Winemaking has no age limit in Shelton

Mary Barbin is never short on ideas for keeping the residents of Bishop Wicke Health Center happy and active. One of her most successful endeavors has been helping them make their own wine.

“Just because they live in a nursing home, they shouldn’t feel they can’t still enjoy life,” said Barbin, director of therapeutic recreation at Shelton’s Bishop Wicke for 12 years. “I try to do things that other places don’t do.”

Before they started the winemaking project, residents spent a month learning about wine — including how to make it and taste it.

Then they traveled with a few staff members to Cork and Brew in Southington, a winemaking facility that gives people a chance to be their own vintners.

“It was exciting,” said Barbara Charles, 81, a full-time Bishop Wicke resident who took part in the project.

Grape juice, skins and yeast

On the first trip, in February 2014, the Bishop Wicke group mixed the grape juice and skins together and added the yeast.

The wine went into gallon jugs and aged for three months, fermenting in a holding room where it remained at a constant temperature, Charles said.

Also traveling to Cork and Brew were Dawn Supraenovich, head of Bishop Wicke’s dietary department; ad Rich Scaife, chef; and Debbie Liebovitch, assistant director.

During the second visit, the wine bottles were sterilized and the wine was bottled and corked by machine.

Next, the closures and labels were affixed, said resident Pauline Santoro, 90.

From Cabernet to Riesling

At the end of an eight- to nine-month process, Bishop Wicke had produced 30 bottles each of three different types of wine — an Aging Gracefully Cabernet, a Dream a Little Dream Chardonnay, and a Like a Fine Wine Apple Riesling, with a label adapted from a painting by resident Alice Longfellow, 99.

“It was a lot of fun,” Santoro said.

The residents sold the wine at $15 a bottle and made a $1,000 profit. “It turned out to be very successful,” Barbin said. “The residents love to learn new things.”

They plan to make different varieties of wine in a year or two.

A bonus of the program is that “we have to taste everything we sell,” Charles said. And Barbin took them to a pizza restaurant after each winemaking trip.

“We have a lot of fun doing things here,” Charles said.

Bishop Wicke is part of the Wesley Village campus off Long Hill Avenue, run by the nonprofit United Methodist Homes. Bishop Wicke has both temporary, rehabilitation patients and full-time residents.

The Wesley Village campus also includes assisted and independent living communities and a wellness center.

Made their own beer, too

Bishop Wicke residents helped Barbin make and bottle beer last September, using a kit. “We made good beer,” Charles said.

They let the lager sit and ferment for a month, and then raffled off 24 bottles as part of a Super Bowl celebration in early February.

The beer “was really good,” Charles said. ”Everyone liked it. It was unanimous. I was excited to be involved in this.”

They made a $300 profit from beer sales that will be added to the wine-selling profits to fund an August trip for a dozen residents to a dinner theater in Westchester County, N.Y., as well as resident trips to the Big E in Springfield, Mass., and the Mohegan Sun casino.

Since Barbin has been on board at Bishop Wicke, Charles has traveled to eight dinner theater performances. “She is wonderful,” Charles said. “We call her our fearless leader.”

“Mary took over and took us everywhere,” Santoro said. “We sit back and relax.”

Overnight trip

Bishop Wicke is the first nursing home in the area to take residents on overnight trips to Lancaster, Pa., Barbin said.

She also takes residents to events at the Aqua Turf in Southington, to the movies, and shopping at Wal-Mart.

Residents are still talking about their annual Mardi Gras celebration featuring a three-piece band, a parade, hats, thrones, and Cajun chicken.

The traditional King’s Cake was baked with a baby doll inside. If you find the doll in your piece of cake, it’s good luck for a year, the women said.

“We had so much fun,” said Charles, who reigned as Mardi Gras queen. “This is a wonderful place to live.”