Winemaker takes the kosher approach

Keeping it pure:  Mashgiach Eric Anderson pours sulphur into a batch of chardonnay grapes at Marlborough Vintners.
Keeping it pure: Mashgiach Eric Anderson pours sulphur into a batch of chardonnay grapes at Marlborough Vintners.

A Marlborough winemaker in the throes of harvest is taking a back seat to a rabbi as the winery's first kosher wine is made.

To ensure the wine is kosher, only a rabbi or a mashgiach, an orthodox Jew who ensures kosher products are pure, should touch ingredients from the moment the grapes are harvested, through fermentation to bottling.

Grapegrower Lindsay Dahlberg was asked by a member of the Jewish community to produce kosher wine and joined with Marlborough Vintners to pursue the idea.

On Sunday, Wellington-based mashgiach Shimon Phillips and Blenheim-based mashgiach Eric Anderson were present for the harvesting of chardonnay grapes on behalf of Rabbi Haim Dorat, from the Jewish Centre in Wellington.

Marlborough Vintners winemaker David Tyney said he had to take a step back, instead telling Mr Anderson and Mr Phillips what needed to be done.

He said all winery equipment needed "kosherising" to be pure before it could be used, so the winery team sterilised it, with a mashgiach present for final sanitation. The area where kosher grapes are being processed is now roped off.

Mr Tyney said even little jobs such as turning off a pump could be performed only by an orthodox Jew, or it could void the whole process. "The important thing is nothing can be touched or helped unless he [Mr Anderson] is there, and when he is there we can just tell him what to do."

Only kosher-certified additives can be used. Marlborough Vintners imported special products, such as kosher yeast. Before the wine can be sold it also has to be kosher-certified by a Jewish kosher certification company.

On Sunday, Mr Anderson followed instructions by Mr Tyney on how to receive the grapes and extract the juice. This Thursday, Mr Anderson and Rabbi Dorat will rack the juice and inoculate it under Mr Tyney's guidance.

To ensure the wine is pure it is flash pasteurised to about 85 degrees Celsius to kill any bacteria.

Once the wine is bottled, non-Jews can touch it.

Mr Tyney said it was a learning experience for all involved.

Mr Dahlberg plans to sell the wine nationally as well as export it to Australia and the United States. However, he has not decided whether to stick with his existing brand name, O'Dwyer's Creek, or create a new label.

"We're pretty excited about it because it's a point of difference and it's a niche market."

Marlborough Vintners is making kosher Marlborough sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

Mr Tyney believes if it is successful, it would be the first Marlborough sauvignon blanc to be sold as kosher.

The Marlborough Express