Chandler Wine

Charlie Chandler has been making and sharing wine with family and friends in Helvetia, W.Va. for over 20 years.

By Aaron Bodkins and Jordan Zappulla | 11/26/2012

Harry “Butch” McGinnis makes his way through the winding roads of Randolph County towards a gravel road behind a red and yellow gate marked “Wayward Winds.” With one thing on his mind, he seeks out Charlie Chandler, who sits waiting for him on the wraparound porch of an old farm in Helvetia. Butch gives the reason for his visit up front.

“Chuck, I’m outta wine!”

Charlie’s answer is returned just as quickly, “Well then let’s bottle.”

Charlie Chandler has been making wine in the small town of Helvetia, and sharing it with his neighbors, since he retired there. Now 81, Chandler and his friends produce about seven barrels of wine each year and bottle it when they run out of wine to drink. The wine is stored in Chandler’s basement where it is easily accessible when people come to call. He gives away bottles and shares it at parties, but he never sells a drop.

“I like making it, I like drinking it, and I like sharing it,” Chandler says.

Chandler graduated from West Virginia University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1960. He started out working in a machine shop for the Navy. While there, he was able to get his education paid for as well as learn useful skills that he would use when he became a partner in Superior Hydraulics Industries Inc. with Giovanni “John” Tarantini in Morgantown. Tarantini came from an Italian family who enjoyed making wine.

“I asked John several times how to make wine, but he would never tell me. He finally did in the last years we were in business together, and I still use that same recipe,” Chandler said.

When he started making wine, Chandler made a barrel each year. As the production became bigger, McGinnis offered to become a partner and share some of the financial costs. Now, Chandler, McGinnis and other friends make about seven barrels of wine each year, and each barrel fills about 150 bottles of wine. Friends and family collect and donate the bottles, which are meticulously cleaned and sterilized before being filled and shared with the community.

Chandler was raised in Helvetia on the same farmland where he lives today. He later moved to Morgantown, for his education as well as a variety of jobs he had throughout his career in machine and oil shops. Upon his retirement around 1982, he moved back to Helvetia for its tranquil atmosphere. A small Swiss/German town of roughly 50 residents, Helvetia was founded in 1869. It’s an hour’s drive to the nearest grocery store, movie theater or bowling alley, so the residents of the town are a close knit community and rely on each other for society and a helping hand when one is necessary.

Chandler is one of the constants in the small community. His farm and porch have become a gathering place. He welcomes all and provides wine to anyone and everyone who wants to sit down to share stories. For members of the community, the shared history is very valuable.

“Helvetia is all about caring on our traditions, so our generation and the generations after us hopefully can learn from Charlie’s knowledge,” said Kevin Betler. Betler is Chandler’s close friend and manager of the Kulture Haus, a Helvetia country store.

Gatherings at Wayward Winds happen during all sorts of occasions. Local festivals and birthdays become excuses to gather, and Chandler’s machine shop background adds to each occasion when he fires off an authentic canon he built to add a little excitement to the festivities.

These gatherings are simply a reason to get together and enjoy some wine along with a little music. A close family friend, Owen Davis, has even gone as far as to write a song “Chandler Wine,” which he performed on Chandler’s porch during the Helvetia Fair.

“Put away your stemware, and sitting there you’ll find; will be a plastic cup . . . of Chandler Wine,” Davis sings.

“I think that absolutely brings it full circle to allow people to understand how much we enjoy his wine at different parties.” Said Betler, “Owen’s a great songwriter, and he’s been able to transform that experience into a song that makes everybody appreciate it. It’s a huge tribute to Charlie.”

Chandler has a few tricks that make his wine unique. He and McGinnis order grape juice from California, which is shipped to Pittsburgh, where they pick it up. Some wine makers add water to their juice along with an enormous amount of sugar and chemicals to speed up the fermentation process.

“I only use pure juice and hardly any sugar. Sometime the grapes are so sweet that you don’t even need sugar but that’s rare,” Chandler said.
Chandler believes the best wine comes from patience and allowing the wine to work in its own ways.

Sometimes, the wine ferments for up to two years in Chandler’s basement. There is no hurry. He has plenty bottled and waiting for all who come to visit.

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