As our group of travel writers waited to meet the owner of Jules J Berta Winery, a biker drove into the parking lot. He wore faded blue jeans, sunglasses, and a sleeveless vest over a short sleeve tee that did nothing to hide his tanned, muscled arms.
“I’m Jules Berta. Welcome to our winery,” he said.
Jules Berta Sr. emigrated from Hungary and settled in Albertville, Alabama, growing grapes as a sideline. For a long time it was unusual to see a winery in the South in spite of a good growing season. After an honorable discharge from the US military and a divorce, Jules returned to the small southern town to live with his father for a while. He was restless, uninterested in growing grapes.
“You are going to make your own happiness. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you have a passion the world will come to you,” his father told him.
Today, Jules has found that passion in five acres of grapes on a 22-acre farm that he owns with his wife, Becky. Together they control the entire process from vine to bottle. Jules tends his vines daily. He grafts new varieties and utilizes severe pruning to control inevitable diseases.
Every Jules J Berta label tells a story. Southern Thang, Born Dixie. Sassy Frass. I Love Bubba, White Trash. Dog At Large. Because Jules wants to “pay for the farm and keep the lights on” he produces several sweet fruit wines for novice drinkers. He knows these customers will gradually develop a palate and progress toward Chardonnays and Merlots and perhaps even his Green Hungarian. A white wine that affirms the Berta family history.
“I look at you here from all parts of the world, and you know what, my father was right. I wish he were here. I have found peace and serenity among the plants. We all need a little of that in our lives,” Jules said.
THE COOKING LADIES’ CHICKEN IN WINE (Makes 4 servings)
4 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil 1/2 large onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) thyme 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) pepper 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt 1 tablespoon (15 ml) red wine vinegar 1 cup (240 ml) dry red wine
- Remove the skin and any visible fat from the chicken breasts.
- Add the olive oil to a large frying pan. Heat the oil over medium-high setting and brown the chicken breasts on all sides.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
- Turn the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, thyme, pepper, and salt to the pan. Stir and cook until the onion slices are translucent or light golden brown.
- Stir in the red wine vinegar and red wine. Return the chicken breasts to the pan.
- Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Remove the chicken breasts from the pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and boil the sauce for 2 minutes.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken.
This article first appeared in RV Lifestyle Vol. 4 No. 5