Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Premiere Wine Producing Region

Of all the superb wine producing regions of the world – Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany – I’d probably floor you putting East Hampton among them! No not the Easthampton at the tip of Long Island – the other East Hampton. Yes on water like that Easthampton, but more like a lake – Pocotopaug - than an ocean or sound.

Anyways, at least in 1962, we gained notoriety with a tremendous but limited production of wine. Throughout that hot summer, it was my job to weed the family garden. I grew up on Barton Hill in the house owned by the first sleigh bell maker in America, William Barton.

Our house on Barton Hill currently owned by Ms Kimberly Widmann

An over abundance of our Burpee Big Boy tomato crop had my parents perplexed on what to do with the surplus after the obligatory gifts to family, friends and neighbors. Even after my mother’s numerous culinary creations of tomato casserole, sliced tomatoes and cucumber salad, etc. etc. etc., Julia Child would have been taxed. In short, the harvest bounty became overwhelming in the days before farmers markets. What to do?

Burpee Big Boy Tomatoes introduced in 1949

Apparently our neighbor Graydon Rich had the perfect solution. He produced an old family recipe and the Markham’s became wine producers!

After commandeering an old 40 gallon ceramic crock, we cleaned and cut and crushed what seemed like a ton of tomatoes, putting the mix in our cellar covered with cheese cloth and the secret ingredients. There the concoction sat, bubbling away, fermenting. After several weeks, the vintage was ready for bottling. Filtered through new cheese cloth, the nectar was hand ladled into assembled RC Cola bottles. A hand crank capping machine sealed the light amber fluid and typed labels were affixed to the bottles. The results – tomato wine!

1962 Barton Hill Tomato Wine bottled in an RC Cola Bottle

I still possess several bottles of vintage 1962 Barton Hill Tomato Wine. One might think this has the consistency of Campbell’s Tomato Juice or V8, but oh contraire. The wine is actually quite nice. After 47 years, it is now mostly dark amber with a little sweetness that probably emulates a brandy or desert wine.

Oh I almost forgot to explain why we had so many tomatoes in the first place. Two reasons! The previous summer, my father replaced the aging and leaking asphalt roof shingles of our 1775 gambel roofed Dutch Colonial with cedar shakes. Desperate to dispose of them, and certainly not “green” or “environmentally conscious” as today, he burned them in the garden. The billows of black smoke covered our neighborhood skies for a couple weeks, much to our neighbor's chagrin. The ash residue, however, became a magnificent fertilizer. And as for the tomatoes – the previous fall when we cleaned up the garden, my brother and I had rotten tomato fights.

Burpee Big Boy Tomatoes first introduced in 1949

Today kids or not so grownup adults might go to a paint ball range, but in the early 60s you made your own entertainment with whatever you had available. The seeds from those Big Boys spread all over the garden. The next summer, combined with the unusual fertilizer, saw an overabundance of plants and what I believe a very edible use of the produce. As an old New England Yankee family, nothing ever went to waste!

Since those days of my youth, I feel like I've been in a Frank Sinatra song - a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. In my case however, I've been a CPA, a State Representative, a Lobbyist, a Financial Consultant, a Business Manager with an Indian Tribe, but now am enjoying life as a Realtor in East Hampton and the Central Connecticut Area affiliated with Prudential Connecticut Realty.

Our recipe for Tomato Wine

6 lbs. - sugar
6 lbs. - tomatoes cut up small
1 lb. - seedless raisins
1 yeast cake (dissolve in warm water)
2 Oranges cut up
1 gal. Boiling water

Mix and let stand for 15 days. Then put in jars and in about 3 weeks siphon into bottles and cap.

Makes about 2 gallons which can be doubled, tripled, or 20 times the quantity ( like us! )depending on size of crock or pot mixed in.


  1. Sounds delicious!! I may have to try it! Are you still growing tomatoes to continue the family legacy?

  2. I came across your wonderful blog while searching for a specific wine... so glad I did! Tomato wine, now I've heard it all. Loved the story, I grew up in Missouri and my parents were avid gardeners. Mom would can everything that didn't move, even meat and fish, if you can imagine. Had to laugh reading about the "green" aspect of burning the shingles in the garden, Mom would burn our leaves each fall and the stench most likely infuriated neighbors. We now live in a sustainable community on Beaver Lake in NW Arkansas. A long way from that corner house on Summit and the 1950's!