Vlogging Better Know An AVA – Niagara Escarpment.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

When I decide that I am updating part of the website, I prefer to go all out. And this holds true for our Better Know An AVA pages. As I roll one out with its new improvements I will post here on the main page with a vlog. Bear with me as I am learning how to put this together, though I think I managed to pull this off.

Better Know An AVA – Lake Michigan Shore

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Continuing my Michigan winery planning I move on to Lake Michigan Shore. Why? Well it contains the Fennville AVA and is the appellation listed on the bottles for the only winery in the Fennville AVA. And frankly, it is the Michigan appellation that is closest to home for me as it takes about 90 minutes (not counting traffic snarls) to enter into Michigan.

Why is this area significant? Well, unlike most northern wine regions, Michigan Shores produces a good number of vitis vinifera grapes, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Lemberger, Malbec, Marsanne, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier. The reason? Something we Midwesterners* call “Lake Effect”. The water in the Great Lakes (essentially small fresh water inland seas) moderate the temperatures and the precipitation on lands west of each lake. Temperatures never become as frigid as they would on the east coast of a lake as they do on the west coast. Anyone who has lived in Chicago and Buffalo or Detroit can tell you how they differ (and this blog has a couple of gals who have experienced the difference. Chicago is much colder). This gives the grapes a longer growing season than is experienced in say, Iowa and a couple of weeks makes a big difference. The soils are a relatively uniform throughout the region, consisting of glacial moraines.

In addition to being relative close to home, there are a good number of wineries in the AVA. How many? Well that depends on who you ask and what you count. Why who you ask? Well, the folks at the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail list count twelve wineries as members. Me? I count about seventeen. More is better right? Well, that leads to the what you count part, as several of the wineries have multiple tasting rooms. Tasting rooms are great in a pinch, but frankly I prefer going to the winery directly, at least if it is possible. Given the number of beachfront cottages, condos and other casual getaway places in the area, I would have been surprised if there weren’t tasting rooms trying to take advantage of the numbers of summer people.

I am planning to head out on Sunday (barring teen disasters) to visit a couple these wineries. If you have a favorite? Let me know… contact me at gretchen at vinoverve.com

Where should I visit? Email me!

Better Know the Fennville AVA

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

As I get ready to start exploring Michigan (still trying to get Marguerite to come with me for some of these….), I ran into the problem of trying to figure out which to do first. After giving it some thought, I decided to go in order of their creation. Which means that Fennville. This viticulture area was designated October 19, 1981 and contains 75,000 acreas of coastal Lake Michigan between the Kalamazoo and Black Rivers. The soils are sandy and glacial and temperatures are moderated by the deep waters of Lake Michigan. The vineyards in the area are capable of producing both Vitis vinifera and Vitis labrusca grapes. Oh, and did I mention that this wines from this area is a great locapour option for those of you living around the Great Lakes? It is true.

The problem that I am having with this AVA is determining is whether there are any wineries producing wine with the Fennville Appellation AVA. Per an article in 2007 at Appellation America indicated that only one winery existed in the viticulture area, Fenn Valley Vineyards. However, when I checked the website for Fenn Valley, I found that the wine pictured at their site was labelled under the Lake Michigan Shore appellation in which Fennville is completely contained. So, am I confused? yes. I will let you know if I have answers soon.

In the meantime, I have prepared the map for the possibly useless AVA.

Fennville AVA ~ Western Michigan

Road Trip Planning – Alexandria Lakes

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Whhoooa… Back up there partner! I skipped a highlight of Minnesota. Silly me.

That highlight is Minnesota’s only AVA, Alexandria Lakes. The appellation was created in 2005 and is located between Lakes Ida, Carlos, Darling, Alvin and Miltona. (Hey, it is Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, after all)

The AVA is nearly 11,000 acres and home to one winery. Carlos Creek Winery is the largest winery in the State of Minnesota and is located on 160 acres of which 12 acres are planted with vines such as Frontenac, Marechel Foch, Valiant, Swenson Red, La Crescent, King of the North, Brianna, Marquette, Petite Pearl and Edelweiss. They make sixteen wines from their estate grown grapes as well as out of state grapes and juice and six apple wines (there are fifteen acres of apple orchards on the property as well).

Best of all? The winery is just a hop, skip and a jump from the interstate! Hoping that I will get a chance to stop!

Washington AVAs: The End For Now

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

As the time ticks down to my adventure at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Walla Walla, I have finally come to the end of my exploration of Washington State’s appellations. Puget Sound.

I have visited this area before nearly 16 years ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy any wine… or seafood or walking through the Pike Street Market as I was pregnant and the smell of fish in a quantity over two fillets made me violently ill.  Yes, the Puget Sound AVA includes beautiful Seattle and the less lovely Tacoma (where I visited a closed-down copper smelting operation and tracked down abandonned slag at Fort Defiance.. do I know how to party or what?). Even back in 1994 when I visited the area there were wineries in the area, scattered on the many islands that are found in Commencement Bay, but the AVA itself wasn’t designated until the following year.

The history of vineyards in the Puget Sound goes back to 1872 when a Civil War veteran named Lambert Evans planted vines on Stretch Island.  The region has huge variations in its rainfall amounts ranging from 15-60 inches.  However, the  majority of this precipitation falls during the cold season and summers are generally warm and dry.  The AVA surrounds the Sound and snakes along the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula to Port Angeles.  There are only about 100 acres under cultivation and the varietals are often cold weather acclimated options such as Muller-Thurgau, Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine.  More traditional wine types are also being produced in the region but most of those wines are being made from grapes grown further east.

Unfortunately for me, I will not be able to revisit Puget Sound on this trip as it is off my beaten track.  But obviously, I would go back and visit Seattle and see how that smelter plant property has been reconditioned (it was pretty dirty in the old days).  I would also go back and drive through the Olympic Mountains which were beautiful and I would definitely go one of the whale watching cruises.  I couldn’t do that before as the boat probably would have smelled of fish and being pregnant before put me on the list of people who wasn’t allowed on the boat. (Party poopers)  An added tourist option has opened up in the area.  The town of Forks, home of Twilight is not far from Port Angeles ( in fact I think Bella goes shopping there in the first book or movie in my case).

This brings to a close, my exploration of Washington AVAs.  At least until Ancient Lakes or Mid Columbia River are designated.  Until then, I will just have to concentrate on the things that I will learn in Walla Walla at the Wine Blogger’s Conference.

Washington Wine Revisited

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

You must have thought that I forgot all about the series I was writing about Washington State wine AVAs. But you would be wrong. Like an elephant, I never forget. Busy, distracted, confused, possibly, but forgetful? Not so much.

We have looked at nine of the eleven appellations in the state and with time ticking down until I leave for my trip to the 2010 Wine Blogger’s Conference, I thought it would behoove me to get cracking on the last couple.  Today, I am going to look at the biggest of the AVAs.  The Columbia Valley.

The Columbia Valley is like the big daddy of Washington wine regions, though less a Titan like Cronus who swallowed his children whole and had to be cut open to set them free, but more like Zeus from whose forehead Athena sprang fully formed, in that it is home to six of the smaller, sub-AVAs.  Specifically, those AVAs include Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Wahluke Slope, WallaWalla and Yakima Valley (additionally two new AVAs named Ancient Lakes and Mid Columbia River have been applied for… we will let you know when we hear about it in the future).

The region is huge at 11 million acres of which 17,000 are under cultivation and includes 99% of all the wine grapes grown in the State of Washington.  The soils are generally volcanic and loamy which allows for excellent drainage but also nutrient depleted which makes the vine work harder to produce fruit.  The valley is located in the rainshadow of the Cascade Mountains (think Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens) which means that the area is dry and drip irrigation is used in vineyards  Oh, yes.  These grapes suffer to produce their beautiful fruit!  Additionally, due to its more northern location, the Columbia Valley receives two more hours of daylight then more southern wine producing regions (i.e. California).

I am looking forward to my Washington adventure and have started to compile of list of things to do with if I arrive early (something about a leadened foot of mine that causes that to happen).  For instance:

  • I would like to see hops growing.  75% of the hops grown in the U.S. are grown near Yakima and apparently there is a Hops Museum in Toppenish.
  • I have been to Mt. Rainier but I would LOVE to see Mt. St. Helens. (I know WAY too many geologists to not get a little nerdy when it comes to rocks)
  • I would love to see the petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy
  • or the first Catholic church in Washington
  • or the Ahtanum Mission
  • and I am certain that there will be a ton of Lewis and Clark stuff.

If you know about something that a nerdy girl like me would like please let me know.  I am planning to take much more audio visual stuff this year, so I am hoping to have some really cool things to show.  You can contact me here.

The Inevitable Red Hills Map

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I am nothing if not predictable. After discovering that there was a Lake County in California, it was all but certain that I would have to prepare a map of it….

So… Voilà

The Red Hills Lake County is one of five AVAs located in Lake County, California including Clear Lake, High Valley, Benmore Valley and Guenoc Valley. Red Hills is located on the southwestern shore of Clear Lake. It is located at the foot of Mt. Konocti, an extinct volcano between Excelsior Valley, Big Valley and the Mayacamas Mountains. The appellation was designated in 2004 and consists of 31,250 acres of which 3,000 are under cultivation. The soil is volcanic and is full of shards of obsidian that was formed as the magma from the Mt. Konocti cooled quickly due to the waters of the lake. The elevation of the area is betwen 1,400 and 3,000 feet and receives between 25 and 40 inches of rain per year. The region is perfect for Bordeaux and Rhone grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre and Zinfandel.

Wineries and vineyards located within the AVA include:

Sol Rouge
Fortress Vineyards
Ferrel Ranch Vineyard
Red Hills Winery
Obsidian Ridge Vineyard
Fore Family Vineyard
Becht Vineyard
Eden Crest Vineyard
Roumiguiere Vineyards – Red Hills Ranch
Snow Lake Vineyard

Juicy Girls

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

When I bring home wine, it is generally white. Not because I don’t like red wine, but for during the week, I tend to avoid red wine because sometimes the tannins wreak havoc on my head. So imagine my husband’s surprise when I came home with a bottle of red wine on a Tuesday. Better yet, a California Cabernet Sauvignon which I generally view as too big a wine for most occasions (California wines generally get too much publicity).  After he had a sip, he understood.

The wine, The Girls in the Vineyard is silky smooth, intense and fruity.  The wine makers, Rob and Kat McDonald and Matt Stone believe in bringing “wines from the vines to you without any fuss and where possible do a good deed along the way”.  To that end, they do not have a fancy tasting room, waste money on advertising or excessive print materials.  What they do provide is wine produced from sustainably grown grapes from the Amber Knolls Vineyard, the bottles are made near the winery to lower to carbon footprint of the process and the capsules are recyclable.   Additionally, the winery makes a $2.50/bottle or $30/case donation to the non-profit of your choice for those customers who purchase directly, but it is available locally if you aren’t looking to buy in bulk. Check Good Grapes for instance.

One of the reasons that I decided to write about this particular wine is where the grapes are grown.  The Amber Knolls Vineyard is in the Red Hills Lake County AVA.  Kevin was a bit surprised to hear that there were hills in Lake County.. but only until I pointed out that this particular Lake County was located in California.  Of course, with twelve Lake Counties in the United States, it is easy enough to be confused.  This particular Lake County surrounds Clear Lake which is the largest natural lake completely within the State of California (Lake Tahoe is partly in Nevada).

“So,” Kevin asked me, “Who are the girls?  Are they the daughters of the owners?  Or their pets?”  HA!  As if!  The folks at The Girls in the Vineyard specifically promise as part of their pledge NOT to sell you a “lifestyle” to avoid showing you pictures of their pets.

The Girls, as they turn out are the vines themselves.

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.

More Washington AVAs – Red Mountain

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

At the time of this writing, the Red Mountain AVA is, indeed, the smallest appellation in the State of Washington, although if the trend of designating smaller and smaller sub-regions continues we will eventually have every block of vineyard considered unique.  The appellation is located in both the Yakima and Columbia Valley AVAs in Benton County, Washington between the towns of Benton City and Richland.  This area has 4,040 acres, 600 of which are under cultivation.

Appropriately enough given the name of the appellation, the area is known primarily for its high quality red varietals including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah.  It is believed the quality comes from the Southwest facing slopes which are warmer than typical for the Columbia Valley and cool evenings which preserve the acid levels within the grapes.  Additionally the gravelly soil with high levels of calcium carbonate and acidic soils help to balance the flavors and concentrate the berry flavors of the grapes.  Is this how the mountain got its name?  No.  It is named for the wine red color that the native cheatgrass turns in the spring.

Wine began to be produced on the Mountain in the 1970s with John Williams of Kiona Vineyards and Jim Holmes (now) of Ciel du Chaval.  There are now 13 wineries including:

The total acreage in the AVA under cultivation is 14.85% of the total… imagine the wines that could be produced from 15% or 20%!