In Napa Valley, a kosher wine revolution

OneHope Winery is looking to shake-up the kosher wine industry

OneHope Winery sits on a picturesque plot of land along Northern California’s Highway 128, between the Napa Valley towns of Oakville and Rutherford. Its immediate neighbors include some of the most regal of Napa Valley wine royalty, including Opus One and Robert Mondavi. Surrounded by rows of grapevines, the winery’s new main building is a long, dark wood-paneled modern barn, with large windows overlooking the surrounding Mayacama Mountains. The entire property has the clean, refined look of a luxury travel or furniture brochure produced by Restoration Hardware. 

But inside, a revolution has begun. More precisely, a revolution for kosher wine in the U.S.

Two years after announcing its entry into the world of kosher wine, OneHope has become one of only a few California wineries to produce kosher wines with the release of three wines made from St. Helena Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Producing kosher wine presents added challenges generally avoided by wineries. From the time the grape skin splits until bottling, the winemaking can only be undertaken by Shabbat-observant Jews overseen by a rabbi or rabbi-appointed mashgiach. Any yeast or other additive must be kosher-certified, with even stricter regulations for kosher for Passover wine. Wineries can also employ the mevushal method, in which the wine is heated to at least 185 degrees fahrenheit before botting — a process that can harm the subtleties of the finished product.

Demand for kosher wine has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Despite accounting for 40% of the world’s Jewish population and the fourth largest percentage of the global wine production, few kosher wineries exist in the United States and its California wine capital. The high demand and small production has made quality kosher wine generally more expensive than its non-kosher counterparts.

OneHope Winery has built itself in the nexus between affordability and high-end quality. Founded in 2007 by Jake Kloberdanz with a direct-to-consumer model, OneHope originally focused on producing wines at what Kloberdanz calls an “approachable price-point.” 

The company steadily grew in popularity not only for the affordable quality of the wine, but because of its emphasis on promoting communal activities. OneHope encourages purchasing wines in groups and organizing tasting sessions among friends — a feature that saw increased popularity during the pandemic. The company’s Cause Entrepreneur program also allows individuals to become sellers of the wine, with a portion donated to a cause of the seller’s choice.

In the wine production, OneHope also found success in its efforts to cover the full spectrum of wine — from small production luxury wines to wines produced at scale — that can appeal to any consumer. The winery’s website currently lists bottles ranging from $25 to $125, ranging in style from sparkling prosecco to bold California cabernet sauvignon.This approach has made OneHope one of the top 250 largest wine producers by volume.

Still, despite the diversity of styles, venturing into kosher winemaking was not the obvious choice. 

Kloberdanz was convinced to enter into the kosher market by kosher wine aficionado Isaac “Yitz” Applbaum (who is also a weekly wine columnist at Jewish Insider).

For years, Applbaum tried to convince established Napa wineries to produce kosher wine. But top wineries tightly control the quantity of wine produced and sold per year, and were unwilling or unable to introduce a separate kosher production or reserve additional barrels for kosher use.

“I’ve had many frustrations,” Applbaum told JI. “I would say it starts with a lack of understanding of what the process is. The perception is that it’s really difficult and complicated and intrusive work in order to get this done, and, of course, that’s really not true.”

Given that OneHope was looking to build a new production facility on its Napa Valley property, Applbaum’s pitch to Kloberdanz was simple: Include space for kosher winemaking in the construction design.

“It wasn’t like something where we’re up and running a certain way in the winery and then we tried to add this.” Kloberdanz explained, the day after an event with JI marking the launch of the kosher wine. “It was like, ‘We’re opening the winery and from day one, we’re opening with this in mind’ and so it made it pretty smooth from the very beginning.”

From the outset, OneHope looked to innovate on the traditional model of high-end kosher winemaking. According to Applbaum, most kosher wine is custom-crush, in which a label uses an existing facility without owning a winery. 

“I always believed that that was how the real growth was going to come,” Applbaum said.

While custom-crush cuts overhead costs, it limits the quantity of barrels since the producer does not own the facility outright. But OneHope’s existing capacity for producing wines in scale meant that it could sell more affordable kosher wine than generally available. While the OneHope kosher wines currently available retail for $100 a bottle — towards the higher end of OneHope’s price scale, future wines are expected to be offered as low as $25 a bottle. 

Above all, Applbaum and Kloberdanz want the OneHope bottles to sell and distribute alongside non-kosher wine. “Our idea was, ‘Let’s have kosher wines that are amongst the greatest wines in our portfolio, first of all, and regardless of whether they’re kosher or not, they stand on their own,’” Kloberdanz.

“It’s the perfect marriage, in my opinion, of all possible solutions,” Applbaum said, adding that while wineries like Herzog and Covenant already own facilities in California, they tend to sell exclusively through kosher-only distribution lines. “I think that’s where you’re going to see the real growth here; Napa high-end kosher wines made on premise with a great distribution channel.”

Applbaum and Kloberdanz recruited kosher wine guru Dan Levin as a mashgiach and consultant to work with OneHope head winemaker Mari Wells Coyle. Levin not only brought in the necessary staff to oversee the kosher wine process, he helped translate the rules.

Together, Levin and Coyle created a process for producing kosher wine that differed from its non-kosher counterparts only in its observance of kashrut.

“We’ve actually sourced some of the best grapes that we have access to, in fact, the best grapes from the St. Helena [American Viticultural Area],” Coyle added. “We’re able to achieve everything that we wanted in the non-mevushal process. There isn’t anything process wise that diverts from what we wanted to achieve.”

“It does take a lot of correspondence and work to have somebody new, like Dan, as part of your team and a very integral part of making every single part of the process happen,” Coyle said of working with Levin. “That’s just not a normal way of working for us, but we’ve been really happy to be able to work with him and he’s been very flexible with his time and schedule because he’s so experienced in doing this throughout Napa Valley.”

OneHope CEO Jake Kloberdanz

“We started with such a high bar relative to where I think most people get when they try something new,” Kloberdanz raved. 

But Levin and Coyle are hardly resting on their laurels. The OneHope team is already working on perfecting a kosher fumé blanc — something they believe has never been done before. When released, the fumé blanc — a white wine usually aged in oak barrels and on the richer end of the sauvignon blanc scale — will introduce a distinctively Napa wine (fumé blanc was invented by Robert Mondavi, across the road from OneHope) to the kosher world. 

“Anytime you have barrel fermentations you’ve got more added complexity. It’s a white wine that you really do need to be checking on regularly, and that requires a lot of time and attention from Dan, specifically,” Coyle explained. “It’s gonna be a great wine. There are very few kosher whites, for whatever reason, available. And I just love the final result. It tastes delicious. It’s very consistent with our fumé blanc program, which is one of our leading, iconic white wines.”

“I think that it’s also always fun to learn new things and we’re a very entrepreneurial company by nature,” Kloberdanz remarked of incorporating a new winemaking process. “Our winemaking teams learned an entirely new way of winemaking, which has been really fun for them.”

By introducing additional types of wine (Coyle teased sparkling wine) to the kosher line, OneHope hopes to further standout from the bold, red wine-dominated kosher market.

The team also hopes the kosher line benefits from inclusion in OneHope’s 20/20 Collective. The collective, which Kloberdanz calls “a combination of a wine club meets social club,” offers members both shipments of new and exclusive wines and access to social events at the OneHope winery.

Already the collective, pricing for which ranges from $2,500 to $10,000 annually, includes several hundred members and has attracted the likes of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, according to the company’s website. A special kosher version of the collective, termed the “kosher collective,” has begun accepting applications.

According to Kloberdanz, the collective helps fulfill OneHope’s mission to build a community alongside the wine sales.  

“[The kosher-observant community] is underserved by the Napa Valley. It’s not only people who are Orthodox or keep kosher. It’s friends of people like that who now can buy a really nice bottle of [kosher] wine.”

Applbaum, the impetus behind the kosher line, described the impact in even more transformational terms. “I think there’ll be other people who will start to come in and do these things… based on our success and the success of many other wineries in Napa,” he mused.

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