Recently, Jews around the world celebrated the two-day festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the revelation on Mount Sinai.
For some of us, the renewed acceptance of our sacred Torah is paired with all things cheese, since the minhag, or custom, is to consume dairy on Shavuot.
So late last week, it was time to break out the cheese board and get really crazy.
When I think dairy and of the onset of summer, I also think white wine. (Disclaimer: I always think white wine. But in this case, you should, too.)
Joshua Rynderman is the budding, ambitious, energetic winemaker at Kos Yeshuos Winery. (Kos Yeshuos is a play on words: Hebrew for Cup of Joshua and Cup of Salvation.)
How ambitious and energetic is this guy? He makes wine on two hemispheres. The idea of pulling off one successful harvest close to home tires me out. Joshua maintains two budding wine enterprises that are 10,382 miles apart. (Thank you, Alexa.)
What will strike you about Joshua is his humility, affability and mentschlikeit. I know if I were pulling off this incredible feat, I’d be lugging my ego around as overweight baggage on those long flights.
While it’s not uncommon for a winemaker to be the salt of the earth, Joshua maintains a particularly genial good nature, allowing you to root for his success.
And lucky for all of us, he is succeeding.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Joshua, who was in his South Africa home and drinking some coffee before heading off to the winery.
Kosher Decanter: Josh, give us your proposed Wikipedia “Early Life” entry.
JR: I was born in San Jose, California, in 1991 but we moved to Boston when I was 5. I attended Torah Academy next to the Bostoner Rebbe’s shul.
My father was offered a job in Silicon Valley, and we picked up and moved back to San Jose. We became members (for the second time) of Am Echad, a shul that has seen many Jewish winemakers under its roof.
It is this shul and community in California that brought me and Benyamin Cantz (Four Gates Winery) together.
How did you get into winemaking?
It all started with being seated next to Benyamin Cantz of Four Gates Winery at a Sukkot kiddush in 2014. The conversation I had with him quickly turned to professions, and his was fascinating. From my point of view as a then-college student, Benyamin was doing all this work by himself. Surely he would need help in schlepping boxes around or other odd jobs.
I offered my assistance, and it wasn’t long after that I started helping him out with a few odd jobs at the winery. As a college student living with my parents, I was blessed not to worry about money and was gifted wine from Four Gates in lieu of cash. This is where my exposure to high-quality wine started.
My first vintage, 2015, was for personal use, but working at Four Gates I quickly learned from Benyamin that there was something special about making kosher wine for Shabbos and Yom Tov. It is something he has, perhaps unintentionally, instilled in my mind. At different steps of the winemaking process, I say, ‘L’kavod Shabbos Kodesh, L’kavod Yom Tov,’ (‘For the honor of Shabbat and the holidays’), words that Benyamin says at each step as well.
It is a concept that allows me to immensely enjoy when people tell me they made kiddush over my wine.
If I could get paid in Four Gates, I’d quit my job today. But I digress. How did the dual hemisphere thing begin?
My first vintage was in 2015 when I made my own rosé from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It was a small production. I handpicked 200 pounds myself from the Santa Clara Valley. The results from my first wine were positive, and I was encouraged to continue it.
Not long after, I was dealing with tons of grapes, with varietals I had never heard of before. I continued to make wine in California since 2015 and started making wine in South Africa for the 2018 vintage. My wife is from ‘Joburg’ [a nickname for Johannesburg, and by the way Kos Yeshuos has a wine aptly named ‘The Joburg Girl’]. We decided on Cape Town so we could be close to her home and I still could make wine.
Talk a little about the differences of winemaking in California and South Africa.
Winemaking in California and winemaking in South Africa are quite different. Sure, the basics stay the same across the world over, but there are intricacies that make each region different. Winemaking in both hemispheres is not something many winemakers get to do. We just completed the 2020 harvest in South Africa, my third vintage here.
The travel back-and-forth is exhausting. The constant work and planning for both hemispheres is stressful to say the least. But one of the more difficult things about winemaking in both hemispheres is that there are always jobs that overlap.
While I’m harvesting in California, I’m signing contracts for grapes in South Africa. While I am managing sales for my California wines, I am harvesting grapes in South Africa.
Let’s discuss harvests and why it’ll be red wine in South Africa and white in California.
I produce white wine in California and red wine in South Africa due to the logistics of both harvests. The white wine in California can be brought to market by January. February is roughly when the red grapes start ripening in South Africa, and this gives me about a month to sort things out in California before heading to South Africa for the harvest there.
It also gives me time to prep the SA winery. That one-month buffer is important since so many unexpected things can happen. But it just so happens that that one-month buffer also digs into the white grape harvest in South Africa.
As such, I had to sacrifice one thing for another. Of course, harvest is weather-dependent but that one month is important on either side.
What are your greatest sources of joy and frustration as a winemaker?
My greatest source of joy comes from the customers. Hearing that they have enjoyed my wine, my hard work, never fails to bring a smile to my face.
My greatest source of frustration is the unexpected. Many people like to use the term ‘talented’ for an accomplished winemaker. I think a better term for an accomplished winemaker would be ‘persistent.’
All winemakers are faced with the unexpected during harvest, but the ones that persist are the ones that deserve praise.
Do you believe climate change will factor into your future winemaking?
Absolutely. I have harvested grapes in years and locations in two major droughts. The drought in California and the drought in South Africa. As the climate changes, areas that were once considered cool climate would now be on the more moderate side. This is something we will likely see play out in both countries.
Do you believe in mad science winemaking or perfecting classic style?
Both styles of winemaking have their place, but I enjoy the older methods I have learned. We will see expansion in South Africa, and production in California will likely stay roughly the same over the coming years. We make the decision to harvest in both hemispheres each year, so it’s not a given that we will be in one place or the other.
What’s it like to wear the crown of the ‘Kosher Flying Winemaker’? Do you foresee that you’ll be able to continue and grow?
This is another excellent question. We will see expansion in South Africa, and production in California will likely stay roughly the same over the coming years. We make the decision to harvest in both hemispheres each year, so it’s not a given that we will be in one place or the other.
As I was chatting with Joshua before the start of Shavuot, I was thinking of how I would pair his wonderful 2019 whites with the dairy and fish meals of the festival. And the options were unlimited.
These wines scream fresh summery meals. My friend Heshy Fried, the madman/adventurer/head chef at Epic Bites in the Bay Area, Calif., area has posted some awesome looking dishes that I was hoping to replicate for the chag (holiday). Eggplant and Fig Caponata. Red Quinoa, Butternut Squash, Cranberry, Candied Onion, Arugula and Balsamic Salad.
Yes, I will fail at replication, but I will go down swinging. Joshua’s 2019 Kos Yeshuos white wines will pair beautifully with these fresh recipes, and with much of what you might throw at them.
Some Tasting Notes:
2019 Kos Yeshuos Viognier ($30)
Clear straw color. Tons of peach and apricot on the nose. Some oak and a little heat up front.
A bit of heft on the palate. Juicy. Tropical fruit up front, with acid bringing up the rear. Interestingly tannic. Long puckering finish. Very nice!
“I have been making that Viognier since 2017, and it was the first white grape vineyard I had dealt with,” Joshua told me. “The grape grower, Paul DiStefano, knows what he’s doing and I’m lucky to source grapes from him.”
2019 Kos Yeshuos Pinot Gris ($32)
Very cool, legit Italian-style Ramato from Kos Yeshuos. This Pinot Gris is beautifully copper-colored (ramato), owing to the maceration of the dark red skin (particularly dark for Pinot Gris). A nose of citrus and apple, almond. The palate shows more citrus, a medium body, and nice acid. Very unique offering.
“The Pinot Gris had 24 hours of skin contact time,” Joshua said. “The grapes were so dark that I thought I might be able to produce a much darker wine.”
2019 Kos Yeshuos Falanghina ($34)
Clear, dark golden yellow color. The nose is fresh, full of pine, lilac, orange blossom, and citrus. On the palate, a burst of acid, more citrus, lime and Meyer lemon, honey, kiwi. Long, long tart, puckering finish. Josh believes this is the only kosher Falanghina in the world.
All I know is I want more. What an interesting profile. The wine is naturally darker for a white, with an incredible bouquet, naturally bracing acid, and wonderfully-balanced fruit.
“Benyamin and I were in this vineyard in San Benito [County, California], getting grapes for Four Gates,” Josh told me. “We had a small look-see of the property and I came across the section of the vineyard with the most beautiful, large clusters I had ever seen. It turns out it was the Falanghina. This was back in 2018, and I made the decision then that I would use those grapes for 2019.”
This simple wine lover in Pikesville is expecting great things from the “Kosher Flying Winemaker,” Joshua Rynderman. May God grant him the energy to continue his bi-hemispheric art.
Dr. Kenneth Friedman is a Baltimore-born kosher wine aficionado/connoisseur. He is known for his unsolicited wine advice and runs many local kosher wine tastings.
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