April 10, 2005
Island Grapes, Kosher Wines
S Passover approaches, Long Islanders can buy dry kosher wines made from North Fork grapes.
The wines were made in a rented warehouse at 1285 Redfern Avenue in Far Rockaway, Queens, the home of Red Fern Cellars.
All 2003's, the wines are sold at the Hamptons Wine Boutique in Westhampton Beach and at Château de Vin in Cedarhurst. Long Islanders who work in Manhattan can find them at the Vintage New York stores in SoHo and on the Upper West Side.
Ray Blum, the founder of Peconic Bay Vineyards (now Peconic Bay Winery), sold the winery and adjacent vineyards in 1999, but he still grows grapes in Peconic and Southold. All of Red Fern's grapes come from him, so this explains the North Fork appellation on its labels.
If buyers find Italianate accents in the plush kosher reds, perhaps they reflect tips that Salvatore A. Diliberto, owner of the Diliberto Winery, in Jamesport, gave his friend Aaron Munk, Red Fern's winemaker.
Red Fern's releases, about $24 each, are suitable for Seders, which begin April 23. The chardonnay is crispy, buttery and oaky; the mouth-filling merlot, fruity, soft and a touch herbal; the cabernet sauvignon, strong, supple and meaty.
All Red Fern wines carry the Star-K kosher certification symbol. They are not rendered mevushal; this term denotes a pasteurization process that enables non-Jews to handle wines in kosher restaurants and catering establishments.
Red Fern's principals, all Orthodox, are not quitting their day jobs. Mr. Munk, who lives in Far Rockaway, is an estate planner; David Kaplan, the production manager, is an optometrist in Cedarhurst; and Herschel Sauber of Brooklyn, the financier and owner, makes artificial limbs and braces.
"We started in 1997 - a bunch of guys making wine as a hobby," Mr. Munk said. "We had a cult following - family, acquaintances - from 1997 to 2001. They asked for a bottle, then a case. Then we said, 'Let's see if we can actually sell it.' "
The first commercial vintage, from 2002 grapes, totaled 82 cases, and it went quickly. The 2003 vintage yielded 450 cases.
In the revolution in American kosher wines, which began in the mid-1980's, dry began replacing sweet, and producers have aimed their wines at the general public, generally successfully.
Not Red Fern. "We are looking only for the kosher consumer for our handcrafted wines, not the average guy," Mr. Munk said.
Or as Mr. Kaplan put it, "We are happy with low quantity and high quality."
The Royal Wine Corporation in Bayonne, N.J., America's largest importer and producer of premium kosher wines, is Red Fern's distributor in the metropolitan region. Information: http://www.redferncellars.com/.