California Dreamin’ (California Garagistes)

#148 – November 10, 2010

After covering California’s largest kosher winery last week, this week I am writing about a number of smaller Californian wineries where a recent proliferation of great kosher wine bodes amazingly well for the future of the kosher oenophile. While Herzog and Hagafen are well known and, together with Four Gates and Covenant, have been making suburb Californian wines for quite some time; this week’s wineries are new kids on the block and far less known. Based on the quality of these wines, this obscurity is a sin I hope to at least partially rectify with this newsletter. I also wanted to wish a hearty Mazal Tov to N&AS whom, given their current California dwelling, are supremely positioned to directly benefit from this week’s newsletter – Mazal Tov!

Before I get into Brobdignanian, Syraph, One|Two Punch and B.R. Cohn; I wanted remind you about the Leket Wine Club and ask that you check it out, sign up and let your friends know about it. A membership is a great wine to learn about and explore news wines and also makes a great gift for Chanukah, a wedding or any other gift-giving occasion. Each quarter I personally select some great Israeli wines that are shipped directly to your door. Check it out here and feel free to email me directly with any questions. Also, Yossie’s Wine Recommendations is now on Twitter with daily wine recommendations, tips, wine quotes, articles and other oenophilic goodies – so please follow me @yossieuncorked.

While many micro-sized wineries are located in actual garages – which is the source of the term “Garagiste Winery”; it is commonly used to mean small and tiny wineries regardless of the structure in which the wine is made. In Israel the proliferation of garagiste wineries has been ongoing for years and is producing ever-improving wines, resulting primarily from increases in available knowledge, resources and technology. While there is still an incredible amount of plonk being produced by garagistes and sold at offensive prices, more and more of the offerings are surprisingly good (but still overly expensive). While, as an enthusiastic kosher wine consumer this is great, as the author of this newsletter it makes my job a little more difficult. It is getting increasingly harder to stay on top of all the new offerings and barely a week goes by where I don’t get 1-2 questions and a wine or winery about which I had never heard.

However, only recently have folks in the great state of California begun producing kosher wines on a garagiste scale and all of those I have recently tasted are amazingly good. I recently mentioned the Brobdignanian Syrah and have now tasted their Grenache. I had the opportunity to taste the first kosher wine produced by the B.R. Cohn winery and two cool blends of Syrah and Grenache produced by the Weiss Brothers. The Brobdignanian and Weiss Brother labels are extremely cool, lending their big behemoth and wax-encased bottles extra panache (the Brobdignanian wines and the Syraph are bottles in the exact same bottles. I also recently acquired a few bottles of Covenant’s new Solomon wine – their just released, über-tiered wine but, given the $150 price tag and the fact that I pay for all the wines I taste myself, I haven’t yet sacrificed a bottle to the newsletter (but will definitely report back once I do).

As an aside, I have recently put together a list of newsletter subscribers who professed interest in being advised of future interesting wine-buying opportunities such as these. Please let me know if you are interested in being added to the list. One lesson learned while acquiring these wines was that buying from smaller operations can be exceedingly frustrating at times, given their extremely limited, sometime one-man, operations. Even after getting someone to answer my emails and phone calls and actually placing my order, in some cases it took numerous follow-ups to ensure that the wine was actually shipped which was slightly annoying. However any aggravation immediately dissipated into thin air upon tasting of the wines. Please let me know if you would like more information on any of these wines and I will forward the relevant contact information for each of these folks separately.

Shabbat Shalom,


I wrote about the Brobdignanian Syrah a few weeks ago when gifted it by SF, and recently had an opportunity to try it again, together with the Grenache (of which I was unfortunately only able to secure two bottles). Made by Jonathan Hajdu – Covenant’s assistance winemaker, these are big, bold, alcoholic and powerful wines. Prior to his current gig at Covenant, Jonathan worked at wineries around the world including in Australia, California and at the Carmel Winery in Israel. Like the Weiss brothers, I believe Jonathan also worked at the Herzog Winery. Named for the giants discovered by Lemuel Gulliver during his mythical travels though the world of Jonathan Swift and easily living up to their colossal namesakes; these are high alcohol wines, both clocking in at 16.3%.

Brobdignanian, Syrah, Santa Barbera, 2007: While this wine may be a tough mouthful to enunciate it is anything but tough in the mouth. Slightly tight tannins that needed a well worth it 10-15 minute wait in the glass, with tannins and fruit nicely woven together in a wine that quite literally dances on your tongue. The more than 16% alcohol shouldn’t give you any pause as the alcohol, wood and fruit blend seamlessly into harmonious bliss. Loads of rich fruit including blueberries matched nicely by freshly cracked black pepper and currants and strengthened with cedar wood, all with an underlying pleasant earthiness that is almost smoky in nature. The second glass of this wine was even better, as the fruit had settled down to reveal additional layers of complexity leading into a very long and delicious finish with hints of the darkest chocolate you can find and wet tobacco leaf.

Brobdignanian, Grenache, Santa Barbera, 2007: Making the giants of Brobdingnag proud, this is a gigantic and full-bodied wine with over 16% alcohol and plenty of wood, tannins and robust fruit. The hide-and-seek gambit of a giant rarely works and it is no different with this monster wine. While tight and closed at first, some vigorous swirling and some 15-20 minutes in my glass released an expressive and delightful nose packed with blackberries, tangy raspberries, green notes, spices and plenty of wood. A big and bold nose that was followed by a sucker-punch of a palate loaded with more of the fruit together with cedar wood, wet forest floor and more spices. Rounding out this elegant blockbuster is a heavily extracted finish that is long and lasting. Not as sturdy a backbone as I would have expected given the boldness of the wine, this should last another 5-6 years. Had I guessed just based on the nose, I would have forecasted a longer cellaring life.


Given the non-kosher nature of the winery, I had never heard of it until recently learning about its first kosher release. Being a curious vino lover and given their sterling reputation (gotta love Google); I ordered a case figuring it was a pretty low risk investment. After tasting the wine, it may go down as one of the better investments I have ever made. After my purchase, Daniel Rogov tasted the wine and rated it a 92 and the wine has since been flying out of the winery, case by case. With 400 cases made, there should be plenty to go around but I wouldn’t wait too long.

Made by known philanthropist and rock music impresario Bruce Cohn (who manages the Doobie Brothers), the B.R. Cohn winery is almost as well known for its olive oil as its wines. For many years Bruce sold the grapes grown on his family plot to other wineries but, after years of observing these wineries earn top recognition for wines made with his grapes; he opened his own winery in 1984. Hopefully it will be a commercial success that will convince him to make many more kosher cuvees in the near future.

B. R. Cohn, Cabernet Sauvignon, Trestle Glen-Sonoma Valley, 2008: A medium bodied wine that is ready to drink right now and very enjoyable right out of the bottle. Rich and opulent with solid tannins beautifully integrated with plenty of black cherries, dark plums and some currants with a nice dose of underlying spice. Given the lushness of the wine, I was surprised at its elegance, but very pleasantly surprised at. I am taking no risks predicting a 3-4 cellaring life for this wine; but given the wine’s solid backbone and strong tannins, it could surprise us and live well beyond that. Plenty of almost-sweet cedar wood and hints of tobacco leaf combined with near-perfectly ripe fruit make this a delicious wine with plenty of complexity to keep you engaged. A long finish with more tobacco, dark chocolate and hints of black licorice leave you aching to crack another bottle (but I controlled myself). At $30 a pop (including cross-country shipping), this wine was well worth my hard-earned shekels and nearly earned itself a YH Best Buy.


These wines are made by former employees of the Herzog Winery – Shimon and Gabe (Gavriel) Weiss. During their work on the 2008 harvest, they decided to produce their own wine. After sourced some Syrah from the Laetitia vineyard from San Luis Obispo county and Grenache from the Cuyama Valley in Santa Barbara, they produced four barrels of mouth-wateringly delicious wine (approximately 80-100 cases).

I recently had a conversation with Peter Hellman from the Wine Spectator who doesn’t think very highly of Syrah. Given the massive proliferation of Syrah in Israeli wines, both as single-varietals (like the Yarden and Ella Valley Syrah and the amazing Dalton Reserve Shiraz) and as substantial components in recent “Super-Israelis” (37% of the Yarden Rom and 35% of the Ella Valley “E”); it is clear that the Israeli wine-making consensus strongly disagrees with him. To this respectable group, you can add Shimon and Gabe Weiss who choose to make Syrah-based wines as their first endeavor notwithstanding their hailing from California – the state in which Cabernet Sauvignon was meant to grow up.

Outside of Port, these are the wines with the highest alcohol levels I have ever tasted with the Syraph clocking in at a mean 16.85% and the One|Two with a slightly lower 15.83% but, somehow the Weiss Brothers managed to keep them from becoming overly “hot” – the fruit and wood have the alcohol completely under control. Given the deliciousness of the wine, you just need to be careful how much of it you drink… I am very much looking forward to their next endeavor!

Syraph, 2008: A blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Grenache with the muscular Syrah somewhat dominating the Grenache. Crazy alcohol at 16.85% and made with super-ripe grapes, the nose on this wine screams “I’m from California” at you and is locked, cocked and ready to rock. Tons of juicy black plums, blackberries and ripe cherries on both the nose and palate surround a hearty oak and tannic core that bodes for some nice cellaring ahead, all of which is supplemented with great spice and milk chocolate. The Syrah brings notes of graphite and freshly paved road to the party, livening things up considerably and nicely tempering the milk chocolate notes. A really long finish lingers and makes you wonder where the bottle went until the pounding in your head reminds you to find some friends with which to share your next bottle.

One|Two Punch, 2008: A medium to full-bodied wine made from a blend of 50% Grenache and 50%. Punch is a good name for this alcohol loaded that checks in at 15.63%. When given an even playing field, the Grenache really gets to showcase its herbs and flavors of lightly roasted coffee beans. That said, plenty of Syrah is in play with blackberries, currants and plums; all juicy and fresh. Despite having a little more vanilla-ed oakiness that I would have liked, this wine was really enjoyed and was truly something different. Other than the Rhone based Domaine St. Benoit and the Capcanes, I haven’t really had the opportunity to taste wines with any Grenache in them (although I am looking forward to tasting the upper-tier Grenache Capcanes) and very much enjoyed it. A wine that was truly fun to drink and one that should continue to evolve with time.