- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

VALDESE, N.C. (AP) - For the volunteers that participate in wine bottling and winemaking at Waldensian Heritage Wines in Valdese, tradition, friendship and memories are sealed into every homemade bottle, and each glass is poured from a piece of the past.

The winery, which currently is celebrating 25 years of service, is made up of all volunteers who put passion into producing great-tasting wines and passing on some Valdese history.

Winemaker Eddie Zimmerman, who is one of the nine owners, said that by making wine, they are keeping the heritage of the town alive.

Zimmerman said he has been with the winery for about 14 years, and the whole winemaking process takes at least a year.

The wine used to be made in the main winery building, which used to be a barn, Zimmerman said, but it was not designed to hold all of that weight. They then built another building behind it specifically for storing and making the wine.

In explanation of the lengthy process, Zimmerman said the first step after the Concord and Niagra grapes are brought back to the winery from upstate New York, is to crush the grapes and store them in stainless steel barrels for eight days. They are then moved to another room and kept within a consistent temperature between 56 and 60 degrees, which allows the yeast to eat up all of the sugar and clear the wine.

The wine is then taken to the freezer, where cold stabilization happens by keeping the wine at 25 degrees, he said. This eliminates the sediment in the bottom of the wine bottle.

“In the old days, they’d just open the cellar doors in the winter,” Zimmerman said. “In the south, we have to freeze it.”

The dry wine is then put into 530-gallon tanks and kept in the bulk storage room, Zimmerman said, and then it is blended according to the recipe.

“We put different amounts of sugar in them for the different kinds of wine that we have,” he said. “There are different recipes for our different wines that we sell.”

Zimmerman said he often does testing on the wine as it goes through each of the stages, just to make sure it is coming along correctly. He also often tests vineyards in New York as he likes to choose the grapes that are brought back to the winery.

Zimmerman said part of the enjoyment in winemaking comes from knowing he is taking part in a cultured experience.

“It’s just like the museum and the church,” he said. “It’s part of the heritage of this area. We’re just carrying on that tradition. It’s giving back to the town.”

When Waldensian Heritage Wines was founded, there were six wineries in North Carolina, and there are now 130, Zimmerman said.

The lengthy process and the recipe of the wines ensure that the wine is satisfactory, Zimmerman said.

“We just do the necessary steps to ensure we have good wine,” he said. “There’s a uniqueness in it. It doesn’t have all the preservatives. Our wine is made to drink, not to store on a shelf. And it’s healthier, too, because of that.”

On the evening of June 25, 10 people came and volunteered their time to help bottle Blanc Royal and Blush Regal.

The bottling of a 60-gallon barrel of wine typically takes 45 minutes and produces 326 bottles, Zimmerman said. The volunteers then take a wine and cheese break and socialize, then go back and bottle a different type of wine.

During a bottling, the volunteers form a sort of assembly line. First, someone washes the bottles to ensure they are clean. Second, carbon dioxide is put in the bottles. The next person then fills the bottle with the wine, and then the next person corks it. Moving down the line, the next volunteer will put the label on the bottle, and the one after that will put the colored capsule in place. The next person will heat-shrink the capsule, and the last will make sure there is an inventory number on the bottle, box it and take it to the bonding room, which is kept at cellar temperature.

Bottlings usually take place on Wednesdays or Thursdays, and three or four times a year there will be a mass bottling on Saturday, said Carlton Caruso, another one of the winery owners.

During a mass bottling, about 2,400 bottles are completed, and it is usually about an 8-hour day, Caruso said. He also said that sometimes when there are leftover bottles, they are given to the volunteers who helped.

Debbie and Kent Sigmon of Valdese have been volunteering at the wine bottlings for about three years now.

“We love the friendships (we’ve made), and it’s a fun process,” Debbie said. “I love feeling like I’m contributing to a local business. We love it and we enjoy it.”

Debbie said she now has a greater appreciation for the winemaking process.

“When I go and pick up a bottle, it does make me think about how much work goes into it,” she said.

She also likes contributing to keeping the tradition alive and helping produce a tasty wine stay at a low price.

“Compared to other wines, this is the best I’ve ever had, and their prices are great,” she said.

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Information from: The News Herald, http://www.morganton.com

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