Arbor Hill Grapery & Winery Releases 'Joyful John'

Did you hear the news? Arbor Hill Grapery & Winery just released Joyful John, in memory of John Brahm III.

We sat down with John French (JF) of Arbor Hill to hear more about the new release and to listen to some stories of about his iconic father-in-law, John Brahm III.

Q: Exciting news from Arbor Hill Grapery & Winery – you are releasing Joyful John, in memory of John H. Brahm III. Tell us about the release!

JF: This will be remembered by us as John’s final wine project. He had it ready for bottling shortly before he unexpectedly passed in early March of this year. The naming and development of the label took time, but we are quite sure John would approve of both. His trademark smile, complete with dimples adorns the label, and it doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up fond memories while looking at the label as you enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Much of the label credit must go to our dear friend, and accomplished artist, Cindy Harris. The utilization of a denim background was both brilliant and fitting. Many names for this wine were scrapped along the way until someone suggested “Joyful John”. The name is simple, concise and poignant for all who had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.

Q: What is Joyful John exactly, what’s inside the bottle?

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JF: What’s inside the bottle depends on each person’s palate! Joyful John makes me think of caramel, butter, and honey with a savory mouthfeel that is unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. If you are looking for a more specific answer, I would tell you that it is an amazing blend of Traminette and Muscat of Alexandria. The latter is an ancient grape varietal that historically has been used both as a table grape and in wines. This grape, despite its longevity, lives in the shadows of some of the more aromatic Muscats, and it is known to have originated in Egypt along the Nile.

This blend of the two varietals was allowed to age in bourbon barrels for a very long time. Having had the opportunity to try this occasionally over the last several years, I can tell you that it has had a steady metamorphosis with the passage of time, taking it from very good to an exceptional guaranteed award-winner.

Q: Why was Joyful John so meaningful to John Brahm?

JF: John loved history, and he made this wine in a manner that took him back to his Widmer days when Sherry barrels were set atop the roof to age. Aged in bourbon barrels exposed to the elements for 6 years is just not normal in today’s world of mass-produced products. This was painstakingly nurtured, and he got to collaborate on this wine with several colleagues and friends over that timeframe. The blend of this wine being partly comprised of Traminette, a Cornell grape that he helped nurture from its early days, also made this special to him. He intended for this to be an award-winning wine, and he was very pleased with the luscious flavors so prominent in it.

Q: John Brahm made a huge impact on the wine industry. For those who may not have known him, tell us more about him.

JF: I marvel at John’s accomplishments and involvement in the wine industry. He grew up on a farm, and upon graduating from Cornell he and his farmer’s work ethic ended up at Widmer’s Wine Cellars in his hometown of Naples. He held a variety of positions during his 23 years starting with working in the vineyards to eventually becoming a vice president and co-owner. While at Widmer’s John and his brother, Tom Brahm, started Randall-Standish Vineyards in the 1970’s which operates today as a working vineyard and press plant. Many regional vineyard owners and wineries get their grapes processed there and home winemakers make their annual trip there in the Fall.

During the Fall harvest, it would not be an exaggeration to say that John would put in 18+ hour days bouncing between Arbor Hill, home and the press plant. John was the consummate problem-solver, and people from all walks of life would seek out his insights on grapes, wine-making and more.

He started Arbor Hill in the 1980’s and before the wines we had the wine jellies and a few wine syrups. Always the innovator he continued to grow that facet of the business to the point where today we boast 57 gourmet food products, and nearly 30 wine offerings. The wine industry operates rather like a brotherhood, and John was always happy to share his knowledge with others. He would listen to an individual’s ideas, and happily offer suggestions.

John helped a number of people get their start in the wine or food business. He enjoyed watching their success, and the number of people we’ve met who have begun a conversation with, “John helped me….” is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s kind of hard to imagine how he found time to work with all of the time he spent helping people!

Wine education was of maximum importance to John Brahm - so he was always willing to take time with others!

Wine education was of maximum importance to John Brahm - so he was always willing to take time with others!

Q: What were some of John’s other passion projects that can be found around Arbor Hill for people to try? 

JF: Wow, that’s a tough one to narrow in on! John was such a visionary, innovator and entrepreneur who was gifted in so many arenas that I could go on for hours.

One of John’s greatest passions had to be our restaurant, Brew & Brats at Arbor Hill, and while the food and beverages are certainly unique, the primary facet that John was passionate about was the experience that it provides to bring people together in a relaxed atmosphere to share conversations. The hours he spent in that 170 year-old carriage barn over the last 8 years would be impossible and staggering to try and calculate. John loved the live music that we offer every weekend, and you could almost set your watch to his walking though the door at his customary time to pour himself a beer and wander and chat with friends and guests. We get locals and visitors from all over the globe at Brew & Brats, and John loved hearing their stories, and sharing some of his own. The majority of our exceptional staff is wired the same way, and are often found engaged describing the evolution of Arbor Hill or the history of hops or the story of the three-dimensional diorama at the back of Brew & Brats.    

John French, Sherry Brahm-French and John Brahm behind the bar at Brew and Brats at Arbor Hill.

John French, Sherry Brahm-French and John Brahm behind the bar at Brew and Brats at Arbor Hill.

Another passion project of John’s was steak night. John talked about doing a steak night at Arbor Hill long before Brew & Brats even existed. In November of 2017 we launched our Friday night steak night with certified Angus boneless ribeye steaks cut and cooked to order from the loin. Our grill master cooks outside on a couple of grills all year long whether it is 5 below zero or 95 above serving up some of the finest steak you’ll likely find, and it won’t leave your wallet in despair. John’s mindset that you shouldn’t pay a lot for good wine transferred over to our restaurant culture as well. The finest compliment we have found with our steak night is the ever-growing returning customers which tells us that John’s vision for this project was accurate. 

Another passion of John’s that lives on at Arbor Hill is that we pride ourselves on educating our guests about our wines, especially those which are unique in some manner. John loved working with both experimental grapes and heirloom grapes. Both lend themselves to interesting stories, and we cater our wine tastings accordingly. We offer 15 varietal wines because John liked to showcase the actual grape. Whether people like dry or sweet, reds, roses or whites, varietals or blends – we have 30+ ways to satisfy one’s palate. Oh, and likely a story or two to go with them!

Naturally, no tasting in our winery gift shop is complete without trying some of the nearly 60 gourmet food products produced on property. John had a marvelous knack for product development, and a little known fact is that in a few instances named the products in a manner parallel to how he perceived them to hit the palate. I don’t know if that is quirky, quaint or clever, but I know that I mention the practice when I’m explaining the differences between two of John’s creations, our Orange Balsamic Fig Preserve and a sister product, our Fig Orange Balsamic Marinade and Glaze.

I warned you that I could go on for hours with that last open ended question, but now I have to head over to Arbor Hill, and as John often did, I think I’ll make the short trip in one of his vintage Model A’s. The smiles that those cars invoke are special, and very a much a part of John’s legacy at Arbor Hill.

One of John Brahm’s favorite hobbies were his historic cars!

One of John Brahm’s favorite hobbies were his historic cars!

Andrew Knoblauch