California kosher wineries back on their feet after fires

This week my thoughts and prayers turn to California.

As I write this, 42 people have perished, more than 170 people are still reported missing, thousands more have been displaced from their homes, more than 5,700 structures have been destroyed, and more than 214,000 acres have been consumed. These are the most devastating wildfires in California history, and the fires haven’t been fully contained yet, much less extinguished. The clean-up, relief and recovery effort will be no small task either.

As most everyone who enjoys good wine the world over surely knows, California wine country has been ravaged by ongoing wildfires.

Comparatively positive reports are in from at least two of the kosher wineries that have been adversely affected. The Covenant Winery (covenantwines.com) in Berkeley, a good 70 miles from the fires, suffered only a little loss in the vineyards. As Jeff Morgan, co-owner and winemaker of Covenant, said in one account: “Compared to our colleagues to the North in Napa and Sonoma, we’re in very good shape.”

Meanwhile Ernie Weir, co-owner and winemaker at Hagafen Cellars (hagafen.com) in the Napa Valley, was also comparatively lucky; one of his neighboring wineries was decimated, another badly burned.

“Hagafen has made it through the fires with some small damage,” Weir noted in an email to friends, colleagues, and customers, “but nothing we can’t overcome!” Most importantly, Weir reports, “all our employees are safe and well”, and Hagafen’s “tasting room and main office building is still standing and currently open” for business.

However, Hagafen suffered significant damage: “Our guest house, chicken coop, and some winery equipment didn’t fare so well” and they also “lost about an acre of cabernet sauvignon vines and a lot of landscaping around the winery.”

Founded in 1979 by Weir and his wife, Irit, Hagafen wines have a reputation for consistently high quality. Their wines have been served at the White House, and a lot of their wine is sold to and consumed by non-Jews. The winery is “Napa Green Certified,” meaning it voluntarily meets the highest standards of local environmentalist compliance.

Each of Hagafen’s three wine labels, Hagafen (the primary label), Prix (their high-end/wine-club line) and Don Ernesto (their quaffable line) are available through the winery, while the primary Hagafen label wines are widely available in wine stores and kosher shops. Hagafen also offers direct-to-consumer sales via their website, as well as several fantastic wine clubs.

As Weir noted, “we are pushing through and trying to get back on our feet the best we know how — by tasting and selling some wine!” Indeed.

Those of us gaping at all this from a distance should make a point of drinking and buying more California wine, especially doing so directly from those wineries that are still open for business (the wineries enjoy better margins from direct-to-consumer sales, so splurge a little).

As I write this, I’m enjoying a glass of one of Hagafen’s older vintage cabs (I dug mine out from my cellar, but selected this vintage because it is still available from their website under “Library Wines” and they can ship to Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

Hagafen Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2006 ($95; mevushal): Upon its initial release, according to my old notes, this was a wonderful, dark garnet-colored cab (with 11 percent cabernet franc blended in) that (per my various notes) developed into a stunning wine. Now 11 years after vintage, this decidedly softer, ruby-tinted charmer is still rich, complex, and hedonistically pleasing with lovely jammy blackberry and black cherry notes, as well as softer and rounder notes of plum and blackcurrant, tantalizing mocha, and subtle espresso. The yummy finish is engagingly long and smooth. L’chaim!

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