From Grapes to Kosher Wine

Rabbi Shmuel Singer

At first blush, one might think that wine, which starts out as natural fruit juice, would be easily deemed kosher. After all, companies have no problem manufacturing beverages such as orange or apple juice according to kosher rules. However, wine due to its ceremonial use in ancient pagan worship, and the unique social familiarity that it engenders, coupled with its use today in numerous ritual observances, including the mitzvah of the four cups consumed at the Seder, must be made under very precise conditions.

The halachot governing wine production are in reality quite complex. Both the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch devote extensive analyses to the subject. The basic principle stipulates that in order for wine to assume kosher status, it must be produced by religiously observant Jews. Assigning a mashgiach to observe the production, as is done in other cases, would not be sufficient.

Coordinating kosher wine production requires careful preparation. First the entire winery and its equipment must be kosherized. All the stations used to produce the juice must be manned by a team of kosher workers; the regular plant employees may not work these locations during kosher production. Whenever the kosher workers are not present, the wine is sealed in tanks or barrels. Once the grape juice or wine has been cooked (mevushal), the wine-handling restrictions are relaxed.

Currently, kosher wine is being produced in most of the world’s chief wine-producing regions on six continents. This successful proliferation of kosher wine comes with some challenges; the grape harvest season in the northern hemisphere occurs in September and October, intersecting with the Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succot holidays. Nevertheless, kosher supervision of wine and grape juice continues to expand and grow.

The escalation of worldwide kosher wine production can be attributed to increased consumer demand for quality kosher wines. In addition, kosher grape juice production, made primarily for industrial purposes, is also on the rise. Many companies in various branches of the food industry use grape juice as a sweetener or added ingredient; this includes companies that manufacture juices, preserves, cereals, flavors and other items. Since many of these manufacturers are kosher, they require only kosher grape juice.

Judaism views wine as a God-given means to enhance one’s happiness. Our rabbis teach that when the redemption arrives, a joyous banquet will be held, at which specially preserved kosher wine will be served. The dedicated efforts of the kosher supervisors and mashgichim, who help to provide kosher consumers with kosher wine and grape juice for their Passover Seders, are also certainly playing an integral part in bringing the final redemption to the Jewish people and the entire world. May we witness the ‘fruit of their labors’ soon in our days!