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Richard Wook, right, won for Best Red Wine and Best Desert Wine at the Greater Pittston AWS amateur wine competition. Ray Bartolai, left, sponsored the medals.

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AJ Levan, right, won Best Wine Overall at the Greater Pittston American Wine Society Chapter event. At left, is Ray Bartolai, who sponsored the medals.

Four years ago, Jim Powell and his friend Ed Perry had never heard of the American Wine Society. Today they are president and vice president of the Greater Pittston chapter of the AWS, a non-profit organization with over 8,000 members in 180 chapters across the country and a national headquarters in Scranton. Powell’s wife, Katie, is treasurer and Katie McAndrew is secretary.

Powell, retired from Tobyhanna, lives in Avoca. Perry, president of Mid Atlantic Freight Group, lives in Harding. Four years ago the pair were invited by a mutual friend to help form the Wilkes-Barre based Diamond City AWS Chapter. “No matter what we did, it didn’t work,” Powell said. “The most loyal members were from the Pittston area, so we decided to close the Diamond City Chapter and merge into a Greater Pittston Chapter and that’s working better.”

The first meeting was in January 2016 at Bartolai Winery on Rt. 92 in Exeter Township. Ray Bartolai is a professional member of the chapter. Since the first meeting the chapter has grown to 81 members. The chapter meets monthly, usually at St. John’s Lodge Hall, 498 Yatesville Road, and runs special events like an annual amateur wine competition and fundraisers.

Bartolai sponsored the medals for the chapter’s amateur competition last month at St. John’s Lodge. Competitors entered 16 wines, providing three bottles of each wine, which were judged in a blind taste test by members.

Richard Wowk won Best Red Wine and Best Desert Wine. Rudy Botha won Best White Wine. A.J. Leven repeated for Best Wine Overall winner, while Wowk was second and third place overall.

Levan, 51, lives in Old Forge. He’s been making wine for four years.

“My wine that won was a Petit Syrah,” he said. “I like to make my wines on the semi dry side. I think it brings out better flavor and mouth feel with a smooth finish. When my name was announced as the best overall wine of the evening, I was very surprised. That’s because I am my worst critic. Winning at the Pittston American Wine Society amateur wine making night makes me very happy that my long, hard work is appreciated by everyone. Winning this year and last year tells me I’m doing something right.”

Examples of other meeting themes earlier this year include a presentation on Australian wines by Tim Vickers and a presentation on wines from the Valpolicella region of Italy by Dave Ganz, an internationally known wine collector.

Coming up at the Tuesday, July 25, meeting is a Mucciolo Family Wines Night. Natalie Mucciolo Leatherman and her husband, Dale, opened Mucciolo Family Wines at 1228 S. Main St., Old Forge in a 1920s storefront, where Natalie’s great grandmother Mary and Antonio Lana ran a neighborhood general store.

The Greater Pittston AWS Chapter is sponsoring a fundraiser for Tracey’s Hope Hospice Care Program & Rescue For Domestic Animals at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, at Bartolai Winery. The fundraiser will include a wine tasting and 50/50 and basket raffles. It’s open to the public and a $15 donation will be collected at the door.

For information, search the Greater Pittston AWS Chapter on Facebook visit www.americanwinesociety.org, email greaterpittstonaws@gmail.com, or call 570-237-6905.

In addition to the monthly Greater Pittston AWS Chapter meetings, membership perks can include free tastings and discount wine purchases at wineries, access to the AWS National Conference, which will be held this year at Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Poconos in November; subscription to the AWS newsletter published six times a year and the AWS Wine Journal, the official magazine for members of the American Wine Society, published quarterly.

jsmiles@pittstonprogress.com