The opportunity to visit Spain has been a dream of mine for many years. My dream became a reality one evening while discussing wine over dinner. I had an epiphany.
A few weeks later we packed our bags and we were Barcelona bound. Around 1.5-hour drive south of Barcelona lays the Spanish wine countryside, which includes the areas of Monsant, Priorat and Tarragona among others.
Spain is an interesting region; located along the Mediterranean coast, the climate can be extremely tame, yet hostile at times. Following a beautiful night in Barcelona, we head to Clos Mesorah Estate Winery and are greeted by our good friends Dr. Moises Cohen and his wife Anne. We drive down a cliff leading to the vines hoping we would make it to the winery alive, our fears dissipate as we observe the fall foliage gracing the estate vines. Hues of yellows and oranges we are accustomed to seeing in fall foliage, embrace the thick rootstock buried deep in the landscape. At that moment I knew that this would be an experience of a lifetime for myself and my family. We head right to the tasting area of the winery where Anne has prepared a beautiful tasting for us and our friends whom we have met for their short stopover. We taste the wines slowly, savoring the home marinated olives, local cheeses and estate-roasted almonds. These are the types of wine experiences that have made huge imprints on my life and influenced my feelings about the power wine can have on life. I take it all in as I realize I am in paradise.
After the tasting we take a short walk around the medium-sized estate, we take turns chasing our toddler around the olive trees and between the rootstocks, where he is picking second-growth grapes right off the vines and shoving them in his mouth at an alarming speed. Honestly, reminiscing about that day, I am not sure why we ever left Clos Mesorah. I remember tasting Elvi wines as a youngster, and I am not sure if I purchased them because of their excellent value or interest in the label which had my birthday month of ADAR plastered across the front. Either way, I have enjoyed their wines since around 2007 and would have never believed I would be able to visit the winemakers in Spain.
The Cohens come into the kosher wine market with plenty of experience, including consulting for non-kosher wineries in the past. Their work became a passion that led them to make wine as their ancestors did. They were not willing to compromise on quality regardless of the difficulties that come with producing kosher wines. For example, the harvest often falls during the peak season of the high holidays each year. This is an enormous challenge, which if not dealt with correctly could lead to disastrous results. The most advanced technology exists at the winery and includes an automated sample dispensing system that allows for tank tastings daily without the need for the mashgiach to separate samples manually for quality control. The wines made by the Cohens are organic, close to biodynamic and immersed in biodiversity with all sorts of wildlife roaming in the vineyards. Being of Sefardic heritage, they feel they have a big responsibility to create the best wines in the world using all the resources possible and I think it is safe to say they are doing just that.
The Cohen’s started their kosher wine-making journey in 2003 with their Makor series. They eventually expanded the Elvi label with several offerings including, Adar, Clasico, Matí and the famous EL26 from Priorat, made in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2015. Eventually, the Elvi label evolved into a three-tiered series with Viña Encina, Herenza and Crianza. The white and rosé line of In Vita started in 2011 and are now a part of the Herenza line. The Viña Encina line came about in response to a growing need for table wine with mevushal status and quality inexpensive wines that could be served by caterers and restaurants. The In Vita series along with the Elvi series have been melded into one and is now called the Herenza series which makes it a lot easier to remember the wines (“Herenza” means “Heritage” in Ladino, the “sephardic Yiddish”). In 2008, the Cohen family did something that a Jewish family had not done since the 15th century––they purchased an estate with vineyards and started their estate label,Clos Mesorah. The first vintage of Clos Mesorah sold was the 2009 vintage. Each subsequent vintage has been hugely popular and successful. There is a secret message in the label of Clos Mesorah which is visible if you look closely at the bottle. This message came about first as a family game but then made its way to the bottle. The Cohen’s wines are made in four distinctive regions of Spain: La Mancha, Rioja, Priorat, and Montsant.
The Cohens are involved heavily in the business and operational aspects of this amazing production, which now includes three separate but unified labels. I had met Moises at many tastings in the states, but this was my first time meeting Anne. I knew this was a family endeavor, however, I did not know that Anne does a lot of behind the scenes work I never thought about. Moses is in charge of managing the vineyards, supervising the harvest and the plantings. Anne oversees the winemaking process. Their son David who recently completed his academic courses in the U.S. has joined the team and has already proved his skills in sales and marketing.
The Cohen-Aleta’s philosophy is simple: The continuous observation of their surroundings is essential to make the best wines. They observe the passing of the seasons, the sun shining, the rain––the earth’s life makes them directly understand that neither science nor technology is capable of replicating this perfect order. It goes deeper when they observe the circle of life of the land to the plant, from the plant to the grapes and from the grapes to men. Dr. Cohen comments that there is absolutely something magical about this amazing process, which is why it is his family’s passion. The Cohens’ philosophy about winemaking is simple. It is a union of forces, one single person does not make the wine, but the family is inevitably submerged in both the vineyard and the wine. There is no vacation in this business; there is no single day that they can forget about the winery, the vineyards or the grapes. Anne and Moises have been very lucky because their children have decided to join them in this beautiful profession. Moises tells me working together as a family in unity makes the difficult times easier to overcome; this is one of the most beautiful philosophies about life I have ever heard.
As we know, wines are used during all momentous occasions in Judaism. From Shabbat to britot to weddings to sheva brachot and siyumim. Anne and Moises love to know that Jews around the world use their wines to participate in these mitzvot, some daily. This is their motivation––actively participating in so many people’s happiness, which inspires them to improve every day. Once a country in which Jewry flourished and was eventually destroyed, the status of these wines are critical in overcoming the hatred that once tried to destroy us, and are a testament to our perseverance and eventually our victory over our enemies. The Cohens are the first Jews to own a winery in Spain since the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. The barrel room is graced by a Hebrew pasuk taken from Megillah:Vav, reminding us that our work will be rewarded when we are redeemed by Moshiach.
Upcoming innovative projects are always in the works for all of the Clos Mesorah/Evli lines of wine. There is a new wine called Sublim coming soon. It is aged in barrels for a long time and a blend of Grenache and Old Vine Carignan from Priorat. We had the honor of tasting a barrel sample at the Cohen’s dinner table and it is sublime. They are also working on a brandy distilled from the 2014 Herenza Rioja which will be very interesting to taste. Much to my dismay, there will not be a large scale export production of estate olive oil or homemade quince jam, however, a trip to Clos Mesorah will quench the curiosity of those inclined to make the awesome trip out there. L’chaim!
By Yael E. Geller, MPH