The Story of ‘The Finest Kosher Wine in America’
This blog is cross-posted from The Joy of Kosher.
Jeff Morgan grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – before the area required a skirt or kippah. He didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, nor did not celebrate shabbat and he never kept kosher. But somehow along the way he learned to make what Robert Parker of Wine Spectator fame has said “may be the finest kosher wine in America.”
In 1992, Morgan who was working as a wine writer, was asked to write the annual Passover wine article for the Wine Spectator. When we asked him why he was chosen for the assignment, Morgan replied, “If you are going to be critical about kosher wine in a major publication, it helps to be Jewish.” It was his first experience with kosher wine. He was not impressed.
It took him several bottles of standout vintages to realize kosher wine could be made well. At a synagogue fundraiser, he found himself tasting wines with Leslie Rudd, chairman of the gourmet marketplace Dean & DeLuca and a well-known producer of high-end, non-kosher wines at Rudd Winery. Rudd asked Morgan why there weren’t more great kosher wines. Morgan replied that with the right grapes he thought he could make a great kosher wine. Rudd was intrigued and willing to help with the project, but not with his grapes, at least not yet.
Morgan sought out the Herzog family who he had gotten to know a little bit from his wine writing. They let him experiment with kosher wine making in their state of the art facility south of Santa Barbara and Covenant wines was born. The Herzons also exposed Morgan to a side of observant Judaism that he had never experienced firsthand. “As I got to know the Herzog family I saw that they understand a Judaism that I could relate to,” Morgan explained.
Inspired by the rekindling of his faith and driven to produce great California wine that just happened to be kosher, Morgan and his partner Rudd began work on Covenant wines. With the expert help of Rudd and Morgan’s knowledge from his wine writing days, it didn’t take long for Covenant to make its mark on the kosher wine world. Their first vintage, a 2003 Cabernet released in 2006, received a 93 on the 100-point scale from Robert Parker, of The Wine Spectator. “Covenant may be the finest kosher wine made in the United States,” he commented.
Later, Morgan added a second label – Cabernet, Red C, and this year Covenant released their first white wine, the 2008 Chardonnay Lavan, which has earned plaudits from critics. And, after six years of proving himself, Rudd gave Morgan permission to use his premium grapes from Rudd Winery. The result is what Morgan considers to be his finest effort yet, the 2008 Covenant Solomon (Leslie’s Hebrew name is “Shlomo”).
Great wines are complex. They change in the bottle and they change in the glass. With each taste you discover something new; something you didn’t notice, even though it was there all the time. Covenant means something more to Morgan and his family now. More than a great score from Robert Parker, although that helps too. It means more to Leslie Rudd. Leslie donated the grapes and put his name on the bottle. Morgan made the wine that is inside. “The wine has served as a true covenant for us, to our culture, our roots and where we come from. That is the most important thing that has happened,” he said.