I have traveled nearly 2,000 miles in the last ten days. That is far enough to get to the Arctic Circle, assuming that I was inclined to do such a thing in March and April (which I am not).
So, now I have a dilemma. Where do I start on telling the tales of my journeys. I have decided to work backwards. Why? It is as good as anyway to begin… plus have I have fewer photos to dig back through….
so that means…
On to the Alexis Bailly Vineyard.
There were a couple of things that I knew about this winery before I got there. A. It is the oldest winery in Minnesota. 2. It is in the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA which is one of the newest and definitely the largest appellation in the U.S.
The winery was established in 1973 by David Bailly and is named after the City of Hastings first permanent resident. David selected grapes varietals for his 20 acre former winter rye farm winery less on their cold weather heartiness and more for their flavor. The intent was not to just make a Minnesota wine but a superior Minnesota wine. Using the French adage that the vines must suffer to produce good wine, David Bailly believed that Minnesota was a place where the grapes would receive the requisite punishment.
Lately my wine journeys have been more of the solo variety but on this day, I had my Mom with me. We had travelled to the Land of 10,000 Lakes in order to attend the Mizuno Northern Lights Midwest Volleyball Qualifier. Which meant that we were in for three long days of volleyball. Oh, and it was Mom’s birthday. I am not going to tell you which one. Let’s just go with 19th (my mother’s traditional age) or as we learned at the winery “Plenty-nine”. Sophie wasn’t due to start playing until 3:00 so Mom and I headed out of the Minneapple and headed to Alexis Bailly.
We found the winery easily enough (sometimes directions out in the country can be tricky) and when we pulled into the lot we were greeted by the winery dog, who barked at as we headed into the tasting room. The funny thing was that the pooch stopped barking the second we walked into the building… He just headed over to his rug and plopped down. His job was finished.
Mom and I headed into the tasting room and were greeted by actual people! We decided to do the full tasting which included the special ice wine for $7.00 Being really early in the season (which opened April 1) and early in the day 11:30, we were the only folks tasting. The staff was getting ready for the winery’s first event of the season, their Chocolate, Cheese and Wine Tasting. Despite this, everyone was friendly and knowledgable. Perfect for Mom’s first time out with me!
We started with Seyval Blanc which was bright and crisp with green apple notes. Fermented and aged in stainless steel to maintain the full force of the fruit flavors this wine surprised me. Why? Mom LOVED it. And she is a dedicated red wine lover. She loved it so much that she bought some to take home. A real recommendation.
Next we tried the Country White. This wine is a blend of Seyval Blanc and La Crescent and is designed to be an easy drinking vins de pays. Perfect for everyday, though not terribly complex or aged. This wine is off dry with a good burst of fruit and would be perfect for dishes with some spice or creaminess to them.
I bought a bottle of the next wine and am waiting for the proper weather to drink it… The Golden Gris reminded me of Lillet Blanc. Rich and full with an slight orange flavor. Made of a blend of La Crescent (90%) and Frontenac Gris (10%). I am planning to use it on the first hot day of the season with a slice of orange and topped with bit of seltzer.
At this point we moved on to the reds, more familiar territory for Mom, though the first selection was actually a rosé, but a deep and rich one. Aptly named Rosé Noir it is made of Marechal Foch and DeChaunac. The color of this wine is much deeper than a standard rose but is rich with dark cherry flavors. In another stunning move, Mom loved this wine as well…
Next we got to taste the Country Red, a proprietary blend designed to evoke thoughts of French Rhone wines. The wine is dry, with good fruit and light, leathery tannins. Truly, the perfect wine for a weekday meal. The Voyageur on the other hand is a much bolder wine. A blend of Marechal Foch, Léon Millot and Frontenac and aged 10 months in oak, this wine is inky black with deep, rich, woody flavors. Voyageur is the most New World tasting of the Alexis Bailly’s wines.
After enjoying the biggest of Alexis Bailly’s wines, Mom and I moved on to the dessert wines.
The Hastings Reserve is a blend of grapes that are blended with vintages from several other years to create the consistency that is seen in solera aged ports. In taste and consistency it was very much like a ruby port, though perhaps a little hot for me. The Bailly’s Chocolate Port was a hit with Mom, who loved the richness of the chocolate essence. I have to admit to preferring my chocolate separately from my fortified wines, but found the flavors to be much more lush than I have had in the past. The last of the wines for the regular tasting was the Ratafia, a wine that I have read about but never had. Ratafia was something that I read about in Victorian novels or Restoration comedies. Ratafias are fruit, nut and herbally flavored fortified wines that were produced in Mediterranean countries. When checking my notes on this wine I laughed when I saw my scrawl of, “Holy Cow!” The wine is rich with vibrant orange and spices – perfect for dessert or an aperitif. It is totally out of the ordinary and worth a try.
The last wine that we tasted was their version of an ice wine. Unfortunately the weather in Minnesota is so unpredictable that the winery can’t rely on the grapes freezing anything other than solidly making a real ice wine out of the question. Instead they buy contract grown juice and freeze it, using the concentrated juice to produce the wine. The wine is a lighter version of a German Eiswein. It was very nice. In the meantime, the winery is working to grow grapes that will produce enough sugar to create the wine naturally at the vineyard. I look forward to trying these wines in the future.
Sadly, at this point, Mom and I needed to head off to the Minneapolis Convention Center for six hours of volleyball. We didn’t even get a chance to have dinner, which was a shame as it was her birthday that day. I don’t think she minded, as she got to go to a wine tasting with me and see what I do when on the road. I was glad that everyone at Alexis Bailly was sweet, personable and really well informed. We even found a new way for my mother to express (not) her age. Henceforth, she will no longer be 19, but instead will be “Plenty-nine”.
Thank you to everyone at Alexis Bailly for helping me give Mom a great birthday present!