Back Mountain vintners’ labor with fruit pays off with award-winning taste

Last updated: September 22. 2013 12:47AM - 2555 Views
JON O’CONNELL joconnell@timesleader.com

Bruce Cummings, of Kingston, opens 36-pound crates of Merlot grapes on Saturday morning as amateur winemakers gathered in the Back Mountain to practice their craft.
Bruce Cummings, of Kingston, opens 36-pound crates of Merlot grapes on Saturday morning as amateur winemakers gathered in the Back Mountain to practice their craft.
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DALLAS TWP. — The shipment of grapes was late to arrive Saturday, but no one seemed annoyed. If the amateur winemakers of G & F Vintners grape-crushing session know anything about making wine, it’s that no step should be hurried.

Making their award-winning bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Sirah takes time, and after 20 years of making wine, Richard Gumbravich and his cohorts have learned to be patient.

G & F Vintners is a collaboration of wine making started 17 years ago by Gumbravich and his partner, Pat Flynn. The initiative has grown to include about 30 men from Luzerne County, a blended vat of different folks including truck drivers and surgeons — all brought together to pursue perfection in excellent wine.

They do not sell their product, rather they ferment for their own pleasure and to compete in Corrado’s Amateur Winemaking Competition, where they regularly earn medals.

“We don’t call this homemade wine. We take offense to that,” Gumbravich said. “We’re amateur winemakers.”

The elusive grapes — chosen by a hired broker – were a Merlot variety, picked for their high sugar content and shipped from California a few days ago. They eventually arrived at Gumbravich’s winery Saturday morning. His garage has been converted to hold a de-stemming machine, a wine press and stainless steel vats for fermenting. In the corner sit tall pub tables, a resting place where the day’s work is to be enjoyed about seven months from now.

Making wine is a long string of irreversible decisions, Gumbravich said. Punching down the must, a marshy vat of crushed grapes, three times daily instead of two will change the flavor, he said, and letting the must ferment for a week longer will change it again.

“The single most important decision,” Gumbravich said: “How much are you going to spend on grapes?”

He said they put great trust in their broker to get the best grapes for the fairest price.

Bernard Walter, a member of the group, spoke highly of Gumbravich’s commitment to perfection in every detail.

“A little bit of bacteria can destroy the whole thing,” Walter said. “He’s extremely fastidious in protecting every step of the way. It’s an example of why he’s the master winemaker.”

Good wine stays with you long after swallowing, Walter said. He compared it to tasting Greek yogurt over regular yogurt. When you sip and want to lean into it, there’s something there to hold you. Ultimately, members of this group are working to make wine that is better than any store-bought wine, he said.

Wine with a meal brings sophistication and helps dinner mates find more thoughtful conversation, a phenomenon to be explained only by sniffing and sipping a glass that goes well with the menu, Walter said. “If you sit down and have a glass of milk with dinner, it’s going to be a very different experience than if you have a glass of wine,” he said. “The goal ultimately is to enhance the quality of life for us all.”

There might be some aloofness among wine connoisseurs, those who pride themselves in a superior palate, but winemakers seemingly are a different breed. Choosing the grape, fermenting and bottling bring equality for all involved because so many things can go wrong, Walter said.

“When confronted with the beauty of nature, humility is a natural outcome,” Walter said. “The more you know about wine, like the more you know about art or anything else, the more you realize how little you know. That induces a feeling of humility.”

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