Sangria Sunshine

Blue sky and clouds

Sangria Sky

Have you ever seen the sun shining so brightly and the sky so blue you want to lay in the grass and enjoy being alive?

That was today.  And I did those things. With Sangria.  Cheap boxed wine that I beg Celia to use for cooking (but she uses my Oregon Pinot Noir instead), some juice, some fruit, a bottle of seltzer (thank you Soda Stream) and a couple of splashes of Grand Marnier.

Joy doesn’t have to be pricey.  I could have mixed that cheap wine with a Coca Cola and some lemon and enjoyed a Kalimotxo instead.

Hope you have a great day and enjoy some wine!

Backyard green grass

Sangria Lawn


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Meadowbrook (Michigan) Wine and Food Festival

Saturday, August 22

Picture perfect weather and a gorgeous location among the lawns and gardens of the Meadowbrook Music Festival north of Detroit, the 2015 Meadowbrook Wine and Food Festival didn’t disappoint… at least not with the wines.

With five large tents housing more than 150 wines from 18 regions and featuring 9 Michigan wineries there was something for everyone.


I spent my drink tickets principally on the Michigan wines.   As expected I found a few that were sweeter than I prefer but on the whole Michigan made a strong showing.

St. Julian Winery
Late Harvest Riesling
Established shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, St. Julian is one of Michigan’s oldest and most well-known wineries.    The Late Harvest Riesling is a sweet wine yet crisp and very approachable even for those, like me, who prefer dryer table wines.   The wine is smooth on the palate with notes of peach and honey.

Fieldstone Winery
Motor City Dry Red – Syrah
The most “local” of the local wineries pouring at the festival, Fieldstone is located in downtown Rochester Hills, about 30 minutes north of Detroit and a few miles from the festival site.  A local winery in that they make their wines here in southeast Michigan, Fieldstone sources their grapes from “all over,” including bringing the syrah in from California.   A new line, the Motor City Red is lovely: soft, dry and medium-bodied, with notes of black cherry and a pleasant minerally finish.   Locapour purists will argue this doesn’t classify as a local wine, and I agree.  But with results like this I’m more than happy to support local winemakers.

Warner Vineyards Winery
2 Cab Merlot
A Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, this wine has nice notes of dark berries without being overly jammy.    Full-bodied with medium tannins, the wine has a nice, slightly “dusty” finish.

Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
I am a sucker for a good ice wine, and Warner’s didn’t disappoint.    The wine had a silky, rather than satiny, mouth feel and lovely notes of pear and honeysuckle.

Bel Lago
Pinot Noir “North”
Located in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, not far from Traverse City, Bel Lago grows a number of cool climate grapes including Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.    Their Pinot Noir was my choice for pairing with lunch.  Smooth, with soft notes of raspberry and cherry, medium-tannins, and a nice finish.   The wine held up well against the beef brisket BBQ nachos I had for lunch, balancing the smoky sweetness of the BBQ sauce.



And speaking of food, for a festival advertised as a “Wine and Food Festival,” the food options were very slim.   Kroger, the largest grocery chain in Michigan and a sponsor of the event, had a large tent at the entrance to the event featuring a sampling of standard grocery-store deli fare: Boar’s Head turkey or ham sandwiches, cheese and coleslaw.   There were two food trucks: The Pistons Maplewood BBQ and Chick-A-Dee.    The Maplewood BBQ beef brisket nachos were very good, but there’s no question this is NOT a food festival.


Seven Lakes Vineyard
I started my day with the Seven Lakes Capriccio, and at the end of the day this remained my favorite of all the wines sampled.    Nice nose with light notes of cherry blossoms.  In the mouth, the wine is juicy rather than jammy with bright notes of cherry.  The finish has a very light pepper which balances the fruitiness, yielding a very nice wine.   Looking forward to opening the bottle I brought home.

Cabernet Franc
I finished out the afternoon with samples of two grapes I had come to love during my time exploring Connecticut Wineries.     Seven Lakes’ Cab Franc was surprisingly earthy – surprising to me who had grown so accustomed to the very fruit-forward cherry I found in Connecticut Cab Francs.   Full-bodied with lovely notes of grass and well-balanced tannins and a smooth finish.

Dizzy Daisy
Marechal Foch
Dizzy Daisy’s Marechal Foch, like the Cab Franc which I sampled shortly afterward, came as a surprise – in this case a shock… it was sweet!    I had my first encounter with Marechal Foch almost seven years ago when I first started traveling the CT Wine Trail.   Finding the grape to come across as very young and green, it took me quite a few samplings before I came to appreciate it, and even longer before I became a fan.   Like so many other CT reds it was very fruit forward, but it was always a dry wine.    As a semi-sweet wine, the fruit notes were much stronger and also smoother than in other Marechal Foch’s I’ve tried.  The additional sugars balanced out the “greenness” I often detected, and as a result I suspect Dizzy Daisy’s is more approachable to a majority of wine drinkers.   But as my preference leans towards dry wines, I found this to be less interesting.


It’s hard to glean a lot about wines and winemakers from 1 oz samples, especially when you are sampling across a range of wineries.   With people lined up behind you, there’s not much time to chat.  But as a small introduction to the wines of my new home state it was a great afternoon.

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

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Why Are Hybrids Crap? Answer? They Aren’t

This was a question that was asked during this morning’s panel.

Tis is the kind of question that makes me crazy.  It falls into the same barrel of monkeys as “Sweet wines are inferior,” and “Gamay is a crappy grape” and last but not least, “Can you believe I had a good wine from (fill in the blank).

The expectation that hybrids are are going to taste like the six vinifera varietals that most Americans drink is ridiculous.  This attitude keeps people from exploring wines from new places or to even on an unfamiliar wine list.  Hybrids and labrusca grapes are part of the American wine culture.  Dr. Daniel  Norton created the Norton grape in the early 19th century and it has gone on the be the state grape of Missouri and Arkansas and Riedel has made a glass to emphasize its aroma and color.   Nicholas Longsworth was making sparkling Catawba in Ohio that was winning gold medals in Paris in the 1850s.  And finally, and most importantly, these grapes saved the European wine industry when it was destroyed by phylloxera.  Now that issue has been solved (on labrusca stocks, btw) and vinifera now reigns supreme again, it is NOT acceptable to go kick the hybrids.

That being said, I have questions about quality of the hybrids.  I think there is too much emphasis on sheer tonnage.  Green harvests would improve the quality of the grapes available for vinification. Additionally the modernization of the wine making techniques used to produce these wines would probably make a positive impact as well.

One participant at the conference suggested that wines are worth if they can age well and show a sense of place. Well, I have tried numerous Chambourcins and can assure you that one from Tennessee tastes remarkably different from one in Missouri or one in South Dakota.  But you don’t know that if you turn up your nose at them all.  And if  you don’t know the answer, isn’t that on you?  Lighten up and try something new.

It will be an education.

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Wine Blogger’s Conference Starts!

After a short (for me) road trip, VinoVerve and our Partner at Qorkz arrived in Corning.

We are currently listening to Karen MacNeil give her keynote address.  Her speech covered how to write, how to write well and how to build your brand.

The basics are this:

  • Be genuine to yourself and your voice and protect that voice.
  • Do the work.  Make sure you can back up your facts
  • Wineries need to put as much effort into developing their own lexicon as creating their wine
  • On  work/life balance? It don’t exist folks!  But that is why Champagne exists (right on!)
  • Don’t equivocate – tell it like it is!

Lots to take in and think about.

Thanks Karen!


Gretchen Miller Neuman
VinoVerve Editor



pixelstats trackingpixel – For Hidden Wine Gems

Do you wish you were in Napa or Sonoma right now? (Don ‘t we all?)

Want to find that winery that is a hidden gem that is off the beaten path? The ones that have such a small production you have the upper hand with your friends and family? Especially when they rave about the wine you are serving?

Well, I, your VinoVerve Editrix has been working secretly to bring these kinds of wines to you. Welcome to Qorkz Wine.

These wines are made by passionate winemakers who want to share their craft with you.

We are scouring California (for now and eventually around the country and maybe even the world) to find these treats for you!

You all know how much I enjoy looking for these treats… so please, enjoy!

We will have more choices to come!



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Cherry Creek Winery @ The Old Schoolhouse – Brooklyn, MI

After seven years in New England, I relocated to southeast Michigan in December 2014.   Despite having been born and raised in Detroit (proud graduate of Cass Tech High School!), Michigan hasn’t been home for more years than I am willing to admit to.

Relocating in winter while also working 100% from home is not conducive to exploration – my first several months’ experiences were limited to weekly grocery store runs, babysitting for my sister, and an occasional weekend movie with cousins.

So with a few days vacation in late May I decided it was time to learn my new home state of Michigan the way I learned my last – one winery at a time.   With a full tank of gas and a randomly chosen winery on Michigan’s Pioneer Wine Trail, I headed out for what turned out to be an auspicious start to my latest Win(e)ding Roads adventures.

Cherry Creek Winery @ the Old Schoolhouse, Brooklyn, MI

Cherry Creek Winery @ the Old Schoolhouse, Brooklyn, MI

Housed in a beautifully restored 1870s schoolhouse in the heart of the Irish Hills, only a few short miles from the Michigan International Speedway, Cherry Creek Winery and Vineyards is a great find – neither the winery nor the wines disappoint.

Founded more than 15 years ago by Denise and John Burtkas, Cherry Creek Winery has two locations, the original in Albion, MI and the Old Schoolhouse, which opened about 10 years ago.   All wines are 100% Michigan grapes sourced from the Burtkas’s vineyards in southeast Michigan and through partnerships with vineyards along the Lake Michigan coastline.

With a menu that includes reds, whites, rosés and a fruit wine (Michigan Cherry, of course),    picking only five for this first tasting was the hard part…

Wood Duck White (Dry Riesling)
I’ve found myself more interested in Rieslings recently, particularly as I’m finding more local wineries making a dry Riesling, instead of the often too sweet versions that seemed to be everywhere only a few short years ago.

The Wood Duck White is a really nice wine.   Light, crisp, with just a hint of grapefruit on the finish, I found it soft in the mouth and very drinkable.  The fruit and acid are nicely balanced, and the wine has a nice full body which gives it structure.   A great wine for a lazy summer afternoon.

It was one of the bottles I brought home with me, and we uncorked it last night pairing it with grilled Lake Superior whitefish and fresh Michigan corn.   The wine complimented the fish beautifully, and the corn’s sweetness brought out some of the wine’s lightly floral notes.

I loved the nose on this wine – notes of citrus, honeysuckle (perhaps?  I am not as good differentiating florals as I should be), the nose evoked light spring breezes.   In the mouth, the wine was sharp, but not tart, with citrus notes that hit the edges of my tongue.   The wine also evolved in the mouth, starting out smooth and somewhat quiet in the front of the mouth only to open up on the finish.

Tasting Room bar was made from reclaimed wood from the original structure. Jenna, my host for the afternoon, is an enthusiastic ambassador for the winery.

Moving on to the Reds, I started with the Merlot, which came highly recommended by my tasting room host, Jenna, as one of her personal favorites.   The nose was fruity, predominately cherry, very reminiscent of the red wines I found in Connecticut (in fact, I once participated in a blind tasting of Merlots at McLaughlin Vineyards in Connecticut and was the only person to correctly identify the McLaughlin Merlot, which I did solely from the nose).

In the mouth, the wine is more subtle than I expected – I think the nose misled me, and I expected a more fruit-forward wine such as the ones I had been drinking in Connecticut.    I found this wine to be more herbaceous than fruity, medium-bodied with mineral notes and an interesting slight chalky finish.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chancellor Noir, this was my favorite of the afternoon.    Deeper nose than the Merlot but with similar notes of cherry, the wine is smooth and rich.   In the mouth, the wine has notes of stone fruits but not so strong that the wine becomes “jammy.”   Brought a bottle of this home as well, and am looking forward to opening it later this summer, perhaps paired with grilled steaks or lamb chops.

100% estate grown at the Old Schoolhouse location, the Frontenac was the most interesting wine of my visit.    Served chilled, the wine had strong notes of cranberry – which I admit, I don’t come across often.   Fruit forward with a strong but smooth finish.   The wine wasn’t available for sale the day I was there, but it’s definitely worth a return visit later in the year for another taste.

In addition to the wines, Cherry Creek also has a small gift shop featuring locally made sauces, jams and jellies and a Michigan cherry salsa which is highly addictive!    The winery hosts local musicians from 5-8pm Saturdays through mid-September and will be opening a cafe sometime this summer.   The Burtkas have also recently launched the Grand River Brewery, in Jackson, Michigan featuring local craft beers, handcrafted spirits, and Cherry Creek wines.

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

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Moon Mountain District Sonoma County

Frontispiece of Jack London's Valley of the Moon

Frontispiece of Jack London’s, “Valley of the Moon”, 1913, The Macmillan Company, Ny

Now that I am out and about again, I wasted no time high tailing it out of town to visit some new wineries. The first on the list was Repris Wines in the Moon Mountain District.  This post will explore this eerie landscape and I will discuss the winery in the next.

Moon Mountain District is located within Sonoma Valley across the eastern ridge from the Mt. Veeder AVA (or the Sonoma-Napa border, if you will…). The name of the area is based on the mistaken belief that the local indigenous peoples referred to Sonoma Valley as the “Valley of the Moon”.  At least the last Mexican governor of the area did, as well as Jack London, who wrote a book with that title.  While there was a “valley” of the moon, there was no associated mountain.  That has all changed.  After asking the USGS  nicely to designate a “Moon Mountain”, the people were finally rewarded (57 years later).  The peak is located east of Mt. Pisgah and south of Bismark Knob.

The appellation ranges from 400-2,200 feet above sea level and is known for its series of medium sloped hills that build upon one another. This leaves the terrain with little pockets of terroir that receive different amounts of sunlight and different airflows.  The majority of the region faces the west to maximize the amount of sunlight that the vines receive as well as maximizing the intensity.  Cool day time temperatures from the Pacific have warmed up by the time they reach Moon Mountain and night time fogs roll down the mountain to keep the  vines from freezing.  The temperatures in the area provide almost double the growing degree days in the area making it a perfect location for growing Zinfandel and other long hanging grapes.

image of lava outcrop, Moon MountainThe geology of the area is a mixture of andesite and basalt lava flows from the Sonoma volcanics that have been mixed with gravels.  The resulting soils are brown and shallow and very well drained allowing the grapes to grow deeply into the  hillside.  This gives the area a sometimes eerie look from these flows that are visible in places at the surface (thus the name Moon Mountain, perhaps?).  The brown soils are largely of the Goulding series are volcanic and very well drained.

There are currently 11 bonded wineries and 40 commercial vineyards operating around Moon Mountain.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

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Where has VinoVerve been the last year?

Well, the answer is long. After posting about a road trip to Arkansas last year, we were getting ready to send my daughter, Sophie off to college. Some of you may recognize her as the girl who can sabre a bottle of champagne, make and bottle wine, identify floral elements when she smells a glass and generally has acted as my personal sommelier for a good portion of her 18 years.

Our plan was to get her off to college (University of Oregon) and then I would get back into the swing of writing.

Well, as Robert Burns stated, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”.

And astray would be an understatement.

Just a few weeks from our drive out to the Willamette Valley, we discovered there was a mass on Sophie’s spine. And that mass was cancer. Brain cancer. (the spine is made of the same stuff as the brain… this is how that is possible).

We spent the better part of the last year fighting this cancer. But it won.

My Sophie died.


Me and Sophie

A picture of my Sophie

She had a love/hate relationship with this blog. She was proud of what she knew about wine. More than most adults. But she sometimes hated the time I devoted to it. This is pretty typical for adolescents.

But the last get together that she hosted here at the house, she tapped into my wine collection. She used the good Reidel wine glasses though she needed to use a straw. For her friends she opened a Provençal rosé, a Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio and an Oregon Pinot Noir. I should, I guess be appalled that she was drinking my wine, but really? Why bother.

She packed as much as she could into her 18 years and that included wine.

So, if you please, next time you have a glass, raise a toast to my Sophie. She would appreciate it. And I would as well.


Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

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