A Juicy Tale for Groundhog Day
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear “local food”? Tomatoes from the farmer’s market? Sweet corn at a roadside stand? A grass-fed burger from your favorite food truck? These tasty images likely have a couple of things in common: clear skies and warm weather.
So what local food image comes to mind on a chilly Groundhog Day in Northeast Indiana? After spending an amazing morning with Gary Stroh, Shane Christ, Kirk Etheridge and Jason Satek, I’ll forever pair Groundhog Day with pears and delicious local pear wine!
Shane Christ of Satek Winery and Gary Stroh of G.W. Stroh Orchard invited me to attend their inaugural pear pressing on a bitter cold and snowy Groundhog Day in Steuben County, Indiana. Gary has been pressing over 9,000 gallons of fresh apple cider and apple juice each year for over 30 years. Jason, Satek’s winery manager, and Shane, Satek’s winemaker, have been making award-winning apple wine from G.W. Stroh apples since 2011.
After a bumper pear crop in 2017, the team decided the time was right to try their hand at pear wine made from Gary’s local Potomac pears; a variety known to be sweet, buttery and extremely juicy. After storing the pears for a few months under controlled atmosphere, the weather conditions finally proved to be ideal for pressing the fruit’s flavorful juice.
If you are like me, when you think of pears, you may think of the gorgeous, fresh pears you find in early autumn at a local farmstand. But what happens to the pears that aren’t gorgeous or that aren’t able to be sold in-season after being fresh off the tree? Turning excess pears into a value-added local product, such as pear wine, is a perfect way of utilizing the entire pear harvest. It’s also a delicious way of bringing local produce from our land to our tables all year long.
After carefully washing the pears, the ripe, yellow-green fruits were ground into a fragrant cream-colored mash. Gary’s skilled hands quickly assembled layers of mash into the forms used in the press. Within moments, pale glistening liquid poured from the press and was pumped into the barrels destined for the winery.
Once loaded into the pick-up, the barrels full of precious pear juice made the 15-minute trip to Satek Winery. Within minutes of arrival, Shane pumped the juice into brand new French oak barrels. Over the coming weeks and months, Kirk, Satek’s assistant winemaker, and Shane will carefully watch over this pear juice as it slowly ferments into pear wine. They expect to produce only 500 bottles of wine from this inaugural pear pressing.
I’m looking forward to enjoying a glass of refreshing pear wine on my patio this coming summer. When I do, I’ll be reminded of the taste of fresh local autumn pears, the hard work of the orchard owner, the skill of the winemakers and the fun I had with these new friends on Groundhog Day!