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Jewish vintners celebrate their roots

There are more than 40 wineries tied to Judaism, a fact that surprises winemakers and locals alike.



"I'm shocked. I thought I was the only one. I did. I thought I was absolutely the only one!" exclaimed Richard Frank, owner of Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga.

Frank's surprise came when he discovered that his wasn't the only winery in the Napa Valley with Jewish roots. In truth there are more than 40 wineries tied to Judaism, a fact that surprises winemakers and locals alike.

"We're winemakers. I don't go around and say, 'Oh, there's a Catholic winemaker, there's a Protestant winemaker, there's an Indian winemaker.' We're winemakers," Frank explained.

It's an intimate group in the valley and while where you came from--be it Italy or Israel--doesn't impact the quality of wine you make, it does make up the fabric of your being. For Jewish vintners and wineries, it was time to honor their heritage. They had never come together as a group, so they gathered on a summer weekend for L'Chaim, to Life: A Weekend Celebrating Our Roots.

"For Jews all over the world, having grapes to make wine has always been of premium importance," said Jeff Morgan.

Morgan is a rarity in both Napa and the Jewish community. First, he makes the only dry rosé in the valley. His wine called SoloRosa is a blend of sangiovese and merlot. Second, he is on a quest to make an excellent kosher wine. Covenant Wine, which Morgan created with Leslie Rudd of Rudd Winery in Oakville and Herzog Wine Cellars, is taking kosher wine--often a sweet drink gleaned from concord grapes--to a new level. They have created a cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley grapes.

"What makes a wine kosher, it's really about who handles it in the winery," Morgan said. "We don't do anything different than if it wasn't kosher, aside from the fact that our crew in the cellar are Sabbath-observant Jews."

Grapes and agriculture have long been important in Judaism. It's said that Noah grew grapes and had a vineyard. Every Jewish celebration incorporates wine. As for kosher wine, for Jewish people it celebrates a covenant, a relationship, with man and God.

Following the success of the L'Chaim event, the relationship between Jewish vintners and winemakers in the Napa Valley continues to grow. And for the people who enjoy those wines, a follow-up event is already on the calendar for next summer.

"It's gratifying for all of us involved to highlight the connection we have to vineyards and to wine in the context of our daily life here in the Napa Valley, as winemakers and also as Jewish people," Morgan said.


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