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A Kosher Winery Grows in Berkeley

on 03/04/14 at 9:42 am


Covenant-Cabernet-hi-res-NVJeff Morgan’s story is one best told over a glass of wine — preferably a robust cabernet by Covenant, the kosher wine company he has co-owned for more than a decade. A roving jazz musician and writer turned vintner, Morgan has spent most of the past 10 years working with California vineyards and wineries to produce some of the top kosher cabernet sauvignons, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs on the market. This year, the longtime wine nomad is settling into new digs: his first permanent winery in Berkeley.

For years, Morgan rented out production space at other wineries, knowing that he ultimately wanted a space of his own. “We looked around and just could not find anything in Napa that made sense financially,” he said. It turned out to be a fortunate problem to have.

Last year, his wife and business partner, Jodie, suggested a different idea: moving Covenant’s operations south, to the Bay Area. The company’s associate winemaker was already commuting to the winery every day from Oakland (“a real schlep,” Morgan said). More to the point, the Morgans craved a vibrant Jewish life that Napa could not provide.

While driving through downtown Berkeley last fall, they spotted a 7,000-square-foot metal warehouse marked with a “For Sale” sign. They stopped the car. Within minutes, Morgan was envisioning how he might outfit the space with wine tanks and barrels — then he noticed a large empty plot of land next door.

On closer inspection, he found a poster attached to the fence. It announced the plot as the new home of Urban Adamah — a Jewish educational farm that launched in Berkeley in 2010. “A kosher winery right across the street from a Jewish organic cultural center!” Morgan recalled, excitedly. “We could do events together and give them our organic grape skins and seeds to compost. It would be one happy family.”

Covenant’s winery, which will enable the company to increase annual production over the next five years to 10,000 cases from 5,000, is scheduled to be up and running in time for the 2014 fall grape harvest. Most of this space will be devoted to wine making, with a small section reserved for a tasting room, offices and a dairy kitchen. “You can’t have wine without cheese,” Morgan said. The Morgans, meanwhile, put their Victorian farmhouse in Napa on the market (“We love it, but it happens to not be in Berkeley,” Morgan joked) and are relocating to the East Bay.