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Covenant Winery Israel – the next step in a spiritual and physical Journey

2013 Covenant IsraelWhen I think of Covenant Winery, what leaps to mind for me, is Jeff and Jodie Morgan, Jonathan Hajdu – Covenant’s top-notch associate winemaker, and their world-class kosher Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Lavan Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, they also make a lovely and unique Red C wine, rose, and Landsman series of wines, but that is what comes first to mind.

When I first met Jeff and Jodie, it was at Herzog Winery, in 2006 where Jonathan Hajdu and they were pouring their wines at the first ever Herzog IFWF on the west coast. Since then I have made it my business to go to the winery at least once a year and meet with the Morgans and to taste their wines. I state that very specifically, as I have found that wines do follow their creators, and the open and accessible Covenant wines that also age to perfection, intrigued me and I wondered what their creators were like.

If you have had the opportunity to meet with Jeff and Jodie Morgan you will find two people who are passionate about their Jewish roots, though more traditional in nature than Orthodox, but still two people on a spiritual journey with their wines as their guides. From the start they decided that their wines would be kosher, and that they would be creating wines that were mimeographs of themselves, whether they realized that – or not.

To be honest, this article is a long time coming, a post that I think is more about my relationship with the Morgan’s, Mr. Hajdu, and their wines, and less about their story. The now famous story about Lessie Rudd and his grapes, his apprehension to letting the Morgan’s use his grapes, as he feared that they and their kosher process would ruin them, has been written about over and over. Humorously, the fact that the story is in every post about Covenant wines, and that the story is so well-known and repeated, is once again a representation of the wine and Jeff – both are wonderfully gregarious while also being quiet but confidently capable of spinning a tale of what they both have to offer.

Sure, when you meet the Morgans, and trust if you come to the KWFE in NYC – you will meet them, you will find two lovely, affable, and equally impressive humans that have honed their skills, with care and effort. However, it takes a bit more to see beyond the initial blustery interface, and to get deeper into what they see in the future. Yes, they are always looking forward to what the winery can become, but it is far more interesting to get to the story behind the tales, the story of a couple who are equally passionate about their tradition and history as they are about their impressive with their skills and craft.

As always, I am as straightforward as they come, there is really little left to read between the lines on my blog, though some think there is always another story. To me, Covenant Winery is a world-class winery, one that has the best track record, in my opinion across all California wineries (other than maybe Four Gates Merlot) of hitting a home run with every vintage of their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Were they all A- to A, not always, but they never were less than a classic 91 score and I am hardly the only person with that opinion. Look at Wine Advocate and you will know where this winery stands in the mind of Robert Parker and his minions. Read the rest of this entry

Lovely kosher Califonia wines from Herzog, Hagafen, Covenant, Shirah, and Four Gates

2003 Four Gates Cabernet FrancWhenever I write about California wines, I get the same old question – what about Israeli wines? Hey do you think to read other posts – or just this one? Do not get me wrong, I love Israeli and French wines, but what can I do, I am a Cali boy and I like California wines just as much.

I just posted about Rhone varietal wines, and I missed one that is a really lovely wine – the 2010 Herzog Petite Sirah, Prince Vineyard. I wrote about this wine and the Herzog winery before in this post. However, when we tried it for a Petite Sirah vertical a few year ago – it was not close to what I had at the winery only a few months earlier. Well, I should have posted the Herzog PS in my previous post – but I missed it, so here it is in the Cali wines that I have enjoyed recently.

I must start off by saying that Herzog has been killing it recently with its Weinstock and Baron Herzog labels as of recently. These are fantastic wines that are all QPR and mevushal to boot! The 2010 and 2011 Weinstock Petite Sirah, Cellar Select are BOTH lovely and mevushal. The 2010 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select is also lovely (the 2012 is nice but not at the same level), clear QPR winner, and mevushal again. Same goes for the 2012 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon – a lovely QPR wine, and mevushal of course.

That said, the wines I tasted recently were nice, but none of them were at the level I was expecting, especially the 2009 Clone Six Cabernet, which was nice but not close to the awesome 2008 mind-blowing older brother. The Z2 Zinfandel was nice and better than in previous tastings, but not an A level wine still. The 2010 Meritage was truly quite lovely and a mouth coating wine that stays with you.

When I think Shirah Winery, I think Rhone varietals, but not this bottle! The 2012 Shirah Coalition is another crazy blend from the Weiss Brothers, and their mad scientist wine lab, called Shirah Winery. This one is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 20% Dolcetto, 20% Zinfandel from Agua Dolce Vineyards, and 10% Merlot from Agua Dolce Vineyard! Like seriously??? To me I am willing to go out on the limb and say – this is the best kosher Italian wine out there (other than maybe the Falesco wines) – with tongue firmly embedded into cheek. Sure, it is not Italian, but the grapes all grow in Italy, and two of them are indigenous to Italy! Why is the growing region more important than the quality and enjoyability – BRAVO again guys! Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!

When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.

The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.

With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.

The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (jonathan@hajduwines.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry

Elliot and Micheal’s Excellent Northern California Kosher Wine Adventure

If you look at the kosher wineries in California, the majority exist here in Northern California. Down south you have the famous Herzog Winery in Oxnard, CA, and a pair of wineries that I call ADS (Agua Dulce & Shirah), for the Agua Dulce Winery and Shirah Winery, both housed in the Agua Dolce Winery. While this is great, Northern California one-ups them with Four gates Winery, Hagafen Winery, Covenant Winery, and the Brobdingnagian Winery. Of course you can actually combine all the California kosher wineries (except for Herzog) into Herzog’s parking lot (a nod to Disneyland and Disney World).

Well the adventure started late last week, when Elliot (Eli) and Michael (Yoav) both visited Benyo and Four gates Winery without me – go figure! However, on Monday I met both Elliot and Michael at my house and we started driving our way north. For this fabulous adventure our chariot of choice was a lovely Buick La Sabre, which before you start laughing, is a crazy and sick car to drive and drive-in. This car was appointed in soft leather, all kinds of toys and warning systems and a great navigation system that got us to and from our desired destinations, in comfort and style, and on time.

The first stop was Covenant Winery where we were going to meet Jeff Morgan and Jonathan Hajdu, Winemaker and associate winemaker of Covenant Winery, respectively. When we arrived, Mr. Hajdu greeted us and we had the chance to taste a few barrel samples of some 2011 Brobdingnagian Wines. We started with some lovely black and blue 2011 Brobdingnagian Syrah, with nice spice, root beer, and good vanilla finish. From there we moved on to a taste of the 2011 Brobdingnagian Grenache, which keeps on giving – what a lovely wine indeed! With the 2011 season being so miserable, to get a wine so redolent and ripe is quite impressive! The nose was rich and ripe with more blue and black fruit, but this time more ripe and sweet and yet controlled with good extraction, sweet cherry drop, watermelon, and citrus peel. Then Jonathan let us have a taste of some wonderful 2011 Brobdingnagian Bordeaux Blend, which stood out to me so well because the fruit was as sweet as the Grenache and maybe even more than the Syrah, yet so perfectly controlled with a nice core of red and black fruit, nice graphite and minerality, and along with spice and green notes that really balance this whole wine out – Bravo! Read the rest of this entry

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