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.

Too Much Travel Edition – Alexis Bailly Vineyards

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

Déjà Deadwood

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Welcome to Prairie BerryYou thought I was done with the Black Hills, didn’t you? Sorry, I really had been headed for the Prairie Berry Winery when I encountered Stone Faces. And it wasnt possible for me to pass up the opportunity to stop at TWO wineries in a single day and so I continued down the road to my original destination.

Yes, this is really South DakotaThe driveway went up a little hill and there was an an entrance through the patio. The room was spacious and modern. Not at all what someone would expect from a South Dakota winery. But then the folks at Prairie Berry have been at this for five generations when Anna and Josef Vojta set up a homestead in Mounds, South Dakota. Anna brought with her the tradition of wine making from Moravia (now the Czech Republic) and taught it to her daughter-in-law Frances, who passed it to her son, Frank, who passed it to his son, Ralph and finally to his daughter, Sandi. When asked about the source of the fruit, Anna would tell her family that her wine was made from the prairie berries. The winery has existed at its current location since 2004 and still uses the old family recipes that use local prairie fruits, grapes and honey.

Very tart

I tried to taste wines that were made with local grapes or fruit or were drier and so I started with:

The Phat Hogg Chardonnay which is unoaked with the flavors of banana and tropical fruit (though others might say mango citrus) and is lightly buttery.  Next was the Buffalo Berry Fusion which is a blend of local buffalo berries and Steuben grapes. The result is a tart, almost cranberry-like wine. Definitely a unique (and by that I mean pleasant) flavor. The Three Rednecks features a label with three pheasants in baseball hats and is a light, peppery Cabernet Sauvignon. Chambourcin from the Louis & Clark Vineyards are the source for the Phat Hogg Red. This is a great wine and I was amazed about how differently the Chambourcin was from others that I had in the past. It was definitely a smoother more well rounded wine than I expected. Finally, I tried the chokecherry medley. Why? Well, I don’t know what a choke cherry tasted like. And it turns out they are very tart. Not my favorite, but then not everything is, or should be.

Prairie Berry is a treasure in the Black Hills (or the Prairie, if you are a Little House fan).  Find them here:

Prairie Berry Winery
info@prairieberry.com

23837 Hwy 385, PO Box 8

Hill City, SD, 57745

605-574-3898

Sometimes I Cheat…

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I don’t always go visit wineries… Sometimes I pick up wine at the liquor store, like I would if I were at home. That way, I can bring home more wine.

5 TrailSuch was the case with this wine that Kevin suggested that we open this bottle last night. It is from 5 Trails Winery in Nebraska, which I did not visit. I went to Feather River and tried to go to South Fork Winery instead. And to me, this is a shame as this was a GREAT wine. It tasted of pears and citrus and was full and fruity.

It is produced from the Frontenac Gris grape which came from one cane of Frontenac grapes grown at the University of Minnesota. This one cane produced gray fruit instead of black and is the source of all the existing stock of the Gris varietal. I had to look this up as I had never heard of it before.

I was once asked if I could claim that I wine from Southern Illinois (or any of the other places that I look for local wines) was as good as a wine produced in Italy or France. At the time, I argued that it was irrelevant because they were different wines and were meant to be so… This wine, however, I will put up against a Moscato anytime. It was excellent.

And this is what I love about VinoVerve and local wine.