Last week, Kosher Assistant Winemaker Yanky Drew and his helper Chananya Zirkind were busy overseeing the harvesting and pressing of Chardonnay grapes sourced from North Fork, Long Island, to be used in making a sparkling wine.
I spoke with Yanky to better understand the ins and outs of kosher winemaking and the specifics of the harvesting, pressing and racking processes in particular. Check out the video embedded above for a look at the process, and then read on for details about each step.
The Two Tenets of Kosher Winemaking
Kosher Assistant Winemaker Yanky Drew prepares to rack the kosher wine.
Yanky explained that there are two main tenets when making kosher wine:
- The wine must only be handled by an observant Jew.
- The ingredients used in making the wine (such as yeast and fining agents) must be kosher.
These two principles are the foundation of all kosher winemaking and guide how Yanky and his team operate when producing wine with City Winery.
Cleaning the Press
Yanky and Chananya spent three hours cleaning the press in preparation for the grapes. They used a tweezer-like tool to individually pick out all of the seeds and skin from a previous pressing session. The press has to be completely clean of other fruit that may not be kosher. After all of the fruit was removed, the duo powerwashed the press for good measure.
In general, the rule regarding equipment and vessels used in kosher winemaking is that if it is to be used for storage, it must be kosher, but if it is used for anything but storage (such as transportation), it just needs to be completely clean.
For example, hoses used for moving wine from one vessel to another do not need to be kosher — they must only be clean. However, a tank for aging wine must be a designated kosher vessel.
Picking the Grapes
Grapes used for kosher winemaking can be picked by anyone, and the vineyards do not have to follow any kosher procedures. The only considerations are how old the vines are and what other foods are grown in the area.
Vines must be at least three years of age, and the grapes must not be grown in the same field as other fruits or vegetables. Yanky made sure of this when he visited the vineyard, located in North Fork, Long Island.
Furthermore, if any machinery is used — such as a forklift — it must be operated by an observant Jew. In this case, Yanky manned the forklift.
Pressing the Grapes
This time around, Yanky and Chananya pressed Chardonnay grapes for a sparkling wine.
In maintaining kosher standards, only observant Jews are able to handle the product. Along with keeping kosher standards in the pressing process, though, general winemaking procedures must also be followed in order to produce a high-quality wine. For this press, the team needed to follow sparkling wine pressing protocols, which call for a light, delicate press with many cycles, whether kosher or not.
Racking the Grapes
Racking is the process of carefully moving wine from one place to another.
When a wine is pressed, the first racking occurs when the pressed juice is transported to vessels. Sometimes this happens within a winery, but in this case, it happened at an off-site facility in Long Island. In this case, the wine was racked directly into vessels pre-loaded in Yanky’s van. (Check it out in the video above; it’s quite a site!)
Yanky’s vessels for transportation were all designated kosher. He used two 60-gallon drums, one 15-gallon keg and one 5-gallon glass carboy.
“Kosher Tape” Seals the Deal
“Kosher tape” seals a power switch during a racking, so that only Yanky can turn it off.
To make sure that only observant Jews have access to the kosher wine, Yanky uses “kosher tape” — which is distributed by the Orthodox Union, the supervising agency that oversees the procedures for creating kosher wine — to seal all storage vats, taps and valves. This ensures that only he touches the wine, as a tampered seal will prove otherwise.
Yanky also uses the tape to seal off power switches during racking when a pump is necessary. Only he can turn off the power to the pump.
Kosher winemaking may seem like a mystery for those not well-versed in kashrus, the set of Jewish dietary laws. So, let us know in the comments if you have questions about kosher wines.