Hagafen Cellars Review
Address: 4160 Silverado Trail Napa,California 94558.
Phone Number: 888-424-2336
Tasting Hours: 10:30-5:00
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Becky Parr
Review Date: 6/24/2013
Reviewer: Becky Parr
When my Jewish friend Karen wanted us to visit a kosher winery during our wine tasting trip to Napa Valley, I wasnt terribly excited.
After all, kosher wine doesnt exactly have a great reputation. Not that I knew that much about it; once, years ago, I had a little Manischewitz at a Seder, and I remember it tasting like sickly-sweet grape juice. Karen said that description was about right. When she was younger, they had either Manischewitz or Mogen David, and it was either super-sweet grape juice or cough syrup, depending on the vintage, I guess.
But I went to Hagafen Cellars and was pleasantly surprised. There wasnt a trace of sweet grape juice or cough syrup around the place, but there were a lot of awards, pretty picnic areas, and some wine that you wouldnt know was kosher unless they told you.
The Place:  Hagafen Cellars tasting room is one in a series of small buildings nestled amidst the vineyards. The winery is heavily into landscaping and yard art, it seems, which makes for a quirkily pleasant picnic area. The tasting room itself is fairly small, with a tasting counter that can accommodate maybe six tasters and two or three pourers behind the bar. The décor is the most interesting part of the tasting room, if you take the time to read it; there are letters from government representatives praising Hagafen wines, citing instances where they presented it as a gift to Israeli foreign dignitaries or served it at White House dinners hosting observant Jews.
The Wines:  I learned a lot about kosher wines during this adventure, because, of course, I had to ask what makes a wine kosher. To be kosher, it must be produced according to Jewish dietary laws (kashrut). No person who is not an observant Jew may be a part of the manufacturing process; at Hagafen, rabbis are intricately involved with the entire winemaking process. No products or byproducts may be used that are a result of animal slaughter. All ingredients must be kosher. Yeast, which is specifically used for leavening, is not kosher. So no additional yeast may be used in the production of kosher wine. Only the wines own natural yeasts may be used.
Just to make the idea more complex, kosher wine can be made mevushal, which means that, after its manufacture, if a non-Jewish person handles the wine, it is still considered kosher. If wine is not mevushal, that isnt the case. Mevushal, however, means boiled, and I think we can all agree that boiling is not such a good thing to do to wine! In order to be considered mevushal, a wine must reach 194 degrees, which is not a full rolling boil but is still most definitely at the cooking stage. Recently, however, a process of flash-pasteurization has been developed, so the wine can come to 194 degrees for just a brief moment and then be quickly cooled again. The wine is then considered mevushal but the flavor has not been ruined by high temperatures. Hagafen makes mevushal wine.
T.J. told us that people have been members of Hagafens wine club for years and never realized its kosher wine! The website hardly mentions it I have a feeling Hagafen wants to be known for making good wine rather than for making kosher wine, specifically. Hagafen is also proud of their environmental consciousness and organic growth practices.
So we tasted the wines. My favorite was the Brut Cuvee Late Disgorged Sparkling. I learned that disgorged means when the sediment is removed from the wine. By waiting to do this, Hagafen allows the yeast to do its work longer, so the result is a light, elegant, creamy sparkling wine. The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and tasted of grapefruit; the White Riesling was dry with good acidity, but it was still very fruity. The Pinot Noir was very light, an easy drinker; and both the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon were very good. The Merlot was smooth and fruity, without too much sweetness. T.J. described the Red Table Wine as being food-friendly, and suggested it would pair well with Texas barbecue.
Karen said her family has purchased kosher wine from Israel for the past 10 years or so, but that now Hagafen will be their go-to. I think they took home six bottles for the high holidays this fall. It is worth noting that four out of those six were off the reserve tasting list, so take that into consideration.
The Experience:  Our server was T.J., who was joined behind the bar by another employee helping other patrons. T.J. was prompt, pleasant, a lot of fun, and knowledgeable; and he obviously enjoys what he does. He told us that each of Hagafens wines has been his favorite at some point in time! I was very pleasantly surprised by the entire experience. Hagafen is a must-visit Napa winery for those looking for kosher wine and a good stop for those who dont require kosher but are still looking for a wonderful experience and good wine.