The newest tenant at Allentown’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is the Lehigh Valley’s first kosher winery. It’s also the only kosher winery in Pennsylvania and one of only a few in the Northeast.
But Kevin Danna, owner of Binah Winery, said he’s part of a growing trend in the industry to change the image of kosher wine, which he said has unfortunately been associated for too long with sweet, lower quality wines, like Manischewitz.
“We’re here to break that stigma,” Danna said.
Such wines are generally used for sacramental purposes and just aren’t meant to be premium wines, but there is nothing in the process of kosher wine that would make it taste any different than traditional wines.
“You can’t tell the difference when you’re drinking kosher wine from other wines,” he said. “It’s more about the ritual, religious part.”
Making a wine kosher means selecting ingredients, such as yeast, that are made in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The wine can also only be made by those who keep a kosher lifestyle.
Apart from that, he got his winemaking skills the traditional way. He began experimenting in wine making in his basement with his friends back in 2014.
“It was bad,” he admitted.
He enrolled in winemaking school and had an apprenticeship at Pinnacle Ridge Winery near Kutztown before leasing his own vineyard outside Easton last year to grow and bottle the grapes. Space for bottling at that location was limited however, and he knew he couldn’t grow his business without more space.
He was unable to find anything that fit his upstart winery budget until he was introduced to the Bridgeworks, which had everything he needed, including a meadery, microbrewery and micro distiller.
“Since I’m a winery, I kind of complete the circle,” he said.
The new winery also received financial support in the form of $165,000 in low-interest loans from the Allentown Enterprise Zone and the Allentown Revolving Loan Fund, programs that are part of AEDC’s Urban Made initiative.
The move changed his business model slightly; instead of growing his own grapes, which was labor intensive, he operates as an urban winery, purchasing his grapes from other growers in the region. He ultimately wants to use all local grapes to give his wine distinction, but he said the grape supply is very low now, impacted by the spotted lanternfly and other issues and most vineyards locally don’t have enough grapes to supply him.
His sales structure remains the same, he sells mostly direct-to-consumer in 40 states with what he said is about a 50/50 split between kosher Jewish customers and regular wine enthusiasts, which is his goal.
“I don’t want to be known for making just excellent kosher wine, but for making excellent wine,” he said.
The local Jewish population has been very supportive, but he doesn’t plan on opening a local tasting room. He noted most tastings occur on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, and he needs to remain closed to be observant. He is hoping to get into Pennsylvania liquor stores and area grocery stores and is building his inventory to tap that market.
In his first year he made around 1,000 cases of red, white and sparkling wine. He’s up about 50 % over last year and hopes to have his inventory doubled by next year.
“Sales have exceeded expectations so far,” he said. So he hopes the growth will continue and he’ll help grow the reputation of kosher wine as fine wine in the Lehigh Valley.