Master of his own Domaine
Courtesy Domaine Netofa Winery
Winemaker Pierre Miodownick, a Frenchman turned Israeli of seemingly indefatigable energy, is one of the early quality kosher wine pioneers.
Miodownick was born in 1953 in Béziers, France, “where the vines are the lonely landscape.” The town is situated on a bluff above the Orb River, near the coast some 10 km from the Mediterranean Sea.
Known for its wines even in Roman times, the area is considered the “capital of wine” in the Languedoc region of southern France, between Marseille and the Spanish boarder. Wine continues to be the primary employer in the area.
Growing up, Miodownick fell in love with wine at an early age; “wine was on the table at every meal” and was all around him culturally.
In his early 20s, Miodownick began working in local vineyards. It was also during this time that he became religiously observant. By 1980, he produced his first real vintage as a proper winemaker, firmly ensconcing himself in the world of wine. Miodownick’s lifework at this stage was to develop kosher wines that tasted as good as their non-kosher counterparts.
Pierre Miodownick and a bottle of Château Cantenac Brown
Miodownick’s big break came in 1982. He produced Château de Paraza’s first kosher wine, a Minervois appellation. It was “a great year,” and amazingly the wine received a gold medal at the prestigious Foire de Macon French wine competition. Enthused by this early success, Miodownick spent the next four years making Vin de Pays (country wine) in the Languedoc region before moving on to make wine in Bordeaux, France.
In 1985, he teamed up with Lionel Gallula and founded M & G wines, focusing on convincing French estates to allow them to make kosher wines there. Their collaboration began with a big success when, in 1986, they began producing a kosher wine under the Baron Edmund de Rothschild label at one of the Rothschild’s wine estates, Château Clarke, a well respected Cru Bourgeois from the Listrac-Médoc appellation.
This wine was picked up by the Herzog’s Royal Wine Corp, and became the first big kosher Bordeaux in the American market. Realizing a good thing when they saw it, the Herzogs hired Miodownick in 1988 to be the winemaker for Royal Wine Europe (Royal’s European branch).
With Royal, Miodownick began producing kosher editions for many great wine estates across France, not just Bordeaux. Eventually he also convinced more prestigious estates to join the kosher scene, and he began producing kosher editions of several Classified Growth wine estates such as Château Léoville Poyferré, Château Pontet-Canet, Château Lafon-Rochet, Château Giscours, Château Malartic-Lagravière, Château Guiraud, and others.
He is thus responsible for some of the best kosher French wines to date. Under Royal’s auspices, he also branched out and began making successful wines for them in Spain and Portugal.
These pioneering efforts helped catapult kosher wine to a whole new level and unleashed a dynamic in which both kosher consumers and kosher producers have begun to behave more like wine lovers and wine producers the world over—insisting upon kosher wines that are eminently enjoyable to drink, that enhance food, and life in general.
After making aliyah in 2005, Miodownick turned some of his energy to Israeli wine, founding the Domaine Netofa Winery in 2006 in the village of Mitzpe Netofa in Israel’s Lower Galilee.
He finally retired as Royal’s European winemaker in 2014 to devote most of his time to Israeli wine, but he continues to consult for a handful of French estates.
For instance, Miodownick was employed by the non-observant but Jewish Halabi family to produce a kosher edition of Château Cantenac Brown, from the Margaux region of Bordeaux, France, that is equal in quality to the premier wines from this more than 200-year-old French estate.
Without further ado:
Château Cantenac Brown, Margaux, France, kosher edition, 2015 ($150): This is simply fabulous—an elegant, nuanced nose that takes time to reveal its treasures of fine blackberry, cranberry, strawberry, sweet plum, bramble, mushroom, cedar, tobacco, and new leather aromas, pushing through to a palate of considerable depth, power, and complexity; offering additional notes of ripe dark cherry, raspberry, dark plum, mocha, espresso, violet, lavender, and licorice. Though still in its infancy now, the purity, sophistication, and overall balance make this, already, an absolute pleasure to drink—though give it two to three hours of decanting if you really can’t wait five years, or so. I estimate it will enter its earliest optimal drinking window around 2023, and then should continue to age gracefully until around 2040, perhaps even longer.