Even In Down Economy Winery's Cups Are Filled To Overflowing

Nothing as abstract as a recession comes to mind this morning, amid the lumbering dance of forklifts and pallet jacks in the cellar of the Jonathan Edwards Winery, and why would it? Who has time for that?

There are the scores of boxed-up bottles that must be swung into and out of position in the dimly lit hallway - wine to label, wine to ship - and out in the next room, in a towering stainless steel tank, there's fresh-crushed chardonnay to attend to. There are almost 16 tons of fruit this year, give or take, harvested days before from the long, straight vines that string across this North Stonington hilltop.

Once filled, the barrels of juice will need inoculating, a liter of blended yeast, nutrients, water and juice, to kick off fermentation. And over in a corner, case after case of naked bottles must be labeled, some of it by tonight.

Economic downturn or not, business is booming upstairs, where the winery has had strong sales, even as some bulk customers trim their usual orders by a case or two.

”I think people really still want to enjoy themselves, and people who love wine aren't going to sacrifice by buying cheap wine,” says Sue Denice, who works in the tasting room. “... I think people still really want to enjoy themselves. Our year has not slowed down at all.”

That means that downstairs, the half-dozen workers will take just a brief hour break at midday, long enough for a disappointingly lopsided game of Wiffle ball behind the tractor shed, with Jonathan Edwards himself pitching the first inning and cracking an uncharacteristic two homers over the first row of vines.

Then, back to the wine. The inoculation of the chardonnay barrels is behind schedule, the tractor-trailer trying to pick up an order for the New York City restaurant Rao's is lost. It will be another late night, with more to come, and a hoped-for day off this week seems an impossible fantasy.

Midway through the afternoon, though, winemaker Mike Harney's cell phone rings. A truck bringing wine from California's Napa Valley is broken down in Cheyenne. There will be nothing to unload, and by their smiles, the workers know what this could mean: At last, a rest.

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