As the kosher-keeping community continues to seek variety and depth within the world of wine, a new interest has emerged in wines from the American Pacific Northwest, and particularly in pinot noir from the well-known Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Oregon, which is increasingly compared to the world-famous terroir of Burgundy, in France. Willamette Valley stretches north to south from the Columbia River to Eugene, and from the east and west from the Oregon Coast Mountain Range to the Cascade Mountains. At just over 5,350 square miles, it is Oregon’s largest AVA, and it contains most of the state’s wineries; approximately 900 as of 2021.
Just one of those wineries is currently making kosher wines.
Steve Anderson is the winemaker who made the Twin Suns Reserve Pinot Noir 2021, which is newly released and has just arrived in stores this fall. Managing one of the larger cellar programs in the state, he is a native Oregonian who has been working as a winemaker since 1993. He also makes kosher wines—as he calls it, as part of his Eola Hills-based winery’s “custom crush program”—all from Willamette Valley. These projects are expected to grow and expand this coming year.
Willamette Valley has been compared to Burgundy both because of its mineral rich soil and cool climate. However, the U.S. viticultural policies are also not as restricted by tradition as in France, which has rigid laws regarding when one can pick, how much one can pick, or how much one can make from a hectoliter of grapes, said Anderson, in a phone interview.
“We have volcanic soil, irons, silica-rich and limestones. One of our legacy vineyards actually also has marine sediment, so in the space of 20 meters, there is a difference between the vines that were planted on virtually the same day, with the same root stock.
My preference is that iron-rich, red-clay soil; it is a more fruit-forward soil, depending on how you make the wines. I want you to taste the fruit that the wine was made from rather than the influence of the oak. I want oak to be an accent. For me, the tannins, or astringency, comes solely from grape skin and seeds and not from the introduction of new oak,” he said.
The Twin Suns Reserve Pinot Noir 2021 was aged in neutral oak (barrels no less than five years old), for 12 months. The result is a fruit forward blast of concentrated flavor, rife with a ka-pow essense of strawberries and red cherries, with a velvety mouthfeel and lingering, fruity yet balanced finish. It is unlike any pinot noir I’ve ever tried. “Yes, most of the older Burgundian wines I’ve tried have a strawberry or berried perfume, but it’s sort of ghostly, ethereal. This is not that,” Anderson said.
“Even burgundy is very big when young, but it has the bones to stay together and develop further,” said Burgundy wine expert Andrew Breskin, who buys and sells high end kosher wine through his specialty wine company Liquid Kosher. “Some new world pinot does not have enough acidity, so after time all you’re left with is oak,” he warned.
“Old world wines take more time to develop in the bottle whereas new world wines are more brash and ready to drink sooner,” added Anderson, noting that acidity and age-ability are present in Oregonian wines and his, specifically. He said he recently tried good ones from closer to the beginning of his career in the early 2000s, but as a personal preference, he tends to drink them younger.
“While there is the comparison to Burgundy, the classic difference you see is between Oregon and California pinot noir; our fruit flavor is brighter because our climate is cooler. The temperature also gets cooler at night so we don’t lose acid, whereas in California, the fruit flavors become more jammy, with flavors of cooked fruit rather than fresh,” said Anderson.
Anderson shared that he held back some of the wines from this year’s release of kosher pinot noir,and placed it in new oak, so that next year he can release it as an “ultra reserve” next year, aged 24 months, so customers can see and better understand the effect of oak on this type of wine. Larissa Nahari, of The River Wine, one of the owners of Twin Suns, said that this ultra-reserve release will be presented in addition to the continuing program of Willamette Valley pinot noir made by Anderson.
Nahari, who manages Twin Suns with her husband Ami, said that their interest in Willamette Valley began in 2016, with their Twin Suns Special Edition Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, “which we thought was a one-off,” she said.
“Dundee Hills is an AVA within Willamette Valley, and everyone went crazy for it. We always had in our minds since then that we wanted to do Willamette Valley pinot on a regular basis. In the non-kosher world that’s the place to be. A lot of articles and literature state that it rivals Burgundy. We wanted to make a statement with a kosher pinot noir in the U.S.”
With Anderson, it appears the relationship with Twin Suns is not a one-off. “We dropped the ‘special’ from our ‘special reserve pinot’ this year, because we are now starting a relationship in which we will be producing Willamette Valley pinot noir consistently with Steve Anderson,” she said.
“Burgundy has been known for so long to be the pinot noir capital but eyes are turning toward Oregon. Here’s an opportunity for the kosher wine drinker to try a wine from this famous region, and it’s a lot more affordable than Burgundy,” said Nahari, who noted Burgundian wine can retail, especially in the kosher marketplace, for well above $100.
At $29.99, this reserve wine is not the lowest at the wine store, but it’s a fraction of the price of a higher-end bottle with a very strong level of quality and craftsmanship. Anderson also keeps an eagle eye on the cost.
“I would add that I want people to be able to afford the wine they want to enjoy, rather than wish they could enjoy the wine,” said Anderson.
Also out this fall are two Twin Suns red zinfandels, including the Twin Suns Special Edition Old Vine Zinfandel, made in Lodi, California by Gabriel and Shimon Weiss, and aged in Ethan’s Reserve KP sorghum whiskey barrels, which adds an incredibly rich perfume while keeping it kosher for Passover. It’s unique and follows a cool trend not seen often in the kosher marketplace. The Weiss brothers have made this wine alongside the Twin Suns Old Vine Zinfandel Reserve 2021, which is a softer and more velvety wine, much different without the whiskey influence. It was fascinating to try them alongside one another. The regular retails for $29.99 and the whiskey aged wine is $45.