As Israel celebrates 70 years of (modern) nationhood, we can also celebrate the triumph of Zionism and the continued longevity—despite all odds—of the Jewish people.
As many of you reading this blog know, kosher wine is what brought my business partner, Leslie Rudd, and me to Israel. In the five years that we have been making wine there, we have discovered a dynamic wine renaissance that mirrors the evolution of the nation. Make no mistake about it, Israel is now starting to produce wines on a par with the greatest wines made anywhere.
The Covenant Israel wine program sends me regularly to Israel, where we are proud to see our wines served in restaurants and homes throughout the country. Israel’s food and wine scene, its economy and its people represent a vibrant cross section of our diverse Jewish community. And Israel is, of course, the best place for a Jewish winemaker to return to his roots.
Ancient winemaking began in what is now Israel and its environs, because the conditions for growing grapes there are supremely well suited to viticulture. Anyone who doubts this is prejudiced by a profound historical ignorance regarding the origins of Concord grape wine as well as the effect of centuries of European antisemitism. Throughout much of the last millennia or so, European laws not only isolated Jews in ghettos, but also robbed them of the very land they needed to grow grapes. It’s a wonder wine remained at the forefront of Jewish custom and religious practice during these times.
Speaking of Jewish custom, it’s interesting to note that every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and the interpretation of word/letter value is called gematria. The Hebrew word for wine is yayin (pron. YA-YIN)—spelled with three Hebrew letters: יין – yud, yud and nun. The two yuds have numerical values of 10 points each; and nun is worth 50. So the sum of these three letters comes to 70. Since wine is the beverage with which we sanctify the Sabbath, the number “70” has great significance according to gematria.
The number, 70, also seems to play an ongoing role in my own personal relationship to wine. In Israel, I drive Route 70 up to visit our grapes in the Galilee. It’s the perfect road to the wine country! Back in Napa Valley circa 2008, we needed to store a small, empty tank destined for our newest wine at the time—Covenant Solomon—in a warehouse there. There were hundreds of other empty tanks belonging to other wineries in this warehouse. The warehouse manager—who was not Jewish—told us he needed to number our tank to avoid confusion with other tanks. We arrived at the warehouse the next day to find he had labeled our tank, Covenant Tank 70. Just a coincidence? Perhaps. But because of this, we renamed our soon-to-be top California wine, Covenant Solomon Lot 70.
Cellarmaster Eli Silins filling barrels in front of Covenant Tank 70
Just as Solomon Lot 70 represents a milestone in wine quality for Covenant, 70 years of independence for the state of Israel represents a milestone for the Jewish people. As we pursue winemaking in Israel today, we hope to contribute to the continued success, growth and evolution of our Jewish nation. May 70 years lead to 70 more—and many more after that.
In honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s toast l’chaim! With every glass of wine, we can remember that 70 has a double meaning this year—freedom, security and a future for the Jewish people; and the special beverage with which we celebrate.
Vintner Jeff Morgan is the co-owner of Covenant Winery, in California and Israel. He’s also the author of nine books on food and wine and a former wine journalist.