Covenant Winery Introduces Israeli Branch | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Covenant Winery Introduces Israeli Branch

Covenant Winery Introduces Israeli Branch

Jeff and Jodie Morgan. Courtesy of Covenant Winery

The California Vineyard Offering Five Wines from its Israeli Branch

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One morning about four years ago, Jeff Morgan had a realization while brushing his teeth. “I decided I also wanted to make wine in Israel,” he recently told me. He stopped the electric toothbrush momentarily as the idea quickly percolated

“It simply felt right.”

Recently I had the good fortune of sitting down with Jeff and Jodie Morgan, of Covenant Winery, a 7,000-square foot urban winery in Berkeley, California, and now also of their latest wine venture, Covenant Israel. Covenant is currently the only American winery making wine in both California and Israel, and Jeff is the head vintner for both.

Back in 2011, a similar moment between Jeff and his business partner Leslie Rudd led directly to their getting re-acquainted with Israel. “It suddenly occurred to us that, here we are striving to make the best kosher wine in the world, and yet neither of us had been to Israel in ages. So, we went.”

Jeff’s newly invigorated attachment to Israel is partly a related logical extension: “We make kosher wine in California, so why not also make it in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people and the place where Jewish winemaking began.”

The Covenant Israel project began in 2013. He started on a fairly small scale in the Galilee with a few barrels—just 100 cases. Today, by contrast, Covenant Israel is producing around 1,500 cases of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, a red blend, a viognier, and a rosé from six different vineyards in the Galilee and the Golan Heights. The handsome Covenant Israel label is in the shape of the State of Israel, including all the territories under its control which has proven, Jeff notes, far “more problematic to Israelis than to American Jews.”

While Jeff and Jodie are toying with the possibility of softening the label design so that the focus might shift back to the wine rather than the label, he confesses that he “quite likes the statement” that the current label makes. Regardless, they are gearing up to increase Covenant Israel’s activities.

Jeff flies to Israel five to six times a year to work on the Covenant Israel venture. One of their daughters, Zoë Morgan, made aliyah about two years, and now heads up their sales and promotion in Israel, further tethering Jeff and Jodie to Israel. “I really love Israel,” he notes, and he dreams of moving there one day.

The Morgans’ long-term plan is to build a proper vineyard in Israel, but for now Jeff and Jodie are far too busy making and promoting wine to rush anything. As anyone familiar with the contemporary global kosher wine scene can attest, Covenant is one of the best producers. Some things really can’t be rushed. Don’t just take my word for it—taste some of their fabulous wines. Consider the following:

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Covenant, Red C Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, 2015 ($24): This fresh, well-balanced beauty opens with grapefruit and apple aromas which accent the juicy lemon, lime, lychee, and straw flavors, with a hint of herbs. The finish is bright and persistent.

Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain, California 2013 ($38): sourced from the Scopus Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, this brilliant, young yet refined, big, tight, rich, and creamy wine begins floral and rather fruity on the nose, leading into a more Burgundian frame with flavor notes of citrus, apple, pear, brioche toast, a touch of fig, and toasted almond, and loaded with minerals.

Covenant Israel, Syrah, 2014 ($75): Comprised of about 90 percent syrah and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, both from the Tel Faris vineyard in the Golan Heights, this is a serious, highly extracted, complex and multi-layered, deliciously fruit-forward yet refined, full-bodied wine offering rich, ripe fruit (plum, blackberry, black cherry, currants), with enticing spice (black pepper, a touch of clove, and some subtle aniseed), lovingly supported by beautifully integrated, silky tannins. Give it a little time to breath for the richness, intensity and depth of flavor to really shine. A fabulous wine.

Covenant, Neshama, Sonoma County, 2014 ($72): A blend of 60 percent petit verdot, 25 percent malbec, and 15 percent syrah, this is a gorgeous, lush, elegant wine, with lovely depth and concentration, almost silky, integrated tannins, and beautiful balance, with bright dark red fruit notes (plum, blackberry, black raspberry, cassis, some black cherry), and all with a wonderful and lively peppery spice accent that helps keep it together. This is a fun yet serious, refined, rewarding and absorbing wine. Drinking perfectly now. More please.

Covenant Napa Valley 2014 ($100): A superb blend of 57 percent cabernet sauvignon, 31 percent merlot and 12 percent petit verdot, this rich, complex, wine offers a bit more upfront finesse than the previous and more usual 100 percent cab offerings, with softer tannins and decent acidity, offering elegant and yummy notes of black currant, black cherry, blackberry, and thyme, with a little spice, some subtle espresso, and delicate vanilla oak. Lovely finish. Very drinkable now with a little air, but should cellar for the mid-term and reward a little patience.

Covenant, Zahav, Late Harvest Muscat Canelli, Suisin Valley, 2014 ($44; half bottle): this fabulous, rich, sweet wine offers aromas and flavors of apricot, honey, honeysuckle, peach, raisins, candied nuts, overripe tropical fruits and orange peel. The finish is a tad clipped at first, but as it breaths, it lingers with some additional sweet complexity.

L’Chaim!

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