Taking Wine Making Up A Notch

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

GrenacheYes, those were crates of grapes, but I am not making jelly. I am making wine. With real grapes. Do we know what we are doing? Kinda sort.

In the meantime it has been an adventure.

Making wine the hard wayKevin and I headed off to Caputo’s Market and found the grapes. Boxes of grapes piled up. Sorted by varietal. Plastic pails of juice were also there. So now we had to decide what we were going to try. Which isn’t as easy to decide as you think. We decided to go with a blend of grapes and red grapes at that. So we walked up and down the aisle and finally decided on two varietals. Alicante, which is also (and more commonly in the US) known as Grenache and Carignan which is often found in Catalan and Languedoc wines.

Ready to crush the CarignanNow there is a problem with our plan. We do not own a fruit press and we were not prepared to shell out $800 for one of the ones that they had at Caputo’s. So we decided to wing it. We brought the grapes home cracked into the crates and started squeezing them by hand. It was a messy process. But getting that up close and personal with your grapes teaches you something. The Grenache are really, really red. The Carignan, have black skins but green pulp and were sweeter than the Grenache. And they are really, really sticky.

Making ProgressWe have left the skins in contact with the juice and will punch them down into the mix twice a day to enhance the color and the tannins. And we learned that it is trickier getting a sugar and potential alcohol readings with the skins in the way too. But now we are just waiting.

An you shall too.

Cross your fingers!

Road Trip 2010 Planning!

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

This year, I will once again, be driving out the Wine Blogger’s Conference. This year, the event will be held in beautiful Walla Walla, Washington. Naturally, I need to find places to stop along the way. No road trip is complete without a bite of the local color. So the key is to start planning now. I have two potential routes to adventure. I can either take the incredibly convenient to hop onto Interstate 90 which will lead me through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington; OR the equally incredibly convenient to hop onto Interstate 94 which will lead me through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington.

Choices, choices. The common denominator is the ease with which I will be able to hit the road as from Chez Neuman it is a five minute drive to either Interstate. Talk about your Gateway to the West!

Now is the time, for me to figure out as much as I can to make an informed drive. So if you know a cool, geeky spot, I should stop, a nice, but reasonable place to stay for the night, the local fare that should be tried or a great winery along the way? Email me at gretchen@vinoverve.com. If I use your suggestion a beautiful Locapour t-shirt could be yours!

More Lists for Locapours

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Lists 4 LocapoursFor my next installment of Lists for Locapours I am going to tell you about a Chicago restaurant that includes local wines on their list. Naturally, you would assume that this restaurant is of a lower quality.

You would be wrong.

Charlie Trotter’s even has a page on his website dedicated to American wines, stating:

“….By 2001, there were licensed wineries in all 50 states. All these producers have great pride in what they’re cultivating. Thus far, the results are good, with incredible potential in the years to come…..we invite you to enjoy our ongoing search for the quintessential wine produced in each of the 50 states, either from European and native North American grape varieties, or from other fruits. They may be red or white, dry or sweet. This chapter, like winemaking in North America , is a work in progress, and evolution. The search will continue as we cross borders and venture into Canada and Mexico .”

Some of the wines that are included on this list are:

1994 Lynfred Cabernet Sauvignon, from Roselle, Illinois… We have been there!
Hopkins Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Western Connecticut Highlands (VinoVerve has been there!)
Cedar Creek “Semidry” Vidal, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin (VV has been there but I forgot to post it… ugh! But I will soon)
2003 Sakonnet Vidal Blanc, Southeastern New England (from Rhode Island, and yes… we’ve been there!)

So, remember, the next time someone tells you that there are no decent local wines, and they certainly don’t pair in a fine dining environment remind them that Charlie Trotter disagrees.

Viva the Locapour, Charlie!

Smooth Wines and Easy Golf Swings: A Late Summer’s Evening at a North Shore Mansion

By Don Holton
Contributing Writer

Terlato Wines International claims to distribute more than one in eight bottles of wine over $14 sold in America. So when I was invited for a tasting at its headquarters, I expected a stiff corporate experience, designed to pump a few new labels and move us on our way.

Photo courtesy of Don Holton

The Armour Mansion - photo courtesy of Don Holton

But this was no typical office park. In 1995, Anthony Terlato acquired the historic mansion of Philip D. Armour (the meat packing heir) in Chicago’s north suburb of Lake Bluff, and through a careful restoration, brought the 61-room home back to its original 1932 Tudor Gothic splendor. Called Tangely Oaks, a name now used on some Terlato wines from California, it now serves as the company’s home office, and with 26,000 square feet, there’s room to grow.

Headlining the event were pro golfers Ernie Els and Luke Donald, both in town for the BMW Championship, and in Lake Bluff to promote the wines they produce under their respective names.

The evening was “smooth” on all fronts – the character of the wines, the Terlato hospitality (food stations in various rooms with paired wines; loved the veal meatballs), and a measured tone for the evening, set by the easy-going personalities of Els and Donald. I also came away energized with a golf tip that Els assures will help me hit the golf ball farther.

Inside the mansion - photo courtesy of Don Holton

Inside the mansion - photo courtesy of Don Holton

Donald is a native of England who was a star golfer at Northwestern University. He is now a top international player, with victories at the World Cup, Target Challenge, and a 5-5-1 record in the Ryder Cup. Els is a two-time US Open champion and winner of the British Open. Several years ago, before Tiger Woods dominated the game, he was the world’s top-ranked player. Both Donald and Els are known for their cool heads in competition and their rhythmic, flowing golf swings. Els nickname fits; he’s called “The Big Easy.”

As with many pro athletes, both players are seeking to extend their professional branding – in this case, to the world of fine wines. We sampled three reds – yes, all very smooth – that Els produces in collaboration with Jean Englebrecht in Stellenbosch (Cape Province), South Africa. The flagship Ernie Els wine is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. It is aged in French oak barrels for 20 months, bottle-matured for another 18 months, and the result is an elegant softness with hints of red currant and plum. The pourer said it retails for about $90. Even in this economy, I dare to say, this wine may be worth it.

Ernie Els Magnum - photo courtesy of Terlato Wine Group

Ernie Els Magnum - photo courtesy of Terlato Wine Group

Another was Englebrecht Els, also a Bordeaux style made with Shiraz that delivers stronger, more earthly hints of berries, mushroom, and spice ($35 retail). This wine is well layered; it keeps rolling at you in ever more pleasant ways.

Finally, Cirrus, produced with Silver Oak’s Ray Duncan under the Cirrus corporate name, is a Rhone style ruby/red Syrah/Viognier blend that’s supple, light on its feet, very drinkable, but may be overpriced at $55. It feels like the marketing team is trying too hard to plug a pricing gap between $90 and $35.

Beneath the grand staircase at Tangley Oaks, Els posed for photos with event guests, and he meets each one with a quiet sincerity. He actually looks at you and seems interested, especially when we exchanged comments on several golf courses I’ve played in South Africa. Like Royal Cape and Sun City. “Heh,” I asked, “how about the par three 13th hole at the Lost City course with the 38 crocodiles in that deep greenside bunker?” Els smiles; he knows it well. Seriously, don’t get too close to the edge. If you fall in, it’s a two-stroke penalty.

Els’ wife Liezl was on his arm. Together, they’re one of the golf world’s most admired couples, not only for their friendliness, but also for their international work on behalf of child autism. Their 6-year-old son Ben was diagnosed with autism a few years ago, and the Elses raise awareness through the Autism Speaks organization.

Ernie Els, photo courtesy of Don Holton

Ernie Els, photo courtesy of Don Holton

Els wines were impressive, but what I really needed was a golf lesson. I’ve been hitting some nasty hooks lately and found a moment to ask how Els maintains his characteristic swing tempo, especially in the heat of play. The key, he said, is to grip the club a little lighter, making sure you feel the weight of the club head. We tend to tighten up and squeeze too hard. “Soft hands,” he said, “make your hands feel soft. You’ll hit it a lot straighter and farther.”

I told Els that I was a member at a nearby golf club, designed in 1913 by legendary architect Donald Ross. His face brightened. He said he likes Ross courses, with their large sloping greens and Scottish style. He seemed to be angling for an invitation, but with my schedule, it will have to be next season.

By the way, Els struggled at the BMW Championship, finishing tied for 38th place, far back from winner Tiger Woods.

To learn more:


Monday: Luke Donald wines and branding wines with pro athletes.

Pours For Justice

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Do you believe that local government shouldn’t micromanage how and from where you buy wine?

Are you a resident of the Land of Lincoln?

Have you joined the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition?  Well, why not? (hint? Click here to join NOW!)

If you haven’t gotten to join us yet, then this is the best time to do so.  We are beginning to ramp back up to fight for our wine rights in Illinois (politicians were somewhat obsessed with some sort of political scandal earlier in the year… you might remember it… something about the Governor and impeachment).  Now that the worst of that issue has been worked out it is time to return to the citizens of Illinois the right to purchase wine from out of state retailers, wine clubs and auction houses that we had prior to the passage of HB 429.

And there is going to be a great event to begin the new campaign…

Pours for Justice will be held August 6, 2009 from 5-7:30 at the Chicago Cultural Center (an architectural jewel that should not be missed).  Wine will be provided by The Chicago Wine Company, music by The Lake Effect.  The Event is being sponsored by The Specialty Wine Retailers Association, The Chicago Wine Company, the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition and Kirkland & Ellis, LLP.  Tickets are $100.

Tickets may be purchased at http://www.specialtywineretailers.org/donate.html or you can click on the logo below…

I look forward to seeing you there!

Blue Sky Vineyards

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Blue Sky WineryAfter looking at the wonderous sites in Southern Illinois, Kevin and I decided to try to stop at a winery before the sun went down and/or the teenagers freaked out on us. After looking at the brochure for the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail we decided to go to Owl Creek Vineyard as the brochure said that it was open until 7:00pm when then majority of the wineries on the trail closed at 5:00pm. As you will note that the name of this post is not “Owl Creek Vineyard”, you could correctly guess that something went awry. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Owl Creek we could clearly see the sign that read, “CLOSED”. Apparently, the hours listed on the brochure were not accurate. Sigh.



Disappointed, we decided to wend our way through the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and find some sort of lodging for the evening in the nearby metropolis of Carbondale. (Though it would have been funny to look for someplace to stay in the nearby metropolis of Metropolis, eh?)  While following the wine trail signs out of the forest, we came upon an Italianate villa bearing the name Blue Sky Vineyards.  And by chance, they were open until 7:30.

Viewing this as a sign, we drove up the driveway and parked the car.  The place was jammed with cars and we realized that there was an event being held.  However, a sign indicated that the tasting room was still open.

So in we walked.  To a madhouse!  I have never seen such a  packed winery.  Not even in Napa.  This was because the event being held was a wedding.

Full House

Full House

In one corner, near the knick knacks and wine related gifts there was a cooler filled with soda and beer for those folks who just couldn’t deal with the thought of drinking wine.  The rest of the tasting room and the covered patio was packed with people, mostly young millenial types that everyone says are supposed to be the saving grace of the wine industry and indeed our universe, with bottles upon bottles at their assorted tables as well as pitchers of sangria that are also a speciality of the house.

Behind the bar

Behind the bar

Because of the craziness at the bar, we were unable to pull off a successful tasting only trying two tastes before we decided to bag it and order a glass of wine and retreat to a quiet corner to enjoy it in relative peace.  The wines that we did taste were the Villard Blanc that was light, dry and citrusy and the Dry Riesling  tasted green apples and peaches.  The glass that we took to a quiet nook was the  Chardonnay which was nice but light bodied.  I had expected a bigger expression of fruit.

We learned that the winery was a popular destination in the area and that crowds that we were witnessing were quite common.  Additionally, the winery provides a full menu and live music.  The crowd at the winery tends to be under thirty.  Good news for the wine world, although perhaps a bit noisy for someone like me who had spent the last 12 hours trapped in a car with teenagers.

It's good luck to see the Bride!

It's good luck to see the Bride!

I later learned about the origin of the winery’s name.  Apparently, the owner has a large extended family and often found it difficult for them all to get together.  Periodically, the family elders would declare a “Blue Sky” day when kids would take a day off from school and parents would skip work so they could all be together.  A beautiful solution to a universal problem.

A Bad Week For Wine

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition

Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition

That is the only conclusion that I can come to.  An extremely bad week for wine.  Particularly if the wine isn’t nearby.

Maryland’s efforts to reform their wine laws has failed for this year when HB 1262 died in committee.  They are gearing up for next year’s fight already and if you want to help you can contact Adam Borden here.

Consumers in New York lost their effort to be able to purchase wine in grocery stores even though you can already buy beer there.  This makes NO sense to me as we in Illinois can buy beer, wine and liquor in grocery stores and yet we still appear to have healthy number of liquor stores.  (maybe I should take a survey of my neighborhood vs. one in NYC to show difference…)

and as finally, as Kevin pointed out yesterday, Michigan’s new, ridiculous law regarding wine shipping went into effect.

Over all?  Not a good week for wine.  Illinois’ proposed new law is still waiting to come back out of the rules committee and to progress.  If you are interested in working to opening the Illinois wine market to  outside retailers, please come join us at the Illinois Wine Consumer Coaltion (www. illinoiswineconsumers.org).  Let’s make sure that consumers SOMEWHERE in the United States is free to buy the wine of their choice legally.

Good News in Illinois!

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

We have a bill!

Julie Hamos (D-Evanston)
has sponsored HB 2462. This bill, if passed will return to Illinois consumers the right to purchase wine from out of state retailers, wine clubs and auction houses.

While this is a great start, we need more house members behind the bill. I urge you to contact your State Reps and aske them to support the bill and to co-sponsor it.

You can find the contact information for your State Rep by clicking here.

If you haven’t already, please join the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition.

In the meantime, please read the Press Release from the IWCC:

For Immediate Release: February 24, 2009

Illinois Wine Consumers Support New Wine Shipping Bill

—HB 2462 Would Give Back Illinoisans Access to Wines—

The Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition (IWCC), a grass roots organization of Illinois wine consumers, announced it’s full and active support for HB 2462, a bill that would return to Illinois consumers a right to have wine shipped to them from out-of-state wine stores. HB 2462 would return this right that was stripped from Illinoisans in 2007.

Representative Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) is the sponsor of HB 2462. In addition to giving back to Illinoisans access to wines, it would assure the state of Illinois collects significant tax revenue from out-of-state retailers on all wines shipped to consumers in Illinois, as well as revenue resulting from the cost of a “Retailer Wine Shipper” permit all out-of-state retailers would have to obtain before shipping.

Bill Would Raise Revenue for State, Create Access to Wine, Protect Minors

“This is a great bill for Illinois consumers as well as the state of Illinois,” said Gretchen Neuman, a member of the IWCC Steering committee. “If passed it would return to Illinoisans a basic right to access wines that they lost when special interests sought to protect their own profits.

“In addition, HB 2462 provides significant protection against minors obtaining alcohol via direct shipment. The bill requires that out of state retailers use the same precautions that protect our children that wineries use when shipping wine into Illinois.”

The IWCC thanks Representative Hamos for standing up for Illinois consumers as well as for the interests of the state of Illinois. Illinois possesses one of the most vibrant wine consuming populations in the nation. Its citizens have lost access to the full range of wines in the U.S. Market place due to the State’s onerous restrictions on shipping.

The IWCC urges all Illinois wine lovers to join the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition and call their state representatives asking them to support and to co-sponsor HB 2462. The IWCC website contains contact information for all Illinois state representatives and can be found at: http://www.illinoiswineconsumers.org.

About the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition

The IWCC gives a voice to Illinois wine consumers and works to protect consumer interests where wine-related consumer legislation is concerned. For more information about the IWCC or make a donation, contact us at: http://www.illinoiswineconsumers.org.

# # #


Gretchen Neuman, IWCC Board of Directors

312-618-1145 • info@illinoiswineconsumers.org

News from Wine Spectator

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor


Feds Settle Wine Kickback Case in Illinois

Ten big distributors pay fine to end investigation into favors for Sam’s Wine & Spirits, but corruption is still a problem, say industry sources

H. Lee Murphy
Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Illinois’ wine business is looking about as clean as its politics now. While the state legislature prepares for an impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to put President Barack Obama’s senate seat up for auction, the state’s liquor trade is grappling with legal problems of its own.

Last week 10 of the largest alcoholic-beverage distributors in the state agreed to pay a total of $803,000 in fines to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The penalties were levied by federal regulators following a six-year probe into abuses at Sam’s Wine & Spirits Inc. in Chicago, which was caught accepting kickbacks from wholesalers and running an unlicensed warehouse for the storage of surplus inventory. Read more here:

We are crazy here in Illinois, eh?

A Resolution That I Can Stick To!

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I know that at this time of year most people are talking about making resolutions about drinking less…

Well, that is just crazy.

My resolution is to drink more local wine.

and to visit the wineries too.

Aunt Maggie shouldn’t get to have all the fun!

My first plan?

Make a map. Why? Because I can and because I need to justify a geography degree that made me learn how to make maps by hand.

Indulge me…