Four Questions, Four Wines with Ross Halleck of Halleck Vineyard

Four is a recurrent number in the Passover Seder. There are the Four Questions, the Four Sons, and four cups of wine.

Wine plays a central part in all Jewish traditions. Wine is considered a holy beverage and the blessing over the wine is an important part of most religious ceremonies. In the Scriptures, wine is described as “bringing joy to G-d and man” (Judges 9:13). We use wine when we say Kiddush on Shabbat and other holidays. Blessings are recited with a cup of wine when beneath the chuppah and at a circumcision. And each year at the Passover Seder, we drink four cups of wine as expressions of deliverance promised by G-d.

With the importance of the number four, I spoke to four winemakers and asked them each four questions, including the four wines they suggest for our Passover meals and wrote about it for J Living Magazine. Here is Winemaker #3: Ross Halleck, Halleck Vineyard

Halleck Vineyard was started in 1993 by Ross and Jennifer Halleck. They purchased a 1-acre vineyard overlooking the Russian River Valley in the Sonoma Coast and made their first wine in 1999. The Hallecks expand their Pinot Noir offerings by sourcing fruit from other vineyards in Sonoma.

Why is this winery different from other wineries?

Halleck Vineyard is a boutique family winery with a focus on French varieties: Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, a Provencal-style Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc. We were recently judged #1 Pinot Noir in North America twice, #1 Sauvignon Blanc in the United States, and #1 white wine in California, twice, in three different competitions. Our raison d’etre is Building Community Through Wine. We approach building community as a three-legged-stool: The first leg is inviting people to our home to taste. This is not a hospitality venue or tasting room. There is nothing more personal than this. The second leg is shared experiences all around the world. These have included Wine & Wildlife Safaris to Kenya and South Africa, a Culinary Tour of Cuba, Rock & Roll Cruises on the Caribbean, and Vintners Holidays at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, to name a few. Sharing life connects us. The third leg is simply giving. By creating experiences-money-can’t-buy and auctioning them off for the charities supported by our Inner Circle (wine club) members, we have raised over $750K for charities around the world. We also have created wines with singer Josh Groban to support arts education in the United States to benefit the Find Your Light Foundation. This is what gets us up in the morning and charges our batteries all day.

What do you remember drinking at your family seder table?

Wine for Passover in Rockford, Illinois in the 1950s was exclusively Mogen David. I remember sneaking during Hebrew School to the temple kitchen and drinking the stuff like soda pop with my friends. It tasted fabulous! So, the Passover table was not the gourmet selection of delicacies it has become in Sonoma County. Of course, the charoset was a favorite, but I remember being so bored and hungry by the time dinner was served, EVERYTHING tasted great! I think my most enduring memories of Passover were the boredom and disinterest. It has only been since adulthood that the meaning of liberation and freedom has touched my heart on so many dimensions. Now Passover and Thanksgiving are the most meaningful holidays of the year.

At your seder table this year, what four wines would you select?

Of course, Pinot Noir is the perfect Passover wine, and we have an extensive selection, including two decades of vintages. It goes great with brisket, but we often serve prime rib with Passover, just because. Given the tradition of the four sons asking questions, I will serve our Halleck Vineyard 2017 Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($49). It fits well into the service as well as with the meal. If I up the ante this year on our meal, the big brother to our Three Sons Cuvee is our 2014 Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($110). It is certainly our flagship. A brilliant pairing with gefilte fish and matzah ball soup, as well as our sides, will be our 2018 Little Sister, Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($39) or our 2019, Not Your Mothers, Dry White Zinfandel ($29), keeping within the family theme for the holiday.

What do these wines teach us?

What I find most interesting about wine is that it spans the breadth of human history. In October of 2017 they discovered an amphora (large clay vessel) with remnants of wine in the Republic of Georgia dating back 8000 years. To put in perspective, this is 1000 years before Mesopotamia and the birth of civilization. It was most certainly in the realm of the shaman, spiritual practitioner, or healer. It is sacred in almost every religion in the world. This suggests that wine connects us, to each other, and forces beyond ourselves. There is substance to its moniker, the “Elixir of the Gods.”

Read the original story Passover 2021 – Four Winemakers, Four Questions, Four Wines in J Living Magazine.