Modest Beginnings



Reviews of the Gush Etzion Cabernet Franc 2007 kosher wine and 2 expressions of Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  July 3, 2012


Gush Etzion WineryInspiration comes in many forms, but for the Gush Etzion Winery, an Israeli boutique winery, it came in the improbable form of a blackberry bush. When Shraga and Tamar Rosenberg relocated from Jerusalem to Efrat in 1986, their new neighbors informed them that the blackberry bush in their yard produced fruit that made good blackberry wine. Shraga, a former retirement home manager, decided to tinker, fermenting crushed blackberries in his basement, and moved on from blackberries to grapes.

Shraga Rosenberg began to dream of vineyards and winemaking. A vision took shape of a winery that would once again fulfill the biblical blessing of Jacob to his son Judah regarding the lands that the tribe of Judah inherited more than 3000 years ago: “Binding unto the vine, his foal, and unto the choice vine, the colt of his ass; he will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall sparkle with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Genesis 49:11-12). Rashi comments on these verses, “[Jacob] prophesied regarding the land of Judah, that it would produce wine like a fountain.” Efrat is about 15 minutes south of Jerusalem, in the heart of Judea, in Gush Etzion (though it is an independent municipality).

In 1995 Rosenberg gave up his day job and devoted his efforts full time to establish the Gush Etzion Winery. The couple contacted the surrounding kibbutzim in the area, who at that time were growing fruit orchards, and worked with them to develop their vineyards, while they also planted their own. Today there are around 120 acres of vineyards in Gush Etzion. It is worth noting that the Rosenberg’s home is in the Gefen (“Grapevine”) neighborhood of Efrat on Rechov Tirosh (“New wine street”).

Gush Etzion Winery released its first vintage in 1998, a prodigious 7,000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that were all bottled in their basement. By 2004 they had completed a new winery, on the road to nearby Alon Shvut and Kfar Etzion, at the Gush Etzion Junction. The modern facility includes a kosher l’mehadrin dairy/fish restaurant and a visitors center that has a bridge overlooking the winery floor to allow self-guided tours of the facility. Although partially owned by Tishbi Winery and other investors, Shraga holds the majority interest and remains the head winemaker. They currently release 40,000 bottles annually of an increasing number of varietals including Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer from their own vineyards planted in the Jerusalem Mountains.

The nonmevushal Gush Etzion Cabernet Franc 2007 ($27) is just the wine to serve with a grilled ribeye steak. A medium-bodied, dark plum and spicy black cherry-flavored charmer, it has accents of chocolate, cassis, and pepper with vanilla oak and leather in the finish.

Spirits-wise, with American Independence Day on the brain, we thought we’d call attention to a recent, though obscure, opinion issued by 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Boyce Martin, Jr., in the Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc. v. Diageo North America Inc. trademark dispute. The opinion begins:

“Justice Hugo Black once wrote, ‘I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survive in competition with Kentucky bourbon.’ Dep’t of Revenue v. James B. Beam Distilling Co., 377 U.S. 341, 348-49 (1964) (Black, J., dissenting). While there may be some truth to Justice Black’s statement that paints Kentucky bourbon as such an economic force that its competitors need government protection or preference to compete with it, it does not mean a Kentucky bourbon distiller may not also avail itself of our laws to protect its assets (Opinion issued May 9, 2012).”
The case involved the use of a red dripping wax seal by both the Maker’s Mark Distillery and Diageo’s Jose Cuervo brand of tequila. Maker’s Mark has, since 1958 (registered as a trademark in 1985), adorned its bourbon bottles with the distinctive red sealing wax and likes to draw attention to the red wax in its marketing materials. Starting in 2001, Jose Cuervo began using a similar red sealing wax drip for its bottles of tequila. Maker’s Mark sued Cuervo for trademark infringement. The trial court found for Maker’s Mark, and the appellate court affirmed that decision, issuing a permanent injunction against Cuervo.

What makes the opinion interesting is not the legal substance, which is more than a little difficult for us nonlawyers, but that Judge Martin first took the opportunity to engage in an extended discussion about whiskey in general and in particular about “bourbon’s unique place in American culture and commerce.” The opinion includes a multipage, fairly accurate, and very readable discourse on bourbon’s folklore and history.

Judge Martin does a remarkably good job of it. From consideration of the competing claims of who first distilled bourbon, to the legal battles over what can be called bourbon. The first seven pages of this opinion (19 total) are well worth reading (Google it and see). When doing so, we recommend raising a glass to Maker’s Mark. Here are the options:

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky (45 percent abv; $26): This is a mild, sweet and very smooth bourbon with notes of vanilla, caramel, wheat grain, allspice, cedar wood and pipe tobacco followed by a nice, rounded, if slightly quick, clean and cool finish. It is incredibly drinkable, and our preferred bourbon for cocktails.

Maker’s Mark #46 (47& abv; $37): This intriguing and enjoyable whisky is the regular Maker’s Mark with a few additional months of maturation in barrels that contain heavily seared French oak staves, making for a most inviting variation. This whisky is smoother and a little less sweet, offering a dollop more heat in the mouth, with a little less vanilla and a bit more earthy allspice, caramel, and a touch of something racy.

Both expressions of Maker’s Mark are delicious, and dangerously easy to drink, and though we enjoy tequila too, all the red sealing wax in the world could not induce us to mistakenly drink Jose Cuervo over Maker’s Mark. L’Chaim!

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