Kevin Danna called this year a “trial by fire,” officially opening his winery in the Lehigh Valley in mid-June.
“It’s all been going exceptionally well though despite these unforeseen monumental challenges,” he said in a recent email.
There are a few reasons that Binah Winery has been able to open and survive in a year that has crippled many small businesses. For one, Danna decided not to put in a tasting room, preferring instead to look for other ways to raise his business profile. So there was no concern about mitigation guidelines or anxiety about turning away visitors.
Two, it’s a kosher winery, certainly unique to the East Coast, and is a client of the small business incubation program of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation; it operates out of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center located in the refurbished former Mack Trucks plant. Being a kosher winery alone has helped raise its regional profile.
Finally, he brings a mix of experience: seven years as a winemaker; a certificate from the former enology and viticulture program that existed for a few years at Harrisburg Area Community College (where a number of those involved in the state’s wine industry studied); and several years of “learning the ropes” as an winemaker under Brad Knapp at Berks County’s Pinnacle Ridge Winery before turning his attention to his own project. Knapp and Pinnacle Ridge are celebrating 25 years this year; it’s among the top two or three wines available in Philadelphia and one of the top producers of sparkling wines in the mid-Atlantic. “My skill improved rapidly through this hands-on immersion in making the gamut of Pennsylvania wine styles,” he said of his almost five years there.
As for the kosher designation, Danna told The Keystone Edge in this July 2020 interview that he doesn’t “really advertise the fact that we’re kosher, except to the kosher market. [We’re] a premium boutique winery that happens to be kosher.” To be kosher, the story said, the wines must use all-kosher ingredients (for example, gelatin and certain kinds of yeast are not used) and Sabbath-observant Jews must be involved in the entire process, from fermentation through corking the bottle.
“In essence, there’s no difference between our wine and any other fine wine you’d get on the market,” he said. “Taste, appearance, aroma — it’s all the same.”
Some of what follows likely was covered during a Dec. 6 virtual tasting that Binah held, which included members of the Pennsylvania Wine Society.
He was kind enough to take the time to answer these questions from PennLive.
Q, I read the mention of your great-grandfathers in terms of your family’s history in wine. But tell me about how this idea started, when, and where you came up with the name.
A, Early on in 2014, when I first started making wine as a hobby at home, I used “bisnonni’ as the name on the label. This translates to “great-grandfathers” in Italian and was a nod to my great-grandfathers having made wine like so many other Italian immigrants at the time.
The current name “Binah” is a Hebrew word that often translates to understanding, intuition, or perception. It is a summation of our mission.
Q, When did you officially open and what were you shooting for in terms of the label you created? I assume there’s no tasting room, correct? How much wine are you making and do you just sell it out of the winery?
A, June 22, 2020, was the official opening date of our new facility at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in Allentown. Binah Winery is a client of the small business incubation program of AEDC. We started selling our first bottles of wine a few months earlier, within a week of COVID-19 becoming a big thing. So, it’s really trial-by-fire this year with a new small business. It’s all been going exceptionally well though, despite these unforeseen monumental challenges. We are well-positioned moving into the post-Covid-19 pandemic era. I am excited.
The label is meant to be an expression of Binah’s mission. It is clean, straightforward, and yet elegant. The wines speak for themselves, as they should. I know you will enjoy what they have to say.
There is currently no tasting room, for a number of reasons, not the least being COVID-19. A tasting room requires a lot of attention. Binah Winery is a producer of fine wines. That is the sole focus. When the pandemic is over, restaurants and bars will pour Binah by the glass for tasting. I would encourage you to patronize any licensed establishment where Binah wines are poured.
Binah Winery is currently transitioning from 1,000 to 2,500 cases annum production. There’s roughly 6,200 gallons of the 2020 vintage in tank and barrel. The wines can be purchased directly on-site at the winery and through our online store binahwinery.com/shop. Curbside pick-up, local delivery, and UPS shipping to about 40 states is offered along with a low flat rate and complimentary ground shipping. Murray Avenue Kosher in Pittsburgh stocks many of our wines for customers in western PA. I am currently working with a couple of major wine retailers in Pennsylvania to get on the shelves by early 2021. Follow @binahwinery on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.
Q, Are you and those involved from eastern Pa.? Have any other wineries influenced you or helped you along the way?
A, I am a native of Southern California, near Los Angeles. I was raised there and in northern Delaware when I was older. My parents were born and raised in Eastern PA, along with my wife. Only I am officially involved, but they have lent a wealth of support and are therefore involved in the practice.
Pinnacle Ridge Winery in Kutztown, PA leads by a long shot. Brad Knapp took a chance on me for my internship and trusted me with Pinnacle’s wines. I eventually worked up to assistant winemaker before moving on to start Binah Winery. I worked intimately with all of Pinnacle’s wines. My skill improved rapidly through this hands-on immersion in making the gamut of Pennsylvania wine styles. During harvest I would essentially work for grapes to take home and make my own wines there. In 2017, I was working with about 45 different wine lots between Pinnacle and home. That’s a lot of mistakes to make in one year, and that’s the only way to learn to make great wine. Each iteration improves upon the last. That’s the process of design I learned in my prior career as an architectural lighting designer with CM Kling + Associates in Alexandria, VA.
4, I always ask the same question about a winery I don’t know. How would you summarize for readers about your winery and its mission/goal?
Grapevines want to tell us something about the inter-connectedness of our world, through the wine we make and enjoy. So, we give them a voice to speak. We listen. We understand. The mission is to bring forth something that really speaks to us. Why else do we make wine of this caliber? I mean lots of people make wine as a beverage, but at a certain level the experience becomes life-altering and sublime. A divine experience.
Q, Tell me about the grape side? Your own vineyard? If not, where are you sourcing from?
A, For the 2019 vintage, I leased a small 5-acre vineyard in Easton, PA, and grew all the grapes of that vintage myself. We harvested about 16 tons and made the wines. I shifted to 100% purchasing all the 2020 vintage grapes from other growers in the Mid-Atlantic region. This allowed me to put all my attention into the quality of the bottled wines and sales of the first vintage. It is possible that we may get involved in the vineyard side of things again in the future to have further control of the wine quality in the raw material stage.
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Q, I saw Marty’s pick on your wine list? Who is Marty and who else is part of the operation?
A, Marty Cook, President-elect of the PA Wine Society. I recently conducted a virtual wine tasting hosted by them. Marty selected the wines for the tasting, hence “Marty’s Pick.” Marty and I were also classmates in the now-defunct enology and viticulture program at HACC about 5 years ago. I believe this program is now offered through Penn State Berks. I run the daily operations of the winery. From time-to-time, there are kosher supervisors who help with bottling and harvest activities. Binah Winery is the first and only PA winery to have internationally recognized kosher certification by the OU. Family and friends have helped immensely along the way, although they are not officially a part of the operation.
Q, Looks like a mix of dry and sweet and red and white. I guess if you’re a Lehigh Valley winery, you almost have to have Chambourcin on the list, yes? Talk about that wine a bit.
A, Chambouricn can almost not be avoided. It is so widely grown in our region. I am using it in three different wines. It is the foundation of Binah’s Rosé Wine, and I am making two red wines from it. The 2019 Chambourcin is a light-bodied red wine with an aromatic oak influence. It is very approachable. I am carrying this wine into the 2020 vintage, as well as adding a Lehigh Valley AVA Reserve Chambourcin which will be more structured, with a fuller body and greater depth of complexity.
Q, In general, tell me about the wine list? Is this the original group you started offering or has your list grown? Are there customer favorites already?
A, This is the original list. It is the majority of the 2019 vintage. There is also a 2019 Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and sparkling rosé. Those wines have yet to be released. The 2020 vintage will bring some new wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Blanc de Blancs, and a Bordeaux-style dry red, as well as some reserve wines. The wine offerings will likely vary from vintage to vintage as the grape source selections are made. Stella is popular with our customers. It is a dry white wine blend that I plan to offer in most, if not all vintages. Chambourcin and our Rosé Wine also have loyal followings.
Q, Your favorite wines? Dry? Sweeter? Red? White? Certain grapes?
A, Generally, I like dry medium-full bodied reds and dry to off-dry light-bodied aromatic whites. Sparkling wines are always wonderful for a refreshing cleanse of the palate. I mean really, tastes fluctuate. I enjoy clean, expressive wines of many styles. I do have a soft spot for Zinfandel: the red wine. Not a Pennsylvania wine though, as it rarely ripens in our cool-climate region. Chambourcin can be coaxed in a similar direction, although unable to achieve that very bright candied spiciness.
10, I’m a big fan of blends. Is Stella your one blend? Tell me about how you came up with that one.
A., Stella is one of our blends. It is a dry white wine. It was designed for wide appeal, for those consumers who prefer “dry white wine.” It is lightly oaked and reminiscent of a traditional Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Other wine blends include Celeste, a Germanic-style aromatic white wine similar to Riesling or Gewürztraminer. Rosé Wine is a blend of Chambourcin and saignée lots from the red wine fermentations.
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