Kosher Covenant Wines leaves Napa for Berkeley

Jeff Morgan, founder of Covenant Wines which is moving its operation from Napa to Berkeley. Photo: Steven Rothfeld

Jeff Morgan, founder of Covenant Wines which is moving its operation from Napa to Berkeley. Photo: Steven Rothfeld

Covenant Wines has been raising the reputation of kosher wines since its first vintage in 2003. Napa Valley based winemaker Jeff Morgan set a challenge for himself: to make the best kosher wine in 5,000 years, and make them from Napa Valley grapes. Thus Covenant Wines was born.

Morgan began with 3,000 barrels for his first vintage; now he’s up to 5,000 barrels and 13 wines, including his flagship Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Many prominent critics, including Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, have called Covenant one of the best kosher wines in the world.  Morgan consistently receives scores in the 90s from Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. He has certainly made good on his challenge.

There are only about half a dozen kosher fine wine producers in the United States. So it’s a big deal that Covenant will be packing up and leaving Napa Valley and setting up shop in Berkeley. 

The winery’s new home will be at 1102 Sixth St. in Berkeley and Morgan says he thinks Covenant will be the first kosher winery in the United States to be in an urban setting since before Prohibition, let alone in Berkeley.

“We were looking to build a winery somewhere in Napa,” he said, “but we couldn’t find a place we could afford.”

Covenant Wines have been made at a custom-crush facility in Napa since 2008. Before that, Morgan had to drive grapes to the Herzog winery in Oxnard, on the Central Coast, the nearest place at the time that had an all-Orthodox Jewish winery crew, required for making kosher wine.

Another reason the time is right to leave Napa is that the winery’s focus on Napa Valley grapes has changed, Morgan said. While he continues to make a Napa Cab, Morgan is now sourcing grapes from vineyards in Sonoma Mountain, Dry Creek Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros, and Lodi.

Morgan and his wife Jodie happened to be driving through Berkeley one day and saw for rent signs on several warehouses. “We thought, gosh, maybe there’s something around here that could work for us,” Morgan said.

Covenant’s flagship wine has been its Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Image: courtesy Covenant Wines

The sweet spot they found is in the “Drinks District,” a couple of blocks from two other Berkeley wineries, Broc Cellars and Donkey & Goat. Pyramid Brewery & Alehouse and Trumer Pils Brauerei are also neighbors. And Far West Brewing plans to open a brewery, also on 6th Street, soon.

Also fortuitous — and something Morgan is happy about — is that Urban Adamah‘s forthcoming organic farm and Jewish community center will be right across the street.

The Covenant winery, with 7,000 square feet of indoor space and 2,500 outside, won’t have a public tasting room as it is only zoned to make wine. But Morgan is hoping he’ll be able to have people visit and taste by appointment.

Being in Berkeley has one more strong pull for Morgan and Covenant.

“Another important reason why we’re moving is because what we call the observant Jewish community is really living in Oakland and Berkeley, not up in the wine country. You can’t work at Covenant unless you are a Sabbath observant Jew.” It helps that Morgan’s associate winemaker, Jonathan Hajdu, lives in Oakland.

Morgan has lived in Napa for 14 years but said he and his wife are ready for a change.  “There’s a big for sale sign in front of our house,” he said.

He has just received the building permits and is ready to get rolling on the construction of the winery. Morgan has hired local architect Fred Hyer of Hyer Architecture because he admires his work, calling it “functional cool.” “It’s aesthetically pleasing yet affordable,” he said. Hyer is known for his eco designs and green building practices.

The new Covenant winery will be operational as soon as the first grapes of the 2014 harvest arrive.  In addition to Covenant, Morgan’s Red C and two new labels, The Tribe and Mensch, will also be made in the Berkeley winery.

Morgan is looking to expand to a 10,000-case production over the next 10 years.

“I think there is an urban winery renaissance in the works in a number of cities, and we’re excited to be part of this one,” he said.

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  • guest

    Can you PLEASE stop calling this area the “Drinks District”?

  • What don’t you like about that term?

  • Captain Obvious

    All of the same things you would dislike if your neighborhood were reduced to a single dimension.

  • guest

    I don’t like that it makes the area sound like a college drinking destination only, and it doesn’t capture all of the other businesses and culture there.

  • Albanyan

    “Let’s drive down to the Drinks District, get sloshed, and drive home!”

  • EBGuy

    How about the Fermentation District? Kinda interesting to see what is filling the void left by the absence of 3D printers.

  • Half Pint

    I don’t get the “college drinking” destination vibe from the name at all. Trumer, Takara, D&G, Broc, Pyramid, Sierra Nevada, Eno Wines, Urbano, Mead and more are all there – maybe your time would be better spent opposing the merchants who flock there, rather than the name?

  • guest

    But I don’t oppose the merchants at all. Just the name.

  • Charles_Siegel

    How about “artisanal food district.” I think the term “artisinal food” includes both solid food and drink.

  • Half Pint

    What name would you prefer?

  • Abe Froman

    Like Gourmet Ghetto! Aye Aye Captain!

  • Namaste

    Gotta love Berkeley.

  • joannatheresa75

    First, welcome to Jeff Morgan and Covenant Wine. It was interesting to learn about the business and their relocation to Berkeley.
    As for the “drinks district” moniker, I would like it to disappear. Many wonderful beverage makers are part of this Berkeley neighborhood. People do drink these crafted products, however, the word “drink”, as it is used in the “drinks district” label, implies an area where the beverages are consumed. (and maybe consumed excessively) Interestingly enough, most of the drink makers have rather limited hours when the public are welcome to go on-site and consume/sample the wares and do so quite responsibly.
    A “drinks district”, and again it is the implication, is a that of a bar/social scene. While there is a wonderful range of cafes/restaurants in the area few, if any, are mere watering holes . Consequently, I would like to discourage labeling this neighborhood with this particular term.
    So, let’s allow this area to flourish and not be limited or burdened by a label that is not quite correct.
    Success to the vinters, brewers and the wide range of businesses and households that make this a terrific part of our city.

  • Abe Froman

    Yeah? Well, you know, that’s just like, your opinion, man.

  • guest

    i don’t have a preferred name. Does there need to be one? Reminds me of that episode of News Radio when they tried to make “bitchcakes” happen.

  • S Baby

    Let’s compromise. Stumbletown.

  • S Baby

    The one and only difference between kosher wine and the rest of the wine in the
    world (you know, the vin ordindare) is that anyone who isn’t Jewish is not
    permitted to touch the wine at any stage of its unbottled preparation.
    Whole batches, hundreds or thousands of bottles-worth, are rendered
    “unkosher” if so much as one non-Jewish person touches any part of
    the unsegregated liquid.

    As someone with a deep family background in this kind of “observant Judaism”, I think the matter of eliminating this kind of unwarranted exclusionary extremism from
    Jewish doctrine should be at least opened to vigorous public discussion. Where
    better than here?

  • Guest

    I probably shouldn’t comment as I rarely imbibe, but:

    How about something more made-up, like “Stillbrew district” (or “Brewstill”)?

    (Taking inspiration from terms like “Lamorinda”…)