The Adirondacks chairs and candelabras sold in the tasting room at Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek come with their own history.
They used to be barrels where gallons of Chatham wine fermented from three to five years. Imported from France, they weren’t meant to be disassembled but Ethan Watkins, a longtime friend of Chatham vintners Jon and Mills Wehner and current Sunday tasting room employee, had an idea.
“Can I take home a barrel?” Ethan asked Jon.
Ethan tinkers with his hands. Always has. He grew up rebuilding British sports cars alongside his father in the family’s garage in Doylestown, Ohio. He’s that guy who scoffs at the price tag of a coffee table in a furniture store, thinking “That’s crazy. I can go home and build that.”
Jon gave him the go-ahead to take home an old Merlot barrel. Ethan returned, having made his first Adirondack chair — the one sitting outside of Chatham today. Study it closely to spot the staining from the Merlot on parts of the wood.
“That chair has been through all kinds of weather over the years,” Ethan says. “Sometimes I still use it as a template.”
One chair turned into dozens. Ethan began a steady woodworking business, selling his handcrafted pieces that also include candelabras and even peace signs in the Chatham tasting room. No part of the barrel is wasted; the steel rim encompasses the wood for the peace sign.
“Part of living on the Shore is finding creative ways to support each other, and we like keeping it in the family,” Jon says.
It’s not unusual for Jon to pass one of Ethan’s chairs and remark, “I remember that barrel!”
The barrels themselves are handmade from a strong wood. No two are identical. Often after taking them apart — an arduous task in itself — Ethan will stare at the pieces and absorb the various shapes, sizes and curves.
The wood rests for a spell before he coats it with a polyurethane finish. Ethan approaches whatever he’s making like a puzzle, fitting pieces intricately using just a handful of tools. Much like Chatham wines, he delights in the simplicity of the craftmanship.
“You don’t have to do much to the wood because it is so rich,” he says.
The woodworking hobby-turned-side business is a refreshing respite for Ethan, a University of Cincinnati graduate who is a program director for the two YMCAs on the Eastern Shore. He and his wife, Amy, and their teenagers, Kai and Lucy, live in Exmore, roughly 15 minutes from Chatham. Ethan fell in love with the Shore from a previous seasonal position as a kayak tour guide for Southeast Expeditions.
The Paddle Your Glass Off tours that continue today pull right up to Chatham Vineyards.
“I was the number one guide for that trip because I’ve probably done it 800 times,” Ethan says. “Jon and I became friends; our kids grew up together.”
They were soccer dads watching a game together when Jon mentioned weekend work to Ethan at Chatham.
“It’s such a relaxing atmosphere there,” Ethan says. “I really like hanging out with friends and pouring wine for people.”
Currently, Ethan is crafting a rocking chair, his first built from a Chatham barrel. Stop by the tasting room to see his work and bring home your favorite wine, too.