Transcending the senses

Camas man shows that being deaf doesn't prevent one from making and enjoying wine

Rusty Wales is passionate about wine making. He can talk for hours about the various aspects of producing and enjoying a fine bottle of Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.

Wales, 66, is also deaf, and is one of a growing number of vinters across the country who are proving that one definitely does not need to be able to hear to make and appreciate a fine wine.

“I’ve enjoyed wine for a long time,” he said through his interpreter. “When I lived in Northern California I went to Napa often. So I was doing wine tasting in the early 1980s with an interpreter, and I developed a love for it.”

Recently, Wales’s wine label, “The Three Deaf Musketeers,” received honorable mention by WineMaker magazine in a nationwide contest. It was one of 20 entries to make the cut out of thousands received.

“Every year I see that they have this contest, and I decided, ‘What the heck, I’ll enter this thing,'” Wales said. “When I found out I’d received honorable mention, I was thrilled and honored. I knew it was a tough competition.”

Wales has come a long way since he started making wine in 1986, the year he and his wife, Karen, were married and bought their first house together. The Denver, Colo., residence came complete with a large grapevine that produced an overabundance of Concord grapes.

“Instead of making jams or jellies, I decided to make wine,” he said.

That year, he produced his first bottle and labeled it, “Prince of Wales.”

And as far as the fruit of his labors, so to speak?

“Those were not true wine grapes so the result was not good,” Wales said. “So I started experimenting some more.”

But between work and family, Wales found it hard to find time for wine making. However, he started up again a few years later after the family moved to Littleton, Colo.

For his next wine making experience, Wales ordered grape juice from California and learned how to use a wine making kit, which simplified the process.

He continued his wine making through moves to Utah, Kansas, and finally, Camas, which the Wales family has called home for almost nine years.

Wales’s love of wine making has spread quickly through the deaf community, “which isn’t very big,” he added. As a result, deaf vinters nationwide were peppering him with questions via e-mail.

“I was feeling overwhelmed, so I decided to channel my efforts and create a newsletter with answers to common questions,” he said.

That newsletter “Deaf Grapevine,” comes out approximately six times per year and has more than 200 subscribers.

Wales also conducts wine appreciation and tasting workshops for the deaf community two or three times per year, traveling to California, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona and Las Vegas.

His most recent wine label, “The Three Deaf Musketeers,” which received honorable mention in the Winemaker magazine contest, was inspired by his two lifelong friends.

“Every year we have a reunion and this year, it was my turn to host it,” Wales said. “I thought I would surprise them with a bottle of homemade wine.”

Wales pondered what to put on the label, and as he was Googling different images, he came upon one of the Three Musketeers. However, he first needed permission from the artist, Francesco Francavilla.

Over e-mail correspondence, the two became friends and agreed that Wales could borrow the image if he shipped Francavilla, who grew up in Italy, several bottles of “Super Tuscan” wine. The artist also agreed to modify the image a bit to fit the modern day “musketeers,” who are all in their 60s and wear glasses.

“As we grow older, we may need glasses to see better,” Wales said. “Likewise, as wine matures, glasses are necessary to pour and taste properly. Like old wine, old friends are always best.”

Although Wales loves to make and drink wine, he does not sell it, instead preferring to uncork a bottle for friends and family, or auction a few off at fund raisers for the deaf community.

“Wine is the most social drink you can have,” Wales said. “People tend to share more, and I’ve never met anyone who liked wine who is a miser. Even if it doesn’t taste the best, it’s still OK when sharing with friends. That is what’s wonderful about wine.”

For any questions, e-mail Wales at deafwal rus@aol.com or visit www.deafwalrus.com.

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