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Napa Valley's Jewish Vintners Host Inaugural Auction

Tim Fish
Posted: May 14, 2001

Synagogue in the Vineyards, an auction held on May 6 to benefit Congregation Beth Sholom's fund to build a synagogue in Napa Valley, was also a chance -- according to Silver Oak winemaker Daniel Baron -- for the Jewish people of Napa Valley "to come out of the closet."

Although Napa's Jewish community dates to the 1800s, its numbers have remained small. There are about 1,000 Jewish families in the valley, according to Congregation Beth Sholom, but that number is expanding and the current synagogue, a former Napa Chamber of Commerce building, is becoming too small.

The live auction, held at Clos Pegase winery, raised $25,000 and drew 83 guests from around the San Francisco Bay area. The top bid -- $3,000 -- was paid for three bottles of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. A 1.5-liter bottle of Harlan Estate 1996 brought $1,200, while a 3-liter bottle of Joseph Phelps 1997 Insignia fetched $1,000.

Many of Napa Valley's most prominent Jewish vintners participated in the event, including Al Brounstein of Diamond Creek Vineyards and Leslie Rudd of Rudd Estate. Clos Pegase owner Jan Shrem, who was born in pre-Israel Palestine, entertained the group with his lecture entitled "Bacchanalian History of Wine Seen through 4,000 Years of Art." The daylong event, which included tours and tastings at Rudd Estate and Diamond Creek, increased people's awareness of the connection between Judaism and wine.

"People don¿t even know there are Jewish vintners," said Dan Marks, an Oakville investment banker who attended the event. "And it has been part of our history for 6,000 years."

Jews, like Catholics and the ancient Greeks, believe in the symbolic power of wine. But while the connection between wine and the Jewish faith is a rich tradition, Baron said, "In a sense it becomes rote. Even in our synagogue, we tend to use Manischewitz."

Where better than Napa Valley, Baron argued, for the roots of wine and religion to reestablish a once-close association? Finding a location amid the vineyards has proved challenging, but the goal is to have a new synagogue in three to five years.

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