Christie Barner has a 50-50 rule with family and friends: You bring the ingredients for the winemaking, you get to enjoy 50 percent of the bounty. She shares this with me as we prepare dandelion flowers for a batch of early summer wine. Glowing in the afternoon light beside us are large carboys of last year’s wine, nearly ready for bottling. One was made from a buddy’s bushel of plums that didn’t make it to the farmer’s market in time, another from raspberries picked in her sister’s Warwick garden. She’s got a batch of elderberry that her mother-in-law helped her forage for, and soon, she hopes, her younger sister’s bees will provide all the honey she needs to start the fermentation process.
Christie’s husband Brian comes up from the wine cellar blowing dust off a four-year-old blueberry wine. The fruit was picked from a spot upstate she has known about since a child. She grew up learning to hunt and gather. Winemaking in particular is in her blood. Down in her cellar are a couple of bottles of Grandpa Woolsey’s decades old apple and blackberry wines, reserved for special family occasions. Sadly, recipes for Woolsey’s Wild Wines died with him. Through research, and trial and error, Christie has come up with her own recipes, but never fails to use the champagne yeast he swore by.
Occasionally they still blow things up, as in the case of the notorious exploding coffee wine. But they relish the challenge of experimenting with new ingredients.
Christie is an acupuncturist with extensive knowledge of Chinese herbal medicine. There’s wolfberry—also known as goji berry—wine maturing in the cellar. She’s eager to try other medicinal plants. This year she’s planning to use plentiful local vegetables and already has a carrot wine in mind.
We sip the smooth, full-bodied blueberry wine as we prepare the dandelion teabags for steeping in a honey syrup. I can see why Christie’s wines are a huge hit at family gatherings. And she and Brian are determined to master coffee wine—the perfect after dinner drink.