Philip and Sheryl Jones have been producing wine in New Zealand for more than 20 years. Originally from San Francisco and Minnesota, respectively, they wanted to spend time in the Pacific Northwest and decided to buy 95 acres in the Columbia Gorge in 2006. They planted grapes on 25 acres of what is now Evan’s Vineyard (named for their youngest son) on Underwood Mountain in Washington, just across the Columbia from Hood River.
Though their Spencer Hill Estate in New Zealand includes the kosher Goose Bay label, the non-Jewish couple didn’t intend to bring kosher winemaking to the Northwest.
“Goose Bay kosher is just an extension of non-kosher wines we make in New Zealand. I am always looking for new ventures and kosher was a good one,” says Phil. “We were not going to make the Northwest wines kosher…but the downturn in the economy changed our mind. Why compete with the non-kosher wineries?”
In New Zealand, the couple partnered with the Herzog family’s Royal Wines Corp. for their kosher label. So when they decided to make the Northwest wines kosher, they again turned to Royal Wines, the largest domestic kosher winemaker and distributor.
“Making kosher wine is not different than making non-kosher, other than we need to have observant Jews do the work,” says Phil. “You just have to follow the rules set by the supervising rabbi and not try and question why. Trying to rationalize why things are done, in any religion, is irrelevant. The less one questions the reasons, and focuses on how to do it, the easier it becomes.”
Evan’s Vineyard produced the first batch of kosher wine in 2010 from grapes purchased from top-tier vineyards in Washington and Oregon. They produced 6,000 cases of two varietals – Pacifica Oregon Pinot Noir and Pacifica Washington Meritage.
The Northwest wines are supervised by Rabbi Tzvi Fischer of Oregon Kosher.
“We, the Oregon Kosher supervisors, were the laborers,” says Fischer. The crew of observant workers spent a couple days at the vineyard for the first “crush” and then returned after the grapes had fermented a few days for the next stage of production.
The wines are aged at Evan’s Vineyard to the point of bottling and then shipped to Herzog in California for bottling at Royal Wines’ large bottling facility in Oxnard.
Evan’s Vineyard is now producing grapes for white varieties, “but I have no plans at this time to make white wines. We sell those grapes to other wineries. Our pinot noir plantings will come on in about two years,” says Phil, adding they will continue to buy grapes from other vineyards to supplement their own red varieties.
The two Northwest wines and two of the couple’s New Zealand wines were introduced to locals at a February event at the Oregon Jewish Museum that paired each wine with food prepared by Allen Levin’s Century Catering.
“Allen talked to the winemaker to pair the wine and food, and the food was fabulous,” says Rabbi Fischer. “The winemakers explained each wine and what flavors it has and why it was paired with specific food. They taught people how to ‘taste” wine.”
The menu featured coriander braised lentils with croutons and saffron aiolo paired with Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc; salmon with a mushroom and leek confit paired with Goose Bay Pinot Noir; chicken hazelnut paté with blackcurrant compote paired with Pacifica Oregon Pinot Noir; and individual beef bourguignon pot pies paired with Pacifica Washington Meritage.
The rabbi and Phil agree the event was well received.
“Not being Jewish and being so involved with the Jewish community is very interesting,” says Phil. “I enjoy working with a smaller community of people in the wine world. In the bigger world of wine any one winemaker or winery gets lost in the crowd … not true in the kosher world.”
“Rabbi Fischer and his crew are wonderful to work with and always willing to bend over to help,” he adds. “There are so many people to thank for their support but if I had to choose one person that has been so supportive to all of the efforts in New Zealand and the Northwest, it would be Nathan Herzog at Royal Wines. We don’t see each other very often but he is always there to help when needed. Without his early support and efforts none of these wines would have been made.”