all taps and valves.

Normans knocked out 10,000 cases of its Teal Lake kosher Chardonnay and Shiraz in 1999, its first year of production. This was for the export market, mainly to the USA, just in time for Jewish new year. Last year saw output jump to 50,000 cases, and now both varieties are available here.

"Demand is on the increase," says Andre Pavlic, whose slick converted warehouse retail cellar, located on the fringe of Sydney's hustling garment district, stocks a fantastic range of European wines as well as most Australian kosher offerings. "In the past there has been small demand from religious Jews for ceremonial kosher wine, but non-religious Jews have been drinking non-kosher wine - that's why we have set up, to change that," he says.

Besides the Chateau Lafittes and the Premier Gran Cru St Emilions, Pavlic stocks Normans Teal Lake, Domaine Gilbert, Vicarys, and a high quality Tarrawarra 1999 'Kidron' Chardonnay. Described as having all the hallmarks of a premium cool climate Chardonnay, if it's as good as the '97 Tarrawarra Chardonnay then that upcoming Bar Mitzvah just took on a whole new meaning.

Pavlic says that demand for kosher wines has really only started increasing over the last five or six years. He says that besides kosher considerations, vegetarians are looking more to wines that certifiably don't have any link to animal products.

"This is especially true in Europe," he says. With beef product PR at an all-time low in that part of the world, Pavlic says that demand for "safe" wines has multiplied by 300 percent.

"In Australia the demand for kosher wine has been small because the Jewish community is small," he says. "But in Europe demand is huge - in Europe you have in excess of two million Jews." Now up to half of all European wineries offer a kosher catalogue.

Besides a large range of imported wines, Pavlic's Wine Emporium stocks some exotic spirits as well. Boukha Bokobsa is an Eastern European eau de figue - clear spirit distilled from figs. And Mahia Meknesiah is a previously unavailable pure aniseed spirit from Morocco.

If you're having guests like minor mogul Rene Rivkin over to yours on Passover, and you really want to impress, you might decant a bottle of Chateau la Gaffeliene Bordeaux ($850/bottle), or if times are tight, perhaps the Smith Haute Lafitte 1st Gran Cru, a snip at $425.

Or if it's just a backyard barbie with the boys, why not tune them in to a completely kosher Ocharovkoy Russian lager or even a Breznak beer from the Czech Republic. The latter, Pavlic describes as perhaps the world's greatest beer - and he speaks the words of the wise.

While the idea of strictly kosher wines may not have previously set your world on fire, these days it's a certain bet that the worldly Jewish community is no longer hollering Oi Vey! when offered a celebratory drop of vino.

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