© by Linwood Slayton
My wine journey took a different path last week when I visited some friends in Washington D.C. The good thing about loving wine and being passionate about it is that it takes one to know one, and when you meet someone who shares your passion, two people find themselves in their own little world. So it was and here's the story ...
I enjoy wine of all varieties and varietals. I had the particular pleasure last week to meet a man in Washington D.C. who calls himself "Dr. Feelgood" and whose passion for wine is truly intoxicating - no pun intended.
Christopher Columbus George III is 78 years young. He has been making wine in his garage in his back yard since the early 1960s. As a young boy growing up in Smithfield North Carolina, he says he would see folks keep barrels of fruit by their porches out back and often wondered why. The son of a preacher, Columbus, as many folks call him, would not truly discover why until years later when he moved to DC on the street where he now lives in retirement after 37 years and 9 months as a United Airlines employee.
Mr. George, as his neighbors call him, makes wine "outta anything that will ferment." His favorite blends are peach and peach-blueberry. His wine is sweet and goes down smooth and easy. I was warned to take it easy by many, including the man himself as he said "a little dab'll do you". He will ask whether you want the "strong, medium or love potion" when he offers you your first taste of the nectar he brews lovingly.
He is quick to tell you - many times - that he doesn't sell any wine: "Never have and never will." I later discovered that he has been saying this ever since he was interviewed by a reporter for the Washington Post back in 1988 or so. He clearly knows the rules about home-brewed wine and was also quick to let me know that the law permits him to make up to 500 gallons a year. Word has it that he always makes his annual capacity.
I asked Mr. George how he makes his wine and, as vintners are known to be, he was sufficiently vague about the details but expansive about the generalities. Determined I was, however, and over the course of about 90 minutes of tasting and talking, I gleaned a few salient bits of information from him.
I discovered that he uses a mixture of sugar, yeast and fruit to make all of his wines. Depending upon how much he is making in one batch, he will use up to 25 pounds of sugar. I never found out how much yeast and fruit he would use with the 25 pounds of sugar. He has a huge bin in his garage (which he got from a Hot Shoppes restaurant that used it for industrial cooking) and he starts out with his fruit at the bottom. Then he adds sugar and yeast and lets it "set" ( ferment) for about two weeks until the fruit rises to the top (when it rises to the top, you know it's ready). I was unable to find out what he does next but all I can tell you is that the finished product is akin to some of the better dessert wines I have tasted over the years.
I asked him whether he also mixes in any alcohol and he frowned up and told me that the alcohol content comes from the fermenting process. I explained to him that I know that Port is made the same way but they add brandy to fortify it. He again assured me that there is no alcohol added to his wines. "'Nuff said!
We began sipping the wine from a small Dixie cup and after about 3 or 4 of these, I asked my friends for a wine glass for both of us. As soon as I poured his "Love Potion" into the glass, the color was revealed as so bright and peachy. We were tasting a batch that was a blend of blueberries and peaches, but the color was definitely peach-hued. As I swirled it in the glass and let it shimmer down the sides, I was impressed by the gorgeous "legs" as the sugar content left a residual trail on the glass.
Mr. George watched me go through my usual and customary tasting motions and laughed as he told me that he had been to a lot of formal wine tastings and would see folks swizzle his wine around in their mouth and he would tell them "it ain't mouthwash, it's wine ... drink it"! Nevertheless, I couldn't help but notice that he, too, held his glass the "proper" way - by the stem. A wine buff by any other name is still a wine buff!
He bottles his wines in half gallon gin bottles and keeps them organized in his garage by batch. He told me that since he accepts no money from those he gives his wine to, they all know to bring him a gin bottle (not sure if it's supposed to be full or empty) and some sugar and he'll make them some more. As he gave me a half-gallon bottle of the Love Potion, he cautioned me to not screw the top on too tightly because a change in temperature would cause the bottle to explode.
I asked him why he called his wine the Love Potion and he was quick to tell me that when ladies drink his wine, they always say "I love this wine." I have a feeling that there was more to the story behind the name, but I didn't press him too hard.
As we drank and talked and talked and drank, he told me he was from Maine and I said I thought he was from North Carolina. he laughed and said he was from the "main part of North Carolina." This is a man who clearly loves the entertainment aspects of wine. He makes it to help people feel good, and he enjoys their pleasure when they partake of his sweet nectar.
One final anecdote: he told me that he has made wine out of dandelions, mulberries, Concord grapes, strawberries, apples, watermelon ... anything that ferments. I asked him about grape wine and he told me that he doesn't like it too much because he has had high blood pressure, but his Concord grape wine is good for people who have low blood or are anemic.
He went on to tell me about a lady who told him she had low blood, so he mixed her up a batch of Concord grape wine and she drank it for about a month or two. She told him her doctor asked her when she had started going to another doctor, as he had noticed a marked change in her blood count and her anemia was gone. She told him that she had not been to any other Doctor but that she had been drinking Mr. George's Concord grape wine. She said her Doctor relaxed and confirmed that it was indeed good for her and she should keep on drinking it.
As he finished telling me this story, he smiled, leaned back and said, "that's why they call me "Dr. Feelgood."Wood
June 7, 2004
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