Log In / Join Now

A Showplace for Kosher Wine and Food

Herzog's California visitor center offers wine tastings and pairings, along with insight into the winemaking process

Lynn Alley
Posted: April 10, 2006

If the words "kosher wine" make you think of the sweet, syrupy stuff made from Concord grapes and served at Passover, Royal Wine Corp. may give you reason to think again. The nation's largest producer of kosher wines has opened a new California showplace for its Herzog Wine Cellars to help educate consumers about fine kosher wines through tastings, tours and dining.

The 77,000-square-foot winery, which opened to the public in July 2005, is located in Oxnard, Calif., about an hour north of Los Angeles and 40 minutes south of Santa Barbara. The winery is positioned as an easy day trip or a convenient stop for wine tourists heading toward the Central Coast appellations.

Visitors can stop by every day except Saturday, when the winery is closed for Sabbath observance. For the guided and self-guided tours, a viewing hall on the second floor allows guests to look down onto the wine-production area, barrel room and bottling line. The hallway is lined with explanations of the winemaking process and what it means to be kosher, facts about the winery and a history of the Herzog family, who arrived in the United States in 1948 with little more than the clothes on their backs and proceeded to build a successful business making and importing kosher wine.

"Everyone has misconceptions about teams of rabbis mumbling prayers over the wines, but what makes wine kosher is that the people who handle the wines are themselves observant Jews," who follow Orthodox laws, explained Herzog marketing manager J.P. Webb. Fining agents and other additions to the wine have to be certified kosher as well.

Visitors to the new Herzog tasting room can learn how kosher wine is made--and tastes.
In the stunning, Craftsman-style tasting room, visitors can try flights of four of Herzog's wines. It costs $3 to sample from the value-priced Baron Herzog line of varietals, which range from Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Zinfandel to Chardonnay and white Zinfandel. These wines are all priced between $7 and $13 a bottle, and their recently redesigned labels depict the new winery in the background. It costs $6 to taste from the flagship Herzog Special Reserve line, which includes several Cabernets and Cabernet-based blends, a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, an Edna Valley Syrah and two late-harvest wines. These range in price from $18 to $70.

Just beyond the tasting room is Tierra Sur Restaurant, which opened last fall and serves Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. The chef is Todd Aarons, who previously worked at Zuni Café in San Francisco and Savoy in New York, and the menu is glatt kosher under the supervision of the Orthodox Union. Over the winter, it featured dishes such as grilled Idaho brook trout with artichoke hearts, white beans and pea tendrils in a Meyer lemon sauce, and breaded double-cut veal chop with quince and shallot chutney and grilled broccoli rabe. Wine-pairing menus are available during both lunch and dinner.

Oxnard, which is known as the strawberry capitol of the United States, may seem like a strange place to base a winery, since there are no vineyards in the immediate area and Herzog doesn't have any of its own. Yet the Herzog family chose the location for its proximity both to the large communities of observant Jews in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and also to the Central Coast winegrowing regions.

"The fact that we own no vineyards means we are not limited to one or a few vineyard appellations," said winemaker Joe Hurliman, "but can search the state for specific microclimates best suited to our grapes." Herzog sources separate bottlings of Cabernet, for example, from Napa Valley and from Alexander Valley in Sonoma.

The new facility gives Herzog, which previously made its wines in rented facilities in Santa Maria, Calif., more room to grow. It also gives Hurliman more freedom. "Hurliman's got more control and more flexibility in making his wines than ever before," said Webb. "We now have smaller tanks for tighter control and the ability to make extremely small lots. He can baby special lots of wine or create something unique."

Two new wines are being introduced this spring. The Herzog Late Harvest Zinfandel, whose first vintage is 2005, comes from Lodi and is priced around $20. With 9.6 percent residual sugar, the wine is meant to be drunk as an aperitif or as a dessert wine. The 2004 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast Jeunesse, retailing for about $13, is a fruity red meant to be drunk young with a wide range of food. Joining the portfolio soon will be a Special Reserve Pinot Noir from Edna Valley.

Herzog Wine Cellars
3201 Camino del Sol, Oxnard, Calif.
Telephone: (805) 983-1560
Web site: www.herzogwinecellars.com
Open: Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cost: Tastings $3 and $6

Tierra Sur
3201 Camino del Sol, Oxnard, Calif.
Telephone: (805) 983-1560
Web site: www.herzogwinecellars.com/html/restaurant.html
Open: Lunch, Sunday to Friday; dinner, Sunday to Thursday
Cost: Dinner ntrées, $25 to $47; wine-tasting menu, $58

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.