Wearing a soiled baseball cap, dark-rimmed glasses and a long black beard, 34-year old Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum might appear to be a most unlikely winemaker. And Napa Valley might be an unlikely place for an Orthodox Rabbi, his wife and their five young children to call home. There are no kosher restaurants, no Jewish days schools and you have to schlep to San Francisco to get your kosher groceries.
But unlikely places are nothing new for pioneering Chabad Lubavitch families who travel to the furthest reaches of the globe to share their love of Torah and Mitzvot with others. Six years ago, Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum arrived in the Napa Valley from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, smitten with the same winemaking bug that has brought thousands of aspiring vintners to settle the verdant Northern California soil.
“I had no idea that this is the direction I would go,” says Rabbi Tenenbaum. “As a Chabad Shliach you are trained to seek out the best methods to connect to fellow Jews. Living in wine country, wine making was the course I was drawn to. In 2007, I produced a vintage of just one case, and that got good reviews and drew me to my next project of farming and viticulture and as that developed, my appreciation for wine took on a different dimension. At this point I would like to inspire others on the qualities of superb wines which enable me to connect with others using the medium of winemaking.”
Although growing grapes may have been on his mind, Rabbi Tenenbaum’s primary goal was to build a vibrant Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center that would attract and inspire local Jewish residents and visitors of every denomination and background. Chabad of Napa Valley boasts frequent programming for children and adults, a Hebrew school, weekly Shabbat services at Touro University on Mare Island with many big plans ahead.
“[Our goal is] to continue our outreach to the community as well as to visitors to the Napa Valley and to be able to support our activities with the proceeds of our wines,” explains Rabbi Tenenbaum.
Each year seems to bring more and more reasons to be excited about the future of Chabad in Napa and it is fitting that this year, after several years of “grunt work” learning from local winemakers, including our friend Jeff Morgan and Jonathan Hajdu from Covenant Wines, Rabbi Tenenbaum proudly released Cuvée Chabad 2011 Zinfandel. It is a fruity, full bodied, dry red wine made from grapes grown in a single vineyard in Lodi, east of Napa and produced in coordination with Covenant Wines.
Only 101 cases of Cuvée Chabad 2011 were produced and they are selling out quickly. If you are interested in purchasing the wine, visit www.covenantwines.com/cuvee-chabad or call Jodie at Covenant Wines (707) 963-7385.
Proceeds of sales of Cuvée Chabad 2011 directly support Chabad of Napa Valley’s programming and activities.
Disclosure: I received a bottle of Cuvee Chabad Wine.