The Big Woods

Little House on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere....Where are the big woods? Well, they really aren’t there anymore. Heck, the Little House isn’t really there anymore. Just a wayside on a hill near where the house used to be. In all fairness? It hasn’t been there in over 100 years.

What happened to the woods?  I blame bears.So I went to look at the site. It took a bit longer to find than I anticipated. Sigh. Typical. The cabin was tiny. A loft, a big hearth, a table. But it reminded me of being a girl and imagining what it was like. And the it was the sounds. Wind through the trees and the grass. Birds and insects chirping away….The description of what sounds surrounded the Ingalls family was always pretty descriptive in the Little House books. So I listened. and recorded. I ate lunch at a table on the grounds and watched people come and go.. Mostly people my age or older. In Jazzy’s and wheel chairs, some wandering around the site, others just in and out of the cabin. We all acknowledged each other sheepishly, but didn’t speak to each other…

That's a lake? well, maybe if you are 6Then I went down and took a look at Lake Pepin. I remember reading about Laura taking a trip into the town of Pepin. In the book it is seven miles drive to town and the horses periodically get bogged down in the spring mud. The going is easier now. The roads are paved… It still is seven miles (or so). Laura experienced awe when she saw the lake and the town. For me, Pepin isn’t the biggest place I have seen. Even at age five. Lake Pepin is less a lake and more of wide spot in the Mississippi River. But the lake glistened in the sun and I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Laura and Mary to run along the beach. I imagined that the location of the local Laura Museum was the the store.

That is Holly Hobbie, amirite?By the way? Museum people? Your Laura looks like Holly Hobbie…. imma just saying…

Villa BellezzaNow the original plan was to stop at wineries along the way, This is part of the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA after all, but… I killed too much time dealing with construction and getting lost and I still needed to make my way to Minnesota. So, I wandered along the town and noticed that there was a winery there. Villa Bellezza is a bit grand a space for Pepin, Wisconsin and very Italian looking but they were growing Foch, Frontenac, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, LaCrescent, Marquette, Prairie Star and St. Pepin on twelve acres of vineyard located in and around the region. Interesting…. It was Saturday afternoon though and late at that. Ugh. Same deal with the Maiden Rock Cidery that I had looked up. So I resolved to avoid the tasting room crowds and stock at an area liquor store.

Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the United States!!!  You know what happened. Nothing from those places were being sold. But there was Wisconsin wine there. Cranberry wine from Spurgeon Vineyards which is in Western Wisconsin but more than 150 miles away. sigh again. Not about the wine being made from Wisconsin. That makes sense as Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state in the U.S. (The More You Know!!!). Still. I was expecting something a little more local. Perhaps tomorrow.

The Fruit Wines of Diamond Hill Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

As I explore the vineyards and wineries of the Northeast, I’m finding I actually like fruit wines.  For years I, like so many of you, turned up my nose at fruit wines, thinking them too sweet, too thin, too whatever.   However, just as with grape wines, there are some very bad and some very good fruit wines out there.

On the afternoon I stopped by Diamond Hill (almost a month ago now…  apologies for the two week delay in getting this posted), there were three fruit wines available on the tasting menu.

Cranberry Apple First up was Diamond Hill’s most popular wine, the Cranberry Apple.  Made from New England grown fruit, including organically grown cranberries from Attleborough, Rhode Island.  A blend of 25% cranberry and 75% apple, the wine is delightfully sweet-tart.  The color is a delightful rosy-peach.  The nose has soft cranberry notes – not nearly as overpowering as I anticipated.  In the mouth the wine, as mentioned above, is charmingly sweet-tart with a lovely burst of cranberry on the tongue; the apple provides just enough sweetness to temper the tartness of the cranberry and keep the wine from being overpowering.  I really liked this wine and went home with two bottles.  It’s a great sipping wine, will pair well with poultry, and would make a bright, fun sangria as well.

Blueberry From the Cranberry Apple we moved on to the Blueberry.  Made with organically grown blueberries from Jonesport, Maine, the wine has strong notes of blueberry in both the nose and on the mouth, but is surprisingly light and clean.  Given the intensity of the blueberry, I half-expected the wine to be almost syrupy sweet, but it’s not.  There’s a very lightly bitter note at the end which balances the sweetness of the fruit and gives the wine a bit of character.   This is a very nice wine, although not as interesting as the Cranberry Apple to my mind.

 

Diamond Hill was sold out of their Blackberry and their Raspberry wines, so the last wine on the menu for the day was their Peach wine.  Diamond Hill crushes the whole fruit and the result is the sweetest of all their wines, one that I’d characterize as a dessert wine.  The nose is soft with notes of apricot as well as peach.  In the mouth, the wine is sweet, but not syrupy, with soft peach notes that linger on the palate, and a very light tartness on the palate.   Peach is not one of my favorite fruits or flavors, but this was one of the nicer peach wines I’ve sampled to date.

I left that day with six bottles under my arm, a list of wines to order for Gretchen and Kevin, and a Vino Verve milestone under my belt.  But more on that on Thursday…

Minnesota Nice – Carlos Creek

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

On my way back from Walla Walla and before I reached my stop at Bunbury Farm, I stopped at the one winery in the one viticulture area entirely within the state of Minnesota. Alexandria Lakes, as previously mentioned is tucked in between several of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Currently there is only one winery located in this region, Carlos Creek.

I pulled into the winery’s driveway on a Wednesday morning in June to find the place packed. Maybe folks were taking 4th of July vacations early, but I got the feeling that the place was used to this kind of crowd. The tasting room was large with a rectangular bar in the center. One side of bar was stocked with the wines shelves and related tchotchkes. The other side of the bar had tables for groups to linger at including a cozy firepit.

I walked up to the bar for a tasting ($5.00 which includes a keepsake wine glass) and began to try the wines. I learned that the winery has twelve acres of vines of Frontenac, Foch, Valiant, Swenson Red, La Crescent, King of the North, Brianna, Marquette, Petite Pearl and Edelweiss and fifteen acres of apples including Honeycrisp, the Minnesota State apple. The winery also makes wine from contract grown fruit that is both local and out of state.

I began with the Chardonnay (grown in California as that is not a grape to survive the harsh Minnesota winters. The color was beautiful and tasted dry with a nice amount of fruit although the finish was a shade metallic.

The Woebegone White was pale and offsweet with the flavors of apples and pear and is produced from Frontenac Gris. This wine is part of the wineries “Minnesota Nice” line which are made entirely of locally grown fruit. It is a nice wine for a hot summer afternoon spritzer (my preferred way of drinking sweeter wines). The line also includes the Hot Dish Red, a blend of Frontenac and Valiant and the You Betcha Blush (a phrase, I sadly associate with Alaska instead of Minnesota these days) which is also Frontenac based.

Next I tried the reds. I started with the Marquette. The grape is a recent development from the University of Minnesota which has a strong viticulture program and is the Upper Midwest’s answer to Pinot Noir. It was certainly dry, with distinct tannins and smooth texture. In all fairness though, it was not my favorite as there was a distinct foxiness to the wine.

I then tried the house Chianti which is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and several estate grown grapes. I liked this wine. Like my favorite kinds of Chianti, it was flavorful and smooth to make it perfect to drink with dinner.

The last wine I tasted was the Trinity, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and ended up being my favorite wine of the afternoon. I have to admit to enjoy trying traditional varietals from local wineries. I feel that these wines provide a baseline about a winery. I know what California Cabernet is supposed to taste like. When I try the local options, I am better able to pick up the nuances of varietals that I am less familiar with and terroir. The Trinity was cherry and peppery on the nose with a taste spiced cherries and plums.

At this point in my visit a tour of the facility was beginning, led by the wineries’ owner Tami Bredeson. We learned that she and her husband Kim became interested in wine and winemaking after he was commissioned to produce a carved mantelpiece for a woman who worked for Robert Mondavi. As a thank you, she gave them a bottle of Opus One and the Bredesons decided to learn more about wine before opening that bottle.

I have been on several winery tours and this was about the most thorough that I have seen (particularly for a winery without an extensive history). We learned how they chose the cork for their bottles (Sardinian cork) and the cooperage that they buy barrels from (Kelvin Cooperage). A nice surprise was the cave built under the winery. The Bredeson’s attention to detail is impressive.

Like most wineries, the Carlos Creek hosts a wide assortment of events in addition to the tastings and tours, including weddings, craft shows, live music, surrey bike rides, mazes for the kids, cross country skiing and dog sled rides. This is not your average country winery.

Carlos Creek Winery
6693 County Road 34 NW
Alexandria, MN 56308
320-846-5443

The Wines of Sweetgrass

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Back at Sweetgrass, I found a place at the bar, perused the Tasting Menu, and despite the urgings of my hosts that afternoon decided to skip a tasting of the gins in favor of tasting all five of Sweetgrass’s wines and the Cranberry Smash.   Leading the way was the Blueberry wine, made from some of the 8,000 pounds of Maine Wild Blueberries that Sweetgrass harvests each year.

Blueberry A 100% blueberry wine, aged in French Oak.  The color is that beautiful medium/dark bluish-purple of ripe blueberries.  The nose has deep smoky notes of blueberry.  In the mouth, the wine really surprises – the deep notes of blueberry in the notes are not as prominent in the mouth.  Definitely a dry wine, the blueberry essence is quite subdued, present but tantalizing you through hints of blueberry, rather than overpowering your palate.  The oaking provides notes of smoke and leather which were very interesting and, for me, very unexpected.

I have cautioned people – and admonished myself – many times in these “pages” about not presuming, not assuming, and keeping an open mind.  And yet, I catch myself again and again being surprised, not realizing that I had preconceived ideas of what I would be tasting.  And yes, it happened again.  While I have learned that I can expect interesting complex fruit wines from the vintners here in the Northeast, I realized that I still expected to find them to be cleaner wines – less or no oaking.  The strength of the oaking in this wine really took me by surprise.  I also feel it may have overpowered the wine a bit, helping to subdue the blueberry character.   My overall impression was that while this isn’t a bad wine by any means, the oaking was too strong for my taste.

Beaujolais Also a 100% blueberry wine made in a Beaujolais style – hence the name – I found this a much more appealing wine than the Blueberry.  The color is similar to that of the Blueberry and the nose has lovely notes of fresh blueberries.  In the mouth, the wine is much more discernibly blueberry, but the fruit is not overpowering.  Still a dry wine, the stronger presence of the fruit provides a light sweetness which gives the wine a light, refreshing character.  I definitely preferred this to the previous wine.

Apple Hands down, this was my favorite of the Sweetgrass wine line=up.   Made from heirloom New England apple varietals grown at the Sweetgrass Farm, this is crisp and refreshing.  The color is a very pale yellow and the nose has lovely notes of apple blossom.   In the mouth the wine is crisp and lightly sweet with notes of tarter sweet apples, but without the tartness of Granny Smiths.  There’s a nice balance of acid on the finish which balances the fruit’s sweetness and really gives the wine some character in the mouth.

Others agree with my assessment.  Not only was it my favorite of the Sweetgrass line-up, but the Apple wine also won a gold medal at the Big E wine competition and was named Best Wine Grown & Produced in Maine.  Congratulations to winemaker Keith Bodine!

Cranberry Apple A 50/50 blend of locally grown cranberries and apples, this was another wine that both surprised and intrigued me.  The color is a lovely deep rose, not so much a blush as a deep rosy-pink.  The nose is soft and fruity with notes of both the cranberries and the apple.  In the mouth the wine is sweeter than any of the previous three wines, but balanced with a tart tanginess from the cranberries.  I found cranberry to be the dominant note, but it was overly tart – the blending with the apples really softened what could have been a harsher edge from the cranberry, producing a softer, richer more interesting wine.

Peach The wine selection finished with Sweetgrass’s Peach wine.  The sweetest of all of the wines, it’s smooth enough to be a light dessert wine as much as a sweet table wine.   Generally, I’m not a fan of peaches in anything; I don’t dislike them, but they don’t really do anything for me either.  And that apathy, I’ve found, has carried over into wines as well.  Sweetgrass’s Peach is a nice wine, a lovely golden color that sparkles in the glass and a surprisingly earthy, somewhat grassy nose.  In the mouth the wine is pretty – sweet with subtle notes of peach.  There’s a low amount of acid on the finish, just enough to give the wine a bit of depth, but not enough to disrupt the overall smoothness of the wine.  While not one of my favorites, I anticipate many people will find this wine quite appealing, particularly people like my friend Cheryl, who prefer their wines smoother.

Cranberry Smash Having made my way through the five table wines, I bypassed the gins and vermouth in favor of sampling the Cranberry Smash, a port-style wine made from a blend of Cranberry wine and Cranberry brandy.   Winemaker Keith Bodine described it as “liquid cranberries,” and he wasn’t kidding.  In the mouth the wine is lush, rich and sweet – and very cranberry.  The cranberry tartness that I didn’t find in the Cranberry Apple was present here, but by fortifying the wine with brandy and producing a port, Bodine has managed to keep the essence of the cranberry – tartness and all – and still produce a sweet, very drinkable wine.  As you can probably tell, this also went to the top of my list – as well as coming back home with me for a more leisurely sampling later.

At this point, it was time to pack up and head back to my hotel for the evening.  But overall, definitely a very successful first Win(e)ding Road foray into Maine – and one I look forward to repeating again soon.

Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ The Reds and Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Having finished the whites and blushes, next up were the reds and dessert wines.   On the menu that afternoon were four table wines and a dessert wines, opening with

Barn Red 100% Leon Millot, all gorwn locally, and aged in a 50/50 split of French and American oak.  This was my first encounter with Leon Millot, at least as far as I was aware.  The color is a very deep purple, and hte nose is rich, smooth and fruity with discernible notes of cherry.  In the mouth, the cherry is also present but not as strong a presence as in other cold climate red grapes, particularly the Marechal Foch.  The wine is somewhat fruit forward with smooth notes of cherry in the front and finishing with notes of leather in the back.  According to their website, this is Savage Oakes “signature red wine” – and it’s definitely worth a stop, if for no other reason than to add Leon Millot to your list of grapes.

Blue Moon A table wine, Blue Moon is 100% Maine Wild Blueberries and aged in French Oak.   The result is not at at what I expected.  Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a fruit wine; like many of the fruit winemakers here in the Northeast, the team at Savage Oakes has produced a dry table wine that has a degree of complexity that one doesn’t anticipate in a fruit wine.  The color and the nose are what I expected from a blueberry wine: a lovely deep blue-purple color and a nose that evokes late summer blueberries on the vine – it’s really a lovely nose.  In the mouth, though, the wine really surprises.  Not only drier than I anticipated, the blueberry notes were much more subdued and subtle – they tantalized the palate.  The finish is peppery with light notes of smoke, and the wine built nicely in layers over subsequent sips.  It wasn’t my favorite of Savage Oakes wines by an means, but it was more interesting than I had assumed it would be.

Come Spring Hands-down, my favorite wine of the entire Savage Oakes line-up.  Come Spring is a Beaujolais-style wine made from locally grown Marechal Foch grapes.  I’ve come a long way since my first encounter with Marechal Foch at Haight-Brown winery almost two years ago.  At the time I was put off by the “bite” I found at the end and attributed the brightness to the wine’s being young, rather than it being a characteristic of the grape; definitely was not an initial fan.  However, over time and with more chances to experience the grape, including Haight Brown’s beaujolais-style Nouveau Foch, I have become more and more intrigued.  Savage Oakes Come Spring, obviously, did not disappoint.

The color is a lovely dark purply-ruby.  The nose has the soft cherry notes that are a hallmark of the grape.  And in the mouth, the wine is lush and smooth with the Marcheal Foch bright tangy notes of cherry and notes of pepper and leather finish.

Concord The last of the reds is named, as you can image, from the Concord grapes used in it’s production.  An interesting choice as Concord grapes are used more often jams and juices than in wine.  I found myself approaching the wine with some slight trepidation – while I love lush dessert wines, particularly Ice Wines and Late Harvest Wines, I’m generally not a fan of most sweet or even semi-sweet table wines, and wasn’t too interested in a wine that probably tasted like grape juice.  But I’ve learned never to assume – always to taste.  Rather than being fermented grape juice, the wine is subtle and very much drier than anticipated.

The color is a lovely garnet color, the first surprise, as I half-expected the wine to be a dark purple similar to grape jelly.  The nose was definitely Concord, lightly jammy with lush notes of grape.   In the mouth, the wine has a touch of sweetness (the tasting notes indicate a 1.0% residual sugar) that is not overpowering.  The grape notes are present, but are more reminiscent of fresh grapes than of grape juice or jellies.  There are nice tannins on the finish providing just enough of a bite to give the wine some depth.  Overall, this is a more interesting wine than I, and I expect many people, initially give it credit for.

Blueberry Pi The tasting concluded with another 100% Blueberry wine, this one a dessert wine.  Although not fortified, this is made in the port-style, and fermented to a 17% alcohol content.  Like the Blue Moon, the wine is garnet color.  The nose, interestingly, has very discernible notes of Concord grapes with soft notes of blueberry.  In the mouth, the wine is rich and sweet.  The mouth feel is thick and lush, although not so thick that it coats the mouth.   The blueberry notes are stronger here than with the Blue Moon, but interestingly they pick up more in the back of the mouth than in the front.

In addition to the ten wines on the Tasting Menu, Savage Oakes website lists several other wines in their repertoire, including a recently released Marechal Foch Rosé and three wines which are currently sold out: Sterlingtown, made from Niagara grapes, and two apple wines, Crooked Tree and Apple Wine.

Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ The Whites & Blushes

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Savage Oakes has been growing their own grapes since 2002; this is their fifth year producing wines grown from these locally grown grapes.  75% of the fruit they use in their wines is grown on their farm in Union, Maine, making Savage Oakes the largest winery that produces locally grown Maine wines.

This year Savage Oakes co-sponsored, with the Maine Wine Guild, a wine pavilion at the Union Fair, the first ever wine pavilion at a Maine agricultural fair.  Thirteen different wineries participated.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it back up to Maine for the fair, but if any Vino Verve readers attended, I’d love to hear details.   We can even feature you as a guest contributor.

But on to more important things – such as my tasting.  We kicked off with the two whites; first up:

Seyval Blanc Made from 20% locally grown grapes and 80% grapes from the Finger Lakes region in New York, this is a crisp, dry white wine.  Aged in French Oak, the color is a very pale yellow, and the nose is very soft and subtle with just a hint of citrus.  In the mouth the wine is smooth with nice fruity notes of citrus, a hint of lemon, and just a hint of light cream on the finish which balances out the acid on the finish, producing a smoother Seyval than I’ve often experienced.   I liked the wine, but I think I would have liked it with a bit more acid on the finish – somehow it was just a bit too smooth for my taste.

Georges River My favorite among the whites and blushes, no question, this is also one of the two most popular wines Savage Oakes produces.  So popular, it’s already sold out for the 2010 season.   100% locally grown Cayuga, the color is an extremely pale straw, almost clear.  The nose has lovely notes of canteloupe.  In the mouth the wine, which is labeled as off-dry, is just this side of sweet and lightly tangly with soft notes of the melon I picked up in the nose.  There’s a nice bite of acid on the finish which balances the sweetness and keeps the wine from straying into the semi-sweet category.

White Rose The second of Savage Oakes’s two most popular wines, the White Rose is a rosé style wine made from the blue Steuben grape, a grape more often used in juice and jellies than in winemaking.  The first thing you notice about the wine is the color, an extremely pale blush; in fact there’s almost no color.   Not at all what I expected; rosés generally are “pretty in pink,” and the blue steuben grapes certainly leads one to anticipate a darker color.  The nose is rich and fruity, reminiscent of a Vidal nose, with definite notes of apricot.  In the mouth the wine is surprisingly crisp; I say surprisingly because the rich fruitiness of the nose beguiles you into anticipating a lusher, sweeter wine.  It is a sweet wine, but not overly so, with notes of apricot balanced by a light citrus.  It’s a more complex and interesting wine than I anticipated from both the description as well as the nose.  Because I had made some assumptions about the wine based on the grape and the nose, that first sip was a bit like a “gotcha” – and totally fun.  Like the Georges River, the White Rose is also sold out for the season, but I’ll definitely be heading back next Spring for samples of the next vintage.

Daybreak Blush Next up was the Daybreak Blush.  100% locally grown, this is a white Cayuga blended with a touch of Marechal Foch.  Color-wise, this is a much more traditional rosé than the White Rose, with a lovely rose, almost dark pink color.  The nose was soft and subtle with light notes of citrus; not surprising given that this is a Cayuga.  I often find Cayuga to have subtle noses.  In the mouth the wine is sweet with notes of pink grapefruit and just a hint of tartness on the finish.  The tartness, I believe, comes from the Marechal Foch as the wine has just a hint of that “bite” I’ve often found in Marechal Foch.

Vineyard Blues The last of the blushes, the Vineyard Blues is also the first wine on the menu to feature the Savages’ primary crop, Maine Blueberries.  Interestingly, it’s not listed on the website.  Not sure if that means it’s been sold out for a while, or they no longer produce it, but I hope not the latter as I found it the most interesting of the three blush wines.  A lovely rose color, the nose is drier and duskier than any of the previous wines; to my mind it had more in common with a red nose than a white or a blush.  In the mouth the wine is drier than I expected given it’s a white wine blushed with blueberries.  There are light notes of of blueberry, but they are very subtle.  The finish has a slight, very slight, bitterness which is not unpleasant, and a nice balance of acid.  Overall the wine took me by surprise – I was really expecting something much sweeter, and definitely more “blueberry.”  As before, I liked that feeling of “gotcha!”  I didn’t fall in love with this wine immediately, but I found myself intrigued by it – and regret not having brought a bottle home for a further exploration.  I do hope the Vineyard Blues makes it back onto the wine list next year, as I will definitely be back.

That concluded the first half of the tasting – on to the Reds and Dessert wines.  But for those you’ll have to wait until Tuesday…