Binah Winery, which made about 1,000 cases of kosher wine in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2019—its initial bottling year—opened its direct-to-consumer website in April of 2020, in the early days of the pandemic. In retrospect, it turned out to have been a good business decision not to open a tasting room immediately, so the owner could focus on the many other aspects of launching a boutique kosher winery. The winery is a client of a small business incubator program and operates out of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, part of the Allentown Economic Development Program (AEDP).
Originally from California, Kevin Danna, Binah’s owner and winemaker, studied winemaking in a two-year program; worked as an assistant winemaker at non-kosher wineries in Pennsylvania, where his wife Sarah is from, beginning in 2013; and then briefly made kosher wine—garagista-style—before striking out on his own as a kosher winemaker. For the 2019 vintage, he grew his own grapes in a leased vineyard, but for the 2020 vintage Danna sourced his grapes locally and regionally, and doubled his output, making just shy of 2,500 cases. For those who like to support local producers, some of his 2020 wines came from grapes grown right here in New Jersey: He used cabernet franc, chardonnay, chambourcin and traminette grapes from the Garden State.
Binah means “understanding, perception or intuition” in Hebrew. Danna explained that his winery’s name is “a nod to the mystical aspects of Judaism, for which I have a fondness. And through working with the vines, making the wine and drinking it, I think it brings a depth of understanding about the world that Hashem has created and the interconnectedness of it all.”
Danna also has pride in the uniqueness of his winery and the work he is doing to contribute to the kosher wine world. “I am among very few kosher wineries on the East Coast making wines from East Coast fruit. I want to make a kosher version of East Coast wine,” he explained.
To that end, Danna’s OU-kosher certified winery is focused on making wines from lesser known East Coast varietal grapes like chambourcin, a French-American hybrid, resulting in wines that are unique to the kosher consumer. He also uses other French-American hybrids, such as seyval blanc, chardonel and vignoles. Many of these varietals are resistant to diseases like phylloxera and are used in Europe as components of table wines. These grapes are hearty and are widely grown on the East Coast for non-kosher wines. Danna also uses blaufränkisch, a native Austrian grape that does well here.
The wines are unique enough, and tasty enough, that bottles from the first vintage won some local Pennsylvania wine awards. To that end, The Jewish Link wine-tasting group was excited to brave 30-degree temperatures for our outdoor, socially-distant tasting of seven Binah wines, betting that the opportunity to celebrate and learn more about this uniquely American kosher winery would be both exciting and rewarding.
In fact, while we have in the past welcomed winemakers such as David Cohen Aléta from Spain’s Elvi Wines, or Israel wine legend Lewis Pasco, to our tasting group, we have never begun tasting wines and then decided we had to speak to the winemaker—immediately—by phone. Luckily, Danna was able to take a break from bedtime with his kids to answer our questions about the wines we were tasting.
We started with the Binah Chardonnay 2019 ($29), and found it to be young, crisp, drinkable and fruity. “It’s simple and unoaked, like a chablis,” said Greg. This wine received a silver medal at the 2020 Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition.
It was an interesting foil to the Binah Stella 2019 ($16), which is lightly oaked and had more body, more perfume on the nose, and tropical notes, much more than the chardonnay, which had been aged in stainless steel. The vignales, Daphna thought, was what provided the notes of pineapple on the nose and citrus on the finish. “This is for people who say they like dry white wine,” said Danna to our group, on the phone.
We found the Stella to be one of our favorite two wines of the night, with the team commenting repeatedly on the interplay between the sweet nose and slightly drier mouthfeel. However, we considered this a “dry wine” only in comparison to Danna’s other wines, which generally fall on the sweeter side of the palate. Like the chardonnay, the Stella was a silver medal winner at the 2020 Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition. At $16, this wine is a very good deal.
The Stella was a hard act to follow, but we tried to do so with the Binah Viognier 2019 ($36). A medium-bodied oaked white, the website description was quite poetic. It was described as showing “light fruit flavors of tangerine and peach mingled with honeysuckle floral aromas. French oak folds in a layer of creamy vanilla to this wine with medium-low acidity.” It was our sense that this wine was not overly perfumed, and the temperature the wine is served at needs to be slightly higher than what we had, at 35-40 degrees. The bone-cold chill of our outdoor evening did not do the viognier any favors, so we’d like to reserve the right to retaste this wine in warmer conditions. The wine received an honorable mention at the PA Sommelier Judgment, an awards program organized by the PA Winery Association.
Next, we were really looking forward to trying one of the darkest pigmented rosés we’ve ever seen. The Binah Rosé 2019 ($15) is made of cabernet franc, blaufränkisch and chambourcin. This wine has a satisfying mouthfeel and is well-suited to drinkers who like sangria; it tastes very much like wine with fruit essences infused into it. Its nose of cherry, raspberry and even a bit of concord grape, was really fun and unique. “This would be an incredible component of a cocktail,” said Eva. “Should I get the tonic water?” joked Jeff.
Interestingly, while we tasted this wine young, Danna had sent me a message earlier in the week that he feels that some rosés have the capacity for aging, and that his rosé specifically is designed to age. “The ageability of rosé wine is dependent on many factors, including grape varieties used and style of the specific wine in question. There is great variation in the styles of rosé produced around the world. While this blanket rule out there regarding rosé wine beyond a year old may hold true for some rosé, it is certainly not true of all rosé wine,” he wrote.
To that end, we’ll look toward trying his 2019 in a couple of years, if there is any left. “The fruit flavors will evolve as the wine ages,” Danna told me.
The only red wine of the tasting was the Binah Chambourcin 2019. While none of us had tried a 100% chambourcin before, we were struck by the herby, earthy grassy noses immediately. Green tobacco, black pepper and green herbs like fennel tops were present. Danna had prepped us for this wine as more of a cold climate pinot noir-style wine than a typical Israeli or California red. But my sense was this is only a pinot noir-styled wine in terms of the fact that it is closer to a pinot noir, than say, a cabernet or merlot. This was, for me, the most main-course, food-friendly wine of the night; it would pair well with roasted chicken or turkey. For others, this was not a red wine to their taste.
The last two wines were the sweetest of the evening, quite literally. The Binah Celeste 2019 ($17) was far and away the unofficial winner of the tasting. The nose is replete with apple or pear notes, with lime on the finish. The wine is comprised of cayuga white, vidal blanc and traminette, the last of which is descended from the famed gewürztraminer grape. This is “like a sweet riesling,” said Yeruchum, noting that Danna calls it semi-sweet, when we would likely characterize it as a dessert wine or as a pre-dinner aperitif. “I taste pear,” said Daphna. “This would be perfect with a cheese platter,” said Greg. “A clean mouthfeel, a great dessert wine,” said Jeff. This wine being so inexpensive is really a QPR (quality price ratio) opportunity, and it’s a fun wine to use for kiddush or to serve with an apple tart, pie or other fruit dessert. We were unsurprised to hear that this wine was also a silver medal winner, from the 2020 Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition.
Finally, we tried the Binah Muscat 2019 ($22), which is also sweet with a somewhat tropical nose, but with a lot of flowery perfume notes as well. The punch of sweetness ends with a somewhat abrupt herbal finish. “Kumquat on the end. Nice citrus notes,” said Eva. This wine won a bronze medal at the 2020 Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition.
Learn more about Binah Winery at binahwinery.com.