While some may simply prefer maple syrup as a flapjack topper, winemaker Dave Stone has found his own luck with the liquid gold.
He produces a locally sourced maple wine appropriately named “Alternate Route.” The golden-brown liquid is a product of Stone’s original recipe.
“It’s the only maple wine I’ve ever tasted,” Stone said, pointing to a golden-brown bottle with a maple tree label.
Maple syrup producers in the Mountain State began tapping trees in mid-January, so the wine is his own special way of celebrating.
“It’s actually a semi-dry wine,” he said. “It’s got a little bit of a maple flavor and a little licorice. It’s nice and earthy. It’s not sweet sweet, like you’re thinking.”
The vino sits among a lineup of various red blends and whites on a shelf at Stone Road Vineyard in Elizabeth, which he owns with his wife, Lynne.
Stone Road’s maple wine is 13 percent alcohol by volume, but it is not a grape wine, nor is it a mead. It is simply made from maple syrup and water, and is the only known maple wine in West Virginia.
The syrup arrives in 48-gallon stainless steel drums which weigh about 500 pounds each. The couple sources it from John Dalen, owner of Dry Fork Maple Works in Randolph County.
Dry Fork is currently the largest maple syrup producer in the state. His was among the 9,000 gallons of maple syrup produced just last year in the state, the most ever to be produced in a season, according to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
“We had to wait a year just to get two barrels of his maple syrup,” Stone said.
A year-long wait is nothing new to the winemakers. It takes about that long for Stone Road to ferment and bottle each of its wines.
Stone Road now has two versions of the maple wine, which is sold all over the state, including at The Wine Shop at Capitol Market.
One is a little lighter and he calls it the “spring version,” based on when the maple syrup was produced. The other is a “winter version.”
The recipe is a result of an idea Dave had while speaking to a maple syrup producer years ago.
“He finished his conversation by saying, ‘Oh yeah, when it gets to be 73 degree Brix, I put it in the jar,’” Dave said.
Brix is a measurement used in winemaking to represent potential alcohol content of grapes depending on their sugar level.
A light bulb went off in Dave’s head at that moment.
“Most Brix measurements for wine are right around 25 to 27 [Brix],” Dave said, picking up a hydrometer, a scientific tool used to measure Brix.
“So, I’m thinking, ‘You can ferment anything. What could come from this?’”
He started researching maple wines, which were far and few between, purchased a small amount of maple syrup, and created a test batch.
“It was just an experiment. It turned out right,” he said, laughing.
The maple wine is a good seller, he noted.
However, more important than the success, Dave said the wine is his and Lynne’s way to contribute to West Virginia’s growth.
“I really believe in West Virginia,” he said. “I believe in the tourism that West Virginia can generate, and the beauty.”
The couple purchased and moved onto the property where the winery is located nearly 40 years ago.
“We planted grape vines and at that time back in 1978, I just kind of said, ‘I’d like to have a vineyard someday,’ ” Dave said. “So we finished our careers and raised a family and then we decided, you know, we should give this a try.”
The winery currently produces and sells 16 different wines which are sold in various boutique locations all over the state.
The winery’s “in one door and out the other” floor plan is modeled after a similar winery in the Finger Lakes area of New York, where Lynne is from.
Each of the names for the vineyard’s wines is inspired by a road sign or traffic term, including “Road Flare Red,” “Flashing Yellow” and “Headlight White.” The theme is inspired by the couple’s love for vintage cars.
“We handcraft each wine,” Dave said. “Some are blends, some are varietals. I guarantee you my hands touched almost every one of those bottles.”
“And mine, too, because I put the labels on it,” Lynne said.
“That’s a feeling of accomplishment to do that,” Dave said.
Dave and Lynne founded Stone Road Vineyard in 2011, only a year before retiring from teaching careers.
“In education, you give it away, you give away information,” Dave said. “But in business, I was never in business; it’s a different mindset, and I wanted to experience that mindset. We’ve done that and been rewarded.”
He is inspired not only by the science, but the history of making wine in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
“I read books about viticulture in the Mid-Ohio Valley, and the 1860s was just an interesting time for growing grapes in West Virginia,” he said.
The label of the vineyards’ wine bottles tells a little of the history of the region’s vineyards, which were decimated during the Civil War, Stone said. “During the Civil War, the Confederacy when they came north burned a lot of those vineyards and they were just never rebuilt.”
Stone Road hosts wine tastings and parties and gives tours of the winery to anyone who will stop by.
“I have a button on a backpack from 1975, and it says, ‘Be Proud, Travel West Virginia,’ and it’s an ancient button,” he said. “Now, we are encouraging other people to ‘be proud, travel West Virginia.’ ”
The winery is located at 1800 Morehead Ridge in Elizabeth. For information, contact Dave and Lynne at 304-481-3591 or visit the winery online at StoneRoadVineyard.com.