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Winemaking Rabbi Takes Napa Valley One Bottle at a Time

Winemaking Rabbi Takes Napa Valley One Bottle at a Time

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Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum sorts through grapes at his Napa Valley home.
Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum sorts through grapes at his Napa Valley home.

When a young couple from Brooklyn moved to California’s Napa Valley in 2006, perhaps the last thing they expected was that they would one day be making their own wine. And if making wine seemed to be impossible, selling it was certainly out of the question.

Yet here it is, just days before the fall Jewish festival of Sukkot and Rabbi Elchonon and Chana Tenenbaum are poised to release their latest offering in partnership with Covenant Winery: Cuvee Chabad 2011.

“When we first arrived, I didn’t have a clue about wine, just an elementary grasp of what things were,” relates the rabbi, director of the Napa Valley Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center.

Six years and four vintages later, the blossoming wine producer describes the new bottle of Zinfandel as “amazing and multi-faceted, with so many different attributes to it.” Its label stresses a smooth blend of black cherry and plum flavors, with a touch of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Though the wine will be commercially sold, all proceeds will go directly to supporting the Tenenbaums’ efforts in the community, he says. The venture, he adds, has also served as a source of inspiration in the mission of revealing “the spiritual inherent in the physical.”

Local resident and friend Michael Chevlen shares similar sentiments. He relates how “having a new kosher wine definitely gives people, both locally and nation-wide, an additional opportunity to support Chabad and the Tenenbaums.”

Napa Valley, famously known for its winemaking, is home to some 300 wineries. Of that, only two are exclusively dedicated to making kosher wine. Of the two, Covenant is where the rabbi got his first chance at viniculture.

Covenant wine-maker and co-owner Jeff Morgan describes how after Tenenbaum’s first vintage came out in 2007, he tasted it and it was “delicious.” Morgan recalls how that same afternoon of tasting the wine he bumped into a friend who needed help tending a vineyard, and he immediately recommended Tenenbaum.

Pressed grapes proceed down the line from fruit to Cuvee Chabad.
Pressed grapes proceed down the line from fruit to Cuvee Chabad.

“That is directly from G‑d,” he says of the incident’s Divine Providence. “There are a lot of little wine miracles that happen in Napa Valley. That was the biggest of them all.”

Of Tenenbaum’s adding winemaker to a rabbinical resume that includes counselor and teacher, Morgan says that “it’s the Jews he’s doing this for: to reawaken a sense of pride, a sense of understanding, and a sense of connection to our people’s holy beverage.”

Tenenbaum himself reflects how the whole experience “was very eye-opening and connected me to thousands of generations of Jews. So much of Judaism, especially the High Holidays, is connected to the harvest and specifically wine. It’s really inspiring and rewarding to see those things come alive in my experience with wine making.”

“The community here thoroughly needs people like the Tenenbaums, because we’re a pretty dispersed group of people,” echoes Morgan. “It’s a perfect symbiosis, a perfect collaboration.”



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