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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.