As Rabbi Yossie Shemtov draws the grand prize raffle ticket at Chabad’s annual Purim party and wine tasting at Congregation Young Israel on Sunday, March 20, he may take a moment to reflect on the journey to this point.
A mere 18 years ago he was standing in the rolling cattle country near Sonoita, some 50 miles southeast of Tucson, wearing a white apron and topping off oak barrels of wine derived from French hybrid vines.
The rabbi was supervising Arizona’s only kosher winemaking at the Nave Vineyards, where he and Haifa native Zvi Nave produced a line of wines that included sauvignon blanc, cabarnet sauvignon and a rosé of cabernet and pinot noir.
“The challenges were plenty,” he recalls. “Other than finding the moisture-retaining soil needed to grow grapes for wine, we needed to have the area cleared of anyone who is not Shabbos observant, as required by halachah (Jewish law). We had Rabbi Eliezer Teitelbaum of the OK Labs in Brooklyn and yeshiva students come in to help.
“We were also faced with a market where inexpensive kosher wines were overpriced compared to non-kosher and the expensive kosher wines were not living up to the price,” he adds.
But all that has changed.
At the Purim party, Shemtov will raffle off 101 bottles of premium collectible kosher wines as part of a fundraiser to benefit the educational work of Chabad of Tucson.
“Making wine gave me a great appreciation for the growing variety and selection we have today in the kosher wine industry,” he says, adding that he hopes the wine tasting will show people “how much the market has progressed since the Manischewitz Concord Wine.” Wine for Passover will also be sold at the party, which begins at 3:30 p.m.
Other raffle prizes are a wine cooling system and a case of 2001 Chateau Haut Condissas Medoc (France). Raffle tickets are $54; ticket purchase includes admission. For more information, visit www.KosherWine Raffle.com.