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…

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.