Meet Rachel: Jewish Winemaker of the Week

by GatherDC Staff / October 13, 2021

Rachel Loew Lipman is an area native and a fifth-generation winemaker. We caught up with Rachel to learn how she connects her craft to her Jewishness and to her family’s roots and story of survival. We were also curious what someone who spends their day around wine does to relax—and were not disappointed to learn that it involves wine!

You can meet Rachel in person and tour her winery on October 24 at 3GDCommunity Meet and Greet at Loew Vineyards. Learn more and get tickets here.

GatherDC: You grew up in the area?

Rachel: I grew up in Gaithersburg, went to the University of Maryland and have lived in the DMV area my whole life. Most of my family and friends live in Maryland. It’s always been important to me to maintain a close relationship with my family, especially my grandparents. I’ve also built my own life here, becoming the fifth-generation winemaker for my family’s vineyard and winery, called Loew Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Maryland. It is such a privilege to be able to work with my grandparents and the rest of my family to continue an incredible legacy that could have been lost to the Holocaust.

GatherDC: Okay, you obviously have to tell us more about the winemaking! 

Rachel: My grandfather’s family owned over three meaderies (honey wineries) in Poland from 1870 until WWII. My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor and one of the only surviving members of his extended family. My grandparents established the winery in Mt. Airy, now the fourth oldest in Maryland, to reconnect with my grandfather’s roots. 

Throughout the years the whole family has been involved whether it is through harvest or wine festivals. We all have a unique connection to the vineyard and want to see the legacy continue. Today, my family has one of the longest tenures of mead production in the world. The ability to continue and share a legacy through a tangible product is such a compelling concept to me. It is literally history in a bottle. I’m so grateful that I get to work with my family, create the highest quality wine and mead, and share our family history with each customer who visits the winery.

GatherDC: It’s been a crazy year. How are things going at the winery?

Rachel: This whole year has been jam-packed with incredible endeavors. I made a point to invite my siblings and cousins to make mead with me during harvest. Making mead has always felt like a rite of passage, from when I first learned to make it with my grandfather. It’s heartwarming that I’ve been able to share that experience with three of my cousins now. I hope to share it with more members of my family—as mead is of huge significance to my family, and as my grandfather says, “mead is our signature.”

GatherDC: Switching gears a bit: since you’ve lived here your whole life, what would your dream day in the DMV look like?

Rachel: One of my favorite things to do is to browse farmers markets. My dream day would start at the Baltimore Farmers Market (which is the largest one on the east coast). I’d make omelets with the farm fresh eggs I purchased from the market. They’re always the best! Then, I would take my dog Brixton on a hike with friends, or a long walk followed by a visit to the dog park if he still has energy. I’ve always wanted to make goulash, so my day would end with trying a recipe I’ve been scouring the internet for. Paired with a glass of red wine, of course!

GatherDC: Love it! So, how does a winemaker relax at the end of a long week?

Rachel: Most of my time is spent at my family’s vineyard—especially during harvest. One of the ways that I unwind best is through cooking and pairing that meal with a bottle of wine while listening to music on my record player. There is something Julia Childesque about it that puts me in a good mood—especially if the dish turns out to pair perfectly with the wine I had in mind…which is usually the case.

GatherDC: What’s something you can’t get through the day without?

Rachel: Talking to my grandmother, even on my days off at the winery. I don’t think there is a day that has gone by where we haven’t at least texted about the winery, about a wine we are drinking, something funny we saw on the internet, or just something random. My family’s winery is more than just a business. It’s a way to keep my family close and involved with each other’s lives daily.

GatherDC: How do you connect with your Jewish Identity?

Rachel: I think everyone’s perspective of their identity changes as they get older. I know mine has. My identity is rooted largely in my family history. As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I spent many Sundays at the vineyard visiting my grandparents where often my grandfather would share his story. 

I attributed my connection to Judaism and the community to learning about the Holocaust and about my family members who perished due to their identity. I feel a sense of responsibility to be proud of my history and share it with all who come to visit my family’s winery. I’ve also recently joined 3GDC which is an organization comprised of grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, to help further their mission through sharing my grandfather’s story, becoming an advocate, promoting education, and community building. On October 24th, my family will be hosting 3GDC’s first in-person event since COVID at our winery! For more information, go to the 3GDC website!

GatherDC: What’s your favorite Jewish tradition?

Rachel: ​​My favorite holiday is Passover. Growing up, I used to spend the night before the holiday at my grandparents’ house helping my grandmother cook and set the table for the seder. Before my family would arrive, my grandfather would take me into the basement with him to the wine cellar and we would choose old vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon or Mead to open and drink during and after the Seder. 

Passover is different for my family since we read out of a Haggadah that has excerpts from those who survived and perished in the Holocaust. It is quite powerful for each of us to read those passages and often leads to my grandfather sharing a piece of his story of survival of the Holocaustsometimes, a story we have never heard before. Like the slaves being freed from bondage, my grandfather always says how sweet his liberation was. It is so special to me.

GatherDC: That’s really lovely. Do you have any Jewish role models?

Rachel: Definitely my grandfather. He has an incredible work ethic, motivation to keep the family legacy alive, and is really skilled at solving problems. Having lost most his family in the Holocaust, learning about his story of survival, how he has lived his life by working hard, creating a family and being able to use his roots to create a beautiful legacy with a vineyard, has been a huge motivation to me. I strive to not only honor my Jewish roots and ancestors, but to expand on the legacy he developed here in the USA.

GatherDC: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?

Rachel: I took entomology in college and developed a fascination for insects. We had to capture different insects for an insect collection which included storing some of them in my freezer in college. My roommates at the time were not enthused! 

Now, working on a vineyard, I enjoy identifying insects and taking pictures of them. Except for Japanese Beetles. I’m not a fan of those since they are pests to grapevines! I have friends that will send me random pictures of insects asking me if they are beneficial.

GatherDC: What’s at the top of your bucket list?

Rachel: There are so many things I want to do! Over the past few years, I have gone down many internet “rabbit holes” learning about mead and the history of mead production in Central/Eastern Europe. My grandfather has shared many stories with me as to how his family made mead in Poland with descriptions and basic sketches as to what the equipment looked like. 

I hope to visit a couple of older meaderies in Poland to see if they have pictures, drawings, or pieces of the equipment they used to make mead prior to the early 1900s. It would really bring things full circle and I’m hoping it would provide insight for future mead projects.

Gather DC: And finally, when Jews of DC Gather…

Rachel: …they drink wine!