Saturday, July 19, 2008

Adding a bit of sweet to Sugarloaf Mountain

You’ll get some passionate back-and-forths about the wineries in Pennsylvania and Maryland and how they can’t be serious about making good wine if they produce anything sweet. So I felt like my conversation with Jim McKenna, one of the principles of
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard took a surprise turn when he said the young and award-winning winery was heading in that direction.

“We’ve come up with another thing an oddball kind of a thing,” McKennsa said a few days ago, after talking about their Cabernet Franc and a couple of their other enticing reds. “We’ve discovered at a lot of these [festivals] that we go to that the overwhelming majority of the people of the state of Maryland who go to a wine festival are interested I one thing – sweet. And sugar. Sweet slash sugar. You know, three out of five people come up and say, let me have your really best sweet wine. So, you know, here we’ve spent so much time trying to put out a first-class wine.

“And so last year we had a stomp,
and this year we’re going to have it again,” he continued. “We had attendance of well over 1000 people, and I expect as many if not as twice as many this year, and when we bought grapes from Pennsylvania and Virginia, not [real] good grapes . . . but just use for people to stomp. Because then we had the grapes left over at the end of the day after we had the stomp, so we said, ‘Well, what are we going to do with these things [that weren't used in the stomp]?’ [My partner] said, ‘Why don’t we just make a Stomp wine . . . throw some sugar in it?’ And so we did, and we have it, and of course, people love it. You know, ‘Boy I really love that Stomp of yours,’ and so, we’re going to make more of it. I mean it sells; it even sells at the winery itself. People like it. You know, what are you going to do? [My wife] Lois and I went on a four-winery tour about a year and a half ago in Maryland, just to see. Bert Basignani, Mike Fiori, Rob Deford up at Boordy . . . and all four of them said, when we asked what sells, they said, ‘sweet,’ independently of the other. They all said that. ‘Sweet.’ Make it sweet and they will drink it and that should have wakened us. But it didn’t at the time.

But now that we have the Stomp going . . . so, as Rob Deford up at
Boordy said, ‘Look, this pays the rent.’ Put out a lot of apple wine. You name it, orange wine, coyote wine, whatever crazy name you want to put on it, then sell it. And so we’re not going to be quite so snooty anymore. I mean, I’ve learned my lesson. Give them what they want. And then the people who really understand wine will continue to buy [our good stuff.]”