- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2014

Warrenton, Va. — Walking through the cellar of Molon Lave Vineyards, the tape bearing the words “void if tampered” wraps around the knobs of tanks and the corks of barrels.

During the Passover Seder meal, four cups of wine are incorporated into the annual Jewish feast. The silverware, dishes and unleavened bread are closely supervised to conform with ritual demands — and so is the wine.

For Louizos Papadopoulos, owner and winemaker at the 5-year-old Molon Lave, the production of kosher wine adds a layer of appreciation to the winemaking art.

“It’s opening our wines to people who can appreciate it in a different scope,” he said.

While Mr. Papadopoulos expects an increase in the kosher wine business with Passover, the wine business as a whole has never done better. Americans consumed 750 million gallons of wine in 2012 — that’s 2.73 gallons per person, according to the Wine Institute.

Kosher wines, from traditional American brands such as Manischewitz and Mogen David to a slew of highly praised new imports from Israel, Chile, Argentina and other markets, now constitute a U.S. market topping $30 million in sales a year, according to estimates.

As the first and only kosher winery in Virginia, Molon Lave is looking to fill a void for the faithful throughout the mid-Atlantic.

“We can make good wine, but there really is no good wine for people who cannot — are not allowed — under their religion to appreciate it,” he said.

Kosher wine, which makes up to about 25 percent of the Warrenton-based winery’s total product, does not differ in production methods from non-kosher wines. The grapes come from the same vine, are pressed the same way and go into the same bottles.

“Really, there is no difference in the method that it’s made other than the handling and the supervision. Those are the two key words,” Mr. Papadopoulos said.

The people who handle the grapes during production must be verified to be Orthodox Jews, and the entire process must be supervised by a rabbi who is certified under the Orthodox Union. Kosher wine makers can’t use any products, such as unauthorized yeasts or other potentially non-kosher ingredients, that might violate kosher standards.

Ironically, the initial reason behind Molon Lave’s production of kosher wine had little to do with religious convictions, the winemaker recalled.

Mr. Papadopoulos also works in the jewelry business and has colleagues in the diamond business in New York.

“They jokingly said we should make some kosher wine, and that’s how it started,” he said.

Those same friends are the vineyard’s customers today.

“By having personal friends [who] wanted to have kosher wine and wanted to be involved with making kosher wine, it was something satisfying to see them for the first time try wine that they had worked on with their own hands to have made,” he said.

A passion and a lifestyle

For Mr. Papadopoulos, the passion for winemaking blossomed during his boyhood in Greece.

“We were always involved with making wine,” he said. “It was a hobby that became serious.”

His family had several acres of vineyards and produced wine simply because they love to drink it.

“It’s a passion, and it’s a lifestyle,” said Mr. Papadopoulos.

This passion is deeply rooted in the Papadopoulos family. Another vineyard just miles away from Molon Lave, Mediterranean Cellars, is owned by Mr. Papadopoulos’ family. Molon Lave is expected to be inherited by Mr. Papadopoulos’ daughters, who already have started working there.

The name of the vineyard comes from his Greek heritage. At the Battle of Thermopylae, Spartan King Leonidas, clearly outnumbered by attacking Persian forces, when asked to surrender said, “Molon Lave,” or “Come and get them.”

“I always wanted to use it because I’m Greek in a license plate or something, but I never did,” Mr. Papadopoulos said.

It quickly became the mantra for the vineyard, which opened its doors in 2009.

“It’s a historic phrase. It shows defiance. It shows a way of living and thinking,” he said.

Because of Virginia’s booming wine industry and the D.C. region’s wine market, Molon Lave is looking for growth.

It started with 9 acres of planted grapes on a 50-acre lot and has added 3 acres with plans to grow even more.

“The demand — and this is real and it’s not only us, it’s all Virginia wineries — the demand for grapes to make wine is greater than what we can produce, by far,” Mr. Papadopoulos said. “It’s not we need another 5 percent, we could use another 30 or 40 percent.”

In Virginia, where more than 200 vineyards have sprung up in recent decades, one might expect fierce competition for market share, but Mr. Papadopoulos said that’s not the case.

“The spirit amongst wineries is that yes, we are competitors, but we also realize at the same time that if you’re visiting from D.C. and you love our wines and you love our wineries, you’re not going to be here every weekend,” he said. “By having the option of visiting a few wineries at the same time in the surrounding area, that makes it an attraction.”

Molon Lave harvests 30 to 40 tons of grapes, which produce 3,000 to 4,000 cases of wine. The winery produces chardonnays, Rieslings, merlots, cabernet francs and cabernet sauvignons, among others.

The vineyard sits next to patios, a pond and a tasting room with sections catering to different groups.

“You can’t put a bachelorette party next to an older couple that wants peace and tranquility,” Mr. Papadopoulos said.

In the next couple of years, Molon Lave will expand its vineyards to be able to produce up to 8,000 cases. This will go to a distributor and be available throughout East Coast wine stores with concentration in New York.

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