A kosher winery will soon be open in Berkeley.
Although the facility is far from finished — construction crews are still working and there isn’t even a sign yet proclaiming the business as Covenant Wines — grapes for the crush already are coming in from around Northern California.
Jeff Morgan, who had been making kosher wine in the Napa Valley since 2008, has relocated to Berkeley. The winery is on 6th Street, two blocks north of Gilman Street and across the street from the future home of the Jewish educational farm Urban Adamah.
“The kids grew up,” explained Morgan, who had been a longtime resident of St. Helena along with his wife and Covenant co-owner, Jodie. “One daughter lives in New York, the other in Israel — and at the same time we felt a need to be connected to a greater Jewish community, one with a stronger community like in the East Bay.”
When J. first wrote about Covenant in 2005, Morgan was farming out production to Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard. Since then, the business has grown considerably.
Covenant wines and its associated labels, Mensch and The Tribe — both more affordable than those under the Covenant label, which now go for up to $150 a bottle — are sold throughout the world. While Covenant used to have only two wines in its portfolio, it now has 14.
It has also expanded its operation to Israel, using grapes from the Golan Heights and the Galilee. Its second Israel vintage, 2013, will be released next year. Annually, the winery is making about 400 cases in Israel, and 6,000 in California, but with the new 7,000-square-foot space in Berkeley, it has room to grow even more.
Covenant also has the Landsman wine club, which offers wines not sold on the market.
Morgan’s story is well known in the kosher wine world. He set out to make a premium kosher wine after a discussion about the lack of good ones with Leslie Rudd, owner of Dean & Deluca and also a co-owner of Covenant.
Morgan is a rare breed of kosher winemaker who can’t touch the grapes or supervise production, given kosher laws’ strict requirements that a Sabbath-observant Jew must supervise the entire process. That’s why in 2003 he asked Herzog’s crew to handle his wines, even though he was living in Napa. Once he moved his operation to Napa, he hired Jonathan Hajdu, an Orthodox Jew and mashgiach (kosher supervisor).
When Morgan was first assigned to write a kosher wine article for Wine Spectator magazine in 1992, he knew nothing about the subject. Since then, much has changed in the industry and for him personally.
“I’ve obviously learned a lot, that I need to be connected more to the Jewish people and community and my own heritage, which is something I didn’t know 10 years ago,” Morgan said. “I’ve learned how to speak really bad Hebrew. I got bar mitzvahed. My daughter made aliyah.”
He and his wife also started keeping a kosher home and “joined a synagogue for the first time in our lives,” Congregation Beth Israel, a Modern Orthodox shul in Berkeley.
The winery won’t be open to the public for tastings (except by appointment) and it will have a dairy kitchen. And the plans beyond that?
“We don’t know yet, but we’d like the winery to be a hub for the Jewish community in some way,” Morgan said. “We can’t do weddings or bar mitzvahs, but we have a bit of space, and we hope to have it become some kind of a gathering place.”
One event in the works is a release party for “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table,” a kosher cookbook by Morgan scheduled to be out in March 2015.
“We’re really happy to be here,” Morgan said of the new location. “It’s taken us 12 years and we think it will be well worth it.”