An older, well respected Rov of a large community once said that the laws of producing kosher wine are amongst the most complex laws in kashrus. This statement is especially true of wine processed in a plant that is not dedicated exclusively to kosher production. Boruch Hashem, with the growth of the kosher wine industry, there are some plants that are dedicated exclusively to kosher production and are staffed by Shomer Shabbos employees. These plants are much easier to supervise.
This article will be, G-d willing, the first part in a series about the halachos of kosher wine production. We will explore the halachos together and, hopefully, we will both become wiser during this process.
Instead of studying the halachos as they appear in the Shulchan Oruch, I would like to focus on the practical halacha, as well as some controversial issues. Therefore, this will not be a comprehensive article, rather it should be considered a supplement to individual study of Hilchos Yayin Nesech (Yoreh Deah, Siman 123-138).
- Wine must be handled exclusively by a Shomer Shabbos Jew. This restriction begins when the grapes are squeezed and separated from their peels and seeds and continues until the wine is cooked (mevushal).
When, exactly, do squeezed grapes become wine? When do the laws of Yayin Nesech begin to apply? Until what point may a non-Jew, or a Jew who is not Shomer Shabbos, assist with the delivery of the grapes and beginning of the processing? At what point do we require that only Shomer Shabbos be a part of the winemaking process?
- Once the wine is cooked, it cannot become Yayin Nesech. What is the minimum temperature to achieve the status of “cooked” (mevushal)? Can the wine be pasteurized while it is in a closed pipe system, or must it be cooked in an open system? What about flash pasteurization where it cooks for only 2-3 seconds – is this sufficient to prevent Yayin Nesech?
- Are ingredients made from the remnants of non-kosher wine kosher? Grapeseed oil, as well as grapeseed flour, are considered healthier alternatives to traditional oils and flours. Both of these come from seeds of the grapes that are crushed for wine production and are then filtered out. These seeds are not usually gathered from kosher wine. Can we use these? Tartaric acid and various flavors are derived from grapes, are they a kosher concern?
- What is the difference between Yayin Nesech and Stam Yaynam? Is there a concern of Avoda Zara today? If not, are there potential leniencies? What are the halachos of labeling Chosam Bsoch Chosam (a double seal)? Can we certify wine that belongs to a non-Jew?
The focus of this article will be question one,
“when do grapes become wine?”
In the time of the Mishna, grapes were placed on a sloped basin leading to a drain, where the juice would be filtered before it entered the cistern. The grapes would be crushed (or trodden) while they were in the basin to release the juice. Later on, the crushed grapes would be piled up into a mound so that the weight of the grapes, with the help of a heavy beam, would cause more juice to release from the grapes. Afterwards, the separated liquid would be filtered as it descended to a cistern below the basin.
The Mishna (Avodah Zara, Daf 55a) says: “We are permitted to buy grapes that were crushed by an idol worshipper – גת בעוטה.” The Mishna adds that even if the idol worshipper takes the crushed grapes by hand and placed them on top of the “mound”, it is still not considered wine. The Mishna continues that it cannot be considered Yayin Nesech until the wine (is filtered and) descends into the cistern (holding tank).
The Gemara says that Rav Huna clarified that the liquid is considered wine as soon as the juice starts flowing from the grapes (התחיל לימשך) and will become non-kosher if handled by an idol worshipper.
What does Rav Huna mean when he speaks about flowing juice? Clearly he is not speaking about the separation that occurs once the wine flows down to the cistern, since the Mishna says it is considered wine at that point. Rather, Rav Huna explains (as Rashi clarifies) that if the juice separates from the grapes enough that it begins to flow, even while the grapes are in the basin, it is considered wine.
To clarify further, the Mishna (as interpreted in the Gemara) states that if the basin is plugged and, therefore, is filled up with juice, then even if the non-Jew piles up the grapes on the mound, it is kosher, because the juice is not separated from the grapes. Rav Huna further explains that if the basin is unplugged and a non-Jew adds grapes to the mound and causes juice to separate from the grapes, the liquid is considered Yayin Nesech. The “Ran” (Rabbeinu Nissim) adds that even if one drop of juice has separated from the grapes, all of the juice in the basin is considered Yayin Nesech!
Though there are some (Rabbeinu Tam, Ramban, and others) who interpret the flowing differently, the above opinion is the prevailing one.
The Shulchan Oruch, Yoreh Deah, Siman 123:17, therefore rules that if the idol worshipper moved the grapes and peels to one side, so that the juice would begin to flow on the sloped plain, the liquid becomes Yayin Nesech. This applies even if the non-Jew merely touched the grapes (even if they were only slightly moist).
It is important to note that this halacha would apply even if the idol worshipper did not actually touch the wine, but merely caused the wine to flow. This is based on the Gemara in Avoda Zara 72a and Shulchan Oruch, Yoreh Deah, Siman 125:1, which rules that if the idol worshipper aids in the squeezing process by pushing on a heavy board, the wine would become Yayin Nesech, as well.
Accordingly, if a non-Jew wants to test the sugar quality of the wine and fills a test tube with juice while the grapes are in the vat, it could cause the whole vat to become non-kosher. Farmers regularly check the sugar content of juice from their grapes, because wine is generally sold according to the sugar content. Since sugar converts into alcohol, sugar content is quite important. (This is also why the grapes often grow in valleys near deep rivers, since the water current brings warmer weather, which allows the grapes to grow longer and become sweeter.)
When the grapes are removed from the vine and prepared for shipping, they can be packed in retail boxes to prevent crushing, or in larger vats or trailers. The vats and trailers contain a tremendous volume of grapes, which inevitably causes crushing. When a trailer or vat is delivered to a kosher plant, care must be taken that a Shomer Shabbos person operates the equipment used to empty the load. When the vat is dumped, the grapes come out first and there are a few seconds when all of the grapes may have been emptied and only juice remains. If a non-Jew is on the controls, it may make the wine non-kosher.
Therefore, a mashgiach must ensure that the grapes are not moved from one container to another at the fields and that no testing is done before the grapes are delivered.
We have only discussed the supervision of the grapes before they arrive at the plant. Once the grapes arrive, we require that all production workers are Shomer Shabbos until the pasteurization is complete.
I hope you enjoyed this first installment. I welcome your comments and questions on the articles and will endeavor to respond to them in future installments.
 In the time of the Mishna and Gemara all non-Jews were assumed to be idol worshippers. That is why the term Yayin Nesech is used in this article, rather than Stam Yaynam.