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AUSTRIAN FAMILY PRODUCES KOSHER WINE FOR BRATISLAVA MARKET

Kosher wine? It's all in the family

KOSHER wine has the reputation of being syrupy and sweet, not the sort of thing one would drink for enjoyment, much less award medals. But an Austrian family of wine producers is changing that reputation, and for the better, supplying award-winning kosher wines to Slovakia and the world.
Over the border, in the charming town of Mönchhof, Austria, the Hafner family has been making award-winning wines for generations.


RABBI Yidl shows off his winners.
photo: Amanda Surbey

KOSHER wine has the reputation of being syrupy and sweet, not the sort of thing one would drink for enjoyment, much less award medals. But an Austrian family of wine producers is changing that reputation, and for the better, supplying award-winning kosher wines to Slovakia and the world.

Over the border, in the charming town of Mönchhof, Austria, the Hafner family has been making award-winning wines for generations. Their home is the Julius Hafner Winery.

Son Julius Hafner III greets visitors with warmth and talks passionately about his family's products. Father, Julius Hafner II, attends to his latest invention: a machine to remove the nets that protect the grapevines from birds. Mother, Magdalena Hafner, reassures the barking family dog. A huge, long-haired cat wanders underfoot. Birds sing from an aviary on the back porch. And in a large building behind the house, Rabbi Yidl Lichtenstein and his son produce Hafner's line of kosher wines.

The word kosher means "pure." For a wine to be kosher, production must follow strict regulations for hygiene and purity, beginning in the vineyards. Grapes cannot be used from vines younger than four years. Every seven years, the fields must be left fallow, and no other fruits and vegetables can be grown between the vines.

"We found these regulations made good grapes," says Hafner, standing in front of his vines. "So we follow them for all our vines. Some of the grapes we grow then go into the kosher wines, but the rest go into our regular wines . . .and both win awards. You do not have to keep kosher to enjoy kosher wine."

During the harvest, only Jewish men who keep Shabbat are permitted to do the work. Hafner cannot touch the wine or the equipment during the kosher winemaking process.


JULIUS Hafner III: "You need not keep kosher to enjoy kosher wine."
photo: Amanda Surbey

No animal products may be used. Gelatin or egg whites are sometimes used by non-kosher wine makers to clarify the wine, while kosher wine makers use a clay material, called bentonite, which pulls suspended particles to the bottom of the barrel.

Kosher wine barrels must be cleaned three times before they are used. And finally, one percent of the wine must be discarded, a symbolic remnant of the 10 percent tithe paid to the Temple in Jerusalem in the past.

Hafner kosher wines meet a further standard, which enables them to retain their "kosherness" once opened and poured by a non-Jew, such as a waiter. This type of kosher wine, called Mevushal, has been brought to boiling point, causing air bubbles and the loss of some wine through evaporation. A wine that is produced in this manner retains its religious purity, regardless of who opens or pours it.

"We are extremely proud of our Mevushal Kosher wines," says Hafner. "This heating method has not caused our wines to sacrifice flavour for purity. They still taste complex, and they even win awards. As an added benefit, many people who suffer from asthma or allergies and cannot drink regular wine find they can enjoy our kosher wines with no problems at all!"

The rabbi's son is camera-shy, preferring to attend to his duties. But soon the rabbi himself comes bustling in, and agrees to pose for some photos. It is harvest time, and there is much to attend to.

The House of Hafner produces a wide range of wines, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Welschriesling, Zweigelt, and Blaufränkisch. "We make kosher ice wines, brandy, and grappa, too," says Hafner as he fills glasses for guests in the family dining room in front of an immense salt-water aquarium.

Hafner's products are available in Slovakia and as far away as the United States. He is especially proud of a wine they produced for Arnold Schwarzenegger's election campaign.

"Our World Champion Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) Chardonnay Barrique 1998 is a triple world champion - just like Arnold," Hafner explains with barely disguised delight.

"We Austrians call Arnold The Styrian Oak, as he is from Styria. This wood is well known for its strength. The wine was stored for more than 20 months in styrian oak casks. Arnold served it to guests at his birthday, so he must have been pleased with it!"

Wine lovers do not need to travel to Austria to enjoy Hafner wines: they are available in Bratislava at Tesco and the restaurant at Chez David. But the Hafner family are gracious hosts who love what they do. Their pride and enthusiasm are infectious.

For more information about kosher wines, visit the Hafner family in Mönchhof or on the web at www.wein-shop.at.

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