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DailyTidings.com
  • From grapes to glass

    Terry Sullivan grows grapes, sells wine and serves it in his hand-blown wine glasses
  • Grapes can become wine. Glass can become goblets. And Terry Sullivan can make it all.
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  • Grapes can become wine. Glass can become goblets. And Terry Sullivan can make it all.
    Sullivan is an organic grape grower, wine producer and glassblower whose three activities entwine like vines on his 6-acre property in Talent.
    On one side of his house, Sullivan tends to syrah, viognier and other flavorful grapes in his vineyards. On the other side, he built a glassblowing studio in which he creates artistic wine decanters and graceful stem-less wine glasses.
    Soon, he'll be able to pour his estate-grown 2010 Upper Five Vineyards Tempranillo, the first wine under his own label, into his glassware and drink it.
    None of his chosen pursuits follow routine routes. Each day in the field, each barrel of wine and each piece of glass is different. This requires him to pay attention to nuances, make decisions that will affect the outcome and hope for the best.
    Glass, like grapes and wine, is not very forgiving, he says.
    "I can't make a mistake along the way if I want to get the results I want," says Sullivan, who bought his property in 2001, planted 21/2; acres in 2003 and added another acre in 2006. His Upper Five Vineyard has been certified organic since 2005. "Once you make the initial mistake, you may not be able to get it back. Everything feeds upon the next step."
    As an organic farmer who is shifting to an even higher biodynamic standard, he has to pay attention to minute changes; to work with nature, not try to fight it.
    "I can't use a silver bullet to fix a problem," he says, referring to not using synthetic pesticides in the vineyard or sulfur to correct a young wine. But it can apply also to glassblowing.
    In 2010, his organic sauvignon blanc grapes were purchased by Bill and Barbara Steele of Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden and made into 144 cases of Sullivan/Steele Sauvignon Blanc ($22). Only three cases remain at the Harry & David Country Village in Medford.
    Barbara Steele describes Sullivan as "easy going, yet intense and intelligent, and he keeps perspective. That is an amazing set of adjectives if you ask me."
    She adds that Sullivan is a thoughtful land steward whose comments are often "a blend of concern for the land and plants, and quirky humor. We have a lot of laughs together."
    At the Sullivan/Steele debut party last June at Thai Pepper in Ashland, Sullivan, 55, told the crowd that some people call wine a "labor of love," but he calls it "a love of labor. You have to love it."
    The 2011 Sullivan/Steele Sauvignon Blanc will be released in the summer; his 2010 Upper Five Vineyard Tempranillo, made with winemaker Linda Donovan, will be unveiled in the fall. Until then, his long days are filled with working in the field and inside a hot glass studio.
    On a recent rainy afternoon in his glass studio, the furnace was fired up to 2,100 degrees and the glory hole, used to reshape a piece of glass, was blazing at 2,300 degrees.
    As he does a few afternoons a week, Sullivan was working with his glass teacher, Steven Cornett, an artist whose work is displayed at Illahe Gallery in Ashland. Cornett is also a former member of famed glass artist Dale Chihuly's team.
    It's cold and gray outside, but inside the studio, work is being done in T-shirts and sunglasses.
    In a choreograph manner, it's Cornett's turn to make a wine glass, with Sullivan's serving as the assistant.
    Cornett pushes a blowpipe into the furnace to gather a blob of orange-hot glass. He then moves over to the steel marver table to roll the hot blob on its side and tip, then pushes it into the glory hole as he will do over and over again to reheat the glass.
    He settles into the workbench and Sullivan blows puffs of air into the end of the pipe to "inflate" the glass as Cornett uses giant tweezer-like jacks to form the shape.
    Over time, the bottom is shaped and flattened, then it is attached to a punty rod and the top of the glass is snipped from the blowpipe. Cornett pokes the jacks into a tiny opening and slowly shapes the mouth. Sullivan brings over a rod with colored liquid glass and Cornett applies a thin line of it around the rim.
    Another snip, and the piece is detach from the pipe and it is picked up with tong-like mitts and placed in the annealer, an oven-like box that will stabilize the glass overnight.
    Then Sullivan takes the lead on making the decanter, which requires him to stand on a low stool and swing the blob at the end of the pipe to elongate it with the help of gravity, shape it with jacks and smooth it with paddles and wet paper.
    There is a lot of effort of returning from the heat source to the work bench, shaping, shaping, perfecting and adding a colorful swirl on the neck before it joins the wine glass in the annealer.
    A 12-ounce glass ($15) with a purple, gold or blue rim and a .750-ml spiral-neck decanter ($80) are sold at Trium tasting room in Talent or in a 5-piece set online at www.etsy.com/listing/94239063/handblown-stemless-wine-glasses.
    It takes 12 minutes to make a wine glass and 25 minutes to make a decanter. But that doesn't include the time to create the design, prepare the studio and learn the skill, which Cornett first taught Sullivan in 2003.
    Says Cornett when asked what its takes to make a simple wine glass: "Practice, time and patience." Three traits that Sullivan applies to all three of his labors of love.
    Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com
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