Chianti-shire grows kosher
IT’S ONE thing for an established winery to decide to produce a brand-new wine, name it, market it and then sell it. It’s quite another for one young man with a family to decide to do exactly the same. Yet that is exactly what Eli Gauthier is doing. To be fair to the Paris-born 26-year-old, that is something of an over-simplification of the time, effort and money he has invested in his kosher Cantina Giuliano, a quality Italian red wine from Chianti. The wine is 70 per cent Sangiovese, 20 per cent Merlot and 10 per cent Ciliegiolo, a local varietal that gives aroma and softens the body of the wine. Supervision is by Rav Eliezer Wolff of Amsterdam and the Orthodox Union.
The vineyard itself — also named Cantina Giuliano — is in the sundrenched hills of Tuscany, dubbed “Chianti-shire” by tabloid newspapers owing to the influx of British people buying homes there. The wine has been given the country’s highest wine certification, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), which denotes controlled production methods and guaranteed wine quality.
“Many countries in Europe produce kosher wine but almost none of it is produced by Jews. I saw there was a gap in the market in Italy for such a product,” says Mr Gauthier.
Initially, however, he had no thought of becoming a wine producer. At university, he began to study architecture but decided it was not for him. Israel beckoned and then Nepal, before he headed for London, to study politics at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies. At this point he met his future wife, Lara, who was later to play a crucial part in the story. For a while, though, they parted.
A third year of university took Mr Gauthier back to Jerusalem, where he enrolled in yeshiva. One day he was out walking when he saw a girl who looked familiar. It was Lara who, unbeknown to him, had gone to Israel to study international relations and work as a nanny for a strictly Orthodox family. The experience had had such a profound effect on her that she was undergoing conversion.
After marrying in Israel, they returned to London to finish university, living in Stamford Hill, where Mr Gauthier took a job at Kedem, the
Supervised vines on Tuscan terrain wine company. “After university, I had a choice,” he says. “Do a master’s and be a teacher or go into wine. I chose wine.” He found a distance-learning degree and a job with the prestigious Domaine Marc Kredenweiss in Alsace, where he experienced all aspects of wine production, in the heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter. He received a rabbinical dispensation to enable him to taste wine and spit it out, as part of his education. He also made strenuous efforts to maintain his study of Torah.
Now he came up with the idea of producing a kosher Italian wine. Spending time with Lara’s parents in the village of Casciana Alta, he helped his fatherin-law tend the fields where he produced olive oil, fruit, vegetables and wine. One of the top five wine-makers in Italy took the young man under his wing and Mr Gauthier set up his production plant in the village.
The grapes for Cantina Giuliano are hand-picked and placed in small baskets, to protect them until it is time for them to be crushed and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. After fermentation comes ageing: half the wine is put into wooden barrels and the rest back into the steel vats for eight months. Then everything is brought together again, fined, filtered and bottled.
The resultant wine is light and bursting with the flavours of ripe cherries, berries and almonds. Mr Gauthier is very hands-on with his grape husbandry, keeping them healthy and so minimising the use of sulphites (which are antiseptic but are often blamed for hangovers). The versatile wine is a good accompaniment to poultry and meat and is equally at home with an hors d’oeuvre or cheese. I know this because I have tried it with both — though of course at separate times.
Mr Gauthier has ambitions beyond this first wine — he wants to make a kosher version of Brunello, one of the most expensive wines in Italy, which takes five years to mature. He also hopes to produce a white wine and a rosé to complete his collection. Cantino Giuliano goes on sale soon in UK kosher wine stores. The winery welcomes tourists for wine tastings. cantinagiuliano.com