Award-win­ning kosher wines from New Zealand and Ore­gon come from an un­ex­pected source

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY VIC­TO­RIA PREVER www.spencer­hill­ www.paci­fi­caw­

PHIL JONES is the largest pro­ducer of kosher wine in New Zealand and owns the only kosher win­ery in Amer­ica’s Pa­cific North West. He is not per­mit­ted to han­dle his wine as he is not Jewish. Although he had been mak­ing Pinot Noir, Chardon­nay and Sauvi­gnon Blanc at his New Zealand win­ery, Spencer Hill, since 1989, Jones only started pro­duc­ing kosher wine in 2002. The de­ci­sion was com­mer­cially led.

“In 1998, our 1996 Chardon­nay won top Chardon­nay in the world at the In­ter­na­tional Wine and Spir­its Com­pe­ti­tion in Lon­don — the top com­pe­ti­tion in the world. The whole New Zealand thing was start­ing to ex­plode,” ex­plains the tall, sil­ver-haired, bearded Amer­i­can.

How­ever, as the pop­u­lar­ity of New Zealand wines soared so the com­pe­ti­tion in­creased.

“By then, I was smart enough to know it was one thing mak­ing wine, and another thing sell­ing it,” he laughs.

Jones, whose Min­nesota-born wife, Sh­eryl is Jewish, re­mem­bered a con­ver­sa­tion with a wine maker in his na­tive Cal­i­for­nia a few years ear­lier.

“They had a con­tract wine­mak­ing fa­cil­ity pro­duc­ing wines for the Her­zog fam­ily — own­ers of (kosher wine dis­trib­u­tors) Royal Wines Corp. The wine­maker told me they were mak­ing 50,000 cases a year for them.”

Jones con­tacted Nathan Her­zog, who with no New Zealand wine maker — was keen.

Other wine­mak­ers may have been put off by the lengthy rules they would need to fol­low.

Jones, who stud­ied viti­cul­ture and wine­mak­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, and had also run a busi­ness do­ing agri­cul­tural re­search, was un­per­turbed.

“I was trained as a re­searcher; and when I did re­search in the US, I fol­lowed rules. You don’t ask why, you just do it.”

One of the hard­est tasks was to find ob­ser­vant Jews to come to the win­ery — sit­u­ated in a re­mote cor­ner of New Zealand’s South Is­land near Nel­son.

“The Her­zogs said ‘Phil, you make the wine and we’ll pro­vide the su­per­vi­sion’ and they did. They ar­ranged for a Mel­bourne rabbi to help us.”

Rabbi Men­del Sere­bryan­ski — who was then cer­ti­fy­ing Royal’s wines in Aus­tralia — came over, and with his help and plenty of in­ter­net re­search, Jones launched Goose Bay kosher wine. “We learned a lot about kosher rules in our first year. We went from pro­duc­ing 1,500 cases in the first year to now, 8,000 cases a year.”

In 2006 Sh­eryl sug­gested they needed a pres­ence in the US.

“We had orig­i­nally gone to New Zealand as a great place to bring up our chil­dren. Now we were ready to spend more time back home. We didn’t want to re­turn to Cal­i­for­nia — it was too crowded. We bought land in Port­land, near Ore­gon and in 2008 planted vine­yards.

“I had no plans to do kosher wine there, but Nathan (Her­zog) heard about my vines and asked if I would make Ore­gon Pinot Noir for him as there were no kosher vine­yards in the North West.”

Jones ini­tially re­fused, but with the fi­nan­cial crash, de­cided it pru­dent to again pair up with Royal. He built a tiny win­ery which would be ex­clu­sively kosher. Now in his mid 60s, Jones spends May to Oc­to­ber at his Paci­fica vine­yard near Ore­gon, and the rest of

the year at Spencer Hill, where Goose Bay forms 25 per cent of the wine he pro­duces.

All the Goose Bay wines are me­vushal — a process which in­volves flash pas­teuris­ing the grape juice, which then al­lows them to be served by any­one, and not just ob­ser­vant Jews, as is the case with non­me­vushal wines.

“At the start, we de­cided to make all our wine me­vushal. I thought it was how it was done, and it was also a good mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion.”

Jones is adamant it does not dam­age his wines and has checked both ver­sions of the same wines for dif­fer­ences.

“There was no ef­fect at all in the reds. For the whites, it ac­tu­ally helped re­lease aro­mat­ics, which gives more aroma and bou­quet. The process in­stantly ages the wines a year or two. We now flash pas­teurise our non-kosher Sauvi­gnon Blancs, and are aware that some non-kosher wine mak­ers also pas­teurise for these ben­e­fits.”

Ir­re­spec­tive of the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits, Jones has found kosher wine­mak­ing re­ward­ing.

“I’ve learned a lot about the Jewish cul­ture work­ing within the Jewish com­mu­nity and met a lot of lovely peo­ple. If I had to choose any sort of wine­mak­ing in the fu­ture, it would be kosher.”


Jones re­lies on ob­ser­vant Jews from Mel­bourne to help him make his wine

Jones now makes kosher wine on two con­ti­nents

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