The group first entered the WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition in 2002. It was at this point, Mitchell says, when the name “Vintage Vintners” was born. The next year, in 2003, the group won the gold medal in the competition and was featured in WineMaker magazine. The following two years the Vintners took bronze. Mitchell and staff bought plastic medals and presented them to the Vintners at the New Year's Eve parties. It is not uncommon to see a Manor Vintner proudly wearing the medal for guests, such as family, the governor, or the newspeople who come to interview the residents about their award-winning wine.
“They're enthused about it,” says Peperak. “It makes residents feel great because they can actually take grapes from a vine and go all the way through the process and make a great-tasting wine. So that's a hell of a sense of accomplishment. And I told them, ‘You guys won a gold medal. Do you realize people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s are killing themselves trying to win a gold medal? You guys did more than what these younger folks can do.’”
Winemaking at Marian Manor is a welcomed fall activity as the summer ends and the natural cycles slow down for winter. “When I look at that time of the year, people in general are more prone to depression,” Mitchell says. “It's that time of year when things slow down a little and the days get shorter, but with this program, the timing is just right because it really gives our residents something to look forward to. It's something very meaningful; it's something that keeps them going on all levels.”
From the first single jug of wine to the 25 bottles they now make, Mitchell is amazed that the program has evolved into its current state. “It certainly wasn't something that I masterminded in my head,” she says. “This was just purely listening to the needs of our people and figuring out how we're going to make it happen and make it successful.”
The activity Mitchell once thought would last only a season has now become an annual program that incorporates a variety of positive physical, mental, and social outcomes for residents, staff, and family. “It's quite a feeling of accomplishment,” she says. “I mean, we brag about our vintners here!”