The Best Kosher Wine Ever
Courtesy of Domaine Roses Camille
It’s expensive, and it’s worth it.
It’s expensive, and it’s worth it.
The world of kosher wine has made terrific progress since the market began slowly preferring dry table wines to sweet Kiddush wines some 30 odd years ago. According to a great many kosher wine cognoscenti, one of the greatest kosher wines currently available today is the 2005 Domaine Roses Camille, from a tiny French boutique producer of the same name in Bordeaux.
This is a wine that leapt onto the kosher wine scene more or less out of the blue in 2010. The Israeli wine critic Daniel Rogov, just a year before his passing, “discovered” the Domaine Roses Camille 2005 during a routine tasting near the end of September 2010 and took to his online wine forum to declare it “One of the Best Kosher Wines Ever”! and wrote that it was “one of those ‘oh-wow’ wines, a wine that from first sip made my eyes open more widely and my nostrils flare just a bit ... perhaps the best ever kosher cuvee out of Bordeaux.” The wine also received kudos from the Wine Spectator, and the British fine wine magazine, Decanter, listed it among their top 100 Bordeaux for the vintage.
The 2005 bottles began selling in the $250 range, and the remaining bottles now sale for about $460 each. The 2006 vintage, the most recent available in the U.S. costs about $230. It began life as basically just an “adventure” amongst friends: Christophe Bardeau, the winemaker, and his partner, Nicolas Ranson, an observant Jew from France who now lives in Israel.
A fifth generation winemaker, Bardeau “began working the [family] vineyards at the very young age of 14,” he explains, and “spent loads of time” learning from his grandfather about the family’s vineyard holdings and the soils of Pomerol. He also studied wine at the Lycee de Libourne-Montagne in St-Émilion, and also at Bordeaux Wine University. He then gained incomparable experience as associate winemaker under the brilliant Denis Durantou at the esteemed Château L'Eglise-Clinet. Described by wine critic Neal Martin in his authoritative tome Pomerol, as “young” and “ambitious,” Bardeau decided it was time to start his own journey.
“Wine is something personal,” Bardeau notes, “I want to exchange and share through my wine. This is my medium of expression.”
But the family’s 7.5 hectares (about 18.5 acres) of vineyards is a bit of a hodgepodge, quality-wise. So he seized upon a small parcel of the family’s holdings, one hectare of 60-year-old Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines situated on a vein of blue and grey clay, which he believed to be the most exceptional. He decided to build his “family legacy” on this tiny parcel, which he renamed Domaine Roses Camille (his sister had just given birth to a daughter, Camille, and Roses “just because the rose is a symbol of love”).
“I am a servant of wine,” he insists, “it’s not me who determines when to harvest, but the grapes — I have to respect the grapes and intervene minimally in elaborating their wine.” He works the soil “mechanically and everything else is made manually, like in a small garden.”
Bardeau was doing his best to exploit his small but quality parcel to its fullest and carve out some respectable space for Domaine Roses Camille in a massive market when he met Nicolas Ranson.
He happened to be working as a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, at a nearby St-Émilion estate that was producing a one-off kosher wine under contract. It was here that Bardeau recognized a possible niche, as he learned about kosher wine and its myriad rules of production. Determined to strike out on his own and do something worthwhile with his one hectare of vines, he approached Ranson, who liked the idea, because I knew that we will not just make another kosher wine but something that could be special.” So they formed a partnership, with Ranson providing all of the initial funding.
The first vintage was 2005, Bardeau was just 25 at the time, and they produced only three barrels worth, about 75 cases. “It became clear as time went by that the wine would be very good,” Ranson recalls, “so we decided to produce the whole plot kosher in 2006 [around 250 cases, or 3000 bottles].”
Unfortunately, fine wine is an expensive endeavor. The idea was more whim than business calculation: “There was no real market for such a wine in France, and I presented it in the U.S. at the peak of the economy crisis and the dollar was too low at the time,” Bardeau said. He ran out of money and had to unseal the 2007 barrels in the middle of the process, rendering them non-kosher.
“In my mind,” recalls Ranson, “I had participated in a very interesting experience, and that was it. I did not get involved in the non-kosher wine.” It was not until 2011 that Ranson and Bardeau became aware of Rogov’s online missive and that they had been “discovered.”
“We did not know anything about him,” says Ranson, “but since my name and email address were on some articles, people got them and I started to receive inquiries about the wine.” They contacted Rogov and decided to resume kosher production in 2011.
Bardeau soon began asking among his wine grower friends if he would use their best parcels to producer kosher wine. The results so far are the Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2011 ($95; 100% Merlot) and the Moulin du Château la Clide, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, 2011 ($120, 50-50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot). The Château Marquisat De Binet, Cuvée Abel, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, 2012 ($36; 100% Merlot) is on the way. Available from Liquidkosher.com, the exclusive importer, and distributed in the NY area by The River Wine, the wines of Domaine Roses Camille can be found locally at such retailers as Liquors Galore, Chateau du Vin, Wine on Nine or online at kosherwine.com.