Friday, February 20, 2009

Next up: Port in a box and a 'roadside' tent

Sometimes the longer the interview the longer it takes to post. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it, for why part of this Presidents Day chat with Morris Zwick of (yeah, we can call them funky) Terrapin Station Winery that's located just north of Elkton, Md., in Cecil County has taken so long to transcribe and give it some eyes beyond mine.

The word “fun” jumps out at you on his site, and that sense of humor shines through in any interview with this second-generation Italian who notes on his Web site that he was a rare bird among his peers at the University of Maryland, where wine was his drink of choice. Starting with kits, his move toward winemaking now includes a product that is the only one in the Pennsylvania/Maryland region that packages it in a bag and box. It's sold in more than 40 stores, including now in Beltway Fine Wine & Spirits in Towson. “That's actually a big deal for us,” he said. “It's a large store, they move a lot of volume, and there's a lot of people go there to shop.”

As of now there's nowhere to buy his wines on his property, but Zwick said that will change soon. He figures to put up a festival tent by the wine building and open on weekends and maybe a couple of weekdays from June through mid-August. There they can allow visitors to taste and purchase the wines. “It's just to get people to stop by, see the place and sell some retail. We have some longer-term plans to put up some permanent structures, but those are on hold until several things happen “ he said, stopping to laugh, “including the improvement of the economy.”

Not only would the weather prohibit them from doing that now, but so would the inventory. Zwick said they're down to two Vidals and the Syrah, but that they plan to package five in the next few weeks. “We're just waiting for the guy who makes our cardboard to finish, and once he’s done with that we’ll start getting em knocked out one by one.”

Those include a Cecil Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Shiraz, their reserve Traminette, Vidal, Cayuga and what he called Five Rivers Rose. “And then, when those five wines are done, we have last year’s reds in the tank. We also have a Port we’re playing with and, with the port, we’ve come to an agreement to do a little marketing with it that people should find entertaining and useful. So we’ll see how that works out. I think it will be the world’s first Port in a box. We’ll see. It’s a matter of convenience for us. You know, we’ve got our form factory, we might as well keep it.”

He can only hope all of these sell with the same zest as his Traminette, which has been overwhelmingly popular.

“Last year we sold it out in five weeks. Now, we didn’t have a huge amount, but I was actually pleasantly surprised and I think part of it is. We don't don't it horribly sweet, but it does have some residual sugar. And its parent Gewurtztraminer is definitely a love or hate wine because [it] has definitely a very, strong, unique characteristics, a spiciness to it. Some people like it, some people hate it. The Traminette, being a cross of it, it has those characterictics but it’s not so overwhelming and I actually think it makes a more pleasant wine to drink. So I think part of it is that Traminette such an approachable white wine and it’s unique. It’s not just another Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc or something like this. And it was really popular, so we're hoping to keep with it.”

He said they handled the approach on this current vintage a little differently; for instance, doing an extended cold soak on it for 48 hours. “We definitely got something even more flavorful than last year, so we’re pretty excited about it. One thing you should always talk to a winemaker about, I think, is what kind of wines are you drinking. Because if you’re only drinking your own wines, drinking the same things all the time, then you’re not learning. And we definitely started to, and it’s hard to find, it’s not like every store [sells] a Traminette. But we definitely have been going around trying Traminettes and getting ideas from people and I think that will be reflected in what comes out here.”

Perhaps one other significant change at the winery will be some new packaging to differentiate their product line. Zwick said the higher-end wines will have a variation on the existing box and the newer wines will have a slightly different box style. It's one of our goals to be able to have somebody to look at the wines,” and recognize the gradations of value and price points. “Everything right now is priced the same. Our quote-unquote suggested retail is 20 bucks; that’s what we sell at festivals and stuff. When we’re done this little phase we’ll probably be anywhere from $18 to $30. The Traminette will probably be around 30 bucks . Now part of this is the mission work of explaining to people before they take a step back and say 'Wow, that’s a lot of money,' is remember the boxes containing the equivalent of two bottles of wine in it.”

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