When he came to the US from Corinth, Greece, in 1984, Louizos Papadopoulos brought his family’s winemaking tradition, but kept it as a hobby in his new home in Warrenton, Virginia. Professionally, he owned a jewelry business in Oakton, Virginia, and, as such, worked closely with diamond and jewelry merchants in New York City, many of them observant Jews.
Taking his hobby to the next level, Papadopoulos started Molon Lave Vineyards in 2003 on the land he and his family had purchased in Warrenton, just a few miles from Mediterranean Cellars, which they also own, and on which they had started growing grapes years earlier.
After much friendly prodding by his Jewish friends and business connections, he began to look into kosher certification. With his business associate Avi Jacobowitz soon on board as Molon Lave’s kosher production manager, they began to make Virginia’s only kosher wines in 2010. The Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are now both certified kosher for Passover and year round. The 2011 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon won the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Because wine has been part of nearly every Jewish ritual since early days, kosher standards are strict, even referencing which individuals may produce and serve wine to Jews, to ensure that wine was not used for idolatrous or other non-Jewish religious rituals.
There are two ways to make kosher wine. The first involves boiling or flash pasteurizing the wine for just a few seconds and then bringing it back down to low temperatures. These are called mevushal wines, and they can be made and served by non-Jews. This process makes the wine symbolically impure for non-Jewish rituals and acceptable for observant Jews. Unfortunately, much of wine’s delicate and subtle flavors can be lost when exposed to high heat.
Wines that are non-mevushal—the second method for making kosher wine—are not boiled, but must be made by observant Jews and, in most cases, even uncorked and served by Jews.
At a very basic level, wine is fermented grape juice. Naturally occurring yeasts in the air, including on the skins of grapes, can start the fermentation process just minutes after fruit is pressed. Yeasts consume available sugars and produce two byproducts: carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Yeasts that are available for wine production are often grown on mediums that are considered kosher, but not always kosher for Passover, including grains. To make wines that are kosher for Passover, these yeasts must be cultured on a medium that is kosher for Passover and must not contain any additional preservatives, such as potassium sorbate (not all wine makers use additives).
Molon Lave’s two kosher wines are non-mevushal and are produced under the strict observation of the Orthodox Union (OU). Kosher production is incorporated into the winery’s yearly production schedule. While Papadopoulos keeps a close watch over production as the head wine maker, it is completely hands-off for him and his regular winery staff at kosher wine production time.
A masgiach (kashrut supervisor), a rabbi, kosher manager Avi Jacobowitz and a team of specially trained OU-approved workers, all Shabbat-observant Jews, visit the winery at harvest time, usually in September or October. Grapes for the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines are picked and pressed, and the wine is aged in either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels dedicated for kosher production. Later in the year, the wines are bottled, corked, capsuled and even labeled exclusively by the OU team. In addition to controlling personnel in the production area, food, even kosher, is strictly prohibited.
Molon Lave currently produces 11 different wines, all from estate-grown grapes, on nine acres of the 50-acre property. The winery recently added six more acres of vines to increase production and plans to expand the availability of its kosher wines into the New York market in the near future.
Along with the more recognizable wines, Molon Lave also produces Kokineli, a traditional Greek rosé table wine made with pine resin, which gives it a pleasantly dry, herbal flavor.
At the winery’s tasting room, visitors can sample the wines, shop for unique Greek art and enjoy the beautiful event spaces and Virginia countryside. All of the winery’s staff members are familiar with the kosher process, and even let visitors uncork and pour their own of the kosher varieties if they prefer, due to observance.
The winery frequently partners with Jewish groups for events, including the 2015 Jewish Food and Wine Festival in Newport News, Virginia, and will be a start and stop point for bicyclists participating in the Northern Virginia JCC’s 7th Annual Cycle Fest Charity Ride this coming fall.
Molon Lave wines are available at the winery’s shop and online.
Molon Lave Vineyards, 540-439-5460, 10075 Lees Mill Road, Warrenton, VA, Daily 11 am–6 pm. Kosher.