Warren B wrote:Perhaps Daniel would be kind enough to ask the wineries about the '08 production with regards to this (shnat shmita).
A problematic time to be making inquiries at the wineries right now because they are in the midst of the most hectic part of the harvest and because the high holidays are coming up quite quickly now. I would estimate that despite quite a bit of turmoil in the country about the 2008 harvest several months ago, most of the larger and medium-sized wineries (let's say anywhere from 500,000 bottles annually and more) will follow past procedure. Unless I hear otherwise, I would think that a valid guideline for the upcoming wines.
For those not in the know, according to the kosher laws, within Israel every seventh year is considered a shnat shmita
- that is to say, a sabbatical year for all agricultural fields including vineyards. During that year it is technically impossible to make wine from grapes the vineyards of which are owned by Jews and for that wine to be declared kosher. One of the methods of dealing with this has been to technically sell the land to either a Christian or a Moslem and then to "buy" the grapes from that person. All of this is done under special contracts of course.
Some observant Jews go by the letter of the word and will not harvest their grapes that year, rather using the year to cut the grapes, to let them fall to the ground in order to re-fertilize the soil. Owners of boutique wineries who feel this way may make a few experimental wines and do some experiental work with the grapes in order to continue their learning but they will not sell nor serve those wines except for tasting purposes. Others, often equally observant, will accept the system of "selling" the land and buying the grapes, that usually in accord with one or more various rabbinical authorities.
The problem that arises, especially with export to the UK and the USA is that many individuals but even more restaurants and catering establishments at which wine is served, will not accept this method and simply will not purchase wine from shmita (sabbatical) years.
A person who considers him/herself Jewish by virtue of ethnic, social, moral and social reasons or in some cases by formal conversion but is not observant or observant at either the Conservative or Reform level, much of this seems like a tempest in a teapot. To the owners of wineries, however, the issue is of major importance because of the potential of having a great deal of wine left unsold in their warehouses.
I do hope this clarifies the issues somewhat for those of our many non-Jewish readers. With respect to all, regardless of their level of observance, there is a good chance that at least some of what I have said above will be controversial. If I have erred in facts, I would warmly welcome corrections, but as always I would suggest that the forum is not the place for a prolonged Talmudic dissertation on the law and its interpretation.