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By Harry Anderson
The chefs who prepared dinner for America’s governors at their last summer’s conference, held in Rhode Island, served Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon – made and bottled by Mulberry Vineyards – declared these wines to be “the best in the State.” That’s high praise to a vintner who is just starting out in the wine-making business. In fact, forty-year-old David Wright, along with his wife Melanie, have yet to plant a single grape-bearing vine on their property. Come next spring that will happen. Until then and when those vines produce their fruit, the Wrights will continue to depend largely upon grapes imported from Oregon, California, and Chile.
“There’s so, so much facing us,” David says. “But we keep our cool.”
Notwithstanding having three children under the age of five and full time jobs (he works as the IT guy at Bishop Hendricken High School and she is a dental hygienist), this young couple have made notable headway in morphing their 42.5 acres on Pound Road in Glocester into what David sees to have the potential of becoming Rhode Island’s third largest vineyard.
“If ten acres of vines yield about 27,000 bottles of wine,” David reckons, “then in time we’ll be corking more than 100,000 bottles!”
Earning a BS degree at URI where he majored in biological science and minored in entomology hardly prepared him for a career in wine-making, but it indicated his predilection for fact-finding and deductive reasoning, both of which bolstered his decision to become a vintner – a decision he made after returning from a European sojourn in 1996 where he discovered the artistry of concocting vintage wine and the joy of tasting the pay-off of a job done well.
Certain rudiments of wine-making, however, must be learned before the artistry comes into play. And there are many for a would-be vintner to learn. Undaunted, David began by planting a few grape vines in his mother’s backyard in Warwick. He investigated established vineyards, doing stints as a laborer in some of them, and asked questions. He studied the literature of grape-growing and of fermenting the juice.
Growing up fatherless, David acquired his guiding mantra from his grandfather – a career Marine: “I don’t care what you do, but you better have skill!”
Ten or so years into what may be called an apprenticeship, he deduced that he had gathered a sufficiency of skills to launch a vineyard venture, and, lucking out in finding the historic 1730 Andrew Brown homestead in Chepachet for sale, purchased it in 2011.
“Glocester is a great place to grow grapes!” he gushes. “Its terroir [microclimate] is beautiful – the air, the warm days and cool nights, the soil, the pitch of the ground.”
Moreover, he adds that it is a “super supportive town” and for good measure that “you can see the stars at night!”
As of now, visitors to Mulberry Vineyards will find evidence of a nascent winery: stacks of fallen trees awaiting transport to a lumber mill; acres of cleared land; huge mounds of wood chips; a stonewall in the making along the front perimeter of the property; a spacious parking area. Overlooking it all, atop a knoll in the rear of the Brown homestead, sits a smallish, weathered building – formerly a barn converted into a tasting room on the second level above the work room laden with oak barrels and the paraphernalia for wine making.
It is in that work room where David’s artistry as a vintner comes into play. The quality of a wine reflects its maker’s mix of yeast, enzymes, and nutrients among a host of other factors.
“It takes two weeks for the juice to ferment and about two years to finish,” David all too eagerly tells his visitors. Most critical in this process is the timing. As the juice nears the two-year point, he siphons through the barrel’s bunghole a sampling and must decide when the contents are just right to be bottled. “Sometimes I get lucky,” he humbly smiles.
Thus far, what he calls “luck” very well could be what his grandfather would call “skill.” For one thing, “People with allergies don’t react to our wine,” he says. For another, his Facebook account posts such praise as Abigail Small’s review: “Some of the best wine we have ever had! The owners are an absolute joy and the wine tastes better than any French, California, or Italian we have had!”
Such acclaim corroborates what the chefs who feted America’s Governors last summer had to say about Mulberry Vineyards’ product: “It’s Rhode Island’s best wine!”
Tasting hours are Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.