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.