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Wine Press Northwest - Bitner Vineyards

9/2/2013

More than a few wines and wineries have undoubtedly been named while two or more friends shot the breeze and emptied a bottle of wine.

Mary Bitner, who with her husband, Ron, owns and operates Bitner Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho, was doing just that with a friend, comparing notes on a certain change of life.

“A friend and I were enjoying a glass of Merlot and talking about our episodes of hot flashes and wouldn’t this be a very nice way to ease menopause symptoms, and I thought, ‘I think I just created something here.’”

And so was birthed Menopause Merlot.

“We’re always looking at how we can market a fun idea,” she said.

Mary and Ron Bitner, a professional entomologist who specifically studies and works with bees, started planting their 15 acres of vineyards in the early 1980s, supplying grapes for Idaho wineries, particularly for one of the state’s leading winemakers, Greg Koenig. Beginning in 1997, Koenig began making a reserve Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon for the Bitner Vineyards label.

Koenig’s wines often score highly among judges.

“We call Greg our retirement plan,” Ron Bitner said.

Currently, Bitner produces between 1,000 and 1,200 cases each year from seven varietals, as well as some limited-edition releases, including the Menopause Merlot.

“We’re having fun and staying small,” he said.

It has to be one of the few wines named for a medical condition. But the milestones in one’s life shouldn’t be ignored, Mary Bitner believes.

“Why shouldn’t this be a celebration of a new life? It’s something every woman goes through,” she said.

The labels for Menopause Merlot make it obvious that this is a wine meant not for brooding but for celebration. The artwork is by a Sisters, Ore., artist whose sketches may be familiar to wine enthusiasts.

Jill Haney-Neal’s sketches celebrate what she calls “Wild (but tasteful) Women,” distinctive for their “big boobs, little ankles and angles that exaggerate the feminine,” Haney-Neal said.

Haney-Neal’s women are colorful, ample and vivacious, and often have a glass of wine in hand. She also has done labels for Kiona Vineyards in Benton City, Wash., for its Vivacious Vicky white and Nice Legs Merlot.

“I have serious stuff,” said Haney-Neal, who has a degree in sculpture. “But I have more fun with the ladies.”

“And I love wine,” she said.

So Haney-Neal, in her agreement now in its third year with the Bitners, arranges for delivery of some of the wine her labels grace.

“I thought it was a cute,” she said of the Menopause name.

The art and the name are well matched.

“Her art has been beautiful to play with,” said Ron Bitner. “We’re doing 90 cases a year (of the Menopause Merlot) in our agreement with Neal, and we typically release it on Valentine’s Day.”

The 90 cases don’t linger on shelves, selling, as do other Bitner wines, in retail and special events and on the wine lists at various restaurants.

The Bitners recently attended a trade mission of business owners to Mexico, during which one woman, a little perplexed, asked Mary if the wine was a cure for menopause.

Not a cure, she told the woman, but certainly a treatment to calm, as the label states, “the daily drama of hot flashes, mood swings and hairy toes.”

“Oh, my goodness. People have been enjoying this,” Mary Bitner said. “It hit a nerve with women and husbands, too.”

Women get it. Sometimes guys are a little dubious, Mary said.

“We’ve had some guys ask if they should drink some of this or not, and I say, ‘Oh, sure, but don’t blame me if you walk away weeping.’”

--Jon Bauer is Wine Press Northwest’s Salish Sea correspondent. The longtime newspaperman lives near La Conner, Wash.