The 4 cups of wine
Companies will be looking to fill full-time, part-time and apprentice positions. Candidates of all ages, experience levels and industries are encouraged to attend. Presented by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian. Come prepared with resumes and dressed to impress. 11 a.m. Free. La Iglesia En El Camino, 14800 Sherman Way, Van Nuys. (818) 376-4246.
The new documentary “Surviving Skokie” tells the story of Jack Adler, who survived Auschwitz and then, in 1961, witnessed American Nazis marching down the main street of Skokie, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Jack, accompanied by his son, Eli, returns to his village in Poland for the first time in 65 years. The film follows their journey from turbulent Skokie through Poland, where Jack and Eli find a new understanding of the Holocaust and each other. Discussion with filmmaker Eli Adler and synagogue member Jim Ruxin to follow screening. 4 p.m. Free. To RSVP, call (310) 471-7372. University Synagogue, Gray Family Chapel. 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255. unisyn.org.
In her new poetry collection, Carol V. Davis crosses cultural and geographic boundaries to explore her family’s history as Jews, outsiders and immigrants. Ranging from Los Angeles to Nebraska to Germany to Russia, she probes the boundaries between faith, folklore and superstition. Davis, poetry editor of the Jewish Journal, will read and sign her new work. 8 p.m. $10; $6 children, students, seniors. Beyond Baroque, 681 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-3006.
This year’s theme, “reJEWvenation … Be Your Jewish Self,” features crafts, activities and festivities as you enjoy a community Havdalah and hot dog dinner. 5:30 p.m. $7. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 494-8174. templeetzchaim.org.
Join in song and story as the legacy of Debbie Friedman is honored. Israeli artist Bat Ella and her band will perform unique interpretations of Friedman’s songs in Hebrew. Other special guests include Craig Taubman, Danny Maseng, Rick Lupert and Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben. 7 p.m. $10; tickets available at tickettailor.com. The Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-1077. picounionproject.org.
Hear a tale of kabbalists and street cleaners, Jews and Muslims, immigrants and natives, prophets and lost souls — all of whom inhabit Jerusalem. Author Ruchama Feurerman will discuss her novel, being made into a movie, which is a tale of personal dignity, ownership, love and the way they overlap. Q-and-A to follow. 7:30 p.m. Free. Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 12800 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 763-0560.
Judy Zeidler, author, food consultant and frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal, will discuss her culinary journey from gourmet Jewish cooking, to cookbooks full of kosher recipes, to international cuisine, to her latest publication, “Italy Cooks.” Ticket price includes a copy of her book along with a light brunch, an author talk, a cooking demonstration and a chance to sample her famous biscotti. 10:30 a.m. $45. Tickets available at jewishwomenstheatre.org. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 315-1400. jewishwomenstheatre.org.
The Congregation Beth Shalom Film Series presents “The Venice Ghetto, 500 Years of Life.” The film traces its story to the medieval era, told through Lorenzo, a New York teenager sent to Venice to learn about his family’s origins. Learn about the daily life, rituals and architectural landmarks of the Venetian Jewish quarter through Lorenzo’s journey of discovery. Italian lunch and popcorn will be provided. 11:30 a.m. $5. Congregation Beth Shalom, 21430 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita. (661) 254-2411. cbs-scv.org.
Boyle Heights was once home to Jewish, Latino, Japanese, Italian, Armenian, Russian and African-American migrant communities. The neighborhood is emblematic of Los Angeles’ multicultural history. An afternoon of multilingual poetry and prose will feature the works of Yiddish poets such as Hirsh Goldovsky and Henry Rosenblatt (1920s) to Sesshu Foster, Clement Hanami and Veronica Reyes (1970s-80s), all of whom documented life in Boyle Heights. This event is a part of a collaborative series that explores the neighborhood, then and now. 2 p.m. Free. The Paramount, 2708 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles. cjs.ucla.edu. (310) 267-5327.
This benefit concert for Save a Child’s Heart features Israeli singing sensation Rita, popular Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and 15-year-old pianist, composer and songwriter Emily Bear. American-Israeli contemporary dance ensemble Keshet Chaim will perform with acclaimed young vocalist Liel Kolet. Israeli actress Moran Atias, star of the FX series “Tyrant,” will emcee the event. 7:30 p.m. Tickets starting at $45. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-8800. valleyperformingartscenter.org.
This film is a 19th-century American Western adventure story about Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an observant Sephardic Jew born in 1815 in Charleston, S.C., who, in 1853, traveled with John Fremont’s Fifth Westward Expedition. Living alongside mountain men, Native Americans and Mormons, Carvalho became one of the first photographers to document the far American West. Narrated by actor Michael Stuhlbarg (“Boardwalk Empire”). Q-and-A with filmmaker Steve Rivo to follow. 7:30 p.m. Ahrya Fine Arts, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. It will be screened Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 at locations across Southern California; visit laemmle.com for more information. Q-and-A with photographer Robert Shlaer at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30, Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; and with Rivo at 1 p.m. Jan. 31, Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., No. 121, Encino. (310) 478-1041. laemmle.com.
Award-winning French film “24 Days” tells the story of the kidnapping, torture and murder of 23-year-old French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006. Before the screening, the Anti-Defamation League will facilitate a discussion about anti-Semitism in Europe. Film in French, with English subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Free. RSVP to email@example.com or (310) 446-4243. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. templejudea.com.
Join Young Adults of Los Angeles’ Wine Cluster for an exploration of the stylistic differences between Old World and New World wines. Is all chardonnay rich and buttery? Can cabernet sauvignon be both earthy and fruity? Get some answers to these questions and more. 8 p.m. $25. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Vinoteque, 7469 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. yala.org.
“I’m not even Jewish!”
This is not the conversation I expected to have with an expert winemaker who has been involved with the production of kosher wines for more than a dozen years. But such was the case with the affable Philip Jones, senior winemaker and managing director of Goose Bay from New Zealand and the Pacifica label from Oregon.
His Oregon pinot noir is certified kosher, and a terrific value for any Oregon pinot, really. The Bay Area native was raised Catholic but found himself intrigued by the idea of getting into kosher wine when a friend suggested it to him over dinner one night in Santa Maria, Calif., more than 20 years ago.
The exchange I had with Jones, during which he talked about the challenges of bringing Jewish winemakers from Melbourne, Australia, to his remote New Zealand vineyard to produce Goose Bay’s kosher vintages, was one of the many unexpected pleasures of the Kosher Wine & Food Experience held March 2 at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Sample iconic French label Laurent-Perrier rosé and classic Champagnes, and taste vaunted Rothschild kosher wines? Nosh on short rib cavatelli and pastrami-style cured cod on a rye blini from the chefs at Herzog Wine Cellars’ flagship Ventura Country kosher restaurant, Tierra Sur? See the range of the famed enterprise’s kosher production, including reserve bottles and its special edition Camouflage blend that combines 12 varietals? All this, plus a chunk of Israel’s wine industry all present under one roof in L.A.? Twist my arm.
For the sixth annual Los Angeles event that originated in New York City, organizer Royal Wine Corp. moved the tasting extravaganza with approximately 50 wineries and eight spirits brands to the Petersen from last year’s location at the W Hollywood hotel. Attendees tasted Israeli wines while snapping photos of Maseratis, rare alternative-fuel cars, vintage motorcycles and the like.
Years ago, long before I was ordained, I asked my friend Rabbi Larry Goldmark where he saw God. His response: “I see God when I marry a couple. The bride sees the groom; the groom sees the bride; but I see God standing in between them.” At the time, I thought it was a standard and hollow “rabbinic” answer, but years later, when I officiated my first wedding, I learned that no words were ever truer.
There is something truly divine about the wedding ceremony. A palpable feeling exists in the room — and especially under the chuppah — that is beyond words. But I have learned in counseling many couples that the experience of the ceremony is significantly deepened as the ritual becomes more fully understood, its hidden meanings revealed.
What are some of those meanings? Why and how does this ceremony move us to the core of our souls? How should we prepare and what are the decisions that need to be made in order to make the wedding the most meaningful experience possible for the couple?
Each ritualized part of the wedding plays a part in deepening the effect of the ceremony. Going through each part of the wedding is good not only for a couple about to be married, but for all of us who strive to deepen the moments of our lives. It is also important to recognize that all marriages are “interfaith” — no two people come to the marriage with the exact same relationship with God, and so each wedding ceremony must be personalized for the couple. Even the required traditional elements of Jewish weddings — the ketubah, exchange of rings and yichud — can have different traditions or variances that are reflective of the couple.
This is the beginning of the ritual. A concretized manifestation of a couple’s commitment, the action of executing this contract takes their love and locks it into the physical world. The traditional text is “legalese” — like a mortgage agreement making a new homeowner consciously aware of his or her commitment — but the ketubah also helps the couple understand at a deep psychological level that their love is now becoming physically manifest, and this union is actually real. It is the first step in truly knowing that they will be together forever. Although the traditional text is standard and is a contractual obligation, variations abound for the English aspect that can be reflective of the couple’s personality. The amount of accompanying art that is available for ketubot is astounding, often with subtle meanings in the symbols the artist includes. I make it a point to spend time with each couple as they pick their ketubah so that they understand the deeper meanings of the artwork; and many couples even have artists create a personalized piece just for their wedding, filled with images that are especially meaningful to them.
Although it is traditional to have the posts of the chuppah held by four friends, it has also become customary in many communities to have a free-standing structure. What is important is to realize that the chuppah is a recapitulation of the Garden of Eden, with the bride and groom being like Adam and Eve. It needs to be temporary, so that the couple always remember that everything in the physical world is temporary, but their love is eternal. It is the tallit hanging above them that reminds them that their love is truly divine, and it is a beautiful custom for it to be the tallit of the groom, with new tzitzit that have been tied by the bride. Many brides are scared that the knot-tying is too difficult, but there are many simple instructions, and it creates an even more sacred space when the tallit is an expression of their partnership.
As the couple enter the chuppah, often the bride circles the groom seven times. Seven is the number of “wholeness” (Shabbat); and the circling is a physical demonstration of the bride spiritually protecting the groom. In many egalitarian communities, it has become customary to demonstrate a mutual protection by the bride circling the groom three times, the groom circling her three times, and then the pair circling each other.
Once under the chuppah, the couple drink their first of two glasses of wine under the chuppah: a symbol of partnership. God makes the grapes, but we make them into wine. We need God and vice versa, as the bride and groom need each other. I have found that it is a wonderful way to unify the families if the bride’s family gifts one Kiddush Cup for under the chuppah, and the groom’s family gifts the other.
Vows and rings
Although vows are not a part of the traditional ceremony, many brides have grown up looking forward to saying, “I do.” The best time to do this is immediately before the exchange of rings. Whether the couple are asked the standard questions that are typically found in a secular or non-Jewish wedding, or they make statements that they have written, it can be a beautiful addition to the ceremony. A couple need to determine if this would serve them, or if they are fulfilled with the traditional ring exchange and words of “with this ring,” etc. The exchange of rings is another physical manifestation of their love — a love without beginning or end that has existed before they were even born.
The Seven Blessings
The Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings), which all praise God and the sanctity of the relationship, are a wonderful time to really personalize the ceremony. There are multiple options. One is to have the rabbi say all 14 statements (seven in Hebrew and their English translations) or the couple could honor family or friends by having them recite some of these blessings. The key is to make sure that the participants know their time and words well in advance of the actual ceremony so that it is a smooth transition between parties.
The couple can also choose to have the groom under the bride’s veil during this time; wrapped in the rabbi’s tallit; and even have their hands bound together with tefillin (a medieval custom). Any or all of these can be meaningful expressions of the personalized service, and it is important for the couple to make these decisions consciously. It is often an extremely powerful and memorable part of the ceremony for the couple to be blessed by friends and family while they are in their own “tent” under her veil and wrapped in the tallit.
Breaking the glass
There are many interpretations of the breaking of the glass, and often we are taught that it is to temper our joy with a remembrance of the destruction of the Temple. The interpretation that I most appreciate is that the breaking of the glass is an explosion of their love together as it explodes into the world. Grooms: Make sure that you hit the glass with the heel of your foot.There have been more cases than anyone wants to admit of a groom trying to break it with the ball of his foot and hurting himself.
One of the most underappreciated parts of the ceremony (in the less-observant world) is yichud. Immediately after the breaking of the glass, the couple are to go to a private chamber, with a shomer or guardian outside to make sure no one comes in. There, they feed and nurture each other. Some rabbis will say that a couple must make love at this time, but the reality is that just spending private intimate time together for a few moments is the culmination and realization of the ceremony. After months of planning, the wedding and reception go by so quickly, and these few moments are consistently some that couples remember forever. It is more important than most couples recognize initially, and richly beautiful as the couple realize that they are really married.
How to do each of these ritualistic parts of the ceremony is a choice that the couple make through multiple dialogues with their rabbi and each other as they prepare for the wedding. The discussions that arise as they decide each part start to help them really learn how to negotiate their partnership and, with the rabbi’s guidance, can become models on how to negotiate other dialogues in the future.
I always remind couples leading up to their ceremonies: This is your wedding. It needs to be a reflection of your love and commitment. By doing this ceremony, you are literally changing the world, so know fully what you are actually doing in each step. Know the meanings of what you do, and bring a consciousness and depth to the experience; not only will it be more meaningful for you, but in so doing, you will directly affect the lives of those you love who have come to celebrate this special day with you.
May we all be blessed to know the meanings and joys of the wedding ritual in every moment of our lives, and always remember that we are not only in partnership with our spouse, but that God is the glue that binds our love together.
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha (nersimcha.org), and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the past, trying to put together a kosher wine tasting was a challenge because it seemed the major stores offered so few choices. A quick look at the inventory of some of the more sympathetic non-kosher wine shops around Los Angeles reveals a mere page of choices, but if you look a little further, there are only a couple each of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever varietal you choose. It’s like they looked at the broad spectrum of wine and decided it was better if they had one kosher selection of each varietal and left it at that. Look further still, and you’ll see only a couple of options that cost more than $30. On the one hand, the frugal oenophile may see this as a plus, but I see it as a kind of dismissal that implies kosher wines probably aren’t that good, so why go to the trouble of putting any of the more expensive juice on the shelf?
This lack of choice and of higher-end titles is self-perpetuating — you don’t get very good selections, or much of a selection at all, and it reinforces the sense that kosher wine overall — and Israeli wines in particular — aren’t very good. Well, there’s a case to be made that they weren’t very good for a very long time, but that the tide has turned, and a new crop of more artisanal winemakers has come into their own over the past several years.
Winemaking has been part of Jewish history from the very beginning (Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in Genesis 9:21) and from the very earliest references to Israel. However, for generations in modern times, the landscape was completely dominated by Manischewitz, about which I will not write another word in the name of common decency.
Of course, making better wine is one thing, but selling it is another. Enter Michael Bernstein and The Cask on Pico. With a selection of nearly 500 wine titles, it is the largest and best all-kosher wine and spirits shop on the West Coast.
Bernstein, 34, was looking for a “recession-proof” business and saw a void in the market for selling kosher wine to an evolving, increasingly sophisticated market. Four years later, and he’s loving it. “This is one of the best times I’ve ever had in terms of business. You meet very interesting people, whether it’s the winemakers or the customers. There’s a great camaraderie in the business. I can’t think of another industry that’s more fun.”
Admittedly more of a “Scotch guy,” Bernstein (and his staff) has tasted every title in the store, and he’s developed his palate in the process. Although he prides himself on service and selection (he sells almost every bottle himself), Bernstein sees himself as equal parts educator and salesman. “People like to compare one bottle or vintage to another,” he said. His approach is to broaden the consumer’s horizons: “I love to get people to try more exciting things. If you liked that, you should really try this.”
The Cask’s refrigerated wine cellar behind the main sales floor holds some of the rarest and most expensive selections, including older vintages of Domaine du Castel (Judean Hills, Israel), Pontet Canet (Pauillac, Bordeaux) and Covenant (Napa Valley). Most bottles in this chilly little sanctuary sell for more than $65. The most expensive bottle it has sold? A 2003 Valandraud from St. Emilion in Bordeaux for $550.
Best-selling title? Bartenura Moscato at $13.95, a title that has caught fire, in part, because its distinctive blue bottle was prominently featured in a video of the song “Do It Now” by half-Jewish rapper Drake. Evidently, Moscato rhymes with bravo, model and bottle.
As for Manischewitz: Bernstein doesn’t carry it. “I’m a fan of tradition, but this,” he said, waving his hand at the handsome display of dozens of hand-picked bottles that adorn the walls in dark wood cabinetry that runs from floor to ceiling, “isn’t about that.”
What wine to pair with gefilte fish? “Who eats gefilte fish?” If you absolutely had to? “I hope I don’t have to.”
There is a full selection of every kind of spirit imaginable, including a wall of Scotch whiskeys — some of which do not carry a kosher designation on the label and the reason his store does not carry a kosher hechsher. “I’ve done my own research,” he says about the “disputed” titles, mostly having to do with a bit of arcana surrounding the kind of casks used for aging.
Bernstein is perhaps the greatest champion of kosher wine and spirits in Los Angeles. A back room is host to tastings with visiting winemakers and privately catered parties. Last month, he hosted a Scotch tasting at the SLS Hotel attended by more than 150 enthusiasts nibbling on kosher hors d’oeuvres and smoking presumably kosher cigars, part of an ongoing series of off-site events. “You get people’s honest opinions,” he says of comparative tastings. What’s the Yiddish expression for “In vino veritas”?
Here are some of Michael Bernstein’s Passover picks:
Rose du Castel 2013 (Israel), $39.95
Capcanes Peraj Petita Rosat, $29.95
Barkan Pinotage 2011 (Israel), $70
Adir “Plato” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, $70
Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Napa Valley), $40
Hajdu Syrah 2012, $40
Malartic La Graviere Bordeaux 2005, $100
The Cask, 8616 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 205-9008.
Jeff Smith is the founder of Van Nuys-based Carte du Vin Wine Cellar Management and the author of “The Best Cellar.” He was formerly known as J.D. Smith.
Joeann Wallace sweeps down the right-hand wall of Wells Discount Liquors on a recent weekday afternoon, grabs a bottle of Bartenura Moscato without breaking stride and steams three aisles over to snag a fruity vodka she likes to mix with her wine selection.
Wallace, who works in medical billing, lives near the shop in Towson, Md., and typically each week buys two bottles of the bubbly, semi-sweet white wine — not just for herself, she affirms with a broad smile, but for her mother and other guests to enjoy, too, after dinner.
“This,” she says of the Bartenura, “is perfect.”
Wallace, 33, expresses surprise at learning that the brand is kosher for Passover — or kosher at all — since she is not Jewish and such certifications don’t matter to her.
In that, Wallace typifies an unintended but lucrative market for the wine, which in recent years has caught on in a big way among African-Americans and non-Jewish customers more broadly.
Jay Buchsbaum, executive vice president for marketing at the New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corp., which owns Bartenura, says that the market for his Moscato is “overwhelmingly, more than 50 percent” among non-Jewish customers. As to sales figures, Buchsbaum reveals only that they are “in the millions of bottles a year.”
Indeed, at Wells Discount Liquors, which is five miles from the nearest distinctly Jewish neighborhood, Bartenura appears not in the kosher wine section but is grouped elsewhere with the 22 other Moscato offerings, Bartenura being the only kosher one.
The popularity of Moscato wines in the African-American community apparently derives from hip-hop and rap singers such as Lil’ Kim, Drake and Jay-Z, who worked the beverage into their lyrics and music videos.
In a way, the entertainers are following in esteemed footsteps. In the 1960s and ’70s, singer-actor Sammy Davis Jr., an African American who converted to Judaism, famously endorsed Manischewitz — a brand still a standard-bearer among kosher and kosher-for-Passover wines.
Bartenura Moscato sales took off about six years ago after the “inner-city, hip-hop, millennial crowd started latching onto it,” according to Buchsbaum.
While considered the market leader, Bartenura is hardly the only Moscato that’s kosher or kosher for Passover. Others include Dalton, Gamla, Carmel and Golan (all Israeli); Gabriele, Borgo Reale, Sara Bee and Rashi (all Italian); and Teal Lake (Australian).
Dubbed “the blue bottle” for its distinctive sheen, Bartenura is featured on more than 300 strategically targeted billboards in predominantly non-Jewish sections of New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of the Midwest where “we have a hot concentration of sales,” said Buchsbaum’s colleague, David Levy.
Last year, Royal ran its first national television commercial for Bartenura.
The company first noticed the brand’s mainstreaming about 14 years ago, when retailers serving Jewish and non-Jewish clienteles ordered it year-round, “not just with Passover in mind,” Buchsbaum said. That shift began in the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn and in parts of nearby New Jersey.
“It took off from there,” he said.
Lee Grandes, Wells’ wine consultant, said Bartenura was “one of the first” in America to take Moscato to greater heights at a time when “traditional producers” were devoting small portions of their vineyards to the grape. With Bartenura’s success, other Moscato growers followed suit.
Previously, what Grandes calls “the fun, light-style wines” consisted mainly of white Zinfandel and wine coolers. Now Bartenura and other Moscatos are taking a “big chunk” out of those sales in his store, he said.
Wells sells about seven cases of Bartenura monthly — 10 during the November and December holiday season. It’s “one of the biggest sellers” in the store, said Grandes, who said he expects increases for Passover, too.
Several miles away, at Miller’s Deli in the largely Jewish suburb of Pikesville, Jeff Karlin expects to sell up to 20 additional cases of the brand in the weeks leading up to Passover.
That’s over and above the six-case weekly average in sales to his mixed Jewish and non-Jewish clientele. The Moscato constitutes “my best-selling wine, by far,” he said, and “flies off the shelves” year-round.
Passover wines differ from regular kosher wines in that the enzymes and yeast used along with any sweeteners or added flavors must be free of chametz, the various ingredients forbidden during Passover. Still, most kosher wines are kosher for Passover, too.
At approximately $14 a bottle, Bartenura typically sells for about $3 more than non-kosher Moscatos, most also produced in northwest Italy’s Piemonte region. Royal Wine banks on customers’ fondness for the brand rather than price considerations alone, Buchsbaum said.
Wallace, the Wells Discount consumer, is one.
Compared to other Moscatos she’s tried that are either slightly bitter or too sweet, Bartenura’s higher price is “worth it,” she said.
“I would rather pay a little more for something I know I’m going to enjoy than be kind of iffy about one I may not like,” Wallace said. “This is the only Moscato I drink.”
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a wintery season brings a chill to the people. To ease the dark evenings, imaginative winemakers of the land share delicious winter recipes with great wines, adding a touch of magic to the dish. A glass of wine with a delicious supper by a toasty fireplace becomes an enchanting evening.
The head winemaker of the Golan Heights Winery, Victor Schoenfeld gathers his family and friends to prepare a secret “cholent” stew recipe. He cooks this dish for the coldest days, inhaling the mystical scent it brings forth. While cooking, his children question Schoenfeld on the origins of the “cholent”. An old-fashioned Jewish recipe, cholent stew has been for years a cozy and warm dish to serve during harsh winter days. To personalize his cholent stew, Schoenfeld fuses with it a classic French Cassoulet (see Schoenfeld secret’s recipe below). Schoenfeld specifically chose this dish as it pairs well with one of his favorite bottles of wine, the chic Yarden Pinot Noir. He highly recommends this wine with such a dish for the wine’s aromatic cherry, red currant and ripe pomegranate fruit characters layered with attractive floral and spice notes. On his personal recommendation of wines, Victor says “If you like your wines more complex and full bodied with notes of smoke, earth and exotic spices, I would attempt the Yarden Syrah”. Victor’s style of wine selecting parallels his daring lifestyle, suggesting an interesting challenge for the real white wine lovers and the people who dare to think “outside the box” by trying his cholent with the rich Yarden Chardonnay, which contrasts the heavy dish.
In close proximity, Micha Vaadia serves as chief winemaker at Galil Mountain Winery. With prior voyages to the vineyards of California, New Zealand, and Argentina, Vaadia has become one of the top winemakers in the land. For a pleasant winter weekend, Vaadia puts together his classic lamb roast with rosemary, coriander seeds and za’atar. The energy consumed from the scrumptious roast surely adds a bundle of warmth. Vaadia feasts on his roast with a bottle of Galil Meron, a deep complex blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. The dreamy Galil Meron pleasantly combines characters of wild berry and blueberry, with hints of nutmeg and chocolate. A rich and bold wine, the Galil Meron is a true fairy tale touch for this supper.
For winemaker Dr. Shivi Drori, discovering the ancient grapes of the land in order to produce a wine identical to the wine consumed during ancient times is his current conquest. In between this quest and his winemaking vineyard practices, Drori relishes a quiet supper with his big happy family. His classic baked chicken with silan (date honey), cranberry and mint brings warmth to his home of six children. A source of great protein for the winter, Drori’s baked chicken promises an extra layer of heat for such a time of year. To elevate the sophistication of his dinner, Drori’s family enjoys a bottle of Gvaot Herodion red wine – a striking blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Drori particularly enjoys the long-lasting after taste of its elegant black and red fruit aromas, combined with spices and scents. A true artist in the wine industry, Drori chooses only the finest wines with his meals, adding “we want wine that’s good because of its quality and its story”.
These exceptional winemakers transform their conventional meals into elegant evenings by simply adding the right wines. Although the winter brings about a harsh cold, an evening of delicious cooking alongside a glass of wine will bring warmth incomparable to anything else this season.
To try one of these magical recipes, please see below.
Victor’s Cholent Stew:
1. Brown the slices of goose in a large, heavy bottomed skillet (you can do this directly in the Dutch oven, but I find it easier this way). You need no oil, as the goose fat quickly renders itself. Set aside.
2. Brown the osso buco in the goose fat. Set aside.
3. Brown the sausage in the same pan, set aside.
4. Add the onions and shallots and sauté in the remaining fat, until lightly browned. Add a bit of olive oil if necessary. Set aside.
5. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, then transfer liquid to Dutch oven.
6. Make a thin layer at the bottom of the Dutch oven with a third of the beans and onion and barley, with a sprinkling of the spices.
7. Add a layer of half of the osso buco, sausage, eggs and potatoes.
8. Add another layer of the beans, etc.
9. Add another layer of the meat, etc.
10. Finish with the remaining beans, etc. Depending on the size of the osso buco slices, eggs and potatoes, it could be a challenge to fit everything in. Have an additional casserole on hand for the overflow, if any.
11. Fill with liquid until there’s about 2.5 cm (1 in) of liquid covering the ingredients. If you have enough beef stock, use that. If the beef stock is concentrated, use to taste and then use water to come to desired level. If you do not have stock, use water.
12. Bring to a boil and remove scum.
13. Cover with lid. If the lid does not fit tightly, there is a danger of the cholent drying out and burning overnight. You can add a doubled strip of aluminum foil between the dutch oven and lid to help seal.
14. Put overnight on 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
15. Serve the guests, and hear “oohs” and “ahhs”.
Micha’s Lamb Roast:
1. Cut each garlic clothe to four long pieces ,make small pockets all around the meat with a sharp small knife and insert the garlic deep in to the meat.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients except the zest to a paste and massage the paste around the meat till it covers all the meat.
3. Sprinkle salt and pepper and leave to rest at least four hours.
4. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 428 f for 25 minutes, take down the heat to 300 f and roast for an hour, take the leg out of the oven sprinkle the lemon zest.
5. Let the leg rest for 15 minutes at room temperature and then slice very thin slices.
Shivi’s Baked Chicken:
1. Mix the ingredients in a bowl (other than then coarse salt).
2. Place the chicken in a deep dish suitable for his size so it will be placed in it without unnecessary margin.
3. Spread the chicken well and place it on the tray that will be placed chest down. Pour the rest of the job template and sprinkle with salt to taste top.
4. Mix the well filling ingredients in a bowl and cover the chicken in a compressed. Preheat the oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit; roast the chicken covered for about an hour.
5. After a nice browning of the top, remove the chicken from the sauce tray and cutting out a suitable sauce bowl.
6.Separate the chicken filling and place in a serving bowl.
7. Slice the chicken parts at the table and serve with the sauce.
Being a Wine Snob can be a burden at times. The expression is a mild pejorative that I wear as a badge of honor. We Wine Snobs don’t think we’re better than other people — the unwashed multitudes buying their screw-cap bottles with pictures of colorful animals on the labels in the grocery store aisle across from the pickles, with which they are presumably paired at the dinner table that same night — but we’re aiming just a teensy bit higher.
Most of us grew up drinking Manischewitz at Passover, and that’s where the trouble started. The earliest memories of millions of aspiring Jewish oenophiles were poisoned by this treacle. It tasted like spoiled grape juice, but at least it was alcoholic, and a spoonful of sugar made the medicine go down. The stuff is made from Concord grapes, a varietal that is often described as “foxy” by aficionados. This is not foxy like sexy; it’s foxy like a wet feral mammal in a bottle.
If you think I’m being harsh, when was the last time you willingly poured yourself a glass of the stuff for pleasure? Do you have a bottle somewhere in your house, half-empty, that you’re saving for the next reading of the Exodus from Egypt? Only a cruel and vengeful God could have conceived of such a trial for his Chosen People. Chosen for what, exactly? I say, let my people go already! Perhaps putting lousy wine on par with slavery is overreaching, but surely we deserve better than that.
So, when my father started collecting real wine, non-kosher wine — some of it made by French Jews named Rothschild — it was like giving eyesight to the blind. Ever since then, I’ve recognized the singular challenge of the modern kosher winemaker: to prove they’re really just as good as their non-kosher kin.
Those of us who indulge in the industry’s kosher offerings have to ask themselves: Is a kosher chardonnay as good as a similarly priced non-kosher one, or are we really just rooting for the home team, knowing they stink but we love them anyway? Maybe you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s rye bread, to quote the famous ad campaign, but do you have to be Jewish to love kosher wine?
No one is suggesting that kosher wine be held up to a higher standard of taste than non-kosher, but is it as good as? With the New Year nearly upon us, I decided it was time to find out.
I assembled a tasting panel at the Jewish Journal’s office to see how various kosher winemakers are doing in an objective forum. I picked a half-dozen bottles — three whites, three reds — at an average of around $30, the thought being that anyone can make bad cheap wine, and a reasonable price point would give our boys a fighting chance.
Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand, 2010, $20
This was not as crispy and citrusy as other sauvignon blancs I’ve had from New Zealand at about the same price point, and the panel agreed, scoring this the lowest of the three whites.
Castel Chardonnay “C”
Israel, 2009, $45
Castel is the most distinguished winemaker in Israel, and produces perhaps the greatest kosher red wine in the world, their Grand Vin. This is the only wine on our list that earned 90-plus points out of 100 from important American critics, but our panel was disappointed, more so when they saw the price tag. At 5 years old, this should have been better and was flatly not up to par with similarly priced non-kosher offerings.
Rene de Lacray Chablis Premier Cru Montmains
France, 2008, $30
This was a lovely surprise, with notes like “fresh” and “herbaceous,” rather than the more typical attributes of Chablis, such as “minerally.” The highest rated of our whites on almost every score sheet. At $30, I thought this was nearly as good as non-kosher competition.
Don Mendoza Malbec Reserve
Uco Valley, Argentina, 2013, $14
This was surprisingly light in color, body and alcohol, so it gets low points from me for lacking “typicity.” Comments were to the tune of “no depth to it at all,” and I felt I’d had far better inexpensive non-kosher Malbecs. This was the least expensive bottle in our tasting and was also the lowest rated.
Covenant Red “C”
Napa Valley, 2012, $40
This is the “second label” from Napa Valley’s best kosher winemaker, Covenant. Drinking a 2012 vintage cabernet /petite sirah blend is not something a Wine Snob does for pleasure, and so it was strictly business with this inky offering. I was surprised that this did not score higher, but no great winery made its name on the strength of its second label. It was mentioned that this wine might really shine when paired with food. (Of course, the same could be said of any of the others as well.) I thought it was the only wine of this grouping that will get better with a few years of bottle age.
Hagafen Pinot Noir
Napa Valley, 2011, $23
The producer notes on this wine promised cranberry and strawberry, with subtle hints of clove and cinnamon. I don’t know about that, but we had nothing but good things to say. We considered this to be a very good $23 bottle, though words like “jammy” and “chocolate” are atypical for pinot noir.
These were six bottles chosen pretty much at random, but they provide a nice sampling of kosher wines on the shelves today. On balance, they were well made, approachable (meaning they were sufficiently mature to drink now) and “quaffable but not profound,” to quote the movie “Sideways.”
For sure, a wine lover would prefer any one over old-fashioned kosher wines. However, as far as they’ve come, most did not measure up to similar non-kosher bottles, in my mind. Until that day, I’ll have to settle for rooting for the home team.
The addition of wine to your favorite recipes can impart wonderful flavor, but too much or the wrong style can potentially ruin a delicious dish.
Example: Fish is usually better with the addition of white wine — except when using a pinot noir with a salmon recipe. Red wine can give meat a lot of extra flavor as well as color.
Poultry, meat and fish all are enhanced by a wine marinade, as the French and Italians know so well. It cuts down on cooking time and ensures a tender and juicy result. And because most of the alcohol disappears during cooking or baking, foods cooked with wine are not only delicious but practically non-alcoholic as well.
Begin the meal with a Turkey Terrine in Wine Aspic. The dish is simple, elegant and looks as though it took hours to prepare, although it can be assembled very quickly and then stored in the refrigerator to chill.
Seafood can go into the oven and be on the table in only 20 to 30 minutes, and fish fillets baked with dry white wine and delicate seasonings add a wonderful flavor to the dish.
Tzimmes is a great choice for the busy cook. Lean beef brisket, vegetables and dried fruit are baked in the oven with a full-body Zinfandel or Syrah wine to provide an all-in-one-pot festive meal.
End the meal with a Frozen Hazelnut Soufflé in individual ramekins and topped with a Champagne Sauce. For deeper flavors, experiment by using wines such as port, sherry, Madeira or Marsala in your dessert recipes.
TURKEY TERRINE IN WINE ASPIC
Chilled Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
3 cups hot turkey or chicken stock
2 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 1/2 pounds cooked turkey or chicken breast
3 small potatoes, peeled, boiled and cut in chunks
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and finely diced
1 tomato, peeled and finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare Chilled Tomato Sauce; refrigerate until ready to use.
Combine stock and wine in saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Dissolve gelatin in hot stock; cool.
Line a 1 1/2- to 2-quart loaf pan with plastic wrap. Sprinkle parsley over bottom. Cut turkey breast into strips about 4 inches long and 1 inch thick. Arrange in alternating layers the turkey strips, potato chunks, eggs, tomato, and salt and pepper to taste, until pan is filled.
Pour in gelatin mixture, completely covering ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firmly set, about 6 hours. Invert loaf carefully onto platter and garnish with Chilled Tomato Sauce and greens. Serve with mustard.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
CHILLED TOMATO SAUCE
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored and quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place tomatoes in food processor and process until coarsely chopped. Add garlic, basil and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill.
Makes about 2 cups.
QUICK BAKED HALIBUT WITH HERBED GARLIC SPREAD
Photo by Dan Kacvinski
Herbed Garlic Spread (recipe follows)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup water
3 to 4 pounds halibut fillets (1/2 pound each)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup finely sliced green onions
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 cup Riesling or other dry white wine
1/2 cup vegetable stock
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Prepare Herbed Garlic Spread; set aside.
In a shallow bowl, combine lemon juice and water. Rinse halibut fillets with lemon-water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In an ovenproof pan, combine green onions, parsley, wine and stock; heat to boiling. Arrange fish fillets on green onion mixture in pan; top each fillet with a small scoop or slice of Herbed Garlic Spread.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Spoon sauce over fillets and serve at once.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
HERBED GARLIC SPREAD
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 pound unsalted margarine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt to taste
In food processor or blender, drop garlic in and process until minced. Add margarine; blend. Add parsley, chervil and dill; pulse to puree. Season to taste with salt. Using a rubber spatula, transfer mixture to a bowl, then shape into a log or a cube; wrap with plastic wrap. Chill or freeze until ready to use, then let stand until slightly softened.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
TZIMMES WITH RED WINE
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 pounds beef brisket, trimmed
5 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
2 whole heads garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled
1 cup dried pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Heat oil in a skillet; sauté onions and minced garlic until soft. Transfer to a large roasting pan. Add wine, tomato paste and brown sugar; mix well. Place brisket in pan, fat-side up. Surround with carrots, parsnips and whole, unpeeled garlic cloves.
Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 F, cover, and bake 2 to 3 hours longer or until meat is tender. Add prunes and apricots; bake 30 minutes longer.
To serve, slice brisket against the grain, transfer to a platter, surround with vegetables and fruit, and spoon sauce over all.
Makes about 12 servings.
FROZEN HAZELNUT SOUFFLÉS WITH CHAMPAGNE SAUCE
Champagne Sauce (recipe follows)
4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fruit-flavored liqueur or vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 cup finely ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup whole hazelnuts for garnish
Prepare Champagne Sauce; refrigerate.
In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar and liqueur until thick and lemon-colored.
In another bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form; fold the whipped cream and ground hazelnuts into egg yolk mixture. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; gently fold beaten egg whites into the whipped cream/egg yolk mixture.
Lightly oil six (6-ounce) ramekins. Tear off six sheets of foil. Fold each sheet in half lengthwise; wrap one around each ramekin so foil reaches 2 inches above top rim; tie foil in place with string.
Divide soufflé mixture into six equal portions, spooning into the ramekins to reach top of foil. Cover with plastic wrap; freeze for 6 hours.
Remove string and foil. Serve in ramekins, topped with whole hazelnuts, and Champagne Sauce on the side.
NOTE: If desired, souffle may be removed from ramekins and served on dessert plates. Dip bottom of each ramekin in hot water for 2 to 3 seconds; loosen by running sharp knife around inside. Invert onto chilled dessert plates.
Makes 6 servings.
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Champagne
In top of a double boiler, over simmering water, combine egg yolks and sugar; beat with whisk until thick and lemon-colored. Add Champagne and continue beating until mixture has thickened.
Makes about 2 cups.
Not sure which wine to pick? In Southern California, there are several wine-judging events throughout the year. Competitors come from all over the world, and qualified judges are composed of wine journalists, winemakers, restaurateurs and winery owners. Wines are given scores and awarded medals based on color, aroma and taste.
One of the largest such events is the Los Angeles International Wine Competition in Pomona. This year, there were more than 3,000 wines entered from almost 950 wineries, and during the Los Angeles County Fair, which this year takes place Aug. 29-Sept. 28, many of the gold-medal wines will be available to taste.
For many baby boomers, retirement is just around the corner. Why not celebrate their hard work and this golden milestone with a retirement gift? Whether they plan to spend the next phase of life jet-setting or pursuing more domestic interests, they deserve something special to mark the occasion.
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It’s rare that an Orthodox rabbi chooses to omit an important Jewish ritual in his holiday celebrations.
But in the spring of 2000, Rabbi Yosef Lipsker cleared his living room of furniture, set up three large dining tables and invited dozens of people to a special seder that included all the standard Passover observances — except for one.
“When it comes to seders, everybody thinks of the four cups of wine drunk during the service,” said Lipsker, a consultant at the Caron Treatment Center for Substance Abuse and Chemical Addiction in Reading, Pa. “But we said, ‘Listen, we’re going to have you at the seder, but you’re going to have four cups of grape juice instead.’ ”
Lipsker’s guests all were recovering alcoholics and drug addicts and their families, and his seder was devoid of wine. Lipsker is not the only rabbi organizing sober seders — a dry version of the standard Passover evening ritual. In the late 1990s, several Chabad rabbis across the country, unbeknownst to one another, were organizing sober seders geared toward Jewish recovering alcoholics.
In a little more than a decade, the practice has spread far and wide. This year, sober seders will be held in Miami, Montreal, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and London. Hundreds of recovering addicts are expected to attend, raising a glass of grape juice in celebration not only of the liberation of the Jewish people from bondage in ancient Egypt, but also of their own sobriety.
Participants in sober seders say the absence of wine not only doesn’t detract from their enjoyment of the event, but can even enhance it. They connect the struggles of recovering from addiction to Passover’s theme of breaking free from servitude.
“It was great,” said Ricky, a 56-year-old recovering addict from Montreal, referring to his first sober seder. “I sat at a table with the rabbi’s wife, kids and other addicts in recovery, and I felt great, like I had a real a sense of belonging.”
Ricky credits Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger, who with his wife runs a Chabad addiction clinic in Montreal, with saving his life. He points to the 2008 seder as a life-altering event and continues to attend sober seders each year.
“Before and after the seder we sit around and talk,” he said. “Many of us know each others’ stories by now. For the newcomer coming to the sober seder, there’s a belonging. It’s a celebration rather than a regular AA meeting.”
The sacramental consumption of wine is commonplace in Judaism, used to mark the beginning of nearly every major holiday and the weekly Sabbath dinner. On seder night, tradition calls for the drinking of four glasses as a sign of liberation. Wine also figures in other seder-night rituals: Many Jews have the tradition of removing drops of wine from their cup for each of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians, and a cup of wine traditionally is set aside for Elijah.
Naturally, the ubiquity of drink poses problems for alcoholics and addicts of other substances.
“Jewish law says everyone has to drink wine during the seder,” said Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, who runs the Jewish Recovery Center in Detroit. “But for an alcoholic, it’s a danger of death.”
Pinson cited “pikuach nefesh,” the Jewish principle that saving a life takes precedence over other religious strictures, in skipping the wine drinking in Jewish rituals. He noted that Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a prominent psychiatrist specializing in addiction, sanctions abstinence for Jewish addicts as a life-saving measure.
Pinson also hosts a sober seder.
“We ask people who attend the seder, ‘What is your personal story of freedom? How did you break free from the shackles of addiction?’” Pinson said. “Obviously, we read the haggadah. But we also talk about where we are in life. It’s fresh on their minds. They feel the wounds.”
For Greg, 24, from New York, seders used to be an opportunity to binge. “Every Pesach, by the third ‘Chad Gadyah’ we were singing it backwards,” he said.
The son of a Charedi Orthodox rabbi, Greg’s family moved around a lot when he was growing up. The first time he got drunk was on Purim at age 10. It was a sign of things to come. By the time Greg met Lipsker in his early 20s, he had become addicted to painkillers and cocaine. With the rabbi’s help, Greg said he managed to overcome his demons.
“For the first time in 23 years, I could be at a seder, feel real liberation and not be finished by the end of it,” he said of his first sober seder with Lipsker.
Greg’s life is now back on track. He has a job working in finance in Manhattan and says he has found value in his Jewish identity. On weekends, he often drives out to see Lipsker, who lives a two-hour drive away. He said Lipsker is saving him a seat at this year’s seder.
How can we have Passover without wine? This is a question that is asked of me each year as Passover approaches. I always answer that the blessing is over the fruit of the vine and grape juice is perfectly acceptable. I then ask a different set of questions.
Passover is the celebration of our leaving Egypt. It is not a historical event. Yet too many of us consider the Passover seder as a recollection of an historical event. We need to go back to the intent and direction of our haggadah to see ourselves as if we, too, were brought out of Egypt. We have to ask ourselves, “What is the Egypt/Narrow Place I have to leave this year?” All of us have these, be they substances like drugs and alcohol, behaviors like eating disorders, compulsive gambling, etc. We also get stuck in the narrow places of despair, hopelessness, why bother, etc. And we can get stuck in the narrow places of comparing and competing with others, basing our self-worth on our net worth and/or seeking to feel good from outside validation, like lists, who we hang with, etc.
These are the Egypts that wine could come to blur for us during Passover. I would suggest that everyone abstain from wine and drink grape juice instead this year. I am asking you all to make this an Alcohol-Free Seder so that every person will:
• Look inside themselves and see the narrow places that are keeping them stuck in old thoughts and behaviors.
• Tell the story of their enslavements to others at the seder, and ask for help in getting out and staying out of these narrow places.
• Offer suggestions to others to help them out of their narrow places.
• Write down on a piece of paper what the narrow place is, and make these your korban Pesach, your Pesach sacrifice, and burn them all together so that you release your need to run back to Egypt.
• Be present and see how we can work together to get out our comfortable slaveries.
• Make a commitment to be of service to others who are still enslaved and look for the similarities in others.
In doing this, we will make the seder relevant and we will build stronger relationships through transparency and authenticity.
It will allow all of us to break our addiction to perfection. We Jews have been telling our story for thousands of years; this year let us make it our story so next year we will be free.
Rabbi Mark Borovitz is the senior rabbi and spiritual leader of the Beit T’Shuvah recovery program and Congregation Beit T’Shuvah.
Producing wine atop a tranquil mountain in a remote area of northern California is quite a way to make a living. For Benyamin Cantz, whose one-man operation in the hills of Santa Cruz produces kosher wine from organic grapes, it's also a calling.
“This is my livelihood but I don’t quite run it like a full-fledged business,” Cantz told JTA in an interview on his vineyard, Four Gates Winery. “It could definitely be run more efficiently, but I don’t see the process like that. I just love making wine and the holy concept behind it, and I just want to share it with others.”
Four Gates is one of the smallest kosher wineries in the country, producing only 400 cases a year. It's also one of the only ones in the world that grows its own grapes organically.
The vineyard is located deep in the folds of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Just getting up Cantz’s driveway is like an amusement park ride, with a newly paved road meandering up and around a labyrinth of thick foliage. The journey ends at a quaint sign greeting visitors in Hebrew. Beyond, sprawling green pastures give to way to breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Cantz, 65, arrived at this mountaintop 42 years ago for a summer job doing handywork and never left. He had studied calligraphy in college, never intending to become a winemaker. But after becoming religiously observant with the help of a Chabad rabbi he met in town, Cantz says he came to understand the spiritual transformation grapes undergo on their way from the vine to the Shabbat table, and he felt a strong desire to become involved in the process.
“In a non-irrigated vineyard, the water literally comes down from the heaven as rain, and that rain goes through a whole spiritual journey just to give us our wine,” Cantz says. “From the sky, down to the earth, into the grapes, then crushed and bottled for our Friday night tables, it just reminded me of the whole enterprise of living. And I liked the idea of a physical voyage that manifests to find something physical to elevate God through. It’s hard to keep this image in my head every day, but it’s what keeps me going and its why I do the entire process myself.”
In 1991, Cantz planted four acres of vineyards, despite having no formal training. “There was no YouTube to figure these things out,” he said. It took Cantz many seasons to figure out the right way to plant and get his wine to taste just right — not to mention backbreaking labor and help from nearby vintners..
Cantz doubles as vineyard manager and winemaker, tending to his vines on four acres of a 60-acre parcel of land that once was managed by Mary Holmes, an art history professor at the nearby University of California, Santa Cruz. Cantz moved to the mountaintop to help Holmes tend the parcel and eventually took over her 50-year lease. He shares the land, which has a horse stable and is filled with 150-year-old redwood trees, with Holmes' son, who lives in Berkeley but drops by occasionally. Cantz never married.
Maintaining a vineyard is strenuous work, especially for someone working alone who doesn't use pesticides and must tend his vines on a slope where tractor use is impossible. In the spring and summer, Cantz spends his days planting, sowing, pruning and watering. In the fall and winter, he lives in isolation in a slightly dilapidated yet charming shack made of plywood and cinderblock that he built himself. There he crushes, presses, ferments, barrels, bottles, corks and labels his wine. While Cantz’s crop is certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers, his wine doesn't qualify as organic because Cantz uses sulfur dioxide to prevent further aging — a practice European wineries consider organic but Americans do not.
These days Cantz is growing merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet grapes. In a good year, he produces 5 to 8 tons, from which he extracts about 1,000 gallons of wine. The product is sold exclusively through his website, fourgateswine.com. Cantz handwrites invoices and treks down the mountain to the post office himself to ship bottles.
Like every agricultural business, there are good seasons and bad, and the past few were horrendous. Last summer, an excruciating heat wave struck California, killing half his crop. The season before, late summer rains caused a fungus which rotted his grapes. But Santa Cruz has been showered with abundant rains this winter, and Cantz is optimistic that this next crop will produce his best wine yet.
“Honestly, it’s really not that hard to make wine,” he says. “But making good wine means that you need to have all your ducks in a row. And the secret to the best wines is the perfect amount of fermentation.”
Cantz will release new lines of pinot noir, petit verdot, syrah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and merlot in the next few weeks, ahead of Passover. He also saves a few bottles of his bestsellers to re-release the following year. This season, he's offering cabernet and cabernet franc from earlier vintages. His wines generally range from $20 to $50 per bottle; his most expensive bottle, the cabernet franc, sells for $60.
Because mountain-grown grapes tend to be sharper in flavor than valley-grown ones, Four Gates wine has a bit of a kick to it. But consumers don't seem to mind. Cantz's wines have sold out every season, even though Cantz doesn’t do any advertising. He relies entirely on word of mouth.
Every now and then, Cantz says, he will get an email from a client begging to take over the winery when he retires. But Cantz has a lease on the land until he’s 92, and he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
“I feel so lucky that God has blessed me with the opportunity to do something that I love,” Cantz says. “Wine has a whole scientific aesthetic to it, and includes so many elements of life I get to watch. It’s vigorous, but it’s all worth it.”
This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.
During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.
Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.
The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos, “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.
“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”
Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.
“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.
Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.
On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.
Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.
Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.
Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.
In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.
SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.
“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.
The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.
More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”
As Israeli wines win medal after medal in international competitions, their entry into the mainstream fine wine market is hardly news anymore.
And yet, says Gary Landsman, director of marketing for the importer Royal Wine Corp., Israeli wines are lately reaching new benchmarks.
“We’re seeing stylistic changes by winemakers in Israel,” said Landsman, who worked in Israeli wineries during the harvest seasons from 2006 to 2008. He’s not referring to the big switch from sweet Kiddush wine to sophisticated products that is already well entrenched, but something much more subtle.
“As recently as five years ago, some Israeli winemakers still preferred bombastic, robust, masculine styles, where they’re getting rich fruit extracts and using oak barrels to their fullest. Now we are starting to see winemakers temper their use of oak barrels and pare back a little on extraction so the wines are a bit more elegant.”
Another significant change has to do with the age of the vines. Although wine making existed in the region thousands of years ago, the modern enterprise started from scratch after the founding of the state and in some ways is just now coming into its own.
“The [wine growing] grapevines in Israel are about 30 years old, and by worldwide standards that is young,” Landsman explained. “When wine is made from immature vineyards, that comes through in the taste — some of the younger vineyards have off-putting herbaceous flavors. Only now are some of the first Israeli winemakers, like Carmel, able to offer ‘old vine’ wines.”
The term “old vine,” he added, is sometimes dismissed as a marketing gimmick, but the difference is real.
“With older vines, often you don’t have to water them because the roots have dug deep enough that they can find the water they need to survive. Though Israel pioneered drip irrigation, for grapes they prefer ‘dry farming,’ which implies not watering them. Most areas that are putting out better fruit get rain and sometimes snow in winter, so they get enough natural water during the winter months to hold them through the dry season. When you don’t irrigate, you encourage the vines to dig down deep, and digging deeper gives you better flavors. When vineyards suck in too much water, the grapes plump up and get watered down.”
Carmel’s Appellation label, for example, can be found on old vine wines such as its Shomron Carignan 2004, made from Carignan grapes (with a little added Petit Verdot) growing in the winery’s nearly 35-year-old vineyards in Zichron Ya’acov. Carmel has a leg up on most other Israeli wineries in terms of age. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux, France.
Wine critic Daniel Rogov gave Binyamina Winery’s Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 a score of 94 out of 100, and wrote: “A limited edition, showing dark, almost impenetrable garnet with just a hint of royal purple at the rim. Full-bodied, with generous but remarkably round tannins and gentle notes of spicy wood. On the nose red fruits, vanilla and a hint of cinnamon. Opens in the glass to reveal traditional Cabernet blackcurrant and blackberry fruits, those complemented by notes of bittersweet chocolate and freshly cured tobacco. … Elegance on the grand scale.”
Alongside the maturing of the vineyards, he continued, Israel’s winemakers have learned which grape varieties work best.
“The wine industry in Israel started with French varietals, such as Merlot and Chardonnay, but now we’re discovering that Israel’s soil may not be best for those,” Landsman said. “There’s a lot of experimentation now with varietals suited to the Eastern Mediterranean climate of Israel, such as Grenache and Petite Sirah. This is leading to better and more distinctively Israeli wines.”
All these developments represent a rich opportunity to introduce the general wine-buying consumer to Israeli wines if they haven’t already been convinced to try them.
To that end, Royal recently started the Israeli Wine Producers Association (IWPA), an initiative to help Israeli wines gain greater acceptance. “You’re finding more and more people getting over the impression that Israeli wine equals kosher equals Kiddush-sweet equals ‘why bother.’ We’re working diligently to break that stigma,” Landsman said.
The IWPA’s ads promote the message that buying Israeli wine is no different than buying from other nontraditional wine countries like Chile and Argentina, and that kosher certification isn’t an indication of inferiority, as evidenced by the kosher symbol on iconic products such as Snapple and Coke.
Not that all Israeli wines are kosher — a designation that has less to do with the grapes than with the manner in which they are handled. In order to have kosher certification, the product can be handled from field to bottle only by Sabbath-observant Jews. This is another evolving area, Landsman said. Many of Israel’s dozens of boutique wineries are starting to go kosher to increase their appeal to the all-important overseas Jewish consumer.
The IWPA, however, wants to break out of the parochial mindset.
“My goal is to inform the wine drinkers of the United States that Israel is on the map for wine,” said Joshua Greenstein, vice president of sales and marketing for the IWPA. The tagline he likes to use is “Ancient land, modern wine.”
“Retail shelves are cluttered with so many different labels. What helps is a great story, and Israel is nothing but great stories,” said Greenstein, who will soon be meeting with many Israeli winemakers to formulate a game plan of wine-education events in North America.
Greenstein, formerly with large American wineries such as Gallo, understands something about the general market. “In the wine world, people are looking for the next new thing. They want to learn about wine and the stories behind the wineries and the grapes they use.”
The organization is hoping to urge retailers to categorize Israeli wines by varietal, along with similar nonkosher wines, rather than putting them in dedicated sections that few non-Jewish shoppers seek out.
“They need to put all the Chardonnays together,” Landsman said. “More Israeli wines are in retail stores today, but mostly in the back, in the kosher section. We want to continue pushing them into the mainstream because they deserve the attention. Why limit the Israeli wines?”
Jewish wine enthusiasts in Pico-Robertson now have a specialty shop of their own where they can taste, talk about and buy kosher wines from all over the world. The Cask, which opened its doors in April, plans to offer more than 500 kosher wines and 125 scotches when fully stocked, in addition to other spirits. Although the store does not carry kosher certification, owner Michael Bernstein said he will not stock anything that is not kosher.
The nearly 2,000-square-foot store, at 8616 W. Pico Blvd., is located in the heart of the Orthodox community, a step into the trendy for a mostly traditional neighborhood. In addition to the shop, The Cask has a walk-in cellar, which houses some of its most expensive wines, and a tasting room that can also be rented out for parties and other events.
Bernstein said he wants people to start buying their kosher wine differently.
“We believe that, up until a few years ago, people’s perception of kosher wine was: ‘Manischewitz is what you’re going to get if you want to drink kosher wine,’ ” Bernstein said. “That’s not the case. There happento be some excellent [kosher] wines that have been made [in] different regions of the world.”
The Cask emphasizes the growing Israeli wine industry but also stocks labels from California, France and Spain, among others. Bernstein said he works hard to bring in wines that normally wouldn’t be available locally.
Even though The Cask opened during the tail end of the recession and in the middle of an area where kosher wines are readily available in other shops nearby — notably Glatt Mart and The Nut House — Bernstein says he is confident in his business model.
“I think that the community, the Jewish community, can really benefit from something like this,” Bernstein said, tweaking a famous movie line: “We built it, and, hopefully, they will come.”
Noah, a wine purchaser for Glatt Mart, who would give only his first name, said he thinks The Cask is fantastic for the Jewish community, and he isn’t worried about losing any customers. He believes shoppers will remain loyal to him, even while others will be loyal to The Cask. Noah said people from as far as Mexico and Canada buy from only him, because they trust his expertise.
The Cask offers a new flavor for the neighborhood. Its raised ceilings evoke a Napa wine cellar atmosphere. A computer program allows shoppers to track their purchases to remember what they’ve liked and disliked and what they might want to try in the future. The tasting room might be a fixture in upscale wineries but adds something different to this neighborhood. For now, Bernstein said, he doesn’t have competition because no other shops like his exist in the area.
“We want people to experience something special when they come into our store,” Bernstein said. “We don’t want it to be, ‘There’s the kosher wine section; help yourself.’ Instead, we try to guide people to help make purchases that we know will suit their needs.”
The wine business is relatively new to Bernstein, who also works in real estate and owns a property management company but is currently focusing on The Cask.
Bernstein’s entry into the industry comes from a long love of wine and spirits. He said he and his friends have always enjoyed sharing a good bottle of wine or a drink of scotch. But sometimes the company you keep is far more important than the wine you drink.
“I can open up a $50 bottle of wine and not enjoy it as much as a $10 bottle if I’m not with good friends or family,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein knows some kosher markets can sell wine for less and make up the difference in profit on food. But Bernstein disdains the notion that The Cask is an expensive store. His goal is to get the Reform and Conservative communities interested in drinking kosher wine outside of Shabbat and the holidays.
“I believe that the Orthodox crowd is somewhat [aware] that there are some good kosher wines in the world,” Bernstein said. “The Conservative and Reform communities need to be exposed to the concept.”
Bernstein often refers to The Cask as his “project,” even as he speaks with obvious passion. He calls his first three months a success for the business, despite being open during a relatively dry period in the Jewish community after Passover.
“I’m really excited,” Bernstein said. “It’s something different, something new. I can tell you that if somebody else opened up this business, I would be a customer. This is how I want to buy a kosher wine.”
Dive into all things Israeli this month in support of the country’s 63rd birthday. From the unique and creative beauty of Israeli fashion designers’ lines to Israel-based organizations that have made it their mission to help the less fortunate, these pieces reflect the Jewish state’s enduring and innovative spirit.
Israeli designer Yigal Azrouël embraces the breeziness of spring while honoring his trademark shabby-chic style in his line of women’s and men’s clothing and accessories. His pink Metal Taffeta Skirt ($515) accentuates a slender physique with its crinkly texture and body-hugging fit. yigal-azrouel.com
The NU Campaign believes in making people human billboards for various causes such as Jewish Heart for Africa, an organization that provides rural African villages with sustainable Israeli technologies such as solar energy panels. This T-shirt ($19), like all other NU shirts, has the “human story” printed on the inside so that the wearer always carries the message. All NU Campaign shirts are manufactured and printed in Israel. nucampaign.org
Leave it to an Israeli to twist together harsh metals and chains and somehow make the result look soft and feminine. From her studio in Israel, Nava Glazer handcrafted her Gold Plated Satin Finish Flexible Cuff ($108) starting with an urban-bohemian brass bracelet and adding 24-karat gold plating. Her consistently trendy pieces have drawn in celebrities like Sharon Stone, who has been photographed wearing Glazer’s combination bracelet/necklaces. navaglazer.erayo.com
Enjoying the lush hints of currants in the 2006 Tzora Shoresh ($37) will go beyond pleasing your palate — the Jewish National Fund has partnered with Tzora Vineyards to donate $1 of every bottle sold in the United States to helping the people of Sderot, victims of ongoing rocket attacks from nearby Gaza. israeliwinedirect.com
The sharp angles and modern aesthetic of the black fabric Kisim Babushka Bag ($142) spices up a traditional favorite with a nod to Russian bubbes. The bold look shows exactly why designer and Kisim founder Yael Rosen attracted attention when her handbags appeared in “Sex and the City.” raincollection.com
AHAVA’s Hope Blossoms bath salts ($22) provide the skin-soothing, muscle-relaxing benefits of Dead Sea salt, and the Israeli company is doing even more for the body by donating part of the proceeds of all sales of this item to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. ahava.com
For the first time, the grand prize at Italy’s leading international wine competition has been awarded to an Israeli winery.
The Golan Heights Winery, founded in 1983 in Katzrin, beat out 3,720 wines from from more than 1,000 producers in 30 countries to take home the so-called “Wine World Cup”—the Gran Vinitaly Special Award granted ahead of Italy’s annual Vinitaly wine trade fair in Verona, one of Europe’s top wine events, which opens Friday.
It was the first time that the grand prize was given to an Israeli wine-maker, although the Golan Heights Winery had already won Grand Gold Medals at Vinitaly in 2004 and 2006.
The 105-member jury included international wine experts and journalists.
The Golan Heights Winery’s chief winemaker is Victor Schoenfeld, a graduate of the University of California at Davis.
The wines are marketed under the Yarden, Gamla and Golan labels.
A Montreal synagogue was charged with circumventing the government’s liquor regulator by importing its own wines and spirits.
Prosecutors filed civil charges against 10 members of the Toldos Yakov Yosef of Skver Congregation after police seized nearly 900 liters of wines and spirits at the synagogue in December.
The Skver Chasidim established the congregation, which now has more than 300 member families, more than 30 years ago.
The Montreal Gazette reported that the synagogue itself also was charged and that similar charges against another five members of the congregation are expected to follow soon.
Potential fines for each offense range from $125 to $6,000.
Max Lieberman of Montreal’s Jewish Orthodox Community Council said the synagogue has not broken any liquor laws and that all the charges will be fought.
Lieberman cited the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which specifically allows “the importing, sending, taking or transporting, or causing to be imported, sent, taken or transported, into any province from or out of any place within or outside Canada of intoxicating liquor for sacramental … purposes.”
The federal law “clearly supersedes the Quebec law,” he told the Gazette, adding that the province specifically lays out exemptions for religious congregations.
A spokeswoman for the Quebec Alcohol Corp., the government-owned entity responsible for the trade of alcoholic beverages in Quebec, said all religious communities in Quebec must buy their liquor from the provincial regulator, from whom they receive a 17 percent discount.
“It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel shall be tested,” David Ben-Gurion said more than 50 years ago.
Israel’s first prime minister expected others to follow after he moved into Israel’s southern desert in 1954, when he was still in office. He would live there for nearly two decades, but few would move to join him.
In recent years, Israel’s government has taken up the cause and been encouraging people to leave increasingly congested cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to move to Be’er Sheva and Sde Boker. But even today the prospect holds as much appeal for most Israelis as moving to Bakersfield would for many Angelenos.
Moshe and Hilda Zohar, however, are among the Negev pioneers. The couple came to the desert more than 10 years ago with a dream — to grow wine grapes on the desert’s ancient terraces.
“What you see here is the result of one family and our decision to come here with our three kids. Everything you see here we built ourselves. We created something from nothing,” Moshe Zohar said.
What you’ll find at the Nahal Boker Vineyard Farm, located off Route 40 near Sde Boker and Ein Avdat National Park, is a vineyard on about 25 acres that’s set back against the area’s yellowish-gray loess hills. There’s also a restaurant, The Wine House, along with a wine-tasting bar, cabins for a new bed and breakfast, and horses for desert excursions. Nearby activities include jeep and hiking tours, archery, mountain biking, thermal baths and camel riding.
In recent years, the Zohars have also begun partnering with Ben-Gurion University to expand the farm’s offerings — including olives, lemons and pomegranates — all of which are grown organically. While life in the Negev isn’t easy, Moshe Zohar said, the lack of moisture and humidity has the added benefit of making the area inhospitable for most pests and diseases.
“After 10 years of growing grapevines, I realize that this location has certain added advantages,” he said. “Even in places that do organic growing, when they have a problem they end up using some kind of pesticide or some kind of organic system that’s more supportive to the environment. But I’m blessed with this gift of my location. I really haven’t had that issue and haven’t had to confront it.”
Zohar, 48, has the quintessential look and laid-back attitude of a California surfer — tanned skin, long hair and few days’ scruffiness. Born in the southern costal city of Eilat, he spent most of his 20s and 30s working at kibbutzim and moshavim, growing produce like tomatoes and melons.
When he settled in the Negev with his wife and three children in 1999, Zohar said he did so with no outside funding. Instead, the family worked hard and slowly added to the farm’s offerings each year.
“We’ve added a bed and breakfast, and the wine has come into its own,” he said. “We can breathe deeply.”
In 2003, the couple built the restaurant, which serves Italian and French fare and such entrées as beef bourguignon and coq au vin. Using the curve of two Quonset huts, the restaurant’s interior is designed to look like a split wine barrel. Wooden tables and handmade ceramic light fixtures compliment the restaurant’s wood-lined walls and ceiling, and an ornate window overlooking the desert contributes to the intimate ambiance.
In addition to its own wines — made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, which are bottled at Barkan Winery in central Israel with a label that reads “From the grapevines of the Negev” — Nahal Boker also sells locally produced olive oil, olives and cheeses.
Accommodations, which were added to the farm in 2007, include three family lodges, a cabin for couples that runs about $165 for a weekend and a tent for groups or families of up to 20 people.
Since water is scarce in the Negev, any used in the lodge or cabin bathrooms is diverted to irrigate nearby herbs and flowers.
Water scarcity continues to be the biggest issue facing the farm. The water available during the April to August growing season tends to be brackish, which isn’t good for most crops.
“One of our problems is we don’t have enough water to expand. Also, the soil tends to be salty, but that we can deal with that and the water issue,” Zohar said.
Fresh water from flash floods irrigate the vineyards in the winter, but Ben-Gurion University biotechnology professor Zeev Weisman is looking at methods to help dilute the water’s salinity, and also suggests planting crops that can thrive in brackish water, like olives and pomegranates.
Weisman said these crops will likely ripen earlier in the Negev, which will enable the Zohars to get organic pomegranates to the European market before the regular season starts, thus ensuring less competition and better income potential.
“They are the real pioneers of this area,” Weisman said. “Agriculture will move from the center, a little bit to the north and most of it to the south. This is the future. [David] Ben-Gurion said it from his dreams 50 years ago. We can see that he was much smarter than we thought in those days. This is the only remaining piece of land that can be used.”
For more information about Nahal Boker Vineyard Farm, call 011-972-52-682-2930 or visit http://www.hnbw.net.
A narrow, winding road through the verdant Judean valley leads up to the Domaine du Castel winery. Just a few kilometers away from Jerusalem and nestled atop a small peak in the residential Ramat Raziel Moshav, the vineyard overlooks a natural landscape of gentle, rolling hills. In the distance, the deep azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea line the horizon.
Yet, although today there are over 15 hectares of vineyards planted at Domaine du Castel, owner Eli Ben-Zaken originally bought this plot of land in 1971 for the view, not for growing grapes. He had no intention of ever planting a vineyard and says he didn’t even like kosher wine when he was younger because it used to, as he puts it, “burn all the way down.”
Wearing a forest-green sweater and a pair of dark sunglasses, Ben-Zaken puffs the remnants of a morning cigar and strokes his beard as he emerges from his office in the new, peach-colored building where the Castel cellar is housed. He looks like a man who takes chances, and as we walk to the edge of the Cabernet grapevines, he explains why it was a gamble to plant here.
“When I planted grapes on this land in 1988, I was the first one to do it in this area,” he says, pitching the end of his cigar among the narrow rows of vines. “No one thought the land was right for it.” Of course, it was also a gamble to plant high-density vines — three times more than other Israeli winemakers. But when the wines he produced started to attract international attention (the renowned wine critic Robert Parker recently awarded the Blanc du Castel Chardonnay a score of 91 and the Grand Vin Cabernet blend a 92) Ben-Zaken knew the risks were paying off. “It makes sense that this would be good land for wine-making. This is where the Jews made wine in Biblical times.”
The reputation for kosher wines made in Israel was traditionally poor quality and sickeningly sweet. Today, thanks in great part to small wineries like Domaine du Castel, that reputation is rapidly changing. Ben-Zaken credits the Carmel Winery with starting the shift when they produced a fantastic Cabernet in 1976, and he says that the Golan Heights and Barkan wineries are great examples of bigger Israeli winemakers producing good quality wines on a larger scale. For Ben-Zaken, winemaking is as an appropriate agricultural export for Israel, because so little water is required to grow grapes compared to oranges and other foods, but it is also an important way to connect Israel to the rest of the Western world. “Wine-making is something we share. It’s visceral, and it’s a bridge to other Western countries.”
When the Domaine du Castel winery was planted 15 years ago, there were only 12 vineyards in all of Israel and none in the Judean Hills. Today, several other wineries have been planted in the area, and more than 200 now exist in the country.
So far, however, no one else has copied Ben-Zaken’s high-density planting. “From the beginning we believed that this is the answer to high-quality wines, but so far no other wine producers here have copied us, probably because of the expense involved in buying the grapes and the narrow tractors to fit between the rows,” says Ben-Zaken. He scoffs at the label âboutique’ and explains that in France the term for wineries that produce less than 3,000 bottles a year is âgaragiste’; being a small winery in France, however, isn’t necessarily equated with being a new winery. “Many of the garagistes have been making wine for generations,” he points out.
Ben-Zaken doesn’t like to describe his wines or compare them to others, preferring to leave this to the critics, but he will say that they are Old World and have been compared to Medoc or Red Bank wines in the past. A native speaker of French who is a completely self-taught winemaker, he keeps many of the French winemaking traditions, such as aging the wine in solid oak barrels and painting the barrels with red wine. “This is Bordeaux style. You paint them with wine in order to keep the stains from showing,” he says as we walk down a long corridor where neat rows of barrels are lined up in impressive rows. The cool cellar is permeated with the smell of the rich oak, and Ben-Zaken says that they never use air conditioning. The underground cellar keeps the wines at 14 degrees Celsius in the winter and 20 degrees in the summer.
“There are good reds all over the world, so it was not unusual that our grapes yielded such a high-quality wine,” he says. What did come as a complete surprise, however, was the excellent white wine — especially in a country as hot as Israel.
“I cater to my own tastes,” he says, opening a bottle of chilled Blanc du Castel and putting out a plate of fresh, savory cheeses from local farmers. “I’m just lucky that other people like the same thing.”
The Blanc du Castel “C” Chardonnay won first prize as the best white wine served in First Class by international airlines by Business Traveler magazine in cooperation with the international edition of Wine & Spirits magazine. El Al came out ahead of 23 leading carriers, including Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa. Who would’ve thought that the best glass of wine you can enjoy in the air is on the Israeli airline?
Locally, you can find Domaine du Castel at Kosher Club, Wally’s Wine & Spirits and Robert Burns Fine Wines and Spirits.
Wine and vineyards have been part of Israel’s landscape from the beginning of biblical times, with references that include the drunken behavior of several patriarchs of Judaism, including Lot and King David. Despite this storied history, most of the wine was kosher, made in the service of religious rituals, and was not very good. That is being generous. “Insipid” is closer to the mark. (It should be noted that Israel is not responsible for the giddily sweet plonk that American Jews have been choking down for generations. That is a uniquely New World nightmare. Please note: “plonk” is not a Yiddish word, but should be.)
As a result, one would not expect to find much Israeli wine in the hallowed cellars of
When Eugene Herzog was driven from Czechoslovakia by the communist regime in 1948, he was forced to leave behind his wineries. With little money to his name and his family in tow, he moved to Brooklyn and took a job at a small kosher winery. But the types of wine they sold horrified him: sweet, syrupy Concord grape, produced locally with lots of sugar to raise the alcohol content.
As a vintner with experience in kosher and non-kosher labels, Herzog knew real wine. After all, his grandfather, Philip Herzog, had made wine for Emperor Franz-Joseph, who had made him a baron.
By 1958, Eugene Herzog had inherited the winery, calling it Royal Wines. The next few decades were an era of sweet wine, with boldly unapologetic ad campaigns such as, “Wine so sweet you can cut it with a knife” and “the sweeter the better,” solidifying — sullying — kosher wine’s reputation — until today.
No wonder why when last Passover a man ordered thousands of dollars worth of the finest wines from the new Herzog winery in Oxnard, he included a case of Créme of Concord Malaga. “Sir, why, among all these wines are you ordering this sweet stuff?” asked Joseph Herzog, the youngest of Eugene’s grandsons, who runs the Oxnard winery, gift shop and its gourmet restaurant, Tierra Sur. “This is what we always drank at our seder,” the man, a secular Jew, told him.
“But that’s because you had to drink that,” Herzog argued. “There were no other kosher wines then. Today, you can drink good wine at your Seder, kosher wine, red wine. I’m sure your father and grandfather would have done the same.”
This wine aficionado, according to Herzog, just shrugged and went ahead with his purchase.
It’s hard to fight tradition.
But that’s what the Herzog family — and the entire kosher wine industry — is trying to do: change how people perceive kosher wine.
“Kosher wine has the baggage of being thought of as sweet wine or blessed wine. People hear it’s blessed, and they don’t want to taste it. We want to change the image.”
Herzog is just one of many kosher labels around the world that hope to change the image of kosher wine. It’s a two-pronged battle: The first is to change the perception of kosher wines in the mainstream world; the second is to change the kosher wine drinker’s palate to appreciate finer wines.
Consider this: Before Passover, many supermarkets feature Herzog wines in a special display in the front of the store. “They’ll buy the wine and then come back [after Passover] and ask where is the Baron Herzog?” Joseph Herzog said. “When they’re shown to the kosher section, they won’t buy it again.”
“We’re trying to get our wines in non-kosher sections,” he said. Stores like Trader Joe’s don’t separate out kosher wines. “We’re trying to make wines where people say, ‘Wow! I never knew kosher wine is that good!’ It’s made the same, the only difference is that Orthodox and Shabbat-observant people make it.”
Which is not exactly true. While kosher wine and non-kosher wine mostly use the same ingredients — except for animal-based fining products and uncertified yeasts — and they utilize the same winemaking process, kosher wine must be made only by Sabbath-observant Jews. This is because in biblical times, wine was used in idolatry, so rabbis forbade use of any wine or grape juice that had been handled by a non-Jew.
Today, a non-Jew cannot have touched uncooked grape products for them to be kosher. How can anyone drink kosher wine then?
Most commercial kosher wine is pasteurized, or cooked (mevushal). Like a number of other high-end kosher wineries around the world, Baron Herzog Royal Wineries label, started in 1985, sells a limited amount of nonpasteurized wine — for example, its new port and pinot noir, which could not survive the cooking process — but those products have limited usage for religious Jews, for example, who might be worried about a non-Jewish housekeeper or guest touching the bottle.
For the most part, kosher wines from around the world — Australia, Spain, France, Italy and, of course, Israel — have been reviewed well by wine critics and have scored competitively against their non-kosher counterparts.
But the main consumers of kosher wines are still people who keep kosher. Do the dry, refined wines appeal to them?
Gracing many an Orthodox Shabbat table as regular as gefilte fish is the iridescent blue glass of Bartenura, a sweet, bubbly libation with a low alcoholic content, that tastes more like fizzy cotton candy than wine.
“What’s happening in the food world is happening in the wine world,” said Herzog, referring to the gourmet revolution that has influenced many kosher consumers. “There’s a new generation who are interested in drier wines,” he said, noting that there are many people becoming kosher who want the same type of wines they had when they weren’t observant.
As to others who prefer grape juice, dessert wines like muscat (very popular) and wine-cooler-like liquid — those who don’t know any better — Joseph Herzog said the company produces “stepping-stone” wines before they go for the big leagues.
“People are afraid to try cabernet. Real dry wine that dries out your whole mouth,” he said “We’re trying to get them educated into the better wines and change the meaning of kosher wine.”
If you’ve been to the supermarket lately, you’ve probably noticed that the hottest trend in the food industry is pomegranate products.
Several years before the trend got started, a family in Israel’s Upper Galilee region began working to create a tastier and healthier version of the ancient fruit, only to cross their way into yet another huge food market. Their product: the world’s first pomegranate wine fit to be sold to international wine connoisseurs.
The story began ten years ago, when father and son Gaby and Avi Nachmias, the third generation of a farming family who were founding members of Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra in the Galilee, began experimenting to create a new strain of pomegranates. Understanding the fruit’s excellent therapeutic qualities, their goal was to engineer a “super fruit” that would be richer in vitamins and antioxidants, sweeter, and deeper in its red color than most pomegranate types.
By 2003, after several years of growing their new strain successfully, the family tried making 2,000 bottles of pomegranate dessert wine from their crop. Everyone who tasted it loved it, the family says, and they built a production line the following year to produce dry and dessert wines in commercial quantities.
That batch was also well received, and the following year the family founded the Rimon Winery, named after the Hebrew word for pomegranate, and began producing en masse and for the local and international markets.
“In general, pomegranates don’t have enough natural sugar to ferment into alcohol on its own,” Leo Open, Rimon’s director of international marketing, said. “In the past, some people have added alcohol to pomegranate juice to create a form of liquor, but no one has successfully made wine. Our pomegranates are the only ones in the world that have enough sugar to do so naturally.”
Rimon’s orchards also benefit from ideal pomegranate-growing terrain, on a plain of basalt-rich soil high above sea level, just a short distance from the Lebanese border. Starting this year, the company began featuring a product line that includes a dry wine, a dessert wine, a heavier port wine with 19 percent alcoholic content, and a rose wine.
The family also produces pomegranate vinegar and a line of cosmetics made with oils extracted from the fruit. The winery’s main task for now is building sales, with a strong emphasis on overseas exports.
“Earlier this year, we started exporting to the Far East, and we are now in touch with people in the United States, Europe and even South America. Getting a product known is a slow process, and there is plenty of bureaucracy, and a long supply chain of importers and distributors to contend with,” Open says.
“We’re in the very first stages, but things are moving. We expect to be available in U.S. markets before the end of the year.”
The progress occurred despite the Israel-Hezbollah war, which saw missiles landing near the family’s orchard every day. Open says the company wasn’t too concerned that an attack could destroy its orchard.
“We were committed to getting through this and moving forward,” he says. “The situation was tough for all businesses in the North, but we continued to make contact with distributors.”
Pomegranates are one of Israel’s oldest indigenous fruit species, and were mentioned in the Bible’s praises of the land 3,500 years ago. The fruit has a strong place in Jewish tradition, and many have the custom of eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
The fruit also features prominently in ancient Greek mythology, and are commonly eaten at Greek weddings and funerals. Nowadays, the sweet and tart pomegranate has become one of the fastest growing trends in the food industry.
According to product data service Productscan, some 215 new pomegranate-flavored foods and beverages were brought to market in the first seven months of 2006, compared to just 19 for the whole of 2002. Pomegranate flavors are finding their way to everything from natural fruit juices to chewing gum and even sausages.
The rise in popularity stems partly from growing medical interest in the crimson fruit’s health benefits. Pomegranates are naturally high in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that are helpful in fighting a variety of health problems ranging from cardiovascular diseases and inflammation to certain types of cancer.
Studies have even begun suggesting that the fruit may even be helpful in alleviating menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms in women (pomegranate is the only plant known to contain estrogen) and erectile dysfunction in men. Couple that with their naturally high levels of vitamins A, B and C, calcium and iron, and it’s no wonder the fruit is being touted as a health panacea.
And, Open notes, the antioxidant content of pomegranates is three times higher than that of red grapes.
Rimon Wineries stands to grab the coattails of the surge in international wine sales. That market has been growing strongly since the early 1990s, and Israeli wines in particular have been undergoing a “revolution” in recent years.
Both local consumption and exports of Israeli-made wines are growing at more than 10 percent a year, while the rise of quality boutique wineries around the country is helping to increasing international recognition. Pomegranate wine, which is kosher for consumption by religious Jews with none of the rabbinic stringencies of grape wines, looks to fit nicely into this niche.
The process of making pomegranate wine is similar to that of most grape wines.
The winery gathers the fruit’s juices into large steel tanks to ferment for about a month, and then ages them in the same types of French oak barrels used by most wine producers before the product is bottled and sold. The only point where the pomegranates need special treatment is at the beginning of production, when a specially-designed machine opens the fruits and scoops out its edible seeds, crushing them for their juice.
“Like with all wines, the fermentation process is totally natural,” Open says.
That being said, pomegranate wines clearly belong to a different class than the typical reds and whites, and Rimon recognizes that the market has to treat it as such, Open says.
Saturday, July 15
6-10 p.m. $90 (general), $200 (VIP). Twentieth Century Fox, 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 330-1670 ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Sunday, July 16 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sun.). $20-$30. Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 595-4849.
Sunday, July 16
8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sun.). $20-$30. Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 595-4849.
Monday, July 17
Tuesday, July 18 Wednesday, July 19 Thursday, July 20 July 20-30. 7:30 p.m. $6-$9. Max Palevsky Theatre at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456
Friday, July 21
Tuesday, July 18
Wednesday, July 19
Thursday, July 20
July 20-30. 7:30 p.m. $6-$9. Max Palevsky Theatre at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456
Friday, July 21
Friday, July 21
7 Days in the Arts
Doctor in the House
On Sunday, April 9, American Jewish Congress, StandWithUs and Beth Jacob Congregation welcomed Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic analyst, international spokesman and senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, to Los Angeles. More than 150 people learned about Israel’s next course of action regarding West Bank disengagement and consolidation; the move to create defined, defensible borders; the Hamas election; and subsequent prospects for peace. Gissin stressed the urgency of making aliyah and increasing Jewish population in Israel to keep it the majority. Gissin is a fifth generation Israeli, born on Kibbutz Hasollelim in 1949.
Wine and Wishes
The historic Beverly Hills Post Office, future home of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, was the setting for a multivintage wine tasting hosted by Beaulieu Vineyard, the Peninsula Beverly Hills and Eunice and Hal David.
There to see a preview of the new architecture, guests sipped wine, schmoozed and nibbled goodies as they discussed the endless possibilities for the soon-to-be-a-reality long awaited project.
A dramatic multimedia preview of plans for the Performing Arts Center slated to break ground in 2007 was the evening’s highlight. Guests included Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb and wife, Bonnie; Bram Goldsmith, and Vicki and Murray Pepper.
Kudos for Dr. Katz
Music, laughter and everyone dressed up and determined to have a great evening, sums up the recent Junior Philharmonic 69th anniversary Concert Spectacular.
Rainy weather couldn’t deter these die-hard fans that showed up en masse to celebrate the evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that paid homage to Dr. Ernst Katz’s extraordinary accomplishments over seven decades.
In addition to the melodic strains of Mozart, John Williams and Tchaikovsky, the annual Celebrity Battle of Batons brought levity and some show business legends to the stage. A cocktail party in the founder’s circle began the festivities and Wink Martindale served as host for the evening while, Army Archerd led the Battle of the Batons.
Participants included Peter Graves, who also narrated “The Impossible Dream” with the orchestra; June Lockhart; Mark Kriski, and Linda Gray. But local KTLA morning newsman Carlos Amezcua took home the honors and received the golden baton from last year’s winner, Florence Henderson.
Amezcua won over the audience with his spirited dancing (in the style of Zero Mostel) as he led the talented musicians in the strains of “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while a stirring violin solo by Smbat Atsilatsyan had everyone enraptured.
Henderson presented a rendition of the score from “The Sound of Music,” which actually had the audience singing along. (Hard to resist that “Do Re Mi.”)
The evening really was specia,l and Katz really deserves all the kudos for his tireless work keeping this amazing group of talented musicians playing.
Time for Tikvah
Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program will be have a new leader this summer.
The one-of-a-kind Tikvah program for special needs children will now have Elana Naftalin-Kelman, a Columbia University and Bank Street College trained social worker and educator at its helm. This follows the announcement of the resignation of previous director Tara Reisbaum, who led the program for eight years.
Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program is especially designed for Jewish adolescents, ages 11 to 18, with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities. The Ezra program, Tikvah’s counterpart for young adults, offers participants a summer vocational training course at cCamp.
Throughout its 34-year history, Tikvah has sought to create an environment of inclusiveness for special needs children, adults and their families both at Camp and in the greater Jewish community through education, exposure, socialization and fun.
For more information about Camp Ramah or the Tikvah program, call (310) 476-8571.
Yiddish Spoken Here
What could be better? An evening of Yiddish poetry, a nosh, interesting guests. It was all a wonderful evening of “tom” when Pen USA, a club for writers, recently presented one of its entertaining salons organized by Helen Kaufman.
It was like channeling Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and the members of the Algonquin Roundtable as Miriam Koral delighted attendees with Yiddish poetry readings from such noteworthy poets as Fradel Shtok, Rosa Gutman and Avrum Reisen, among others.
Koral, an expert in all things Yiddish also read one of her own selections. And although we know it is always lost in translation, the essence, the tone and the wonderful reading had everyone mesmerized. Literary notables like Dr. John Menkes, author of “After the Tempest,” sat eyes closed as Koral read or played some of the pieces set to music.
Everyone’s presence seemed to say, Yiddishkayt is very much alive and well and appreciated in Los Angeles, and can we please have more?
Zachary Gold, son of Lisette Bauersachs-Gold and Mark Gold
“Are you sure we won’t scare him off?” my aunt asked when I called to formally ask whether my boyfriend could come to our crazy seder.
That question echoed through my head as I introduced him to the gaggle of cousins and family members who greeted us at the door. Most of them had read my previous column for this page, in which I deliberated whether bringing him would be a good idea. I could read their thoughts, “Wow, he actually came!” While I’m sure some others were thinking, “Brave soul.” I could see the question, “Who is he?” in the eyes of some of my younger cousins, but all I did was introduce and smile. Once the initial surge was over, we pushed our way into the living room, which had become a makeshift dining room for oodles of family members. I could sense the engineering talent that it took to transform the space, as all 42 of us — family members, friends and guests — took our seats.
I had prepped my boyfriend for what he was going to encounter. From a Hebrew 101 lesson the night before, to a quick 1-2-3 seder crash course in the car ride over. With my sister as my partner-in-crime, we introduced the flight to Japan (yeah, don’t ask), our Mr. Potato Head chant (really not sure where that one came from), our sandpaper-clapping-won’t-stop-until-everyone-does-it L’Shana Haba’a routine and a lesson about the correct pronunciation of “Dayenu.”
The night began and as we sat around with sparkly crowns on our heads, since we are supposed to feel like royalty (great addition by the way, Leora!), I kept stealing glances at my guy. He did have a slight deer-in-headlights look, especially after we had heard the “Mah Nishtana” in Hebrew, Aramaic, Russian, French, Yiddish and Klingon. OK, kidding about the last one, but it’s close enough. But the look quickly faded into a silly grin, especially once the frogs started flying.
Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were flying everywhere!
It was about that time that I realized I had forgotten to warn him about the other plagues. He was definitely surprised once the “hail” — pingpong balls — were launched. One whizzed by and landed in front of us. I looked over and was met with a smile, so with a playful glint in my eye I tossed my pingpong ball…errr… hail backward over my head and turned around just in time to see it land perfectly in my cousin’s cup. Of course I asked if in true pseudo-Purim carnival fashion I had won a goldfish for my marvelous abilities — I’m still waiting for the answer. He definitely took it in stride when handfuls of “lice” (slimy glow-in-the-dark insects) were tossed around and landed inside more than one person’s crown, and he grabbed at the chance to don a zebra mask in tribute to the disease of the livestock.
Dinner came into fruition around 11 p.m. (so early!) and we all ate, talked and enjoyed ourselves. The night was going famously, and I hoped it would last through the third and fourth cups of wine, when the kids start falling asleep, and the adults become even more boisterous — if that’s possible.
As the night continued we pounded the tables, spilled many cups of wine, and turned the floor into an indefinable mish-mash combining plastic frogs, pieces of matzah, pillows that had slipped off chairs and a young child or two who had crawled beneath the tables to snooze.
I know for a fact that my boyfriend thought we were nuts as we “ooh-ah-ahhed” our way through the second-to-last song. But he didn’t just stare at me with concern in his eyes, he didn’t look at me like I was an escapee of the Hagaddah House of Horrors, he joined in. Perhaps he was a bit shy at first, but as he looked around and saw that we were all doing it, that we were all participating in these crazy traditions, he gained an inner confidence and began to mimic our movements. He adopted our mishegoss for a night, our sounds effects for “Chad Gad Ya,” meowing, bamming and “watering” along with the rest of us.
Was he tired after his first marathon seder? You bet. Was he amazed that it was past 2 a.m. when we finished? I know I was. Was he wishing he didn’t have to wake up at 7 a.m. to go to work the next day? I have no doubt. But he did it all with an open mind and a smile on his face, which is all I could have ever wanted, or asked for.
And yes, he even called me the next day. Did we scare him off? Nope — or should I say, not yet? I wonder when I should start prepping him for cousins’ camp “beach days”…. Hmmm. I think I’ll give him some more time.
Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at Carolinecolumns@hotmail.com
Dating by Committee
7 Days in The Arts