Small world, big personality

Two days after my friend Kirsten texted me about an 88-year old man she’d met in an Appleton grocery store and thought would make a good blog subject, I randomly ran into him.

“Do you know a guy who makes wine?” I asked the boisterous gentleman sitting across the bar from me at the Washington Inn in Cecil.

Delighted by the question, he laughed.

“I AM a guy who makes wine,” he said. “Damn good wine too. I’ve won more awards than a barrel of monkeys.”

Marv Hietpas took up wine making as a hobby after he retired from U.S. Venture. He has since taught hundreds of people to make wine, and his own fruit wines have won awards all over the country.

“One time in Arkansas my grape wine won best in show,” he said. “I took my wine to an international wine contest in Indiana. There were 3,300 bottles of wine there, and 60 judges. I got a call that night and the guy said, ‘Marv, how are you?’ and I said, ‘I’m damn good, how are you?’ and he said, “I’m standing next to a trophy right now. Your blueberry cherry wine won.’”

A year after winning the 2003 Cowie International Amateur Wine Competition, which drew entries from 19 states and Canada, Marv returned as the featured speaker and gave a 20-minute presentation on making berry and fruit wine.

He won best amateur fruit wine at the 2007 Indy International Wine Competition, among several others over the years.

In addition to making great wine, Marv is an excellent story-teller.

I mentioned what a small world moment it was for me to meet him accidentally two days after my friend had suggested I interview him.

“That’s not a small world,” he said. “You want to hear about a small world? I was in Korea in 1953 and I went to Japan for a little R&R. We rented a motorcycle and rode it up a mountain. I’m 20-years old at the time. We stopped at a plateau and I took out a new camera I had just bought and this (Japanese man) came up and said, ‘Do you mind if I set your camera for you? We’re about to blow this place up soon.’ It turned out that the Japanese guy had been to Wisconsin. He went to Lawrence College in 1932 and he used to take the streetcar up to Green Bay. That’s a small world.”

An animated talker, Marv walks with a cane, which is how our conversation even started. He was giving the bartender a little grief “When are you coming back? It’s like a desert down here!” and he saw me laughing and struck up a conversation.

“Do you like my cane?” he asked and held it up.

“That’s really cool,” I said.

“It’s from Africa,” he said. “I have two of them like this.”

He mentioned a cottage on Warrington Lake and that’s when I asked him if he knew a guy who made wine.

Next thing I knew, he was sending his son Joe out to the car to get me and the bartender each a bottle of his apple wine, which both of us gratefully accepted.

One of these days, I’d like to get a lesson in wine making from Marv and take a look at his operation. He is expanding to brandy and he explained that when you extract the brandy from the mash, it leaves a delicious non-alcoholic wine behind.

Until then, I’ll enjoy the apple wine and a good chuckle about my unexpected visit with a man of rare vintage.

This is the picture my friend Kirsten sent me Friday morning after she ran into Marv in the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store and they struck up a conversation about wine.
This is a picture the bartender took of Marv, me and Marv’s son Joe after we met Sunday night at the Washington Inn in Cecil. Small world. Big personality.
Later, he sent Joe out to the car to get a bottle for me and one for the bartender too.
I’m waiting for my personal sommeliers Vinnie and Danni to come home before I open this bad boy, but I thought you might enjoy a picture closeup of one of “Marv’s Award Winning Wines” from the Warrington Lake Winery.

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