Recently Wine Enthusiast published its “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers” for 2018, celebrating “trailblazers who are shaping the future of wine, spirits, beer and cider in America.” One name on the list is 39-year-old Jonathan Hajdu, who the magazine described as “a sabbath observant Jewish winemaker” whose “high-quality bottlings challenge preconceived notions about kosher wine.”
Hajdu (pronounced Hay-doo) is the co-winemaker of the Berkeley, Calif.-based kosher certified Covenant Winery. Hajdu also has his own eponymous brand of kosher wines (HajduWines.com), a small-lot operation that is both well regarded and highly sought after. He is also one of the most talented kosher winemakers in the United States today.
He started his own brand of kosher California wines in 2007. At first, he called the brand Brobdingnagian, from Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” In 2011, he switched to Hadju Wines.
“I kept having this experience where I’d be talking to folks about wine, and they’d be describing a really amazing kosher wine they loved but that they couldn’t exactly recall the name,” he told me last week, “and anyway they couldn’t pronounce it, much less spell it. And I’d eventually realize from their descriptions of the labels that they were actually talking about my wines.”
People still find the name unpronounceable, he said, but being only five letters long, it’s much easier to remember.
Meanwhile, be began working with Covenant in 2008. Under his own brand he produces nine wines, including those he crafted exclusively for his Adventurer’s Guild wine club, which he established in 2016.
“I wanted an adventure-themed wine club,” he told me, “where folks will be trying new varietals from different regions all over California. It is an opportunity for people to try new things, and there won’t be any repeats.”
A Long Island native, Hajdu’s love of wine began during his undergraduate studies in archeology at SUNY Albany. He found the undergraduate scene “really boring,” and so gravitated to wine bars.
There he had his first experience with a great bottle of wine — a Shafer Hillside Select Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. In that moment “wine went from two dimensional to three dimensional [in his mind],” and he started thinking about getting into the wine business.
After graduation, he spent a year at the Or Samaech yeshivah in Jerusalem. Then Hajdu began his wine adventure. He studied viticulture in Australia, working a few Yarra Valley vineyards, then off to wineries in California, and then back to Israel, eventually finding his professional home in northern California.
Despite his heavy workload, Hajdu’s enthusiasm for winemaking remains undiminished. He said he loves “tasting the way that flavors evolve in barrel and the creative process from grapes to bottle to glass. It’s exciting. It makes me feel like I’m constantly discovering new treasures.”
So raise a glass in honor of Wine Enthusiast’s recognition of Jonathan Hajdu’s contributions to wine. My toast is over a glass of his Hajdu, Grenache, Eagle Point Ranch, Mendocino County, 2012. This is big, full, concentrated, complex, and simply brilliant — balanced and elegant, more earthy, spicy and mineral driven than fruity. Though still quite young, it has softened enough to be enjoyed on its own, but it clearly craves flesh. L’chaim!
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected]