Wine picks: Striking kosher wines just in time for the high holidays
Jeff Morgan said he was only 50 years late in having his Bar Mitzvah.
The ceremony is a coming of age ritual and it traditionally happens when a boy is 13.
“Better late than ever,” Morgan said with a laugh.
The co-founder of Covenant Wines and Covenant Israel is delightfully unconventional. In fact, it was Morgan's palate that led this nonobservant Jew back to his religious roots.
[pullquote: I didn't have a real Jewish upbringing, and through wine I was able to discover just what it was. Kosher wine brought my family and me back to Judaism and back to Israel. -Jeff Morgan, co-founder of Covenant Wines and Covenant Israel
With an eye to the high holidays, Morgan's story and his kosher wines are particularly timely. Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset Sunday, and the 10-day stretch ends with Yom Kippur Sept. 19. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and the 10 days that follow are a time of introspection and repentance. The holidays come to a close with Yom Kippur's ceremonial break-the-fast feast.
“I didn't have a real Jewish upbringing, and through wine I was able to discover just what it was,” Morgan said. “Kosher wine brought my family and me back to Judaism and back to Israel."
Five years ago Morgan built a 7,000 square foot winery in Berkeley, replete with a tasting room, where he makes his stateside Covenant brand. Meanwhile, in 2013 Morgan had his first harvest for his Covenant Israel brand. The flying winemaker travels to Israel six-to-eight times a year to oversee vineyard operations in the Galilee and Golan Heights.
What makes a wine kosher, Morgan explains, is that it is only touched by observant Jews. His crew members don't work on Saturdays because they're celebrating the Sabbath. They are certified to make kosher wine, after their religious practices are confirmed by their rabbis and their synagogues.
Morgan - the journalist turned vintner - has a compelling story. Back in 2002 Morgan was a Wine Spectator writer and he was at a winemaking conference in Napa Valley when an intriguing topic came up: Why aren't there more good kosher wines? Morgan was puzzled and the quandary led him on 16-year journey to craft the best kosher wine possible.
Today Morgan produces 6,500 cases in America and 2,500 in Israel. His website is bilingual with English and Hebrew, showcasing a line-up that include the Mensch and the Red Sea, among other lively labels.
Sadly, Morgan's partner, co-founder of Covenant Wines Leslie Rudd, passed away in May. But Morgan said he and his wife, Jodi, and their daughter, Zoe, are moving forward with enterprise. Zoe heads up hospitality, sales and marketing in Israel.
“Through kosher wine, I discovered the Jewish community worldwide and I discovered Israel,” Morgan said. “With Covenant Winery, I now have a deep feeling of connection to my heritage and my tribe.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or email@example.com.