How is a wine made according to kosher standards?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’ve read your previous explanation of kosher wine. I am an observant Jew who is now studying the fine points of kashrut, Jewish dietary law. In large winemaking facilities, after the grapes are sorted, destemmed, cleaned, etc., is there any further contact with people touching, manually mixing, drawing off or in any way touching or manipulating the wine? Or is this all done by machine?

Morris S., New York, N.Y.

Dear Morris,

There are plenty of wineries that make wine according to the Jewish religious dietary laws of kashrut. For the most part, the winemaking process is the same, primarily making sure any non-kosher ingredients aren’t added, particularly when it comes to fining. The biggest difference is rabbinical oversight and that the wine can only be handled by Sabbath-observant Jewish people. That means only Sabbath-observant Jewish workers can handle the wine from crushing until bottling.

You’re right that much of the winemaking production is automated these days, especially for larger-production wines, which makes this aspect easier to observe. But no matter what size, if a winery is adhering to kosher laws, winemakers who are not observant cannot draw samples from barrels on their own without the assistance of religious workers. I’ve heard that most kosher cellars are kept locked up to ensure their purity.

You should also know about kosher wines that are designated as mevushal, which means they go through an extra step to make sure they are ritually impervious to desecration. Either the grapes are heated right after they are picked and cooled in a vacuum right away in a process called flash-détente, or the wines are pasteurized to about 185 °F. This process means that even if non-observant Jewish believers handle them, it won’t affect their kosher status.

—Dr. Vinny

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