Grapes at Eagles' Nest vineyard taking off

Tom Mincarelli is growing grapes and making wine in Broad River

Fred McCormick
Everything Tom Mincarelli does to his vines in his Broad River vineyard means a steep climb up or down the hillside.

It's often said that if you find something you love to do, then you will never have to work a day in your life. Unless you're Tom Mincarelli.

The Broad River vintner and viticulturist has done plenty of work at his micro home Eagles' Nest winery and vineyard since he put his Regent and Marquette grape vines in the ground in 2011. That work is now paying dividends.

It can take vineyards anywhere from five to eight years to produce a crop. Mincarelli’s Marquettes are right on schedule.

“I’ve gone back and forth since June wondering whether the vineyard would produce anything this year,” he said. “Right now they’re around 80-85 percent perfect, so you have to go through and pick the little ripe berries out.”

Plump, sweet grapes are generally known as "table grapes" and are the kind people buy to eat. What Mincarelli is trying to produce is much different.

Small grapes with intense flavor are what Tom Mincarelli is after.

“My goal is to not grow a large grape, but to grow one very intense in flavor and color,” he said. “The grapes that are in now have exactly those characteristics.”

Marquette grapes, a cross between two types of hybrid grapes, were developed at the University of Minnesota and are known for their deep purple color. Frequently used to make red wine, they are hardy, as Mincarelli learned first-hand.

"Marquettes can handle a setback and bounce back with a new bud that's as good as the primary bud," he said. "With minimal hand-watering I was stressing these vines purposely to get the roots to grow deep. That's helped me grow grapes that were a little smaller and more intense."

Marquettes make up roughly half of Mincarelli's vineyard. The rest are Regent grape, which contain a similar profile. Also a hybrid, Regents were developed in 1967 in Germany, and according to Mincarelli, produce a medium-body wine.

"People around here like to say that great wine is made in the vineyard," Mincarelli said. "But it's not. It's made by the winemaker."

Mincarelli, who began making wine only in 2010, has had considerable success in wine competitions in recent years. He uses grapes from California and Chile to create blends, which have been well-received in competitions.

Mincarelli earned medals for all three wines he submitted in the WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition in Burlington, Vermont last year. He fared even better in the wine competition that preceded this year's Asheville Wine & Food Festival Aug. 19

Tom Mincarelli with the nine ribbons he was awarded in the 2016 Asheville Wine & Food Festival, including double blues for his Syrah-Petite Syrah blend and Cabernat Sauvignon, Malbec and Primivito blend.

His 80-20 Syrah/Petite Syrah blend from 2013 was one of two double blue ribbons he earned in the amateur winemakers category in the AWFF.

"That was the third year in a row that wine has won," he said. "I'm not planning on entering it anymore."

Mincarelli does plan to continue blending varieties of grapes to produce unique wines though.

"I'm trying to work myself up to an eight-way blend this year," he said. "The optimal result is to make a pleasing wine and for me, I like to make a wine that's almost as good to smell as it is to taste."

Mincarelli describes his approach to making wine as a "combination of old world and new world," incorporating modern technology with traditional techniques.

"They did some stuff right a long time ago when it comes to making wine," he said. "And modern equipment helps to allow minimal contact with air, which helps keep the wine fresh."

This year's small harvest of Marquette grapes will allow Mincarelli to make some wine with the grapes grown in his own vineyard.

"I'm pretty excited about it," he said. "I'm just as excited that the vines are surviving, but once I know fermentation is occurring I'll get more excited about it. For the moment I'm just focused on all of the work involved."