Hajdu Winery (AKA Brobdingnagian Winery) continues to prove he has more than just a cool name
If you follow my blog at all, you will find references to Brobdignagian, Brobdingnagian, and Hajdu all over – go ahead and search! Anyway, with the number of times that I have been writing about Hajdu, and Covenant (where he is associate winemaker), I realized it was due time to talk about one of California’s best and still hidden kosher wineries.
I met Jonathan quite a few years back, but even before that I “met” him through the Weiss Brothers (AKA Shirah Winery) and Benyamin (Four Gates Winery). Hajdu is one of those consummate winemakers that has continuously, through the years, shown his mettle and amazing palate. However, before we get ahead of ourselves we need to step back and weave in the background story of Hajdu. Hajdu fell into the world of wine when he was studying archeology at University at Albany-SUNY in NY. It was there, when bored with studies of things buried deep in the ground, dating back thousands of years ago, that he found the wonderful elixir called wine in local area wine bars. This was in the late 1990s, and I find it amazing that wine bars existed in a college town so many years ago!
Well soon after school, Hajdu went to study in Yeshiva in Israel, and it was there that he met a woman, and followed her to Melbourne Australia, which turned out to be a great place to study viticulture at the Swinburne University, and to work on a few vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Things did not work out on the dating front, so Hajdu returned to New York, and one thing led to another and a friend told him about a job at Copain Custom Crush Llc in 2003. It was a great job for so many reasons, the main one being that there Hajdu honed his winemaking skills, till now he was a viticulturist, and he learned the skill of working on many small lots and crushes inside a very large wine facility, something that would come in very handy in the coming years at Covenant, but again we are getting ahead of the story.
In late 2003 Herzog was in need of more skilled hands, so Hajdu signed on – and it was at this point that one has to see the hand of God here. First of all, it was here that the Shirah/Weiss boys would eventually meet up with Hajdu, along with Jack Levin, who was part of the initial Shirah creations. This group (Levin was not yet there in 2005) was the group that created the first Shirah wine – 2005 Shirah Syrah with fruit from Alamo Creek. For the next two years they worked together at Herzog and it was that time, in my opinion, that the desire and yearn to build great wines from both Shirah and Hajdu was created.
While, Hajdu was at Herzog winery another very important coincidence occurred, it was there that Hajdu met Jeff Morgan, co-owner and winemaker of Covenant Winery. At that time, Covenant was making their 2003 through 2006 vintages in Herzog’s winery in Santa Maria, CA where the winery existed before it moved to Oxnard. It was then that Hajdu worked with Jeff on the 2003, 2004 vintages of Covenant wines in Santa Maria (where Herzog was before Oxnard) and then 2005 in Oxnard as well.
In 2006 Hajdu had a yearning to return to Israel, so he picked up and went to work in Carmel winery after talking with Sam Saroka, then the head winemaker at Carmel Winery, Saroka is now the head winemaker of Mony Winery. After a year in Israel, Hajdu returned without any real plans but in search of more than just a wine job but also a person who would eventually become his wife. However, when he first arrived in NY, he tried to line things up, but one thing did not lead to another and plans kept falling through, which was for the best in so many ways! It was in NY, late 2007 that he met his to-be wife and where he re-caught the bug and passion to create his own wines – under the Brobdingnagian label.
So, in later 2007, he flew back and forth, while dating and eventually getting engaged to his wife, to make wine in Santa Barbara CA. Having little place or money to live, he scrounged and found ways to make do for six weeks from harvest till fermentation and barreling his wines. These were the famous 2007 Grenache and Syrah that literally put Hajdu and the Brobdingnagian name on the map!
By the way, it is Hajdu’s wife whose artistic talents can be found draped all over Jonathan’s wine work (she makes the labels for his wines), and personally, the 2011 Proprietary Red wine with the turtle is one of the loveliest labels in Hajdu’s portfolio. Though they are all lovely, from the elephant riding a unicycle on the Syrah bottles, to the whale or the ostrich, they are all lovely, but the turtle steals the show for me, label wise.
So, after making the wine in 2007 and marrying in early 2008, Hajdu was still in search of a job and was talking with Morgan when it all clicked, and Hajdu was hired in 2008 to be Covenant’s assistant winemaker and its mashgiach (kosher wine supervisor) at the winery. Covenant winery moved from Oxnard in 2008, and it now needed a full-time kosher wine supervisor because the winery moved to Napa in a crush facility that was not all locked and kosher, like it was in Oxnard at Herzog Winery.
It was at this point that I really met Hajdu in person. Until this point, I knew of him through Binyamin Cantz of Four Gates Winery, a personal friend and winemaker. Binyamin is one of those very unassuming but truly connected people in the world of kosher wine. Why? I think because people like him, love his wine, and like talking with him. Binyamin accompanied me down to the 2008 IFWF International Food and Wine Festival) in Oxnard, CA, the first ever IFWF. Hajdu was pouring the Covenant wines at the Herzog section. It was great to met both Jeff Morgan and Hajdu, and the Covenant wines were lovely indeed. We met again in San Jose that year, and then after that we met when I would go up to the Covenant Winery.
As the associate winemaker at Covenant, Hajdu helped with all aspects of Covenant Winery and continued to make his own wines as well. As described here, Hajdu made a wine again in 2008 a field blend of grapes that he called Besomim with Rabbi Tenenbaum. He did that again in 2009 along with a Syrah under the Brobdingnagian (Brob for short) label. It was finally in 2010 that Hajdu returned to his Grenache roots, along with more Syrah, and his first ever Petite Verdot and Petite Sirah. In 2010 Hajdu kept the Besomim label alive and well, but the field blend vineyard was gone so he went with a blend of his three Rhone Varietals; Syrah, Petite Sirah (yeah yeah not a true Rhone varietal – but it has been adopted by the Rhone Rangers), and Grenache. This was also the year that Hajdu increased his case count for 100 or so to 300 cases. That number would grow in time, but that was already a huge jump and the wines in 2010 were truly impressive.
In 2011 Hajdu started to tinker with making custom barrels, and started to work with clients to allow them to make and define blends for custom barrels that they would buy. The 2011 vintage was tough, and if there was ever a bump in the road for his wines it may have been this year. Still, 2011 was also the first year where Hajdu made his now famous – Red Proprietary blend from Howell Mountain grapes. Red Proprietary is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot that blew the doors off of my mind when I first tasted it and continues to impress. The 2011 vintage was also the year of the new Makom label, which was released with Carignan fruit. The wine was light and fruity, not the beast that Brob conjures up, or that Carmel was making back in 2006 under their Appellation label, or the Recanati Carignan from 2009. Still, it was a lovely fruity wine and one that did Makom proud. The 2011 vintage also saw another Grenache, Syrah, and an NV Besomim, which was a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.
The 2012 vintage blew off the doors with both quality and unique varietals, and rivals the 2010 vintage, which was also incredible. First was the early release in 2012, of a new Makom wine made of Grenache Blanc, the first ever-kosher wine made of this varietal that I know of or care for. It was also the return of everything other than a pure Petite Verdot or Carignan, including Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, a new Cabernet Franc, another Howell Mountain, and a new Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir would come under the Makom label, along with the Grenache Blanc. The rest would go under either the Brob label or a new Hajdu label with vertical colored lines.
With all the labels and wines under control, Hajdu has now created a winery that while still small and boutique, commands the attention of many a kosher wine buyer. The wines are very Brobdingnagian in style, big and bold – but they are also controlled and show great finesse when needed. The wines are almost a sure bet, with a “miss” here and there, and even those would be wines most wineries would dream to have made! I think the label with the elephant riding a unicycle says it best – big and massive animal controlling the direction with finesse and acumen that is Brobdignagian wine is a sentence or an image!
As stated before, I had the chance to talk and enjoy Hajdu’s knowledge and abilities when I was invited to the 27 course dinner with Hajdu and Bernstein. Since then we have met on and off whether with friends or to see the winery. Still, it had been 6 months since I last tasted the wines and now that the white and rose 2013 and 2012 red wines were released it was time to meet and catch up on what has been happening with Hajdu winery.
When asked about the wines he makes – he and the Weiss boys have clear leanings to the Rhone Varietals. I think the two of them, along with Netofa Winery. are the kosher manifestation of the Rhone Rangers. Who else produces Grenache wines (Capcanes but that is all in terms of Rhone wines). Who else produces them all? Who else produces Grenache Blanc? Viognier, Roussane by the Wiess Brothers, Chenin Blanc by Netofa along with Syrah and Mourvedre. These are the real kosher Rhone Rangers, wineries with a passion of what grows well in their area and each with their own twist and passion to deliver kosher wine that is not just another Cab or Merlot. The good news is that the Rhone religion is catching on and that we will see more Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Marselan, and others. It is the success of Hajdu and the Weiss brothers, and the realization that Israel, California, and Spain are better suited for these grapes than the classic noble varieties – that has helped propel the adoption of these grapes in the kosher world. Clearly, with his expansion Hajdu has added some varietals that are not Rhone in nature, but the style of the wines are always the same, bold, balanced, with great acid. Though there is a new Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, I think Hajdu still feels the pull for Rhone and thank goodness for that, as there are so few willing to take the Rhone Ranger pledge!
Hajdu is always the consummate gentleman and winemaker, and his wife and family are absolutely fantastic. For the past few weeks I have been sick and really out of it, but I finally have come out of my haze and I called Hajdu asking if I could swing by and taste the new wines. I arrived in the evening and for the next few hours we spoke wine, tasted wine, and I had an absolute ball of a time. The fact that I have not gotten to this posting earlier is all on me and I am truly sorry for that. I highly recommend that you contact Jonathan Hajdu @ Hajduwines.com and order the new rose; it is really and truly unique. The wine is up there as one of the best kosher rose wines out there! It is NOT a bleed off/saignee wine; rather it is a Pinot Gris wine that blew me away. That and the next Makom Grenache Blanc are the only two 2013 wines that we tasted, with the rest being the 2012 wines. They are all wonderful, and the Grenache really needs time to express itself. The Franc is lovely and ripe; the Syrah is seriously demented and sick, with an inky structure to die for. The Petite Sirah is not ready yet, for now get the wines, leave the Syrah and Petite Sirah to the side and enjoy the rest.
My many thanks to Jonathan and his wife for letting me crash so close to Passover, and for their lovely hospitality and warmness. My wine notes follow below:
2013 Makom Grenache Blanc – Score: A-
This is the second vintage of this lovely wine, but from a different vineyard than the previous year. The nose on this lovely wine showed floral notes, green fruit, green apple, mineral, ripe fruit, peach marmalade, and creme friache. The mouth on this wine is rich and balanced, with ripe fruit, great acid, crazy mineral notes, kiwi, grapefruit, and nectarine. The finish is long and spicy with great summer fruit, lovely pith that lingers long, slate, mineral, and cloves. Lovely!
2013 Hajdu Rose, Pinot Gris – Score: A- (and a bit more)
This wine is NOT a bleed off or saignee, this is 100% Pinot Gris, it is rose from lying on the skins for a few hours. The nose on this lovely salmon colored wine is lovely and starts off with intense bubblegum and cotton candy, however, after 30 minutes the wine turns into a saline and mineral redolence with crazy floral notes. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is well structured with layers of saline, intense acid, grapefruit, cloves, and melon. The finish is long and balanced with candied orange, mineral, intensely tart fruit, candied strawberry, and more spice. This is a unique, one of a kind wine, that is serious and brooding wine – not for the faint of heart, but what a wine it is!!!
2012 Makom Pinot Noir – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir and a far more conventional wine that the rose of blanc. The grapes were sourced from a vineyard called Jenner that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, on the true and authentic Sonoma coast. The nose on this wine shows classical pinot notes with a southern twang, starting with intense candied strawberry, dark cherry, dirt, and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine hits you with layers of dark red fruit, plum, followed by intense spice, that flows into a mouth coating tannin blanket, along with hints of toast, and cloves. The finish is long and well spiced with mocha chocolate, coffee, toffee, smoky notes, all wrapped up in cinnamon, cloves, and all spice – BRAVO!
2012 Hajdu Grenache, Brobdingnagian – Score: A-
I must be honest here, to start I liked this wine a bit less, B+ to A-, however, with time this wine grew on me. This is NOT the 07-famed Grenache, which was a blockbuster wine, this is more a wine that lives up to the idiom; “Grenache is the Pinot Noir of the Rhone Valley”. Initially the wine opens to what can only be described as a cherry aroma perfume – deeply aromatic and lovely with earthy notes, spice, and watermelon. The mouth feels uniform to start with layers but a hollow or short finish with more red fruit, deep earthy concentration and cinnamon. The finish starts off a bit short with saline, mineral, nutmeg, cloves, mad spice, and black pepper. With time the mouth opens a bit more, the finish closes slower and the tannins expand to fill out the mouth and coat it long after the wine is gone.
2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc – Score: A- (and more)
This is a wine that is not Israeli Cabernet Franc (over-sweet and cloying) but also not cold fruit located either – it is a sweet tilting Cabernet Franc, so please know that. The nose on this wine starts off with what can only be described as sweet bell pepper, not quite yellow bell, but sweet green bell pepper, with rich red and black fruit, along with nice spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and layered with concentrated black fruit, cassis, plum, raspberry, with sweet notes of green, lovely tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is long and sweet with tart fruit, searing acid, tobacco, chocolate, dill, and more green notes that linger long – BRAVO!
2012 Hajdu Syrah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A- to A
The 2012 Syrah is still very closed and not ready to party, that said with time or heavy decanting it is a wine that can become a superstar. This wine is classic Brob Syrah, big bold and in your face, but always with great control and good balance. The nose on this wine is slight closed now with rich blueberry, red and black fruit, root beer, licorice, earth, tar, and more earth. The mouth on this full bodied wine is inky dense and rich with layers of concentrated blackberry, cassis, candied and spiced dark plum, with loamy earthy notes, wrapped in boysenberry, sweet oak, and crazy mouth coating tannin. The finish is long, rich, and spicy with more blue and black fruit, tart fruit, great balancing acid, black pepper, nutmeg, and chocolate. BRAVO! This is a wine that can be enjoyed now, but better in a year and then till 2020.
2012 Hajdu Petite Sirah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A- to A
Like the 2012 Brob Syrah, this wine is really not ready for prime time, it reminds me of the 2007 Brob Grenache in that when we opened that bottle after release all we smelled and tasted was dirt, earth, tar, and crazy toast! The nose on this black colored wine is about at the same place; the fruit is under layers of wood, dirt, spice, and hints of root beer. The mouth on this massive, brooding, and full bodied wine is a pure attack on your senses, with deep extraction, rich layers of dark fruit, sweet oak, and tannin that does not let up. The finish is long with layers of dark fruit, leather, spice, Swiss mocha, boysenberry, and nice tart sweet fruit. With time, the fruit will start to show. This is a wine that needs time; open one if you must, but best from 2015 till 2021 and maybe more – BRAVO!!
Posted on April 11, 2014, in Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged Brobdignagian Wines, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Hajdu Wines, Makom, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Rose, Syrah. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.