A signature red wine, created for guests to enjoy during Silver Lake College’s 10th Annual Scholarship Gala on April 9, was a team effort from its inception to its bottling.
Eric Volcheff, SLC Board of Trustees Chairman, created and presented the college with a barrel of the private-label Tuscan red blend in celebration of Silver Lake College’s 80th anniversary.
Gala committee members, including Sister Lorita Gaffnery (pictured above), helped with the bottling process at the Blind Horse Winery and Restaurant in Kohler, where Eric is head of quality control and assistant winemaker while he enjoys an active retirement life.
The Blind Horse often invites organizations and nonprofits to come in and bond over the shared experience of winemaking, he said.
Committee members were assigned tasks, including unloading the bottles, filling them, adding the cork, topping the bottle with a foil cap and returning filled bottles to their boxes. The wine’s label was created at Silver Lake College and added later.
Eric Volcheff’s journey to becoming a wine connoisseur began when he met his wife, Ruthann, 38 years ago and she imparted her love of what he calls “heavy- duty reds.”
Fast forward to two years ago, when Eric was enjoying retirement after 23 years with Mayline in Sheboygan, a $100 million manufacturer of specialty office furniture, where he served as Executive Vice President.
His interest was piqued when he heard through the “grapevine” that a new winery was opening up in Kohler. Eric joined the staff and soon put to use his chemistry degree and his experience working as assistant quality control manager for a brewery during college.
When the head winemaker recognized Eric’s passion for wine, he asked if he would like to make wine. Eric’s answer was an unqualified “yes.”
Eric got involved in the winemaking process — from receiving the West Coast grapes to de-stemming them, crushing them and fermenting them — and made his first wines, an off-dry Rosé, a Chardonnay and the Tuscan blend.
He recently won a gold medal for his Rosé in The International East Meets West Wine Challenge in Sonoma.
When Eric first joined the winery, they offered about 15 different white and red wines. The Tuscan blend was the most popular of all 15. After they bottled it, Eric said he knew that's what he wanted to perfect and ultimately give to Silver Lake College.
The Tuscan is primarily made from the Sangiovese (pronounced Zan-jo-ve-say) grape, an Italian grape that also grows well in California.
The Sangiovese gives the wine its fruitiness. It’s a dry red wine with a core of dark fruit, primarily dark cherry flavor with a little bit of plum. Because Sangiovese can be on the lighter side, Eric added a little backbone to it with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and a little bit of Merlot. He also added some Syrah and Cabernet Franc. But his secret ingredient is Petit Verdot, which added a nice color, spice and a little bit of smokiness to it, which he likes.
The deeply hued Tuscan blend is a reddish-purple color, darker than the average Tuscan-style blend. During the bottling process, the aromas of blackberry, cherry, and hints of violets, with a bouquet of earthy richness, dry herbs and smoke wafted through the air.
“This wine is made to be enjoyed while it’s young. This is not something that you’re going to keep for 10 or 15 years. The timing of the Gala is perfect. The wine was bottled during the first week of December and needed to sit for a few months to bring out its full flavor,” Eric said.
The nice thing about this wine is that it’s so versatile and food friendly, complementing a variety of cuisines, he said.
As for Eric — who recently returned from a wine sensory class in Asheville, N.C. — the art and science of making wine is a continual learning experience. Winemaking is akin to a culinary endeavor, in which a chef experiments with different additions of herb and spices, Eric said.
“It’s like going back to school every week,” he said.
NOTE: The 10th Annual Silver Lake Scholarship Gala is sold out.