This time 25 years ago the property transfer was completed and Thorpe Vineyard was formally incorporated on October 31, 1988. I remember writing the date “November 01, 1988” down on the applications for the Federal Permit to be a Bonded Winery and the Farm Winery License to the New York State Liquor Authority. It was the official beginning of this Little Winery on the Great Lake. The permit and license, however, didn’t get here until the summer of 1989 when it finally became legal for us to start selling our products.
I don’t remember what brought the idea of having a special wine when the tenth anniversary was approaching in 1997. It is very likely that we saw other wineries’ ads promoting their own milestone anniversaries. So our tenth anniversary wine was named “Once in a Blue Moon,” released in 1998. It came from my liking of stars with the implication that this wouldn’t happen very often. Certainly a milestone anniversary doesn’t happen every year. It was a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling both grown in our own vineyard but never blended together in the bottle before.
The plan for the fifteenth anniversary wine came much sooner than 2003. The friend grape growers on Keyuka Lake often told us about one red variety that they had many fans of. We were listening to them but never really thought about making wine out of it. So this time when the next milestone anniversary approached, we decided to give it a try. It was the first time I made wine from the variety called Carmine. It was developed by the viticulturist in California; American made but a true vinifera variety cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignane. As it has a hefty Bordeaux parentage, it cannot be bottled in the following year from the harvest. It has to be aged at least extra year or two before bottling. We got the grapes in 2001 to get ready for the fifteenth anniversary in 2003. This was the second “Once in a Blue Moon” we had.
The twentieth anniversary wine in 2008 was Traminette. This variety was developed by the Cornell breeding program down in Geneva and was just officially named and released in those days. It was again highly recommended by another friend grower on Canandaigua Lake this time. It is a white variety so looked appropriate to set the pattern alternating between white and red. I put a label that had a picture of my dog, Tooley, and called it “Tooley’s Traminette.”
Somewhere around my 20th anniversary, some changes were taking place. Thorpe Vineyard was the only winery in Wayne County for a long time, but other wineries started to emerge. And other commercial grape growers, too. What a change! I worked with one of them closely for a number of years, and interestingly they planted some Carmine on their farm. I made trial wines from their grapes including Carmine — and, yes, what a naughty kid it was!! I started to wonder if it was my fault to mention Carmine to them. Perhaps the soil; perhaps the weather; or maybe something else…..
In the fall of 2011 I purchased some of these Wayne County grown Carmine again. I crushed and fermented, then pressed them out into a tank. The must was still fizzing, but it appeared to be totally different from the previous years. I recalled the words of the viticulturist in the Finger Lakes that the vines reach their maturity in 5 years when they finish exploring the soil they are planted in. Surely it was getting about 5 years since they planted their vineyards. So the vines must have found where they should have reached along this big Lake — best wishes to their future!
It would be a silver anniversary, but it would be a turn for a red. So maybe I could do a red. I started to plan to bottle this 2011 Carmine for my 25th anniversary by the end of summer 2012. Now I needed a label for this. My tasting room attendant, Judy, first got to know Abby and Bob Mills from Florida a few years ago when they started to come to our tasting room. Last summer I had a few occasions to chat with them and got an interesting idea for the anniversary label.
One afternoon I walked in to the tasting room as it looked from outside too crowded for one attendant to take care of the business. I was inside the bar for a while then when it started slowing down, I could see Abby quietly sitting at the table next to the picture window in the room. Bob was talking with other customers so I walked up to say hello to her and we started chatting. She knew of my search for a design of the anniversary label and with a pencil and a piece of paper in hand drew “XXV” based on Bob’s gift to her for their wedding anniversary one year. “I like Roman letters,” she said.
I kept tossing the idea around during the winter. I talked with Judy, and my web designer, Vicki, who inserted 1988 and 2013 between the Roman letters, and other helpers around. By the time I got a rough proof from the label printer, Abby and Bob were back from Florida for their summer in upstate New York. They helped me bottling lots of wine this summer including XXV. Now all we needed was the label approval from the Federal Government. And that turned out to be a total surprise to me as there was a LONG waiting line even to get a specialist assigned to examine my application. They had a website just to post the period to be on the waiting list. What happened!? This is just like 25 years ago when all the procedure was taken care of by the snail mail!!
When I finally got an email that the label design was approved in mid-September, there were barely 2 weeks left until the Mills’ departure to Florida. I emailed to the printer right away and miraculously the finished roll of the labels arrived the Friday before their leaving. I’m sure the Fed-Ex driver, Dave, wondered why I popped out from the house when he pulled in to receive the little box that had the labels in. Carolyn and I labeled up a few cases of this XXV and I emailed to the Mills. They said they would stop by the next day.
It was a beautiful Saturday when the Mills came over with their BMW motorcycle for the last time, before setting it on their trailer to bring back home to Florida. We walked out in the sun with the bottle of XXV in Abby’s hand to take a picture next to their machine. They left for home in Florida that Sunday. Another summer was gone, and the harvest 2013 was just waiting for me to give it a go sign.
By the way I found a handful of my second Once in a Blue Moon in my secret library. Would anyone be interested in joining the “distant” vertical tasting of 2 different Carmines sometime? Let me know!