by Fred McMillin
for April 23, 1997

A Fine Wine for Passover

Prologue: "All Hagafen wines are made according to Jewish dietary laws.. And are certified Kosher for Passover." Ernie Wier, Hagafen Winegrower and Founder

The Rest of the Story: Kosher wines are thick and sweet. Right? Well, they don't have to be. No animal products may be used...only Sabbath-observing Jews may touch the wine and the equipment it contacts...ferment only with natural yeast. None of those prohibitions need prevent production of fine, dry table wines. At least that's what Ernie Wier thought after he completed his Viticulture-Enology studies at UC-Davis. So, with two partners he launched Hagafen Cellars (hu-GAFF-un means "the vine" in Hebrew). How did this Napa Valley Kosher pioneer do? Just a few years later his DRY table wines were being poured at a White House state dinner. Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon were the first successes. So, in 1991 Pinot Noir was added.

My panel just tasted the third vintage, from the fog-cooled, Pinot-friendly part of the Napa Valley. It is a charming, fruit-laden, medium-bodied red wine...suitable for Passover and for much more. of all things, it paired very well with chocolate-chicken mole (moh-lay) on a bed of whipped of the historic Mexican dishes. at San Francisco's Cafe Marimba in the Marina District.

1994 Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
Hagafen Cellars
Napa Valley, CA

Category: Highly recommended in its price range

Postscript: A Kosher Primer: KOSHER comes from the Hebrew word for "correct." OU-P CERTIFIED indicates the wine has been certified Kosher for Passover by the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. A rabbi or similar religious authority must observe all steps from harvest to bottling to verify that all procedures have been proper, and so certify.

Mevushal processing is required if a bottle is to remain kosher if it is opened by a non-observant person. It requires heating, which in modern times is done by passing the juice over a hot plate before starting fermentation. After tasting Ernie's '94 Pinot, I think some other wineries should try a little mevushal.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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