Monday, June 8, 2009

Chapter 14 - Hey! You made it to Chapter 14!

Chapter 14 – Hey! You made it to Chapter 14!

Captain America: Well I guess that brings you pretty much up to date. Sorry to put you through all of that but it was you who clicked on this part of the website after all. Then again, if you made it this far, you have shown true dedication, a relatively high tolerance for pain, and maybe just a little tendency toward the obsessive.

Hmmmm. Wanna start a winery?

Chapter 13 - Epilogue

Chapter 13 - Epilogue

Captain America: I helped sell the Philadelphia Stock Exchange to Nasdaq and I ultimately left for good on September 30, 2008. No more day job. No more commuting. Now we have to keep working hard so I never have to go back. We are still working on trying to liberate Dave. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer. He’d be great as a full time farmer. Then we are going after Jen and Joe.

And we are real live winemakers now. Our first vintage of the Pinot Grigio we planted and grew won a gold medal for the best Pinot Grigio in the Garden State. Our very first Merlot Reserve won a bronze. It shocked us all. We hadn’t even paid the entry fee to get into the competition thinking we had no prayer of winning anything and $25 is a lot of money to a small winery. Then our Classico 07 won a silver medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. And in spring of 2009, we won eight…that’s right eight….. medals for our wines in the annual New Jersey Wine Competition. Classico got a gold. Silvers for Merlot Reserve 07, Sole , Chardonnay Reserve 08, The White Bottle 08, and Pinot Grigio 08. Rosalita and Rustica took home a bronze a piece.

It is really pretty hard to believe I let myself think about it….

Chapter 12 - The Enoteca

Chapter 12 – The Enoteca

Captain America: We finally got the approvals to open The Enoteca in November 2007. Our initial visit to the township planning board had been May 19, 2004, right in the middle of our first planting. I remember it because it was my dad’s birthday. We showed up thinking that they would kiss us on both cheeks, thank us for coming to their township and starting a winery and give us everything we asked for. It did not quite work out that way. I’m guessing they saw a city guy and his friends who had been farmers for all of 5 days coming to their township to make intoxicating beverages. And I was woefully unprepared for their questions. They roughed us up pretty bad. I could almost hear my dad’s voice in my head as I walked out telling me I had that schooling coming to me for being cocky and unprepared. He was right, we deserved it - well most of it at least. But the day finally came when we were finally able to open our doors to the public.

The Enoteca is a wine bar in the Italian style of wine bars. We have wine of course. But we also have cheese, gelato, biscotti, chocolates – all things that make a glass of wine better. It is a place where you can have a glass of wine with a friend and look out the windows at the vines. It is a place you can bring Grandma and the kids and hang out together as a family. You can even sit in the courtyard by yourself and listen to the rustling of the leaves in the vineyard and soak in the sun. We really just created a place that we would want to come and hang out which is a darn good thing because we are almost always there….

Part IV - We Might Just be Getting Good at This...Chapter 11 - Good Karma

Part IV – We Might Just be Getting Good at This…
Chapter 11 – Good Karma

Captain America: In May of 2006, we planted the 1 1/2 acres just outside the doors of The Enoteca. We also made our first wines using our own grapes which had finally matured to the point that we could harvest. 2006 was our first harvest. In the Fall of 2006, we bottled our first three wines. The first was our stand alone Merlot. The next was an Italian style blend that Dave coined "Classico". Finally, we had a light dry red that tasted like nothing we had ever had before.

I was afraid it was so unusual it wouldn’t sell. As I tried to think of a name, I thought about everything we had been through, the breaks we had gotten when we needed them – Ross’s plow, Don, the Professor and his transit, Everett, even my dad in a weird sort of way - and that we had listened to our inner voices, did what they told us to and how when we did that, the sympathetic universe (call it what you want) helped us along. There was truly a good vibe, a good karma, surrounding this endeavor, one that I had never experienced in anything else I had ever done. And so it seemed appropriate to call our weird, wonderful misfit of a wine "Good Karma".

Joey did a masterful job of designing our logo and labels. They were fun and colorful and classy. Amazing guy, Joey. He’s the man’s man Dave and I wish we could be. He can do electrical work. He can fix a tractor. He lifts all the heavy stuff for us. He helped work the transit (in fact the Professor wouldn’t let either Dave or me near it). Yet he has an eye for color and the subtle differences in shade and hues. He is an artist – a truly creative guy. And he’s a pretty good bass player too, which is still cool.

We spent the next year completing the build out of the pole barn, the expansion of the road, the installation of lighting and parking, tearing out fences, planting bushes in front of trees, planting trees in front of bushes, landscaping and planting trees in forests because I guess there weren’t enough.

And Dave and Shannon continued to have children – little Hallie came along in the summer of 2007.

Chapter 10 - Pole Barn becomes a Winery

Chapter 10 – Pole Barn becomes a Winery

Captain America: Also in 2005, we began the task of converting the pole barn into a winery, storage rooms and, on the south side where the horse stalls were, a wine bar that we decided to call The Enoteca (which is Italian for wine bar). The Professor undertook the oversight, and a lot of the actual work, of construction, particularly of the extension we built onto The Enoteca. He spent day after day – and even some evenings – building small fires out of scrap wood to keep warm, designing and constructing the edifice. It was an amazing piece of work, no doubt with a healthy dose of belly-scratching. But the Professor would say that belly-scratching is important so as to work smarter not harder. An amazing guy, our Professor.

As we continued the build out of the winery, we ordered a few barrels to store what was to become our first vintage. We had grapes delivered from Lodi, California. We ordered the same varietals that we had planted that first year – Sangiovese (the grape in Chianti), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We crushed the grapes and fermented them in food grade plastic barrels that we built a makeshift tent around to help control the temperature.

Dave and Shannon continued having children - Stone showed up in the summer of 2005. We lost Jules’ dad, John, who had been the honorary foreman over the first two plantings, right before our third planting in the Spring of 2006. Before long, Jules’ mom bought a house near the farm.

Chapter 9 - Planting the right way - May 2005

Chapter 9 – Planting the right way – May 2005

Captain America: In 2005, we planted the back 3 ½ acres of the property, this time using a planting machine we borrowed from Ross. This machine had been made by the Amish and is a true marvel of engineering. We planted all 3 ½ acres in 2 ½ days. We then put the metal trellis posts in, this time with a mechanical post driver that we named Eddie after the mascot for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden because Eddie the Pole Driver was the angriest piece of farm machinery we had ever seen. To work with Eddie was to take your life in your hands. But Eddie did the job and the posts were all in within a day.

Part III - The Barn, the Farm and New Jersey Cowboys

Part III – The Barn, the Farm and New Jersey Cowboys

Chapter 8: New Jersey Cowboys

Captain America: We also set our sights on the old pole barn in the middle of the property. In 2004, it was still just a barn – dirt floor, holes in the roof, big sliding doors on either side, and the south side completely open to serve as horse stalls and on the far side, a huge bull pen. At that time we rented out the horse stalls and the pasture behind it to a New Jersey Cowboy named Clay. Up to that point I had not known that there was such a thing as a New Jersey Cowboy. But, sure enough, there was. He had a big white cowboy hat, chewed tobacco at 7 am, wore boots and spurs and the whole deal. Clay was in the business of buying wild horses, breaking them and making them safe to ride and then selling them. He asked if he could rent the pasture and the stalls for a while and, loving the idea of having horses on the farm and being fascinated with the idea of the very existence of New Jersey Cowboys, I readily agreed. Plus there was an added benefit – Clay was a rodeo cowboy. He performed with all sorts of other cowboys, the New Jersey variety and otherwise, at Cowtown Rodeo every Saturday evening in the summer. If you have never been, you MUST go to Cowtown. It is truly an amazing place. It was especially so for a city boy like me. But what was great was that we took the boys to the rodeo one Saturday and there was Clay standing inside the ring along the fence, waiting his turn. We walked through the crowd down to the fence and said hello and talked to him for a few minutes. We were at the rodeo and we knew one of the cowboys! Not only did we go to the rodeo, but we got to be cool at the rodeo!

Clay kept horses at the farm throughout the summer and I don’t remember actually collecting any rent, but that didn’t matter. It was still cool. And besides, he did leave me a goat tied to a tree for a present once. I wasn’t sure it was a goat at the time. But I called Ross and described this thing tied to the tree and Ross assured me that it was in fact a goat and that, no, goats were not dangerous but were actually very smart animals and good for cleaning up weedy places.

Well, we had a lot of those so I put Goaty (which is the name Luca gave him) to work. After a week or so, I told Clay, thanks but no thanks. We had way too much on our hands without becoming goat herders as well. Clay seemed disappointed. So was Luca.