Fine local wines, engineered to taste
- Published: August 27, 2009
Most first-time visits to the new Brandeberry Winery in Enon include a tour of the production room simply because everyone wants to know — how does one make good wine from grapes grown in Ohio? A recent customer, who drove through fields of nine-foot corn last week to get to the 5118 W. Jackson Road farm, wasn’t leaving without the secret to the sauce.
“Where’s the wine cellar?” she asked of that dark and musty place everyone imagines grape juice goes before magically turning into spirit. “Do you use oak barrels?”
Standing under fluorescent lights in the sterile back room of the winery, proprietor Jim Brandeberry explained that he makes all of his wines above ground in high density polyethylene tanks. The customer’s face dropped a little, but then she eyed the label on one of the tanks, and her concern slipped away as she held out her arms in a gesture of loving affection.
“Blackberry! This is the blackberry,” she said, swooning. “Put that in the truck,” said the man she came with.
If many of Brandeberry’s wines are a little on the sweet side, it’s because a lot of Ohioans like it that way, he said. Those tasters include Brandeberry’s wife, Sharon, and his children, Kelly and Tammy and Al Flanegin, who all help with the operation. Brandeberry prefers his wines dry and full bodied, he said in an interview last week. And as a retired electrical engineering professor, he has taught himself how to make each of his wines in any way he pleases.
Before 1993, Brandeberry was not a wine drinker. He spent 37 years as professor and then dean of the engineering department at Wright State University. He raised horses and fruit trees on 10 acres of rolling farmland and grew huge vegetable gardens from which the family canned enough to last the winter.
And then one summer, he and Sharon went on a vacation to the Finger Lakes region of New York and took a fateful turn on the Cayuga Wine Trail. From that moment, wine was a winner.
The couple brought home 15 bottles of various wines and a wine-making booklet for beginners, and Brandeberry set to work ordering yeasts, wine grape juice by the barrel, and 5-gallon carboys in which to ferment and store his concoctions. Brandeberry read everything he could get his hands on about wine making and experimented scientifically, sending his better samples off to amateur wine competitions. In 1995, he won a silver medal at a competition in Hilton Head for his white baco noir.
Since then, he has entered his wines in competitions around the country and has won over 50 medals. Though only in the past five years has he added his home grown grapes, Brandeberry has observed from his 15 years of trial and error that only half of the formula for good wine comes from the care and attention paid to growing the perfect grape. The other half comes from the care and attention paid to processing them.
His own grapes start in the crusher, a.k.a. the Lucille Ball machine. The pulp is then spun to extract the grape juice, which is mixed with yeast and left in the drums to ferment for several weeks until all the sugar has turned to alcohol and CO2. More juice is added back to sweeten to taste, and the wine is bottled on the premises to age at least another six months.
For this first year of business, Brandeberry hand-bottled 7,500 bottles of 12 different wines from chardonnay and vidal to syrah and merlot, including one called Windy Ike, made from a French-American hybrid grape that was harvested a day before Hurricane Ike hit Ohio last September. The grapes made it to the barrel before the power went out for a week, and Brandeberry knew that if the wine came out good, it would be nature’s own doing. Of the three powers involved in making his wines — Sun, God and the Winemaker — the second had its way with that one, Brandeberry said.
But the winemaker developed the blackberry and pink passion wines that have nearly sold out since Brandeberry Winery opened on June 24. Brandeberry’s wines have been so popular that he has sold an average of 1,000 bottles a month and is preparing to increase the production to over 12,000 bottles for the coming year, he said.
With the vidal and cayuga grapes on Brandeberry’s six-year-old vines growing plump for next month’s harvest, he is in a good position to adjust his volume. He has 450 vines of white grapes, and 50 more of red grapes he is experimenting with in his young vineyard.
“I am an engineer, and everything I know about wine making I read in a book,” Brandeberry said. “Sometimes the wine makes itself, and sometimes you have to work like the devil to get it right.”
Kelly recalled her father spending a lot of time “in the back, doing all the mixing” to get the proportions just right.
“My job was more like, ‘More sugar, Dad,’ ” she said last week. She and Tammy describe their dad as someone who never sits still and tries to live his life minding principles of good health — including, of course, red wine for its heart-healthy antioxidants.
“He’ll be 70 this year, and he’s always been a real health freak with his multigrain pancakes — he’ll outlive us all,” Kelly said.
The intensity of her husband’s focus on the winery was a surprise to Sharon, who prepares all of the cheese and appetizer platters and cooks meals for the winery’s special events.
“I thought we were going to visit wineries in our retirement, not make one,” Tammy once heard her mother say. But both girls agreed that Sharon has been integral to the business all along, particularly after she saved the beloved blackberry wine by insisting that it needed more sugar.
“She’s got a good nose and a good palate,” Kelly said.
Just over four miles from Yellow Springs, an easy ride by bicycle, the winery is open Thursday through Saturday, from noon into the evening hours. Villagers are welcome to come sit on the porch, tour the vineyard and use their own palates to find their preferred brew.
Brandeberry certainly finds it a worthwhile pastime, and one that makes him happy in his retirement. The stenciled words above the winery door say so: “Wine cheereth God and Man” —Judges 9:13. Beyond even cheer, Brandeberry also finds scientific fascination in the wine-making process .
“I have a PhD in electrical engineering, and I sort of got a PhD in wine making,” he said.
For more information and a list of wines and events, go to www.brandeberrywinery.com.