Vintner vows to serve no wine before its time
NORTH CANAAN — This is not a story of a fledgling business, or a piece of prime real estate for sale.In fact, Bob Stone was very gracious when he shared the details of his tiny winemaking operation. As for the location of the vineyard, this reporter was sworn to secrecy. It is a stone’s throw from a main road. People have driven by it countless times without even knowing it is there. Navigating the rough road into the 17-acre property, owned by the family for half a century, is worth it. It offers a southern-facing slope that the grapes love, and a mostly hidden pristine quarry lake, full of large-mouthed bass.Stone grew up on North Elm Street. He was one of the five teens who famously traveled to Alaska with teacher Tom Glennon in 1962. Late last month, Stone drove with two friends from his Colorado home in the same 1963 Buick convertible he first borrowed from his dad while in high school. This trip included maintenance work on the old family home. The timing had to do with the grape harvest. Old friends (who also will not divulge the location) made their way to the vineyard to help pick the grapes. The fruits were hauled back in the massive trunk of the Buick to the house, where Stone had built a press in his basement, modeled on one the ancient Pompeians used. It is firmly attached to the floor joists above. A long lever supplies a lot of power in return for just a little effort.Ten years ago, Stone cleared a patch in the milkweed and wildflowers toward the top of the field. He planted 48 vines, then replanted when he discovered the European variety was not cold hardy or resistant to diseases here. It is a painstaking approach, educating oneself and then learning by trial and error. Stone revels in that process, although he’s less happy about having to battle deer, foxes and turkeys. A good fence kept in good repair is part of the program. Soon after he planted, he discovered that Bill Adam (who died in 2005) had started Land of Nod Winery in North Canaan. “Doc” Adam lent advice and equipment, easing the learning curve somewhat. Stone is now up to about 130 hybrid vines — European varieties grafted onto American vines.Growing grapes requires four or five years before a real crop can develop. He is not around when it’s time to spray for fungus. He has not fertilized in years. “They don’t get the attention they need,” he said.But one learns to accept, and celebrate the uniqueness a particular soil and location bring to the grapes.“You get what you get. The flavors we are getting are definitely distinctive.”He is happy with the very dry selection. After pressing, the whites begin life in buckets in the cool basement. Reds stay warmer on the kitchen stove. The pressing leftovers (skins, seeds and stems) go to a local friend who makes the potent liquor known as grappa.“We’re finally getting enough grapes to actually bottle some wine,” Stone said. “Last year, we made half a bottle. We harvested close to 100 pounds this year, including 30 pounds from a row where we previously got nothing.”With nine different grape varieties, and a big enough crop, Stone is getting into blending. He dreams of enjoying at least one meal enhanced by his own wine, and sharing with friends.Stone does the math.“It’s a two-to-one ratio based on poundage. So we will get 50 pounds of liquid, which is 6 to 7 gallons, and that will yield about five bottles.”Stone does a lot of contemplating of his next vineyard move. He says he has a moratorium on expansion. One gets the impression it won’t last long.