California Wine Month: A Visit to Herzog for Kosher Wine

If you went just about anywhere last Thursday Sept. 21 on the last day of summer, you would have likely seen a lot of harvest activity, and in wine country, you’d see grapes getting picked and hauled along windy roads to crush pads where they will go from being grapes to a fermented beverage — wine — in your glass.

September is California Wine Month, and for California Wineries, it’s definitely harvest time, especially after the late August/early September heat spike, which means everyone is BUSY BUSY BUSY!

It’s wonderful to get out into the vineyards if you can to see the vines plump with fruit, or to visit a winery and see the process in action.

But as I mentioned in the earlier post, for Kosher wine giant Herzog, Jewish Holy Days during harvest means they close down several times and for several days during the busiest time of the year.

In addition to closing on Fridays at sunset and all day on Saturday, Herzog shuts down for the major Jewish holidays even during harvest: for Rosh Hashanah (last week’s New Year’s celebration), then closure for Erev Sukkot on October 4, then closed for Sukkot October 5October 6. The restaurant and tasting room are also closed, and on these dates as well: for Hosanna Raba on October 11, for Shemini Atzeret on October 12, and Simchat Torah on October 13.

Yom Kippur, meaning the ‘Day of Atonement,’ is the holiest day of the year, and this year occurs when Herzog closes on Friday and Saturday. Yom Kippur 2017 begins in the evening of Friday September 29 and ends in the evening of Saturday September 30. To mark the ‘Sabbath of Sabbaths’, Jews fast for 25 hours and pray devoutly for most of the day, with five different sessions – Maariv, Shacharit, Musaf, Minchah and Neilah.

In July, well before harvest, Sue and I visited Herzog. With head winemaker Joe Hurliman as our guide, we toured the facility, saw the bottling line, learned the history, and tasted through a number of California wines.

As Herzog’s website points out, “the Jewish people have a special relationship to wine that predates even the Romans and Greeks. For the ancient Jews, whose temple in Jerusalem was renowned throughout the fledgling civilizations of the Middle East, wine played an important role in religious ritual. Today, thousands of years later, it continues to do so. Kiddush, the prayer over the wine, traditionally announces the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday night as well as other holidays.”

So it makes sense that the Herzog family has been making wine for a long time — for six centuries or nine generations according to current winemaker Joe Hurliman.  Emperor Franz-Josef made Philip Herzog a Baron in appreciation for the wine made in Slovakia for the Austro-Hungarian court over a century ago.  The Baron Herzog line of premium yet moderately priced California varietals commemorates and honors Philip Herzog. During World War II, the Herzog family hid from the Nazis by moving around the Slovakian countryside. After the war, they “emerged from behind a false wall in a courageous Christian friend’s woodshed to reclaim his family’s winery” states the Herzog website. The sixth generation left Czechoslovakia in the 1940’s due to communism  and family members went to work for a New York winemaker.  Read more about the Herzog story here.

In 1985, Herzog and the Royal wine company came to California, and in 2004, they broke ground on this facility where in 2005 they started processing  the wine. In this facility in Oxnard, they bring grapes from all over the state to make wine and distribute the finished bottles– currently over 250,000 cases a year. This keeps the bottling line busy all day Monday through Thursday except for during prayers two times a day and the two months of harvest.

In 2010 they bought the 260 acre vineyard where they had been buying grapes since 2005.

Until 2007, Peter Stern led the winemaking team original winemaker, then Joe Hurliman took the lead after an eighth year apprenticeship with John Olvin. The current winemaker who has a soft spot for Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Grenache has been with Herzog now for 19 years.

Joe told us that there is a huge warehouse on the facility, and they think of themselves as a Big Little Winery. In addition to a crushpad, bottling line, storage, a restaurant, and a tasting room, the facility has a conference room that can fit up to 30, a tented area outside, and two VIP rooms.

People come from all over the world to visit and taste at Herzog. Some fly into the Camarillo airport just to have dinner or lunch.

A Farm to Table Restaurant focusing on fresh food, Tierra Sur receives national recognition and one of the highest Zagat ratings in the region because head Chef Gabriel Garcia and his team use only seasonal ingredients in exciting ways, sourced fresh from local farm­ers.  Order from a special ‘Wine Tasters Menu’ and enjoy a three course prix fixe selection, each paired with Herzog Special Reserve award-winning wines.  Sue and I look forward to reporting on this further soon!

At the facility, they are capable of small lot wines as well as large production: they have huge 800,000 gallon tanks as well as small 2,400 gallon tanks.

Grapes come from wine growing regions throughout California: Santa Ynez, Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Paso Robles, Lake County. They manage as many as 2500 barrels and keep them at an even temp of 60 F and 75% humidity. The winery dictates and manages the vineyard, and of interest to us, farming does not have to be Kosher and neither does harvest.

Joe explained that barrels, which they use for about four years, have a Kosher seal: The barrels have to have a Kosher head sealant sealed with plastic instead of wheat paste; these makes the barrels Kosher Certifiable.

Following a tour of the facility by Joe, Sue and I tasted through a number of the California wines with him in the lovely well lit tasting room, and what follows are our comments.

Chenin Blanc – Clarksburg _ Prince Vineyard –2016 – 11.5% alcohol

At room temp, beautiful nuances came out. So much beauty and character at a retail of less than $10.

Very consistent from year to year. Says Joe:
“I don’t put dogs in the bottle.”

On the sweeter side, this would go well with spicy foods, Thai, Mexican, Indian, spice. Pear is very distinct with minerality, salinity, and ocean influence evident in the wine which is the reason the family owns the vineyard. We’d definitely recommend this wine: great character, great price.

Prince Vineyard  2016 Baron Herzog Chardonnay – $13

Winery not on the vineyard so it can’t be considered estate fruit.

For the price, it is well worth the value. Classic Chardonnay profile.

Kiwi  with a bit of sweetness from the 1% residual sugar.

Barrel fermented Russian River Chard – Special Reserve – 14.5% alcohol

The wine is consistent year after year and can be clumsy at room temp because of the oak treatment; with food this wine may do well. Difficult to see the color in the tasting room. We bet this would be brilliant in the restaurant, as we suspect it needs food to shine.

Restaurant must do really well in selling wine for the winery! Once you’ve had a wine paired well with food, you’ll want the wine!

Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon $30

This is a limited availability wine that will go out to the wine club; if any wine is left after that it is available through the tasting room. Making a good quality rose is not necessarily an easy wine to make which contributes to the price. Also there is just only so much time and space during harvest so they don’t always get a chance to make rose.

This has a lovely nose – at times there is an orange peel “substantial mouthfeel that can move with many different things” darker in color – not like South of France where the wines are typically made from Grenache and the skins are not as dark.

No residual sugar, it has a nice lingering finish like a good piece of stone fruit when you don’t want to let the pit go. Nose like you are in a fruit orchard that has super ripe white stone fruit. Very subtle oak with nice biscuit notes.

They also do a Pinot noir rose – price point more around $18.

2015 – Cab Sauv – Paso fruit –$10 on sale for the holidays.

Joe the winemaker has been working with this Herzog family owned vineyard for 19 yrs.

Another great wine for an affordable price, this is a BBQ wine with a lot of oak plus licorice, bramble fruit, cherry, and tart cherry.

We asked whether they’ve thought about making this as a box wine and he said that box wine could be a consideration, but it has a very short shelf life due to the liner of the wine; it needs to sell it within the time line that it needs to be sold in or it will go stale. If you look, some of these wines on the box you may see an expiration date.

2015 – Lodi Zin – Watts family fruit

Pretty and funky on the nose – sometimes those old vines have funky earthiness and that comes across here.

Lots of oak present on this one. It is not overly sweet with great structure, some whole cluster fermentation. This wine was a bit oaky though for us. I wish we’d asked for a bottle for our Lodi zinfandel tasting event. It would have been interesting dos ee how ti stacked up against the other wines.

Their White Zin also comes from this vineyard (read more on it here). With 2 ½ % residual sugar, it’s not bad for a white zin; it has really low PH for the balance, and it’s light and bright and not too sweet, kind of like cotton candy – not bubble gum. It has its own flavor, and it would make a great party wine because it should be pleasing to many.

Cabernet Sauvignon – North Coast – (Lake County) – $26

American Oak/French oak variations: same coopers, same wine coming out of the same tank straight to two different barrels – medium plus toast. Cab sauv showing how oak influences it  – 9 months in the barrel for both, both were pulled the same day.

Something for the customers to compare different oak, same wine

Much longer finish on the American oak; I preferred the French oak, as it is much more subtle. With 1400 cases combined, it sold out in the tasting room and had to pull some back from the New York stock.

American Oak – much more husky and bold, takes a grip – more smokey influence.

French Oak – subtle, sweet elegant, soft.

What a fun project – as they sat in the glass for a while, they softened a bit, Suggestion from the winemaker is drink within 2 years,

Herzog has done some other variations projects:

Variations – labels have the coastline Variations 3, 4, and 5

3 – starts with Paso, Santa Ynez

4- adds Alexander Valley

5 adds – Napa

Not necessarily the same three kind of barrels

Single Vineyard – not muvushal – a different level of kosher, cannot be poured in the tasting room – $75

Flexibility to do things

Project came up with in 2006 – got grapes from a prestigious vineyard in Oakville,

Goes to smaller AVAs allowing the wine to do what it really wants to do. After ferment and press, then deciding what type of oak treatment aging atc…. Label is like notes from his journal. Small lot batches.

Herzog – Lineage –  Camouflage Red Wine Blend –

Herzog bought this Clarksburg vineyard  in 2010. The acreage is in the middle of the vineyard that the owner did not want to sell, full of  different varietals. She wanted to open up a little tasting room and changed her mine. So Herzog bought it up: 11 acres. With less than a ton of each fruit, they decided to do a field blend.

One big challenge is how to deal with different ripening of the fruit: early varietals are left for more ripening, while later harvest fruit is picked a bit early. It was so interesting that winemaker convinced the owner that it needed to be bottled on its own. It only has about four weeks of oak influence in order not to hide the fruit and perhaps that contributed to it being our favorite and the most distinct and memorable wine for us.

Rhurbarb on the nose with some vegetal cab franc notes and lots of fresh vibrant fruit on the palate.

This is a very nice wine can be found sometimes during holidays and we should have asked for a sample when we were there! Names on the label are names of the family.

 

2014 – Sonoma  County – Alexander Valley Cab Sauv  Special Reserve – $48 – 15% alcohol

$44 prices increase as they cellar the wine on their own. 2014 was a very special vintage. Tastes and smells like cab suave, This is one of the vineyards that they completely control. I found this wine to be very enjoyable even with the 15% alcohol — it has a plushness that I bet would be beautiful with big bold meats. However, we did find all these wines to have a very heavy oak influence.

Chalk Hill Cab – Clone 6 – $120

Vineyard managers work the fields and are in contact with the winemaker constantly to ensure that the vineyards are being tended to carefully and that he will have enough fruit to do what needs to be done and that he does not have to find fruit elsewhere to do what they need to do.

All together, Herzog does about 60 skus of production, and Joe has two assistant winemakers: one assistant does the Baron Herzog, and the other does the variations project and dessert wines. One is a woman and we thought it might be fun to come back and talk to her next March when we feature women winemakers for Women’s History Month.

Joe says in the future he looks forward to bringing wine members fun interesting new varietals and continue to come up with new concepts and develop other new vineyards and developing the Eagles Landing, their new experimental label which is available almost exclusively through wine club because not enough is made. He also enjoys making Pinot Noir and is looking to making some from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, particularly  Sta Rita Hills and Edna Valley. He enjoys doing different grapes, and this year he’s excited about doing an Albarino.

Stay tuned to hear how that Albarino comes out, plus join us as we review the restaurant, and more!

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