Ernie Weir was heaped with accolades Saturday night when he received the Al Brounstein Meritorious Service Award, including the hardest praise of all to come by, that from a teen-aged offspring.
“Aba, I love you,” said Maya Weir, at the third Jewish Vintner’s gala where her dad was honored. Words cannot describe how much your humor, work ethic and love influence me. You are the best dad in the world.”
Maya told the audience, “One thing I admire about my dad is his commitment to following his passios. This award combines his two greatest passions, being Jewish and making wine.”
Ernie Weir first came to the Napa Valley in the 1970s and began working at Domaine Chandon while studying viticulture and enology at UC Davis. He began making his own wines under the Hagafen ( “the vine” in Hebrew) label, fine wines “which just happen to be kosher,” as they were described at the event. After 24 years at Domaine Chandon, Weir left to build his own winery, Hagafen Cellars on Silverado Trail.
Dick Wollack, who along with his wife Sue, is one of the sponsors of the three-day Jewish Vintners Celebration, noted he had a “one-two punch” for the audience when he introduced last year’s recipient of the Brounstein award, Art Finkelstein, who in turn, brought Weir up to the podium to receive the award.
“I find making kosher wine one of the most satisfying activities,” said Finkelstein, who along with his wife Bunny, and son and daughter in law, Judd and Holly, operates Judd’s Hill winery.
The Jewish Vintners Celebration, subtitled “Connecting with Our Roots” is the presented by L’Chaim Napa Valley, a non-profit organization “dedicated to supporting the awareness and knowledge of Jewish culture and Jewish heritage in the Napa Valley.”
In addition to showcasing wines made by Jewish vintners in California, the Celebration invites Israeli winemakers to the event. This year vintners from Binyamina Wine Cellars, Domaine du Castel and Flam Winery were on hand to pour samples of their wines.
Binyamina, founded in 1952, is located in the town of the same name in northern Israel, but the winery sources grapes from throughout the country. Its headquarters is in a building that was originally built in 1925 as a perfume factory and served, in the 1940s as a hideout for members of the Hagana, the pre-state defense force in Israel. Domaine du Castel, in the mountains near Jerusalem, is owned by Eli Ben Zaken, and run with the assistance of his sons Ariel, Eylan and son in law Arnon. Flam is also a family-owned winery. Winemaker Golan Flam studied in Italy, and produces European-style wines that have won Flam the number three spot in Hugh Johnson’s “Pocket Book of Wines” and Rogov’s “Guide to Israeli Wines.”
Also present at the Saturday night gala Congressman Mike Thompson who presented Weir with a framed copy of the Congressional Record, which contained a tribute to Weir, and counsel general from the Israeli consulate in San Francisco,who led a toast to Israel’s 60th birthday.