Ontario winery produces kosher VQA Riesling

Rabbi Levy Teitlebaum at Huff Estates Winery

There is a new locally produced kosher Riesling on the market, one that Huff Estates Winery claims is the only Ontario-grown kosher wine available today.

Jason Sharpe, the general manager of the Prince Edward County winery on Lake Ontario’s north shore, said that until he was approached by Ottawa-based Rabbi Levy Teitlebaum, he didn’t know much about the process of making kosher wine.

Rabbi Teitlebaum, who certifies products under the Ottawa Vaad Hakashrut (OVH), first made contact with Sharpe less than a year ago. Rabbi Teitlebaum said members of the Jewish community were asking why there were no kosher local wine products “and that it would be nice to support the local community.”

A Jewish volunteer contacted a number of wineries about possibly making a kosher wine and heard back from Sharpe at Huff Estates. “I met with [Sharpe], and we felt it was a good shidduch,” the rabbi said.

“Rabbi Teitlebaum sent me an email last September and said, ‘This is what we do. Are you interested?’” Sharpe recalled.

“At first, to be honest, I didn’t think a whole lot of it and it kind of sat with me for a couple days, and I thought, ‘You know what, it could be interesting.’”

He said he began to research other kosher wines that were available on the market and discovered that while there have been kosher wines produced in Ontario in the past, there weren’t any that are currently available.

After contacting the LCBO and checking its inventory list, he found there were no other kosher Ontario Rieslings on the market.“We saw that there was a bit of a hole in the market. There was no local wine for the Jewish community that’s kosher,” Sharpe said.

He said just a couple weeks before the Riesling grapes were ready to be harvested, they decided to go ahead with it.

In accordance with Halachah, throughout the kosher wine-making process, Rabbi Teitlebaum and a observant Jewish partner he worked with from Kingston were the only ones permitted to handle the product.

“So from grapes to bottles, he had to make the whole thing,” Sharpe said.

“Through the crush and harvest and the whole wine-making process and fermentation, they were the only ones who were allowed to touch the product. If we [as non-Jews] touched it, it would have ruined the whole thing.”

Rabbi Teitlebaum said that in the same way Sharpe respected the kosher wine-making process, it was important he show the same respect to Sharpe.

“What I tried to do was understand the company and then see how I could insert kashrut into what they’re already doing. You might end up with the exact same result… but you’re certainly giving them their respect,” said Rabbi Teitlebaum, who gained experience making a kosher wine a few years ago in Kelowna, B.C., with Summerhill Pyramid Winery.

“I think we developed a friendship simply because I spent time there understanding what he does, and every winery has a different way of doing it… As a rabbi, I understand the halachic perspective of it… I’ve got to do all the touching. It’s a hard thing to do, so you develop a relationship.”

Earlier this month, a release party for the new wine – a small batch of 200 cases – was held at the winery. The non-mevushal wine, selling for $25 a bottle, can be ordered through www.huffestates.com.

“So little wine is produced in Canada – we’re not California or France, but someone who is Canadian would certainly want to have something for a function that is a Canadian product, something that we can sell that we can say was made locally,” Rabbi Teitlebaum said.

Beyond the fact that it’s a local product, Sharpe said the wine, which is certified by VQA Ontario – a regulatory agency that ensures wines meet certain quality standards – is an exceptional product.

“There has always been a negative connotation about kosher wine. When I researched it in the beginning, I found that a lot of people didn’t think that the quality is there, but the way we produced it… it’s a very high-quality Riesling. I’d be happy if we were able to produce the same wine ourselves,” Sharpe said.

“If the product does well, we might look at doing other kosher wines as well.”