Drink Magazine

Australia’s Only Kosher Winery

By Lmarmon

A review of the Harkham Shiraz 2010 and Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon

Washington Jewish Week  January 23, 2012

Old Pilteney 12 year old
This week our search for enjoyable kosher wines leads us to Australia’s Hunter Valley. Located in New South Wales, about 75 miles north of Sydney, Hunter Valley is not well-recognized in the U.S. as a wine-producing region.

Yet Hunter Valley was Australia’s first wine-producing region and is currently home to more than 120 wineries, including the well-regarded nonkosher producers Tyrrells, Wyndham and Lindeman’s. The local weather is hot and humid but fortunately the mountain ranges flanking the valley draw the nearby cooler ocean breezes into the region thereby facilitating grape cultivation. Subdivided into the Upper and Lower Hunter Valley areas, the region is known for its semillion, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz wines. Its proximity to Sydney has made Hunter Valley a prime tourist destination.

The Harkham Windarra Winery, in Hunter Valley, is the only kosher winery in Australia. Sure there are other wineries in Australia that produce kosher wines from time to time, under contract for this or that company or as a profitable sideline to their nonkosher wines. But only the Harkham Windarra Winery is fully kosher. The winery was established in 1985 as the nonkosher Windarra Winery, producing both wines and spirits. It was purchased in 2005 by the Harkham family, and became fully kosher in 2008.

Menashe “Terry” Harkham is the principal owner and his son Richard, the managing co-owner and co-winemaker, is the primary force and passion behind the winery. Richard had no experience producing wine, but enjoyed it passionately, and with a discerning palate. With family help and backing, he channeled his passion into the winery with an eye towards producing seriously good wines. Through sourcing quality local grapes and working with various talented winemakers, Richard began turning his passion into success.

The Harkham Windarra Winery’s first efforts won critical praise, and in 2007 the family invested more resources in the winery to update equipment and expand vineyard holdings. In 2008, the winery went kosher. Menashe Harkham, who is religious, remains active in the local Jewish community, and supportive of the local yeshiva. So it should come as no surprise that increased financial investment in the winery would also translate into making it a kosher facility. The winery’s primary winemaker is Christian Knott, an Australian turned Burgundian who studied Oenology at Adelaide University and at the CFPPA-Viticultural College in Beaune, France. Knott has made wines in Australia, New Zealand, France and Italy, and now lives in Burgundy, returning annually to Australia to produce wines at Harkham.

At the Harkham Windarra Winery, Christian and Richard create a number of preservative-free, unfiltered wines as well as standard bottlings including their Harkham Shiraz 2010 (mevushal; $17), a raspberry and coffee-scented, medium-bodied wine with loads of red fruit, blueberries, spice and mild earthiness in a nicely knit frame of mild tannins with accents of licorice and vanilla oak. It paired nicely with smoked beef ribs and should drink well with similar fare for the next several years.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d review the northernmost mainland Scotch whisky from the Pulteney Distillery in Wick, Scotland. They call their whisky Old Pulteney, but it has over time picked up two nicknames: the “manzanilla of the North” (after the variety of fino sherry that has a particular briny tang) and also, more recently, “the maritime malt” – because the marketing folks dislike nicknames that reference possibly obscure drink-products over which they don’t have any control.

The distillery stands on the northern shores of the Scottish highlands, in the once very prominent herring-fishing village of Wick, in the county of Caithness. Wick is an estuary town that straddles the River Wick and extends along both sides of Wick Bay, which opens out to the North Sea. The southern side of the estuary, where the Pulteney Distillery resides, was originally an independent village called Pulteneytown. Pulteneytown later merged with the royal burgh of Wick in 1905.

The Pulteney Distillery was established in 1826 by James Henderson to quench the thirst of this fishing village (Henderson first established a mill, and then a brewery there). Within 20 years, the place was booming: more than 1,000 boats used the harbor, employing roughly 3,800 fishermen and around 4,000 associated trades. Indeed, Wick had become the leading herring port in Europe.

Henderson’s descendants continued to own and operate the Pulteney distillery in 1920, when they sold to a reputable blended whisky firm. In Wick, at that time, the temperance movement was gaining ground, and the family likely opted to get out while they were ahead. In 1922 the town voted to go dry and ban the public sale of alcohol. The pro-drink forces made a calculated error by reducing the price of booze on the day of the vote to encourage the thirsty to support the cause; alas the result was that most of their supporters never left the pubs to vote. Faced with falling demand, the Pulteney Distillery, which had already been resold to another firm, closed in 1930. Prohibition remained in place until May 28, 1947. Pulteney reopened after the repeal.

Inver House Distillers Limited - a subsidiary of Thai Beverages, one of the largest alcoholic-beverage companies in Southeast Asia (roughly a $4 billion dollar operation) – acquired the distillery in 1995. As part of it market strategy, Inver House has been investing into its various distilleries (they also own Balblair, Speyburn, Knockdhu and Balmenach), revamping and relaunching its single malts.

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $35): This lovely whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks for 12 years, offers inviting aromas and rewarding flavors of freshly malted barley, honeysuckle, dried herbs, almonds and walnuts, toffee, sweet raisins, a hint of sour apple, traces of honey and a bit of slightly out of place caramel. The finish is medium long, but crisp and clean with soft spices, almonds, dried herbs, chamomile tea, and salty brine. Indeed, throughout – from nose to finish – one can smell and taste that distinct salty, briny, maritime quality. This wonderfully soft, tangy, easy-drinking whisky is different enough from most Highland drams that it might be jolting for some, but do give it an honest try. This delicious whisky is well worth it. L’Chaim!

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