Howard Paul and his wife, Skippy, who have been making and enjoying wine together for decades.
Howard Paul and his wife, Skippy, who have been making and enjoying wine together for decades.

Yiddish it’s not, but Machaia wine is still a joy

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Yiddish was spoken in Howard Paul ’s home until he was 5. That’s when “my father was explaining to a friend some stupid thing I did, and I turned and said to him, I understand what you’re saying. And that ended Yiddish as his code language.”

Fitting then, that the East Bay winemaker has a red-blend wine named Machaia from Wedgewood Vintners, a boutique winery in Vallejo. The Yiddish word, usually spelled mechaya, “means a gift, a wonderful thing, lovely, delightful or pleasant,” Paul said. “All of those things describe the wine.”

“The absolute best Super Tuscans come from the Bolgheri region of Italy,” Paul elaborated about the 2019 vintage. “Mine is similar to these extraordinarily expensive wines, so what came to mind was Machaia, spelled the Italian way.”

(It is not the only locally produced wine with a Yiddish name; there is also Mensch, from Berkeley’s Covenant Wines.)

Before he became a winemaker, Paul was a psychologist with a private practice in New Jersey and taught at Rutgers Medical School. He also was the book review editor of the professional journal Child & Family Behavior Therapy, and he continues his work there as its editor-in-chief.

His wife, Evelyn, known as Skippy, got the wine bug during a trip to Europe, and Paul became equally enamored. She worked as a nurse and they raised a family, but wine was always a shared passion, going way back.

In 1971, the couple became friendly with the owner of a local wine shop in Highland Park, New Jersey, and soon started hosting wine tastings there. They also wrote and published the Central Jersey Wine Gazette.

Fast-forward to 2003, when they saw an ad offering the opportunity for anyone who wanted to make their own wine. That’s when they started making wine in New Jersey, with grapes they imported from California.

“We just thought it might be fun, and it was,” Paul said. “People began to like the wines I was making and a small cult formed around them.”

Their wine didn’t only pass muster with friends in New Jersey. Wedgewood’s signature 2007 Symphony — a Bordeaux blend — won in a blind tasting when their daughter Laura worked in the tasting room at Rock Wall Wine Co. in Alameda, and several of her co-workers chose it as their favorite.

Winemaker Howard Paul
Winemaker Howard Paul

Several of Paul’s vintages have won awards. Most recently Machaia took a silver medal in its category of the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine competition, and Symphony took a gold medal in the same contest.

By the time the couple moved to Vallejo in 2019 to be closer to their children, they were already familiar with many Bay Area wineries because they had been buying their fruit for so many years.

“We came out here frequently and knew the vineyards from which my fruit came,” Paul said. He would always bring a few bottles for the winemakers here to taste.

When Paul asked the owners at the Wooden Valley Winery in Fairfield if he could make his wine there, they said yes.

“I make wine that I like,” Paul explained, and he prefers blends over those made from one varietal. Symphony is his French blend, similar to a Bordeaux. His zinfandel blend is called Zinfull. And since there is a style referred to as Super Tuscan, he felt there should be a Super American, and that’s his cabernet blend, which he calls “easy to drink.”

Paul says he is able to offer such good wine at fair prices (between $40 and $45) because grapes from the Suisun Valley are half the price of Napa Valley’s, which is right next door.

“Making it there, we have Napa-quality wine without Napa prices,” he said.

While Paul is the winemaker, nothing passes muster without Skippy’s approval. They met at the beginning of their careers in medicine, and now in this later chapter of their lives, after 54 years of marriage, they are still working together.

Because the Pauls moved to the Bay Area right before the pandemic, socializing and making new connections hasn’t happened so much. They’ve been set up to sell since January, and Paul is looking forward to introducing his wines to the public. He’ll even deliver to some local addresses. He’s permitted to ship to 13 states and has a wine club.

With the tagline “wines that make your mouth happy,” Wedgewood Vintners wines are available on the website.

When we tried Machaia it was, as expected, a mechaya. More than aptly named, it made our mouths happy, indeed.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."