Update

Where has VinoVerve been the last year?

Well, the answer is long. After posting about a road trip to Arkansas last year, we were getting ready to send my daughter, Sophie off to college. Some of you may recognize her as the girl who can sabre a bottle of champagne, make and bottle wine, identify floral elements when she smells a glass and generally has acted as my personal sommelier for a good portion of her 18 years.

Our plan was to get her off to college (University of Oregon) and then I would get back into the swing of writing.

Well, as Robert Burns stated, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”.

And astray would be an understatement.

Just a few weeks from our drive out to the Willamette Valley, we discovered there was a mass on Sophie’s spine. And that mass was cancer. Brain cancer. (the spine is made of the same stuff as the brain… this is how that is possible).

We spent the better part of the last year fighting this cancer. But it won.

My Sophie died.

**************

Me and Sophie

A picture of my Sophie

She had a love/hate relationship with this blog. She was proud of what she knew about wine. More than most adults. But she sometimes hated the time I devoted to it. This is pretty typical for adolescents.

But the last get together that she hosted here at the house, she tapped into my wine collection. She used the good Reidel wine glasses though she needed to use a straw. For her friends she opened a Provençal rosé, a Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio and an Oregon Pinot Noir. I should, I guess be appalled that she was drinking my wine, but really? Why bother.

She packed as much as she could into her 18 years and that included wine.

So, if you please, next time you have a glass, raise a toast to my Sophie. She would appreciate it. And I would as well.

 

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

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!

 

 

 

 

 

How I Want To Open Champagne From Now On

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I saw a demonstration last night on how to sabre a bottle of Champagne. I want to do this from now on, although realistically, I realize that my personal sommelier, Sophie will undoubtably take over this task, as she loves to open wine for me.

So, Sophie? This is for you, my love. Study up.

and remember as Napoleon said, “In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it”

St. Louis Locapour List

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

While in St. Louis, I did more than drag an underaged teen from one winery to another… I went out to dinner… With grownups even!

Yes, it is true. After spending a long day in volleyball and touring Daniel Boone’s favorite wineries, the girl and I headed back to the hotel where she immediately ditched me for team related activities and headed up to see my favorite wine-loving volleyball mom. After snacking on some cheese and crackers and drinking some delicious Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon we headed down to the hotel’s restaurant, An American Place.

The room for this restaurant is beautiful with ridiculously high ceilings due to the Mezzanine being above. The ceiling seemed to have Wedgewood cameos engraved, painted, however it is done.

One of the things that I liked about the menu was that the Chef/Owner Larry Forgione sources many of his supplies locally. Unlike many chefs, he extends this policy to his list of libations which contained selections from :

Mt. Pleasant
Chaumette Estate
Schlafly
O’Fallon

Better yet, the meals were terrific. We started out with an amuse bouche of blue cheese panna cotta with a reduced balsamic glaze and chip of cured pork shoulder. Next I had the sweetbreads which were a treat I haven’t had in a long, long time and finally the hanger steak which at that point I forgot to photograph because I was enjoying the food and conversation…. Oh, and I loved the presentation of the shrimp cocktail, which I thought looked like mini versions of the St. Louis Arch!

Missouri Defiance

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

“Defiance!” I said, while pointing the car down the highway.

“What did I do?” Sophie asked.

“No, no,” I quickly explained, “That is the town we are going to”.

Not that this really helped my 13 year old traveling companion. But then, she really hadn’t done any research.. Defiance is the name of several towns and villages throughout the U.S. It is also the beginning of the Missouri Weinstraße, Route 94 between Defiance and Marthasville.  It was also the final living place (though not resting place) of Daniel Boone.

It is also home to  three wineries.  Chandler Hill Vineyards, Yellow Farmhouse Winery and Sugar Creek Winery & Vineyards.

I stopped at Sugar Creek after finding the Yellow Farmhouse closed (and across the street from a really active biker bar).  The tasting room was off the road and across the Katy Trail and up about 150 feet (yes, it was a steep hill).  I liked that there were different outdoor settings for people.  There were at least two decks, a  patio and scattered tables surrounding a gazebo.  Additionally, there was an area that was set aside for music and (presumably) dancing.

The tasting room was relatively small but opened up into rooms in the back that were available for additional seating or for event rental.  Sophie looked around while a started my tasting.  The winery produces 15 different wines ranging from dry to sweet.  I settled on tasting the dry varietals beginning with the Vidal Blanc.  This is an estate grown wine that was fermented in stainless steel with the addition of oak chips while the wine is aged.  The  wine is light and crisp with just enough oak.

The next wine I tasted was the Chardonel which is a hybrid of Chardonnay and Seyval grapes.  This wine is also an estate selection.  It was fermented in aged in French oak barrels.  This wine was fuller bodies than the Vidal Blanc with nice citrus notes and butteriness.  Overall though, I thought both of the white wines lacked a certain oomph.  The reds, on the other hand, stood out.

The first red wine that I tried was the Chambourcin.  I have to admit that I have been enjoying Chambourcin more and more and this wine was no exception.  The wine was ripe with cherry flavor and dry.  It was aged in oak which provided a richness.

Next was the Cynthiana, more commonly called Norton.  This varietal is a native American grape.  The wine it produced tasted of black fruit and had a pleasant tannic finish.  It was finished in American Oak.  I will be looking for more Norton wines in the future.

The last wine that I tasted that day was the Michael’s Signature Red.  It was produced in honor of the winery owner’s Italian grandfather who taught him about wine making. This wine was softer with a smokiness.  It, like all of the wines that I tasted that day, were estate grown and bottled.

I was surprised to find that the Sugar Creek label did not list the Augusta appellation.  They just designated that they were from Defiance.  The winery is listed as an Augusta winery on the Missouri Wine Country website.  Never fear!  I managed to find AVA designated wine nearby!

Show Me Some Wine!

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Missouri. The Show Me State. Home of four AVAs and before Prohibition the second-largest wine producing state in the country.

And being in St. Louis meant that these wineries were a hop, skip and jump from me.

So what did I do? Naturally, in our Friday afternoon break, I grabbed the car and started out to wine country. Missouri has over 80 wineries to choose from located both within and outside of their AVAs. Given my love of AVAs, I wanted to try to reach those in designated regions. All four are within a reasonable drive from St. Louis.

Given that I was being accompanied by my personal sommelier but somewhat easily bored teenager, Sophie, I decide to stick as close to the hotel as I could to keep her happy. This narrowed my options to two.

Augusta was the first designated appellation in the US beginning June 20, 1980 and is located along the river bottoms and alluvial plains of the Missouri River though generally at slightly higher elevations. The loamy soil has more of a clay content. The location is that of one of the first wineries in the state, the Mount Pleasant Winery. The region is fifteen (15) square miles and is home to seven wineries and one brewery.

I visited two of the wineries.

What Else Do I Have To Do?

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Yes. I have to life outside of wine blogging. I don’t enjoy large parts of it, but that is another story entirely. Wow, has it really been a month since I posted?  More like six weeks?  Well, what is six weeks among friends, right?  Besides, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what I was doing.  Heck, I barely believe it.

I was thinking about wine.  And drinking quite a bit of it.  And I even got to travel a bit.  Not a fancy trip with luxury accomodations… but the kind of trip that I like to make…  A ROAD TRIP!

And where did I go?

Missouri.

Remind me again… is there any wine in the Show Me State?

YES there IS!

But first, I had to survive volleyball!

Yes.  I am teasing you.  But there will be wine on Friday.  I promise…

Wine Biz Radio

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor


In case you missed it, here is podcast of last night’s Wine Biz Radio discussing the work of the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition. I chatted with Randy and Kaz and spoke with ChicagoPinot who called in to chat!

I even mentioned that my 12 year old acts as my personal sommelier (which hopefully doesn’t land me in the clink) I can’t help it. I like the way she smells the wine and pronounces it as “grape-y”. Oh and keep your eyes open. It is quite possible that this episode of WBR will be named “Sophie-bear” in her honor.

Hopefully you, will get a kick out of this and try to picture me in leiderhosen, although I think a Brünnhilde costume would be more appropriate!