By DAVID KRIER
At age 91, Boscobel’s Fred Staskal has had a fascinating life, to say the least. His Navy Air Corps’ photo recon squadron witnessed the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He’s worked road construction in the mountains of Colorado, owned the Town & Country restaurant in Boscobel and spent 14 years working as a professional lobster fisherman in Florida. He’s an expert mechanic, and can now add one more title to his impressive resume: award-winning winemaker.
Four years ago he was talking wine with Mary Kerr at Spurgeon Vineyards and decided to give wine-making a try.
“We just got talking about it and I decided to look into it further,” Staskal recalls. “So I got on the internet and pulled up a recipe.”
And the rest is history. Using grapes supplied by his Dwight Street neighbors, Staskal produced his first batch of wine. Four years later he entered his first competition at the 2013 Iowa County Fair—taking home one first place ribbon and two seconds. His rhubarb wine garnered a blue ribbon, his grape and pear wines a pair of red ribbons.
Staskal says he likes his peach wine the best, but also makes wine out of strawberries, red and black rasberries, elderberries, currants, and even bananas.
“It’s really good,” Staskal says of the banana wine. “I’ve got some cooking right now.”
Staskal says winemaking isn’t difficult, once you get the hang of it.
“It’s easy,” he says. “You have to have patience and really keep it clean. If you’re not careful it might turn to vinegar.”
Staskal makes the wine in five-gallon glass jugs. His biggest expense is sugar, using 12-15 pounds per batch, depending on the variety of wine.
How long does each batch take?
“That depends on how good you want it,” Staskal says with a grin. “Wine gets better with age, but usually around 8 to 10 months.”
When asked about the alcohol content in his wines, Staskal smiles and simply says, “Kinda high.” He explains that commercial winemakers are limited to an alcohol content of 13 percent before the price of their license goes up. Home winemakers don’t have that limitation, but also can’t sell their product without a license.
“I don’t sell it; people drop in and I give them a drink,” Staskal says. “If I got a license I’d have another job, and at 91 I don’t need another one of those.”
No story on winemaking would be complete without a little sample, and that’s what we did on Fred and Madeline Staskal’s back porch last Thursday afternoon, finishing off half a bottle of peach wine that was kept fresh in the refrigerator thanks to a vacuum pump Fred uses to suck the air out of open bottles of wine.
And I must say, it was excellent, not too sweet with the taste of peaches coming through. Fred seemed pleased with the results of his new hobby, as did his wife of 69 years.
“He’s my loveable little winemaker,” Madeline says. “He’s always up to something. I never really know what he’s doing, but it’s probably best that way.”