Winter is an unusual time to visit a vineyard. The air is cold and dry. The fields are brown and the vines are bare. But it’s a perfect time to enjoy the fruits of the vintner’s craft, especially when there’s a roaring fire in the fireplace of the cozy wood-beamed dining room in a 200-year old colonial farmhouse, and you’re invited to portray the entire experience in words.
The Writers Circle’s Wine & Words workshop was an excursion into the tradition of wine-making, with all the unique sensations of smell, taste and memory. Vintner Peter Leitner, our host, has been making fine wines at Mount Salem Vineyards for fifteen years on land that’s been farmed for 300. His attention to details and love of his craft are palpable from first sip to last. Peter guided guests in how to best experience the wines and shared his passion for getting the grapes to “express themselves fully.” Then Teresa Politano, food writer and editor of Edible Jersey Magazine, invited writers to do the same.Grüner Veltliner. Using more than just description, Teresa encouraged us to tell a story and take a journey. Focusing first simply on the story of our own names, she demonstrated how writing can form a shape that touches on experience and memory. Sensory sensations are key to any well-told tale, and scent and taste are deeply rooted in primal experience. Teresa invited the writers to dip into these thoughts and to follow the journey of the wine using our first list of words, our associations and experiences.
After each prompt, guests shared their writing aloud with the warm, welcoming crowd. One writer described the wine as a “halo in a glass.” Another compared white wine to young motherhood. The work took many forms, from short fiction to personal narrative. It was clear that, through Peter’s marvelous wines and Teresa’s gentle guidance, deeper revelations had found their way onto everyone’s pages.
While we enjoyed glasses of Zweigelt, Peter and his staff served a delightful, light repast made with farm fresh flour, eggs and other ingredients grown quite literally across the road. We even shared a quick chat with the farmer himself, Tom Hlasney of Living Lands Farm, who, together with Peter and other western New Jersey farmers, are creating a vibrant community of farm-to-table producers.
Through our shared experience of self-expression and savory delights, the afternoon that had begun with a room full of strangers felt, by the end, like a wonderful new circle of writers and friends.