I really love Catavino – it’s such an informative and innovative source of information on Spanish & Portuguese wines. The food of the region is key, but it’s just as vital to know about the great wines available too. This is the place to find out!
Jose Pizzaro http://www.josepizarro.com

Kosher Wine in Spain: The Spirituality of Wine in Montsant

kosher1In the past 4+ years living in Spain, I’ve seen my fair share of Spanish and Portuguese wineries. From old, rancid smelling and spiderweb infested bodegas making drop dead gorgeous wines to sleek and modern wineries who couldn’t make a decent bottle of wine if their life depended on it, my experiences have been vast and memorable. But never in my life have I ever experienced a time when I walked into a winery making Kosher wine and was told, in a manner of speaking, “I’m sorry, but you can’t actually see the wine, both because you are impure as a non Sabbath-observant Jew and because you’re a woman.”

Gives you a moment of pause doesn’t it? My following thought was, “Am I so powerful that I can actually make an entire vat of wine turn into vinegar just by looking at it?! How many people, or things, have I made impure in my life? If only I had known the breadth of my powers earlier!” Sarcasm aside, the fact that I cannot look at the wine, touch the wine, or get near the wine as a woman or a non Sabbath-observant male Jew, is astounding, simply because it goes beyond logic for me. However, I tend to believe that religion and logic are mutually exclusive; and therefore, cannot judge the situation in this light, but I can be open to learning how people’s beliefs influence their actions. Enter stage left: Kosher wine in Spain!

Last week, while visiting the Capçanes winery in Montsant, we visited the very first winery in Spain to produce a Kosher wine in the 20th century. Mind you, Kosher wine has been in existence since 636 AD in Israel, and may have been in Spain prior to Capçanes innovative spirit. The history of Judaism in Spain dates back to Roman times, while some research even suggests that they may have inhabited the country earlier than the 3rd century. And what you may not know is that Spanish Jews were one of the largest Jewish communities worldwide, living peacefully under both Muslim and Christian rule until that fateful year 1492 when Isabel and Ferdinand expelled them during the inquisition. Currently, there are approximately 40,000 Jews living in Spain, and of that very healthy percentage, there is clearly a strong contingent of wine aficionados. (Photo from ICEX)

Capçanes dates back to the 19th century and was one of the many victims of phylloxera in Spain. Wiped out and under resourced, it wasn’t until 1933 when 5 families joined forces to create the cooperative of Capçanes. Over the years, they grew at a steady pace, but it wasn’t until 1995 when a Jewish family from Barcelona requested that they make the first Kosher wine in Spain that times truly changed for Capçanes. As taken from their website, “This demanded the installation of new equipment allowing the winemakers to identify, isolate and vinify under controlled “Lo Mebushal” conditions, small parcels of quality fruit.” Consequently, the Peraj Ha’abib (Flor de Primavera or Spring Flower) was the wine that placed Capçanes on the map worldwide.

What is Kosher Wine?

To answer this question I consulted a book given us by Richard Shaffer (Catavino’s Israeli wine guru) called, “Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2007” by Daniel Rogov. Rogov is considered Israel’s pre-eminent wine critic and was kind enough to provide us with the 7 requirements that must be followed in order to produce a Kosher wine. As taken from his book:

  • According to the practice known as orla, the grapes of new vines cannot be used for winemaking until the fourth year of planting.
  • No other fruits or vegetables may be grown in between the rows of the vines (kalai hakerem)
  • After the first harvest, the field must lie fallow every seventh year. Each of these sabbatical years is known as shnat shmita.
  • From the onset of the harvest, only kosher tools and storage facilities may be used in the winemaking process, and all of the winemaking equipment must be cleaned [sometimes up to 7 times with hot water] to be certain that no foreign objects remain in the equipment or vats.
  • From the moment the grapes reach the winery, only Sabbath observant [male] Jews are allowed to come in contact with the wine. [To be clear, Jewish women are allowed at Capcanes to harvest the grapes, but neither the winemaker at Capcanes nor any other non Sabbath observant male my look at, touch or get near the wine after it has entered the winery]
  • All of the materials (e.g. yeasts) used in the production and clarification of the wines must be certified as kosher.
  • A symbolic amount of wine, representing the tithe (truma vama’aser) once paid to the Temple in Jerusalem must be poured away from the tanks or barrels in which the wine is being made. [I don't now in Capcanes case, but is also given away to charity by some wineries producing Kosher wines]

As explained by Inka Jechova, our trusty winery guide, on strictly a winemaking level, a Kosher wine proves to be a challenge to any winemaker. The winemaker may not have any contact with his wine other than through the Rabbi. Which means, that if the winemaker at Capçanes wants to check on his wine, he must ask the Rabbi to come in from Barcelona and take out a sample for him to both see and taste.

peraj_ha'abibOn a very personal, I found the process fascinating and had wished the Rabbi was there so that I could ask him a few questions. I wanted to understand every detail of the winemaking process from start to finish. Does the winemaker give him a list of instructions? How many Sabbath-observant Jews decide to become full fledged winemakers? Is language an issue both on a very practical level, but also on a technical level?

Currently, there are Kosher wines being made in DO Penedés (cava), Rioja, Priorat, Yecla, Montsant, Tarragona and Ribera del Duero. If you’re interested in getting more information on Kosher wine, you can head over to the Kosher Wine Society, or read several tasting notes on Spanish Kosher wines at Verema and El Gran Catador.

As to the 2006 Peraj Ha’abib (not 2005 as indicated on the adjacent photo), it is made with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Garnatxa Negra and 30% Samsó and aged for 12 months in new and one year old, mainly (honestly not sure what “mainly” means, because I didn’t think you could use a barrel that wasn’t Kosher, but that is what I was told) Kosher French oak barrels. Overall, we both enjoyed this wine immensely, but it is a monster wine that needs to develop. The wine is incredibly dark in color with a fabulous black cherry, chocolate and floral nose. In the mouth, the Peraj Ha’abib showed medium fine tannins, fresh acidity and a round mouthfeel, ebbing to a long, lush dark spice and red fruit finish. Definitely a fun wine, and worthy accolades, but as mentioned, lay this bottle for awhile before popping the cork.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us your experience with Kosher wines. Have you encountered a difference between Kosher and non-Kosher wine? Do you like Kosher wines? And just out of my own personal curiosity, do you think it is humanly possible to make a wine impure by looking at it?

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

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  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    I recently reviewed a Spanish kosher wine, the 2004 Makor de Elvi from the Utiel-Requena D.O. The wine was produced by Elvi Wines, a family-owned company that only produces Kosher wines from several different D.O.’s. I did not know it was Kosher when I bought it. It was an excellent wine, and there was nothing in the taste which would make you realize it was Kosher.

    http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/2009/06/2004-makor-de-elvi.html

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      Great article Richard, especially because I didn’t know that the grape Bobal used the 2004 Makor de Elvi Kosher wine you tried from Valencia means “bull’s head” from the Latin word “bovale”. Great piece of trivia. Thanks!

  • Bill

    Gabriella,

    Impure in the eyes of “man” or “god”? You are opening up a very controversial topic here. Leave it to the Opai to stir things up.

    As you stated, it is not logical to assume that simply looking at a wine will make it impure. You also stated that logic and religion are mutually exclusive. However, generally speaking, if you buy into the basic premise of a religion, which is that a god exists, then there is logic in the dogma that follows. Therefore, I can completely understand why the Kosher laws for winemaking are as they are. The point being, that if you have faith, logic and religion are not mutually exclusive.

    I’m going to stop there, before I offend anyone.

    By the way, Happy Independence Day!!

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      It is of no surprise to me that you come back with such an elegant rebuttal. Point very respectfully taken! However, one can’t fault me for stirring the pot, as the dogma calls for some level of scrutiny. Religious debate aside, when it comes to winemaking, they’re clearly doing something right in their craftsmanship of the Peraj Ha’abib – a really fun wine.

      Happy Independence Day to you too Bill, and please eat several ears of sweet corn for me. Over the years, I only have a vague recollection of their sweet, juicy kernels loaded with butter and salt. Okay, maybe it’s not so vague. Yumm!

  • http://www.winesofvalencia.com John Maher

    Fascinating, Gabriella. Further to your comment that Kosher wine “may have been in Spain prior to Capçanes”, you may be interested to know that Murviedro (now reverted to its Roman name of Sagunto, and also the source of the the monastrell grape being known as mourvèdre in France and internationally) just over 20 km. north of Valencia, had the most important Jewish community in the kingdom of Aragon after the pogroms of Valencia in 1391. Wine-making was a significant activity for this community, selling locally and abroad. Mourviedro kosher wine was drunk by the Jews of Sardinia and the Maghreb. The royal sales tax on kosher wine referred to it as “vi juhenesch”. For more information see Mark D. Meyerson’s chapter “The economic life of the Jews of Murviedro in the Fifteenth Century” in Bernard Dov Cooperman, “In Iberia and beyond” partly viewable in Google Books.

  • http://www.StrumErika.com Erika

    Hi Gabriella,

    My experience with kosher wine has grown immensely in the past few years and I’ve found that for me, some laws are logical and others are borderline offensive. As a woman, I can understand how you feel. Wine has a tremendous amount of significance for the Jewish people and extensive roots in religious ritual. There is a lot that needs to be preserved.

    I understand the rules about cleanliness as far as winemaking goes but the rules like what you stated above, are almost prejudiced. If I buy a non-mevushal kosher wine for a friend and they have non-Jews over for dinner along with me, they can’t open the wine in their presence for fear that it get contaminated. Though my faith has grown lately, I still have a hard time reconciling logic with these types of ideas. Some of these rules seem to do nothing more than alienate us as a people. It actually discourages observant Jews from spending time with those of other religions. Anyway, before I rant any further, I think it’s up to each individual to decide what’s logical in their mind and evolve their religion (or lack of) around those ideas. Unfortunately, a lot of people simply take rules at face value, rather than questioning them as we all should.

    On a lighter note, the Peraj Ha’abib really is delicious and I’m so glad you were able to find such a fine example of kosher wine! Kosher wines have been making leaps and strides in terms of quality. It’s exciting since, as I said, wine is integral to Judaism. We might as well have something good to drink!

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  • http://www.israeli-wine.org Avi Hein

    I live in Israel and am obsessed with Israeli wine and so have knowledge of kosher wine (although, of course, as my friend Richard Shaffer notes and sells – not all wines from Israel are certified kosher). It’s not true that you can’t look at the wine and being a woman has nothing to do with it. Only Sabbath-observant Jews can TOUCH the wine from harvest to bottling, regardless of gender. But looking at it is another matter and entirely “permissible.” By the way, this also means that non-Sabbath observant Jews can’t touch the wine and this is handled in many of Israel’s wineries as well as other non-kosher wineries (California’s Herzog comes to mind) by having a Sabbath-observant Jew pour the wine from the barrel into a glass and from there the non-Sabbath observant winemaker can touch it. Also, outside of Israel, only points 4-7 apply – not the agricultural issues:
    # From the onset of the harvest, only kosher tools and storage facilities may be used in the winemaking process, and all of the winemaking equipment must be cleaned [sometimes up to 7 times with hot water] to be certain that no foreign objects remain in the equipment or vats.
    # From the moment the grapes reach the winery, only Sabbath observant [male] Jews are allowed to come in contact with the wine. [To be clear, Jewish women are allowed at Capcanes to harvest the grapes, but neither the winemaker at Capcanes nor any other non Sabbath observant male my look at, touch or get near the wine after it has entered the winery]
    # All of the materials (e.g. yeasts) used in the production and clarification of the wines must be certified as kosher.

    By the way, in Mark Squires recent reviews of wines from Israel, he noted that there is no difference in taste or quality between a kosher and non-kosher wine. They are in no way inferior (some are, because no one is demanding quality wine, but that’s a market reaction, not something inherent in the kosher winemaking process (which is the same as the non-kosher wine-making process except that you can’t use blood or other meat products in the fining process and the issue of only observant Jews being able to touch the wine). By the way, as an observant Jew, when I go to kosher wineries, even I’m not allowed to touch the wine.

  • http://www.israeli-wine.org Avi Hein

    I’m also not clear what you mean about language between the rabbi and the winemakers. I presume that both the rabbi (who is simply acting as an observant Jew and someone knowledgeable in the law, not as some sort of holy figure) is Spanish and speaks Spanish.

  • Jonathan

    Gabriella,
    Thank you for your article but perhaps you misunderstood what was said to you (‘and was told in a manner of speaking, “I’m sorry, but you can’t actually see the wine, both because you are impure as a non Sabbath-observant Jew and because you’re a woman.”)because this explanation is simply not accurate. There is no point in me going into the minutae of the laws of kosher wine because Daniel Rogov has covered that. What is important to say is that any woman or non-sabbath observing Jew or indeed any non-Jewish person whatsoever can certainly look at the wine, see the wine and drink the wine (provided that in order to drink it has been taken from the barrel by a sabbath observing Jew and put in a glass for you). What you can’t do is touch the wine while it is still in the barrel. Doing this would render the wine non-kosher.
    Erika, you can certainly open a non-mevushal wine in the company of non Jews without contaminating the wine. What you cannot do is let the non Jews take the bottle and pour from it. You simply have to serve your non Jewish guests which, given that they are your guests, is basic courtesy anyway!
    All of the rules that govern the kashrut of wine (or any other food product) may seem silly, petty and anachronistic but they should not be viewed as intending insult to anyone else. Rather they are a network of interlocking reminders to observant Jews of their religion and it’s requirements.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    First off, thank you Avi and Jonathan for commenting on this post, and maybe you both can clarify something for me. If you look at these pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/obis/tags/cap%C3%A7anes/, you will see that the clear tubes have been taped. And as I understood it, they were taped because non-sabbath observant Jews cannot look at the wine, or else the wine becomes impure. If this is not the case, then why are the clear tubes taped?

    • Jonathan

      Hi Gabriella,
      I have looked at the photograph and have no idea why the tube is taped but I say once again the idea that kosher wine becomes any way non-kosher because a non-sabbath observing Jew (or non Jew) looks at it at any time what so ever is 100% not true and has no basis in Halacha (Jewish law).

      • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

        Interesting! Well thank you for clarifying the Halacha (Jewish law)Jonathan. And as I tried to express in the article, we are not experts in Kosher wine and appreciate any and all feedback.

  • http://www.israeli-wine.org Avi

    I think the tape is to keep people from OPENING and touching. It’s not to keep from looking at all. Unfortunately, you were misinformed.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Dear Jonathan and Avi,

    Having asked Capcanes to clarify the issue as to whether one can look at the wine or not, I received the following response:

    Dear Gabriella,

    Thanks for your email and for your article, which was read carefully. There are many theories, in between the Jewish too. We work at Capçanes with the Habat community of BCN, which may have different interpretation of the kosher laws.

    Here at Capçanes we are not allowed to have eye contact with the wine, that´s why the tubes are sealed. The wine has to be protected from the sun rays and the “impure eyes”.

    Sandra Aulló

  • http://www.tzahiro.com Tzahi

    A few times in the past I went to Kosher wineries in Israel and the rule for visitors was quite clear – if you touch the barrel, you’ll need to buy it (whatever it contains).
    It’s strange, it’s wired, it doesn’t make sense to us, but it doesn’t heart the wine (nor make it better…)

    FYI…
    I was in lecture about Kosher laws of wines and there is a small movement starting raise calling to change these old laws and add and some flexibility to them.

    Great article.
    Tzahi Rosenblum (AKA VinoRose)

  • http://www.israeli-wine.org Avi Hein

    I posted this inquiry on Daniel Rogov’s forum — which collaborates my view that the winery is very misinformed, look don’t touch is the rule – and this is what he had to say:

    Lawsy, lawsy……some of those people must belong to some secret cabal in which witchcraft plays a major role in religion.

    It is indeed true that once the grapes have arrived at the winery only Sabbath observant Jews can physically touch the wine or any of the tools, conduits, barrels, or spigots on the stainless steel tanks or concrete vats. On the other hand, any person, be he/she observant or not, Jewish or not (even pagan worshippers are invited) can walk through the winery and see the entire process, that on the condition of hands-off of course. There is no magic that turns a wine non-kosher because it has been seen by any man, woman, child or for that matter beast.

    As to just whom is impure – when it comes to wine women are considered no less pure or impure than men. Women are allowed to be winemakers and, if they are Sabbath observant, can touch the wine as readily as any Sabbath observant male. Nor, from the wine-making point of view does a woman’s menstrual cycle have any impact on her “purity”.

    As to the plastic wrappings on the transfer tubes, nearly all transfer tubes are black so one cannot see the wine passing through them at any rate. I suspect the yellow tape is put on entirely as a safety element, that is to say making the tubes that sometimes run on the floor or in the air more visible as people make their way through the winery.

    It may be true that seeing a slender, quite beautiful, black-haired woman in a long black dress, wearing a black high peaked hot, flying through their while perched on a broomstick with a black cat mounted on the broomstick with her may have some evil ramifications. On the other hand, if that woman and her broomstick land next to you and ask for a glass of wine, I’d certainly invite her for a fine glass or two. Might make for a most interesting conversation (or cause for a long talk with a good psychologist). Should that woman show up at your winery, don’t hesitate to invite her in for a look around and a tasting.

    Best
    Rogov

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      Again, from Sandra Aulló at Capcanes:

      We respect the opinions of the people who share their knowledge in your blog.

      We have the OU certification approved and according to them, every single tube has to be sealed. All the rest of tubes of our winery and all the wineries I have ever visited in Spain are transparent, not black.

      Even the wine inside the tank´s level tube, which is transparent and can´t be sealed, [and] is thrown away by the rabbi because it has been seen.

      This is the way it is at Capçanes. As I told you before, there are many different points of view: some years ago before we had the OU certification, the winemaker, Angel Teixidó, was allowed to take a sample of the tank or the barrel. Not any more.

      I hope this is helpful, and from the winery, we just want to say that we make our Flor de Primavera with a lot of care, love, passion, and we follow strictly the indications from the OU and our rabbi.

      Todá ravá,

      Sandra

  • http://www.ryanopaz.com Ryan

    Well I think we need to get some Rabbi’s from Capcanes to comment…since they are the ones who are adamant that the tubes be wrapped. Also the spigot does have one tube that is unwrapped, and clear, that wine is dumped and not allowed to be part of the wine within the final blend. They are very adamant about this.

    Maybe this is “a spanish jewish” thing? Either way, no matter what the rules say this is the rule at Capcanes…no touch, no look, until it’s in the bottle. The amount of special tools they have to make sure that no one sees it means that at least these rabbi’s are sure that it is important.

  • http://www.israeli-wine.org Avi Hein

    The tubes probably have to be sealed so that they are not touched. No one can touch the barrels or the vats but Sabbath-observant Jews. But if she thinks that looking at the wine makes it unkosher, she’s been misinformed. Perhaps the supervising agency is misinforming them, which would be a concern to me (because passing on false information makes kosher wine look bad and like witchcraft, as you mention yourself). But this is quite odd.

  • Ilan T

    Hi Gabriella,

    While there are indeed many kosher regulations that are up for debate, all agree that there is absolutely no rule that forbids women to come in contact with the wine any more than men. I know personally that the OU certifies wine that women participate in producing on every level from head winemaker to cellar workers.

    About seeing the wine, I also know for a fact, having worked for the OU in kosher winemaking, that the OU has no rules precluding non-Jews, or anyone for that matter, from looking at the wine. I am not sure if for whatever reason Capcances has taken extra precations, but this is far from standard operating procedure and is not because of the OU’s kosher winemaking laws.

  • Jonathan

    Gabriella and Ryan,
    The very positive side of this discussion is that as a result of this article some of us have discovered CataVino and I am certainly enjoying what I find here.
    Thanks for the interesting articles. I look forward to visiting often.
    Regards,

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      Jonathan,

      Our goal at Catavino has always been that of education and mutual exploration. We report on what we experience, and the more we can get the international community to chime in with their experiences, the more complex and well rounded the conversation. That said, you are always welcome on our site, and I hope this won’t be the last time we hear from you.

  • http://www.israeli-wine.org Avi

    Someone suggested that this is because of a unique practice of Chassidic Jews, of which Chabad is a part. This is not normative and not required normally. In fact, as a Jew, this is something that I find personally offensive. Nevertheless, this is the practice.

    Daniel Rogov comments the following, after checking with the owner of Capcanes:

    Received a second email from Jurgen Wagner of Capcanes. Indeed, the policy is that none other than Sabbath observant Jews may physically see the wine until it has been bottled.

    As I have said earlier, this policy does not reflect at all negatively on the quality of the kosher wines of Capcanes but it does reflect on whomever it is advising them to this effect. By the same logic it would seem that when opening a bottle of kosher wine one would have to request that all non-observant Jews and all non-Jews turn their backs until the wine is poured. The question then remains, once the people have turned around and seen the wine, does that thus make it non-kosher?

    With apologies to rabbis and mashgichim the world over, this has got to be one of the most truly idiotic policies I have encountered in my not all that short life.

    Best
    Rogov

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  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Having written the Orthodox Union about this issue, I have just received their response:

    Dear Gabriella, Here is the information provided to me by a senior OU Kosher rabbi: Based on its use in ancient pagan ritual and its sacramental use (Kiddush) in Jewish tradition, wine is restricted to be handled exclusively by Sabbath observant Jews.

    2)There are no gender specific restrictions.

    3)Due to the sensitive nature of wine, kosher supervisors may be overzealous in the ‘protection’ of the product in their care.

    I hope this will be helpful to you.

    Sincerely,

    Steve Steiner (from the OU)

    Thank you Steve for taking the time to answer us!

  • http://www.myKerem.com Bethany

    I have met the winemaker for Capcanes. Fantastically polite & educated man. From what I understand, he cannot touch or see the wine either. Too bad they told you that you couldn’t see the wine because you are a woman, which is a most ridiculous rule. I get all of my Capcanes wine in the U.S. from http://www.KosherWine.com, and they ship it directly to my front door.

  • Montse Cazcarra

    I could supply Kosher Wine from Ribera del Duero.
    Please, feel free to contact to me through mcazcarra@hotmail.com