And kosher wine came forth from the mountains of Catalonia

Joshua E. London, left, and Jurgen Wagner sample wine from Celler de Capcanes in Spain. Photo courtey of Joshua E. London.

The Spanish Celler de Capçanes is the only non-kosher winery I am aware of that began its fine wine journey by making kosher wine. Established in 1933, Capçanes is a highly regarded cooperative winery in the Tarragona province of Catalonia.

“Around 30 years ago, our region was one of the poorest in Spain,” Jürgen Wagner, winemaker and export manager at Celler de Capçanes, told me during a recent visit to Washington. “Most folks left for the bigger cities seeking financial opportunity.”

Opportunity knocked unexpectedly 1995. The tiny village of Capçanes is about 100 miles southwest of Barcelona, nonetheless it became known through a contact from the Jewish community in Paris that the Jewish community in Barcelona was eager to source domestic kosher wine.

Desperate for an economic lifeline, the co-op responded. Their first kosher wine, which was really their first bottled wine, since everything else had been bulk production, was the 1995 Peraj Ha-abib/Flor de Primavera (Spring Flower). It was a huge success.

At the same time, however, their grape sales market collapsed. To continue to produce the kosher wine and expand to meet demand, they would need to invest in new equipment to make it work.

“The most difficult part,” Wagner said, “was to convince the narrow-minded, conservative-minded farmers high up in the mountains to invest in this endeavor,” Wagner said.

In 1996, the folks at Celler de Capçanes voted to invest in themselves on the strength of their kosher wine. The whole winery was completely restructured and modernized. Despite being a co-op, it began to produce like a high-end, cutting-edge estate winery —viticulturally-driven, based on rigorous yield management and meticulous fruit selection from dry-grown, really old bush-vines.

Celler de Capçanes “went from bulk wine producer to grape producer to kosher wine producer,” said Wagner. “And then it became a non-kosher wine producer. But from the outset, this was designated to be a sophisticated kosher wine.”

Today, Celler de Capçanes regularly produces six kosher wines, amounting to just 20 percent of their production. The kosher wines are a 100-percent old vine samsó (Catalan dialect for carignan),a 100-percent pinot noir and a 100-percent old vine grenache and a 100-percent grenache rosé.

There are also two red blends: a second label blend of grenache, tempranillo, merlot and samsó, and their flagship red blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, and samsó. While all of their kosher wines are worthwhile, and their annual Peraj Ha-abib/Flor de Primavera is always particularly enjoyable, my current favorite from their lineup is:

Celler de Capçanes, La Flor del Flor del Primavera, Old Vines Samsó (Montsant, Spain), 2014 ($70): Though still a little bit of a brooding, heavy, dark and concentrated wine, it has opened beautifully enough to really strut its stuff and dazzle the palate with an earthy and inky mouth of blackberries, blackcurrants, dark plums, black cherries and roasted coffee. This is balanced, complex,layered and really lovely. L’chaim!

Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].

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