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.

Little Wine on the Prairie – Day 2

Little Wine on the Prairie Logo

On the road again….

Oops. Wrong song, wrong theme. So, by now I should be in Minnesota. We have said our sad goodbyes to the Big Woods and to poor Freddie and Ma’s dream of a more comfortable widowhood…We are on to Plum Creek, Walnut Grove and Mankato. I don’t remember what the deal was with Mankato, except that it was the big city nearest to Walnut Grove.

What do I remember about this book? The Ingalls family lived in a house dugout of a hill literally on the banks of Plum Creek. This seems unwise and dangerous seeing how creeks often flood. In fact, the dugout is gone. Washed away by Plum Creek. I would have told them so, if they asked, but they didn’t. While living in this underground death trap, the Ingalls lost pretty much every crop they grew because the area was over run with crickets (Rocky Mountain Locusts). Oh, and baby Freddie was born here. Hard to believe that a child living in a dark, dank pit didn’t thrive. Oh, Freddie.

Road Trip - Day 2

Oh, there might have been a couple issues with birthday parties, Nelly Olson and leeches. Hard to believe that I haven’t re-read the books, eh?

Walnut Grove has a museum and the folks that own the old Ingalls property let people come look at the spot where the dug out used to be. I know I sound negative about it, but don’t think for a minute that I will skip it.

Nearby wineries include:

Choices, choices….

And now? Off to the Little House motherlode, South Dakota!

Applewood Winery & Orchard ~ Wines & Ciders

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I was pleasantly surprised by Applewood’s wine list.  Between the name and the extensive apple and pear orchards lining the long driveway, I admit I expected fruit wines and cider.  Instead, I found a rather extensive menu of both grape and fruit wines as well as hard cider.  It made it very tough to pick only five, and I probably spent more time over that menu than any other in quite some time.  But in the end, I settled on my five, making sure to include the cider, and began with the

Seyval Chardonnay The lightest and driest of the Applewood whites, the Seyval Chardonnay is crisp and clean, with a lightly floral nose.  In the mouth, the wine has notes of green pepper with a light pop of acid on the end which helps provide the crispness.  A nice wine that would pair well with lighter foods, salads, grilled chicken or shrimp; it would also stand well on its own as a light sipping wine.

Traminette It’s funny how one good experience with a wine can flip you into a fascination with it.  Because I so enjoyed the Traminette at Northwinds, as soon as I saw it on Applewoods menu I knew it would be one of my five choices that afternoon.  Labeled as an off-dry wine, Applewood’s Traminette has a soft nose with lush notes of apricot.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and rich with strong notes of apricot and a very smooth finish.  While not a sweet wine, the strong notes of apricot do provide a sweetness that earns it the “off-dry” label.    There’s very low acid on the finish, and I found myself missing that – I wanted a bit more of a bite to balance out the smooth sweetness on the front.  That being said, I imagine this would be a really popular wine, particularly with those who tend to shy away from really dry wines, but want something that’s not too sweet.

I evenly split my tasting between two whites and two reds and in between took a quick detour with the Stone Fence Cider.   Hard cider is one of the pleasures of Fall – crisp and tangy, it just pairs perfectly with the cooler evenings and heartier foods of Autumn.  Applewood’s is a nice cider, but it didn’t win me over.  The nose is soft and very subtle, and in the mouth what really hit me was the effervescence.  It almost felt too strong.  The cider has both notes of apple and honey, and while the honey provides a nice touch of smooth sweetness, I felt that it toned down the apple too much.  I was really looking for that crisp apple tang that, to me, is the hallmark of a great cider.  Overall, it’s quite pleasant, just not quite what I was expecting.

OBR After the cider I rinsed my glass and moved on to the reds.  First up was the OBR, which unfortunately I didn’t think to ask what the initials stood for until after I left.  A red blend, the color is a medium purply garnet color.  The nose is rich and deep with strong notes of both smoke and earth.  I expected the earthiness to continue in the mouth, but instead found very bright cherry notes, which were almost too bright for my taste.  The wine also has light tannins and smoother finish than I had anticipated; I found myself wishing for a bit more on the finish, perhaps pepper or leather, something to provide a bit of heat or depth to contrast with the brightness of the fruit on the front.  The Tasting Notes indicate this pairs well with food, particularly recommending lamb.

Now that I’m a few weeks removed from my visit to Applewood, I find myself wondering the extent to which the cider influenced my experience with the OBR.  I always cleanse my palate with wine crackers in between tastings, but it may not have been enough and may have factored into my tasting.  I’ll definitely have to try the OBR next time I’m in the area, and if the experience is different, it may be worth buying a bottle, since there’s only so much one can experience from a 1oz tasting.

Cabernet Franc To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, I concluded my tasting with the Cabernet Franc.  One of Applewood’s award winners, this is a very nice wine, and my favorite among the five I sampled that afternoon.  A lovely purply ruby color, the nose has a lovely dusky fruitiness.   In the mouth, this was what I had been looking for in the OBR.  Rich and lush, with light sweet notes of blackberry and black cherry and a warm spice finish with a flash of pepper for heat that settles into the softer, earthier warmth of cumin.  Medium-bodied the wine opens up with each subsequent sip and will do better if allowed to breathe for a good 20-30 minutes before serving.  This should pair well with a variety of meats and heartier foods.

I headed out that afternoon with a bottle of the Cabernet Franc under my arm and a lifetime pass for free wine tastings in my hand.  I also looked into the Wino Club, but Applewood doesn’t ship to Connecticut.  They do ship outside New York, it just depends on the particular state and its distribution laws.  For more on that, check out Gretchen’s posts on the subject, or the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition website (link on the right of this page).

Food Influences

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
Gretchen and I became fans of Nigella Lawson years ago when her show, Nigella Bites, first began appearing on US cable.  Last year, she came to America on a book tour, and Gretchen and Imelda wandered down to the Drake Hotel in Chicago for an afternoon tea/book signing with Nigella.  
Of course you’re probably wondering what this has to do with wine.  Well, every so often a recipe is what spurs me to try something new – or rediscover something I haven’t had in a long time.  Usually these recipes are calling for something with a particular flavor (orange, anise, peach, raspberry, etc.) that enhances the flavors of the recipe.  And usually these are not things I drink regularly and thus am led to a new discovery.  In this case, a recipe led me back to Cider, something I haven’t had in quite some time.  
The other day as I was flipping through the copy of Nigella Express which Gretchen had picked up for me that day, I came across a recipe for Mustard-Glazed Pork Chops.  This sounded like the perfect dish for a very cold, snowy, New England winter evening.  The recipe called for 1/2 a cup of hard cider, which along with a 1/3 cup of heavy cream formed the base for the sauce – interesting…   Apple and Pork is a classic flavor combination, but it would never have occurred to me to throw it all together in a cream sauce…  A French twist on a dish that, to me, seems more British.
Intrigued, I trotted off to the local package store for a 6-pack of Strongbow English Cider.  The Cider is wonderful – that mellow sweetness that comes from the apples, and not too strong a yeast taste.   As part of the sauce it was overshadowed by the cream; next time I make the dish, I’ll adjust the measurements: more cider and mustard and a bit less cream.
But as an accompaniment to the meal, the Cider paired perfectly:  hearty, smooth, with the right amount of apple to complement the pork – it was extremely satisfying and just the right touch.  I finished off the meal with a potato-fennel gratin and brussels sprouts, and it was a perfect winter supper for an evening in front of the fire.

The Things I Learn

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

While I was corking the Cider of Eden and some of the liqueur that I made, I had some problems getting the corks completely inserted. Not that there was any expectation that they would go flying out of the bottle, but I wanted it to look nice.

That is when I thought of Prosecco. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. What I have always liked about it is the little bit of twine wrapped around the somewhat extruding cork. Yes, I know that this is largely and affectation. That string is probably NOT really holding the cork in the bottle, but it is a reminder of a time when people used what they had available to them. It is distinctly Prosecco.

And that made me think (always dangerous). Wouldn’t it be cute to finish my cider and liqueur bottles with that tie. But how do you tie it properly?

So, I a began to search the internet… and what did I discover?

How to tie the string? No… still working on that..

But what the string is called? Absolutely.

It is a SPAGO. Which translates to: TWINE

Yes, just like the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant. And Wolfgang Puck is Austrian which abuts the Veneto region where Prosecco is made.

It Is So Easy, I Can’t Stop!

I have the bug.

The fermentation bug.

Strangely enough I didn’t catch it when Kevin was brewing beer. But then I don’t really LIKE beer. And it is a much stinkier process with the hops being involved and all… Wine is…well, different..

And as it turns out, I like cider too.

So that is project no. 2. I started my cider today. Only three gallons (or so.. as I will lose some in the mix), on the other hand, I am the only one that likes it. I put in some ginger to make it interesting. I was curious that you use wine yeast to make it as I think of it more like beer. But according to the recipe that I used, it is more like apple wine than beer. No WONDER I like it!

I have even come up with a name for my creation already! Cider of Eden. Yeah. Same reaction I got from Kevin. Phooey! A pox on you all!

And if the cider works out? Watch out MEAD!