What Makes a Wine Kosher?

There are several differences between the requirements for a wine to be kosher within Israel, and outside of Israel (please note that not all Israeli wines are kosher). None of these requirements affect the quality of the wine in a negative manner, and many are considered sound agricultural practices by non-kosher wine producers.

Outside of Israel, the following rules must be strictly adhered to:

  1. With the beginning of the harvest period, only kosher tools and storage facilities may be used in the winemaking process, and all of the winemaking equipment, including the storage vats, must be thoroughly cleaned to remove any remaining foreign objects.
  2. From the moment the grapes reach the winery, only Sabbath-observant Jews may come in contact with them. Even someone who is Jewish, but non-observant, is not allowed to personally handle the equipment or the wine as it is being made. They are typically assisted in many of the more technical tasks by Orthodox assistants and kashrut supervisors (mashgichim). They must supervise the wine from start to finish.
  3. All of the components and materials, such as yeast and fining agents, used in the production and clarification of the wines, must be certified as kosher.

Additionally, kosher wines produced in Israel must also obey the following rules:

  • According to the practice known as ‘Orlah’, the grapes of any new vines cannot be used for winemaking until the fourth year after planting.
  • No other fruits or vegetables may be grown in between the rows of grapevines.
  • After the first harvest, the fields must lie dormant during the sabbatical year, known as ‘shnat shmittah’, which follows a seven-year cycle.
  • A symbolic amount of wine, representing the ‘tithe’ (truma vema’aser) once paid to the Temple in Jerusalem, must be poured away from the holding tanks or barrels in which the wine is being made.

Please note: anyone producing kosher wine outside of Israel must only follow the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of the above rules.