Harrogate Wine Club: A Love For Wine Doesn’t Age

It does not matter how young or old you are, it is never too late to learn new things and participate in new activities. To quote Henry Ford, “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.” As the Director of Dining Services at Harrogate, a Life Care Continuing Care Retirement Community in Ocean County, New Jersey, I strive to provide residents with fun, educational activities, and one activity that has been successful and well-received among the residents and staff is the Wine Club.

In 2008, after exploring the idea with a few residents, Harrogate’s Executive Chef Joe Alonzo, who has been featured on Food Network’s “Dining Around” show, presented the idea of creating a hands-on wine club. As a part of the club, members would produce their own wines, host wine tastings and pairing dinners and tour local wineries.

“We knew a fair amount about wines, and joined the club to share our enjoyment of good wines with other residents and broaden our taste. We have certainly expanded our knowledge of the wine varieties by learning about the blending process, and suggest to others to be prepared to have good results as well as mediocre ones,” said Dave and Marjorie Hibberson

Following some initial research, Joe and I discovered a great venue to meet and make the wines: The Wine Room in Manalapan, New Jersey, which provides a facility for crushing, pressing and fermenting fresh grapes from California and South America. After securing a license to produce wine, our group of 70-year-olds and older took their first lesson in winemaking. That year the club produced a Cabernet/Merlot/Syrah blend. Since then, the group has gone on to make a Cabernet Sauvignon (2009), Sangiovese/Syrah blend and Pinot Grigio (2010), as well as a Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc (2011). The different varietals and blends have given our members a well-rounded sense of the world of wine.

“In 1953, I went to Europe for college graduation, which is when my appreciation for wine began. By participating in the Harrogate Wine Club and making my own wine, I have been able to differentiate the various flavors — sweet, dry, fruity, robust, etc,” said Joan Suter.

Additionally, the Wine Club has hosted gourmet wine pairing dinners. For the first event the club partnered with Yellow Cellar Vineyards of South Africa, which provided a presentation about the vineyards and educated the group on how to complete a tasting and identify the different notes. In April 2011, the club hosted another pairing dinner and was able to feature some of the club’s own wines as well as a few surrounding New Jersey vineyards. The group has also gone to festivals, participated in seminars and visited surrounding vineyards such as Laurita Vineyard in New Egypt, New Jersey — anywhere where there is a chance to learn something new! For 2012, the club has already begun the process for making the 2012 vintage, and is planning seminars with the New Jersey Wine School, which offers many classes on wine and spirits topics, as well as lining up vineyard and festival trips. When we meet to make and taste wine, everybody seems to really enjoy the process.

“When we are together bottling, corking and labeling the wine, we are all eager and happy to complete the project at hand, so we can enjoy the finished product,” said club member Irene Donini.

Residents of the Harrogate retirement community in Ocean County, New Jersey enjoy making their own wine at The Wine Room in nearby Manalapan, New Jersey.