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Calkins Creek Vineyard:

Bringing the magic back home

By MARY GREENE

MILANVILLE, PA — When Michael Stone is not tending his grapes, his wine cellar or his wine tasting shop, he is probably taking friends and neighbors up for a ride in his 1946 single-engine Piper Cub airplane. The bright yellow plane sits on only 600 feet of runway. Stone needs half that for takeoff. “The other 300 feet is in case I mess up,” he said with a smile.

Stone began his flying days as a bush pilot in Alaska, where he met his wife Vonnie. They remained in Alaska 20 years. In 1985 they moved to Southern California, near the Napa Valley. As an American Airlines pilot, Stone took some 500 transatlantic flights to Europe and South America. On these trips, he became interested in wine and wine culture. The idea of owning his own vineyard was born.

The couple lucked out with property that has been in Vonnie’s family for six generations. (The land, once known as Maple Grove Farm, was originally purchased from William Penn.) The chance to buy the Northeast Pennsylvania farm was, Stone said, an opportunity to preserve beautiful farmland while pursuing his new passion: grapes and the wine that comes from them.

Stone and his wife planted their three acres of grapes, holding 1,800 vines, in 2000. “In ’03,” said Stone, “we got our first crop.” They constructed an underground cellar, or cave, by creating six-foot walls out of cinderblock on a cleared hillside. “Then we re-buried it,” said Stone. The arched 12-foot-by-40-foot cave holds some 20 oak barrels filled with last season’s wine, which remains barreled until the new harvest is ready. “We harvest the day before the first frost,” said Stone, to get as much out of the short growing season as possible. At that time, the ’06 wine is bottled, and the new grapes go into the barrels.

Stone makes a French-American hybrid wine, using a hybrid grape developed from both American (labruscha) and European (vinifera) varieties. On our tour, we learned that American grapes, which grow all over the country, are not very good for wine making, producing overly sweet wines.

“European vines don’t grow very well on the East Coast or in the Midwest,” said Stone, succumbing to mold and mildew as well as the long winters. So scientists hybridized the American with European vines, resulting in the French-American hybrids. Such wines are distinguished by their finish, which Stone identifies as “grassy” and “earthy.” “I can spot it from three feet away,” he said.

Stone plans to make the hybrid wines (currently Foch and Chancellor) the vineyard’s signature wines. The taste, he said, “needs a bit of introduction,” but he feels they are the true local vintage, and they are one of the vineyard’s best sellers. The operation also produces and sells excellent versions of Cabernet, Zinfandel Blend, Shirah, Reisling and Chardonnay.

Calkins Creek Vineyard does not have enough wine to go into the local wine shops yet, but there is plenty for the tasting (and purchasing) during weekend hours at the vineyard, at which time a tour of the cellar and equipment is also offered.

Tom Fisch, a 2005 Honesdale graduate who is currently enrolled in college pursuing finance, poured our wines, as Stone dashed off to give one of the neighbors a flyover of a nearby camp, using the Piper Cub. We tasted the hybrids, which indeed had a pleasantly grassy finish, which, Fisch said, diminishes with time. Among the vinifera wines, the Syrah stood out as particularly flavorful and full.

Fresh, hand-produced cheese from nearby Calkins Creamery, a new sister operation on a family farm several miles away, is sold in the case in the tasting room. Calkins Creamery cheese is also available at the PA farmers’ markets, at Peck’s Markets, at The Perfect Pan in Milford and at Narrowsburg Roasters and Provisions in Narrowsburg, NY. The creamery also sells its own beef and pork. (Stay tuned to The River Reporter leisure section for an upcoming feature on the creamery.)

We learned on our tour, from Fisch and another worker, Eric Lassley, that the juice from all grapes runs clear. Red wine takes its color from the red grape skins that are placed in with the juice during the fermenting process. White wine is fermented without the skins.

The vineyard and its outbuildings were bucolic in the afternoon sunshine: mellow, attractive and well cared for. Come an afternoon in September, when frost is expected, the neighbors, workers and family will gather and a flurry of activity will begin. The grapes are harvested by hand, and “we can do it in a day,” said Fisch. Then, the magical, alchemical process of turning grapes into wine begins.

Vineyard hours are Friday through Monday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment. For more information visit calkinscreekvineyard.com or call 570/729-8077. To tour Calkins Creamery on your way home from the vineyard, visit calkinscreamery.com or call 570/647-7093.

TRR photo by Tom Lasher
The underground wine cellar at Calkins Creek Vineyard, built into the hillside, holds this year’s batch of wine in French and American oak barrels. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Tom Lasher
Michael Stone, founder of Calkins Vinyards, prepares to take off in his 1946 Piper Cub single engine plane. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Tom Lasher
Michael Stone poses outside his underground wine cellar. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Tom Lasher
Eric Lassley demonstrates the wine making equipment at Calkins Creek Vineyard. (Click for larger version)