Recently I sat down with Roberta Schwarz and Donna Petereit to discuss their recent business venture: wine jelly. You may be thinking, ”Wine jelly? I wouldn’t have put those two things together.” I thought the same thing. Here’s the story behind how it happened.
Roberta’s husband, Eric Schwarz, had been making wine at their home for several years, and although the Schwarzes thought it was pretty good, Eric and Roberta were eager to have the wine officially judged. While there are many competitions around the country for commercially made wines, there didn’t seem to be any place to have this done for a homemade wine.
Around this same time, Roberta had watched a biography on Emily Dickinson and remembered that Emily submitted products to be judged at the local county fair. This turned out to be an “ah ha” moment for Roberta. It was mid-summer, and she knew that the Ulster County Fair was only a few weeks away. She promptly investigated how to go about entering wine into the fair.
Unfortunately, the Ulster County Fair does not judge wine. So Roberta started looking around at the other categories of products that the fair does judge. Her eyes rested on jelly! This could be her opportunity to have the wine judged through the jelly. Sure, it wasn’t exactly what she had in mind, but she was keen on trying to get some kind of wine product into the fair. She called back to ask if she still had time to enter and the answer was yes, if she postmarked her application by that day. Now she just had to figure out how to make wine jelly!
A few days later, Roberta was at a party with her friend Donna Petereit and explained her current predicament. Donna had been making fruit jellies for years and had never worked with wine but she was game to try. Together in their kitchens over the next two weeks Donna and Roberta, with the help of Roberta’s less than enthusiastic teenage sons, embarked on a journey to make a wine jelly. It was an ambitious undertaking, but after many sticky stoves, mishaps and kitchen messes they finally produced a wine jelly that jelled and tasted good. “The whole thing was serendipitous!” says Roberta.
Once the jelly was entered, it was time to sit back and wait. When the prizes were finally given out Roberta and Donna were elated to find out that not only did the wine jelly win First prize-Best in Show, but their second jelly won second prize as well. First and second place at the county fair is not too shabby for first time entries and Roberta and Donna started to think they were really on to something!
The fair successes drove the ladies to begin to make more wine jelly. They brought their jellies to Gardiner Day and began attending local festivals and farmer’s markets. Eventually, they needed a commercial kitchen to keep up with demand and started utilizing the kitchen at St. Charles Church in Gardiner once a month to help expand their growing business.
Now, I drink wine, and I occasionally eat jelly, but not together. I think part of me envisioned a slightly alcoholic taste. So I wasn’t expecting to like it all that much. Surprisingly, the jelly was quite delicious. All of the alcohol burns off in the process and you are left with the subtle sweetness of the wine it was made from. Donna explained the jelly can be used in a variety of ways. Whether you are spreading it on a croissant, serving it with cheese and crackers or spreading it over a roast when cooking, the jelly adds a gentle sweetness and sophisticated flavor to many dishes.
Roberta and Donna make a good team. They had worked together in the same classroom at Lenape Elementary School for a many years and had developed a cohesive relationship. This team work transferred to the kitchen. Donna says, “We know what to do before the other person even says it!”
The wine jelly business continues to expand. They are working to increase their online presence and have recently leased a commercial kitchen with a retail space tasting room located at 658 Route 208 in Gardiner to continue to up the quantity of wine jelly that they are able to produce. The wine jelly is all natural with no added sulfites or preservatives used in any part of the process and come in the following flavors: white zinfandel, rose, pinot grigio, riesling, malbec, and sangiovese.
If you are interested in adding wine jelly to your cabinet or fridge check out their Facebook page, Doc Schwarz Wine Jelly. You can pick up a 4 oz jar of wine jelly for $5. You won’t be disappointed!