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 1

Little Wine on the Prairie Logo

First day on the road. Whew. This means that I have survived prom 1a, prom 1b and prom 2 and assorted after parties. Also graduation. And making sure Kevin and the girls managed to make their flights to Luxembourg. Oh, and I managed to pry myself away from my sweet puppy.

But finally. I will be on the road and it is all wine and Little House on the Prairie all the time. Well, not the prairie today. Today, it will be the Little House in the Big Woods in Wisconsin. Do you know how many years it took me to realize that Lake Pepin was really the Mississippi River? Or more specifically like a lake with a major river running through it.


The fun part of this voyage is that there is wine along the trail.  Lots of it.    Like nearly 100 wineries in Wisconsin alone.  WISCONSIN.  And there are nearly 20 within a couple of my route.  

So this leaves the Big Woods.  In and a round Pepin, Wisconsin.  There is a replica of Ma and Pa’s cabin at a roadside stop and then Pepin, itself.  I don’t think there is much left of the old town, but I will see soon enough.  Then I cross over into Minnesota where I will skip over to a couple of places never really mentioned in the books.  Laura’s Uncle Peter had a farm in Zumbro Township.  While staying with her Uncle, Laura’s only brother Charles Frederick died at 9 months.  He is buried in a nearby.


Road Trippin’ 2013

Little Wine on the Prairie Logo

As you may have noticed, I head out on a road trip nearly every year.  Last year was the exception but only because my girlies started school the day before WBC12 began.  Hm.  Miss the last first day of school for daughter #1 after making a consecutive 14 previous?  or skip the road trip for the year.  Yeah.  You know how I went on this one.

But this year, I am off again for adventures. I’ll be heading west to Penticton, BC for WBC13. This is the first Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Canada and I am looking forward to it. The bummer? I need a passport this time. I know that this need seems self-evident for most of you, but as a gal who used to cross the border for dates in high school it seems a little crazy to me. Strangely enough, it isn’t getting into Canada that is the issue, but rather coming home and I am loathe to risk another lecture from a self-important douanière (long story).

Since I am largely taking the route that I took to Walla Walla for WBC10, I am looking forward to seeing some sights that I missed on my way out there – namely all the Little House on the Prairie historic sites. Knowing me as you do, you can’t be surprised that I want to do something so nerdy. I loved those books and know that I would have to make these stops sans ma famille. Why? Well, the girls would never put up with more than one stop. Heck, I couldn’t get them to even read the books. It breaks a mother’s heart, it does. But luckily I will indeed be on the road without them and am looking forward to stopping where I please. Oh. Did I mention that there is wine nearby at every stop. Yup. It’s true. Because of this, I have dubbed this trip: Little Wine on the Prairie.

Since Laura Ingalls Wilder never made it further west than the eastern portion of South Dakota, I’ve had to put on my thinking cap (bonnet) to come up with other plans. Here are a couple of ideas that I have thrown around:

  • Sturgis, SD – the location of the big biker rally every year. I believe it is in August. Good lord, I hope it is in August.
  • Yellowstone National Park – Yeah. I want to see the sites but I don’t want to camp or stay in the cabins and develop Hanta Virus (yeah, I said it). Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mud Volcano and the Mammoth Springs are tops on my list. Oh, and if I could figure out where the caldera edge for the mega volcano is, that would be swell too.
  • Lake Okanogan, BC – Naturally, I will be seeing the lake as I will be staying on it. But I think an extensive search of the lake to find the Ogopogo, the lake’s native monster. Is it a plesiosaur like the Loch Ness Monster and Champie from Lake Champlain are thought to be or a basilosaurus like other cryptozoologists think? Either way. Or not. With my luck my camera will jam as I am eaten by the thing.

But first? Before I leave, I must survive high school graduation. Not mine, of course, but rather Celia’s. Cross your fingers and hope for the best both before and after graduation.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Wine From the Ledge

There is more to my neighbor to the north besides cheese and the Green Bay Packers. I have had several nice experiences in the Dairy State and am pleased to learn that an application has been filed for a new appellation.

By CJ Moss via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Called Wisconsin Ledge, this potential AVA consists of the western most part of the Niagara Escarpment as it reappears out of Lake Michigan.  The application points out the regions underlying rocks of dolomite (Lockport Dolomite) which provide minerals as well as drainage to the areas soils and are overlain with sand, loam and glacial moraines.  If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it exceptionally close to the geography of the Niagara Escarpment AVA in western New York  State.  In the case of the New York appellation, the climate is moderated by two Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario) and the prevailing west wind that would blow across them.  The Wisconsin Ledge has a more moderate temperature due to its proximity to Lake Michigan but the west winds would be more continental.

The new potential AVA is located in the Door Peninsula, south of the Fox River, east of Lake Winnebago and north of County Highway T (North of Milwaukee).  This area is already home to at least twelve wineries including the Cedar Creek Winery in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

Map by Gretchen Neuman for under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unported license.

So three cheers to Wisconsin Ledge!  It is about time that they got some wine with that cheese!

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor,
October 25, 2011

How To Drink Local Wine

My favorite way to discover local wine is through travel. As I drive to conferences or visiting relative, I like to stop by the local winery and taste what they are producing.  I love talking to the wine makers and learning about their story.  Their passion for wine is always infectious.  Currently, I have a problem. Getting away has increasingly become difficult due to family responsibilities (i.e., reining in teens)

My solution? Well the first option is to comb my local wine shops (which may in fact be local grocery stores). Grocery stores? Well, being a foodie type, it makes for easier menu planning.  I have found myself doing this on the road as well.  In part, because I eat better on the road when I am picking fruit and veg instead of eating fast food, but also because in many states, grocery stores have wine (Yes, I know you don’t New York State – get over yourselves on that matter).

I have picked up great wines in Virginia, Indiana Illinois and Nebraska at grocers or their closely associated liquor stores.

Some standouts? Bloom, a small chain that I found while visiting my 104 year old grandmother and other relatives in Virginia Beach. They have a nice wine section that has got one of the nicest selections of local wines that I have ever seen.

My nationwide? Whole Foods is a great choice. With its dedication to fresh and local ingredients, it makes sense that they would feature local wine. Given their national reach? Local wines extend to regional options extending my non-travelling reach. Lately, I have found Firelands Gewurztraminer from Isle St. George, near Sandusky, OH and from Illinois, Prairie State Winery, Lynfred and Glunz Family all in my local WF.

Surprisingly, in Chicago, I have found that smaller, ethnic groceries are full of local options as well. Maybe this is because they are being supplied by alternative distributors. I am not going to argue the point so long as I can find new and original options. In my neighborhood, I am recommending Foremost liquors which vary from neighborhood to neighborhood as to their options.

I have also found increasing local options at my neighborhood Jewel where the wines of Indiana’s Oliver Winery  and Michigan’s Tabor Hill have found themselves on the shelves.

These are very pleasant surprise for a local wine lover.

My new way to get local wine? If I can’t get to the wine? I am having it brought to me.

While not all smaller wineries can and do ship, we should take advantage of those that do. How to chose?  I am using results for wine competitions.  An imperfect system to be sure, but one that is making it easier for a lover of local wine to extend their selections.

What are your favorite regional American wines?  Let us know and maybe I will be checking them out soon!


Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor
October 10, 2011

The Hall of Fermentation

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Do you remember the Superfriends? The ones that hung out in the Hall of Justice? Well, in my world, me and mine hang out in the Hall of Fermentation.

This particular fermentation hall is at Wollersheim Winery as I continue my tour.


Visiting a Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Yes, I realize that this is much later in the day than I usually post, but it has been a crazy busy week and I wanted to start this next series. Hard core wine lovers have almost always have gone to visit a winery before. But if you don’t get to travel much and don’t realize that there are wineries in your area you might not be familiar with what it is like. Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin was on my way home from the Wine Bloggers’ Conference and therefore the perfect last stop before I got home later that day. The winery at Wollersheim was established in the 1840s by Agoston Haraszathy, better known to wine lovers as the “Father of California Viticulture” and the founder of Buena Vista Vineyards. Before he made it to Napa, he stopped for several years in Wisconsin, where he established the oldest incorporated village in the state, Prairie du Sac. The winery is still in operation to this day and this is from the tour when I visited at the end of June. Enjoy.

Wollersheim Winery
7876 Wisconsin 188
Prairie du Sac, WI 53578
1-800-VIP-WINE (847-9463)

Cedar Creek Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Cedar Creek ChardonnayKevin and I continued our exploration of local wines with the winery that sits on our 100 mile mark and at the very edge we discovered the Cedar Creek Winery.

In all fairness, we had a heads up on Cedar Creek.  Kevin had discovered the wine while at Mars Cheese Castle.  But the actual winery was new to us.  The funny thing is that we love a winery’s story and we had no idea of that from his trip to the ‘Castle’.  The trip to the winery… or at least the tasting room provided the rest.

The winery in Cedarburg, Wisconsin is one of a pair.  Cedar Creek’s sister winery is in Prairie du Sac and is within the Lake Wisconsin AVA (and now the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA) which I will undoubtably illustrate for you later.  Because, when push comes to shove?  I am a map geek, and geography major, thus meaning that I know how to make maps.

Cedarburg, Wisconsin is one of those quaint little towns that is full of artists, antique shops, cute little restaurants and “general stores” .   Often they have no connection to the reasons that we consider them unique.  But in the case of Cedarburg, the town was home to largest wool mill outside of Philadephia in the 1800s.  In the 1890s the town began to produce electricity through a contract with the Cedarburg Light and Electric Commission.  The company still exists.  Now the town still contains its “quaint” antecedents while still moving into the 20th century.

This includes the winery.

Cedar Creek WineryThe winery is owned by the same family that owns Wollersheim Winery in the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA and share a wine maker, Phillipe Coquard who has been with family since 1984 and is now part of the family having married owners Robert and JoAnn Wollersheim’s daughter Julie.  Because of the cold temperatures in Wisconsin, the vitis vinifera grapes used to produce Cedarburg’s Chardonnay,C abernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Syrah are contract grown in California, Washington and New York.  The vineyard in Prarie du Sac grows hybrid grape varietals, St. Pepin and Lacrosse, which are used in some of their wines.

The winery produces 16 different wines, including a non-alcoholic champagne, an oaked and non-oaked Chardonnay (which is a nice contrast of flavors), a number of fruit blends and holiday spiced wines.  Additionally Beaujolais made by the winemaker’s Uncle Pierre is also available.  (The Wollersheim winery carries the wine produced by Uncle Jean’s Beaujolais as well as  Phillipe’s brother’s Lombardian Bonarda.

Cedar Creek Winery
N70 W6340 Bridge Rd.
Cedarburg, WI 53012
(262) 377-8020

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!