Story Behind The Label

Featured in the February-March 2023 issue:

Kent Nienaber • Ham Lake, Minnesota

jamaican-themed love sick wine label

Our Love Sick Marquette label was born out of a difficult situation that arose during COVID. In early September of 2021, my wife and I traveled to Jamaica. 2021 was unique in the fact that we had to be COVID tested to enter the country as well as for the return to the U.S. We have traveled to Jamaica every year since 2003 and this has become our special time away. As we neared the end of our trip, we looked forward to our plans to harvest our grapes from our small backyard vineyard. We have always enjoyed picking grapes and the camaraderie with friends as we work together bringing in the harvest. This is usually followed by a large meal to share in the celebration of the harvest and being with friends. 

Two days before our departure, we headed to the resort’s nurse station to get our testing done. To our surprise, I tested positive, which meant I was automatically quarantined to a room. My wife tested negative, so she was OK not to quarantine as long as she didn’t stay with me. I would now be quarantined for the next 10 days. It was very difficult for my wife to leave me in Jamaica. As she departed, I waved to her from the new “confines” of my room. Never in my life had I ever experienced a timeout of this proportion. 

Upon her return home, she quickly got to picking the grapes and setting up the crusher. At this point, we began long-distance video chatting through all the steps of getting the equipment together, sanitizing, and testing. She did all the work of getting the harvest in and getting the grapes on the road to fermentation. This included all of the testing in my lab, which she had never done before. As difficult as it was to be apart, she found strength to get it all done and we both enjoyed, to some degree, the video chats that brought some form of togetherness. 

Featured in the February-March 2020 issue:

Gene Carlson • Lafayette, Indiana

I was a Weapons Mechanic with the 355th Munitions Maintenance Squadron of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing. At that time the Wing flew the A-7D Corsair II aircraft, which was later replaced by the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, affectionately called “The Warthog.” In the early 90s I decided to try and put together a reunion for those who served with the 355th. The internet made it easy to create an internet group to connect with other veterans. The vast majority of our members were with the 355th when it was based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand during the Vietnam War, hence the “Takhli Group” name. During the Vietnam War, the 355th flew the F-105 Thunderchief aircraft pictured on the label.

I was able to organize our first reunion in September of 1998 and we held it at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. We were an informal group with other reunions following in 2001, 2003, and 2005. In 2006, we were able to join the 355th Fighter Group Association which, up until that point, was for World War II 355th veterans only. At that time we started to attend their annual reunions, and still do.

In 2018 when I realized we were coming up on the 20th anniversary of our first “Takhli Group” reunion, I just had to do something to acknowledge it. We toasted our fallen comrades at our 355th Tactical Fighter Wing memorial bench located in the Memorial Garden of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Featured in the June-July 2019:

Norman Malekos • Dayton Valley, Nevada

My label was inspired by my 43 years as a transmission lineman. I retired four years ago. Before I retired I started growing grapes here in the northern Nevada high desert. My label represents the transition from being a lineman to becoming a “wineman.” My last climb on a power pole was at a lineman rodeo (a skills competition that attracts some of the best lineman from all over) during a flag-raising ceremony. The label includes a photo of me on the pole, making my last climb.

The wine inside the bottle was a white blend: 50% LaCrescent, 25% Marquette, and 25% Frontenac. These were three grape varieties that were able to tolerate the cold temperatures here in the high desert of Nevada.
I have been making wine now for four years and the first year the wine was not drinkable. With that I started reading every article in WineMaker magazine twice. The second year wine was “barely” drinkable. The third year it was finally getting better and this past year I have been getting more compliments than ever on the taste of my wine. The wine press in the shadow of the label is an antique wine press that I restored and use to make my wine.

The following are all the folks involved with Last Climb Wine:

  • Vineyard owners — Norman and Diana Malekos
  • Winemakers — Norman Malekos and Ralph Lewis
  • Photos: Amy Malekos and Justin Cassinelli
  • Pictured: Noman Malekos and JB Wines
  • Label Design: Justin Cassinelli