Leslie Rudd, maker of fine kosher wines, is dead at 76

Leslie Rudd, a vintner and entrepreneur who made fine kosher wines as a co-founder of Covenant Winery in California’s Napa Valley, has died.

Rudd, who died on May 3 in New York City at the age of 76, was the owner of Rudd Vineyard and Winery in Napa Valley and at one point owned a majority interest in Dean & DeLuca, the New York gourmet food retailer. Rudd also owned Edge Hill, a historic winery in St. Helena, California that he renovated to reflect its roots in the 19th century.

According to a tribute by his friend and business partner, Jeff Morgan, Rudd grew up in a Jewish home in Wichita, Kansas. In 2002, Rudd hosted a tasting of wines made by Jewish winemakers, and challenged his guests to make high quality kosher wines.

“Why are there so few kosher wines as good as that?” Rudd asked, after tasting a vintage from Israel’s Domaine du Castel winery. “I grew up in Kansas drinking Manischewitz,” he added. A year later, Morgan and Rudd launched what would become Covenant, hiring a Shabbat-observant crew in keeping with the requirements for making and selling kosher wine.

Covenant’s top wine is called Solomon Lot 70, in honor of Rudd’s Hebrew name, Shlomo, Morgan wrote in J. the Jewish News of Northern California. Shlomo is Hebrew for Solomon.

Rudd’s family owned Standard Beverage Corporation, a wine and spirits distributorship in Wichita. He took over the business in 1974. He created the Leslie Rudd Investment Company, and sold his stake in Dean & DeLuca in 2014. Rudd was also a partner in Vintage Wine Estates, which includes some 30 wineries and wine brands

“As Leslie’s association with Covenant brought him closer to his Jewish heritage, he traveled with me to Israel in 2011,” Morgan recalled. “Israel reminded us of what Napa Valley was like 30 years ago, and we were inspired to found Covenant Israel, a wine project aimed at investing in Israel and showing support for what we believe is one of the world’s most up-and-coming wine regions.”

The Rudd Foundation, founded in 1998, focuses on education, healthy national food policy and charitable causes and initiatives related to Judaism.

He is survived by his wife, Susan; his daughter, Samantha, who now heads the family’s Napa Valley wineries; and a grandson, Rudd.

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