Season 2, episode 29: “Can anything good come from Delaware?”

If you’ve been following my podcast (and the associated blog) for a while, you know that I’ve come out strongly in favor of varietals that are hybrids between American and French grape strains. I admit, I started out dubious about these varietals, having listened to far too many sommeliers deride these grapes as foxy, unwholesome, and lacking in character. But over the years of doing this podcast, my views have changed. I am now a firm believer in what Ethan Joseph of Iapetus Winery calls “The Triumph of the Hybrids.”

Here before us in this episode is another example of this triumph. Aromella, first bred in 1976, has only recently emerged into the spotlight. Indeed, it is so new that my trusty Wine Grapes book by Jancis Robinson does not even mention it. It is so new to the market, in fact, that the 2017 vintage that Sophia, Peter, and myself imbibe in this episode from Harvest Ridge Winery in Marydel, Delaware, may well have come from the first ever single varietal release of this grape outside of the Finger Lakes!

In case you’re curious, Aromella is a cross between Traminette and Ravat 34, which are two other hybrid wine grapes. Traminette’s parentage includes the vinifera grape Gewurztraminer, which explains the bright floral character we noticed on this vintage in question. The title refers to Peter’s lament that nothing good comes out of Delaware, though in the end, he was convinced that this wine was an exception. Enjoy!

It turns out Peter was wrong: there is one good thing that comes from Delaware at least: this delicious bottle of dessert wine!

Season 2, Episode 23: “No Regrets when Drinking Piquettes”

Lately in the American wine scene, a new beverage with ancient roots has been taking the world by storm: Piquette.

Occasionally described as “White Claw for Wine Lovers,” Piquette is a low-alcohol fizzy beverage made from adding water to the grape pomace left over after grapes have been pressed for wine. This water-pomace mix is then fermented until the result reaches somewhere between 5%-9%; about the same percentage of alcohol that one normally finds in beer or hard seltzer. Incidentally, this makes Piquette the nigh-ideal beverage for day drinking in the warm summer months. The oft-made comparison to White Claw is where the title for this episode comes from, courtesy of Mitch Ermatinger of Native Species Winery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has made some very entertaining stickers and T-shirts with that saying that you all should check out.

However, unlike hard seltzers, Piquette has a long history. The name most commonly used to describe these beverages, Piquette, is derived from the French word for “prickle”; referring to the slight fizz present in most versions of this drink. Piquette was said to have been the preferred drink of vineyard workers at the lunch table, since the low alcohol content encouraged post-lunch productivity, rather than the alcohol-fueled stupor that could be expected from wines with a higher percentage of alcohol. In Italy, Piquette has various names including acqua pazzaacquarello and vinello. That being said, nearly all European winemaking countries have their own version of Piquette, which is usually made and consumed by field workers and their families. The fact is, Piquette was a great way to stretch what one could make from a given harvest. But, Piquette has ancient roots too. The Greeks and Romans made versions of this drink too. The Romans, calling it lora, often considered this beverage to be a meager, cheap-to-produce drink. Since it was made from what basically amounts to the leftover scraps of winemaking, it was usually given to slaves and field workers.

Times have changed, however. What was once seen purely as a drink for the poor working folk has rapidly skyrocketed into popularity in the twenty-first century. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, though I have my theories. The Marxist in me wants to complain about the gentrification of poor culture to appease the ever-thirsty desires of the rich bourgeoise for novelty, I’m not so sure that has a lot to do with it. There is the simple fact of the matter that most wineries are on the knife-edge of a budget and making Piquette increases the amount of inventory, and therefore the amount of money that flows into a winery, but I’m not so sure that’s a major cause either. Instead, I would argue that modern sanitization techniques, even in wineries focused on Natural Wine, has made it possible for winemakers to combat and prevent the bacterial infections which could easily occur otherwise, and controlling the ones that do occur… which can partially lead to the intriguing flavor profiles you get in many Piquette wines.

Basically, this means that modern Piquette tastes far better than its ancestors. Combined with a plague which often lead to day drinking in quarantine, and you have a perfect storm to increase this beverage’s popularity. But I digress. In this episode, podcast newcomer Brianna Nation of Page Springs Cellars joins all of us to drink some Piquette, and share her experiences about making it– she made the Piquette de Vidal that features as the second vintage of the recording. We also drink two Piquettes from Saeculum Cellars, another Arizona Winery, and one from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland.

Drink up folks! Remember, No regrets when drinking Piquettes! Oh, and since one of the Piquettes from Saeculum Cellars is made of Cabernet Franc, that brings our current total for this varietal to 8.

No Regrets when Drinking Piquettes!


Season 2, Episode 18: “Return to the Cowboy State with Tim and Alissa Michaud”

When we last visited the Cowboy State for our intrepid podcast, Gary couldn’t find a drop of wine to share and discuss, so we chose to examine some Bourbon misconceptions instead. And, while Bourbon is quite delicious, there is a major problem with it. Frankly, it’s not wine. Not even close. After all, one could argue that bourbon is just extremely purified cornbread, aged in oak. (Not me, of course, but some people do.)

But never fear. We’ve got wine for you this time. Table Mountain Vineyard, located in Huntley, Wyoming, was planted in 2001 as a result of a research thesis gone completely wild. Today, the vineyard spreads across about 10 acres and contains approximately 10,000 vines, spread across several varietals. They also make several different fruit wines and honey wines from local sources. I ordered a couple of bottles; their Frontenac Reserve and Frontenac Gris, and saved them in my stash for a while. I then was lucky enough to receive an email from Tim Michaud, who said:

“I listened to your podcast on Wyoming wine, featuring a Wyoming bourbon. Wikipedia is way off on their info. I’d love to chat with you some about our wine industry. I’m a brand-new grower. My wife and I planted 900 vines that we expect to come into production in two or three years. Some of our vines went into the ground in 2019, and the rest in 2020. Due to our research before planting, we’ve become fairly knowledgeable about the wine industry in our state.”

Needless to say, once I finally saw this email in my inbox (ah, if I was only better at remembering passwords…), Tim and I started plotting to do a podcast over Zoom. This is my first official Zoom Podcast, and there will be more to come in the future. Joining us is his wife, Alissa, and of course my drinking assistant Megan. Oh, and Pippin joined in this one too; my feathered companion. All of us had a bottle in common: the Frontenac Gris; Megan and I drank the Reserve Frontenac on our own while we also spent some time discussing that varietal. Enjoy!

Season 2, Episode 15: “Flaws, Darned Flaws, and More Flaws”

Not every wine is perfect. In fact, not every wine can be perfect. Indeed, one could make a strong argument that it is the imperfections in a wine that can make a vintage stand out above its peers. But sometimes, those flaws can turn a fantastic vintage into, well, sour grapes, if not vinegar itself.

So it was the case with the bottle of the Trendsetter that I acquired. (I believe this bottle was the 2018 vintage; I cannot quite recall.) I had been excited to drink this Kansas blend for a while. The Wine Hippie herself had brought this bottle with her for me. The blend of the Trendsetter consists of Norton and Chambourcin, about 50% each, from Twin Rivers winery in Emporia, Kansas. However, something had gone wrong, either while I stored it, while she transported it, or during the winemaking process itself.

And you know what? Shit happens. It’s not a big deal. This is 2020, after all! You have to make do with what you can. And with such a stunning label (modeled on Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist in America), we just couldn’t let this one rest.

So we decided to make the best of it, and talk in this episode about something I had been meaning to talk about in this podcast at some point, anyway: Wine Flaws. This way you know when the wine in your glass is flawed, and what caused it!

Take a listen. Guest stars are James Callahan and Anna Schneider, of Rune Winery in Sonoita AZ. After all, who best to teach you about wine flaws than a winemaker themselves, right?

Trendsetter
The 2018 Trendsetter from Twin Rivers Winery in Emporia, Kansas, is our touchstone for discussing common flaws in wine.



Season 2, Episode 14: “All Bayou Self; a return to Louisiana”

Apologies for the long absence, again. This Covid thing has left me in a severe state of executive dysfunction where I swear I can’t do things unless the stars are properly aligned, and then I, like Cthuhlu in his depths, suddenly become active again and do all the things. It’s also, admittedly, been really hard to record podcasts with friends while we drink, since that requires mask removal… but luckily I still have some podcasts recorded from the BC days in my cellar. That, and frankly life has been a bit insane of late, still. But enough excuses, let’s drink!

In this episode, new special guests James Callahan of Rune Winery, and his special ladyfriend, Anna Schneider, join me in drinking a bottle of the 2016 JayD’s Blanc du Bois, from Landry Vineyards, located in West Monroe, Louisiana. I must note that this bottle is no longer available from the vineyard, but if you’re intrigued by our description of this wine, there are three other vintages of Blanc du Bois available. This Blanc du Bois was harvested from grapes grown in their estate vineyard. I am told that this wine was made in conjunction with Louisiana local celebrity chef and speaker Jay Ducote of Bites n’ Booze fame. This makes perfect sense, because, as we discuss in the episode, this wine feels tailor-made for Louisiana cuisine.

Blanc du Bois is a French-American Hybrid grape, or as these grapes are being increasingly called, “mixed heritage varietal.” While some winemakers feel this term is an unwelcome intrusion from so-called “politically correct” culture, I personally feel this is actually a welcome term, as “hybrid” often has baggage attached to it as “lesser” wines with “inferior” varietals, often with serious flaws. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned while working on this podcast, I’ve tasted some seriously phenomenal wines made with these grapes that are on par with vinifera. But I digress.

Blanc du Bois was created in 1968 by John A. Mortensen, over at the University of Florida’s Central Florida Research and Education Center. The idea of this project was to create grape varietals that would both produce marketable wines and resist Pierce’s Disease; a major scourge of the viticultural industry in the American Southeast. Mortensen created this variety by crossing various Vinifera grape varieties such as Golden Muscat and Cardinal with indigenous Florida species such as V. aestivalis, V. cinerea, and Vitis labrusca. This grape was released to the viticultural market in 1987, and named in honor of Emile DuBoise, who was a rather influential grape-grower and winemaker in the area around Tallahassee, Florida. While this varietal was created in Florida, the most abundant plantings of this grape are in Texas as it turns out, so we may well meet this varietal again in the future.

Blanc du Bois
The 2016 JayD’s Blanc du Bois from Landry Vineyards is the perfect accompaniment to Cajun Cuisine.

Season 2, Episode 7: “Norton Deep Dive (featuring Kim Musket)”

Over my holiday hiatus, I was thinking recently about what 10 varietals might define the overall Wine industry in the United States. Would it be defined by which grapes are grown by highest amount of acreage?  What about grapes that may not tip the scales in terms of total acreage, but have found themselves to be widespread around the country? Would it be defined by which grapes have had the largest influence in the history of winemaking here? Would it be defined by grapes used to make historical vintages that alerted the Old World to the New?

I haven’t quite finished that list yet, but I will say that Norton, a grape we’ve met several times before on The Make America Grape Again Podcast, should qualify for that top ten list. After all, any indigenous American varietal that manages to have its own Riedel Glass is definitely important. This glass, unveiled in 2009 at Les Bourgeois Winery, indicates the importance that Norton has to the wine industry in the American Midwest. As a matter of fact, the vintage we drink in this podcast comes from Les Bourgeois. Kim, a longtime Norton aficionado and friend of mine, has for years been trying to convince me that Norton is actually worth my time and energy to understand, but I have been tragically dubious. She comes from Missouri, where this grape is, unquestionably, the king of the local industry there.

I first became convinced there was something to Norton with our first ever episode, featuring a Norton from Kentucky, but when she brought this vintage over, I was truly smitten.  Take a listen, and learn about Norton.

Missouri Norton
Norton has had a prominent role in the wine industry in the midwest for generations: the 2008 Premium Claret from Les Bourgois in Missouri proves it.

Season 2, Episode 3: “Icewine, baby”

It’s pretty freaking cold everywhere you go east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada right now, so it seemed like as good a time as any to talk about Ice wine.  Our main wine focus of this episode is the 2017 Creekbend Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Oliver Vineyards in Bloomington, Indiana, though we drank this alongside the 2009 Golden Icewine Valley from Changyu in Liaoning, China, and the 2017 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc from Arizona Stronghold Vineyard, sourced from Bruzzi Vineyard in Young, Arizona. The latter, of course, isn’t an Ice wine but is still a varietal Vidal Blanc.

As it turns out, over half of the ice wine vintages made throughout the world are made from Vidal Blanc, because of just how hardy this grape is.  Vidal Blanc (also known simply as Vidal), is a complex hybrid cross between Trebbiano (also known as Ugni Blanc) and Rayon d’Or. Vidal is very winter-hardy and produces surprisingly high sugar levels in cold climates. This aspect, combined with the natural tendency of Vidal Blanc to have moderate to high acidity, makes this varietal a favorite in harsh climates across the Northern Hemisphere, even being grown as far north as Sweden and Norway. Since these climates are prone to freezes, it makes perfect sense that the Icewine tradition would tend to find a home wherever Vidal Blanc is grown.

The secret of Ice wine is that it is produced from grapes that have frozen while still on the vine.  The sugars and other dissolved solids in grapes will not freeze, but the water within the grapes does. This means an incredibly concentrated grape juice results; the must is pressed from these frozen grapes, which results in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. Only healthy grapes kept in good shape are used for this wine; none of them may be infected with noble rot. Furthermore, time is of the essence, since re-thawing the grapes will cause them to spoil quickly since ice crystals destroy cell walls. Thus the harvest must be completed within a few hours on the first morning that is cold enough. The result of all this hard work is a wine with refreshing sweetness, balanced by high acidity.

Ice wine production is risky for several reasons: the frost may not come at all before the grapes rot, or are otherwise lost, for one. The production also requires the availability of a large enough labor force to pick the whole crop of grapes within a few hours, at a moment’s notice, on the first morning that is cold enough, often before sunrise. This results in rather small amounts of ice wine being made worldwide, making ice wines generally expensive.  The bottles used for ice wines are generally small, holding only 375 mL of wine, as befitting this small production.  The increased production of ice wine has been dramatically assisted technological inventions in the form of electric lighting, driven by portable generators, remotely-controlled temperature alarms, and the invention of the pneumatic bladder press.

While there are some indications in the writings of the world’s first wine critic, Pliny the Elder, along with the poet Martial, that the Romans were making vintages in this style on occasion (probably in Northern Italy), the first ice wine that we definitely know about was made in Germany in 1794.  The story goes that the winter had been harsh, and some wine growers had the idea to leave grapes hanging on the vine to use as fodder for their animals; when the growers noticed that these grapes after being frozen yielded a very sweet must, they were pressed anyway, and a wine revolution slowly began. Only six 19th century vintages with Eiswein harvests have been documented, and there seems to have been little effort to systematically produce these wines. Over time, with the technological developments listed above, ice wine production became more common… but at the same time, growers in Germany, the region where this wine style was invented in the modern era, have noticed that in the last few decades, good ice wine vintages have been less common. Many vintners have cited climate change as the cause of this decline.

The first ice wine produced in the United States was made in the Finger Lakes region of New York in 1981 by Great Western Winery. Today, Michigan leads the charge in creating ice wine in America;  as an example in 2002, six Michigan wineries alone produced over 13,000 half-bottles of ice wine. The US law for ice wines specifies that grapes must be naturally frozen; the TTB declares that “Wine made from grapes frozen after harvest may not be labeled with the term ‘ice wine’ or any variation thereof, and if the wine is labeled to suggest it was made from frozen grapes, the label must be qualified to show that the grapes were frozen post-harvest.”

Creekbend Vidal Blanc Ice wine
Our main focus for this episode, the 2017 Creekbend Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Oliver Winery, is only the second vintage of ice wine produced by this vineyard. Ice wine is a difficult endeavor, after all…

Episode 48: Iowa

Iowa may be a state that is associated in pop culture with endless waves of corn and soybeans, but the Hawkeye State has a vibrant wine culture too! Our first wine from this state that we will be looking at is the Iowa Candleglow White, from Tassel Ridge Winery, located in Leighton. The Candleglow White is a non-vintage dry white blend of La Crescent, Brianna, and Edelweiss grapes grown in Mahaska County, Iowa.

We have met La Crescent before during our exploration of the Tectonic from Iapetus Winery, but Edelweiss and Brianna are new varietals to the Make America Grape Again podcast. Like La Crescent, both Edelweiss and Brianna are complex, cold-hardy, French-American hybrid varietals. Both of these varietals came into being as a result of Elmer Swenson, and the University of Minnesota’s cold-hearty grape breeding program. Indeed, the genetic history of these grapes is pretty tangled, as seen in the diagram below.

brianna pedigree
The Pedigree of Brianna, like that of many complex mixed-heritage varietals, is mindbogglingly complex.

Growing wine in Iowa is filled with challenges.  Warm summer days can create conditions conducive to promote fungal vine diseases, while the extreme cold nights of winter can kill many other grape vines; this is why there are relatively few plantings of Vitis vinifera in Iowa, versus complex hybrids and native American varietals.

There was some viticulture in Iowa prior to prohibition, but records are spotty at best.  Prior to 2000, there were only thirteen wineries in the state, and eleven of them were in the Amana colonies, which was a religious communal society which had originated in Germany and settled in Iowa in the 1850s.  These wineries benefited by a native wine law which passed after Repeal, which allowed them to sell wines to anyone.  It was in the year 2000 when the Iowa Grape Growers Association was formed, and this group wasted no time in creating an action plan for the growth of the wine industry in the state.

The group decided that the three main things which were needed were favorable legislation and basic education relating to viticulture.  Within a year, the team had gained the involvement of the Iowa Department of Education involved, along with some basic assistance from Iowa State University.  A year later, funding for viticultural research and promotion became a reality with a five percent tax on wine.  In 2003, the team created a ten-year plan, with the aid of interested parties, and within a mere four years, 62 wineries had emerged in Iowa.

 Today, despite the challenges of growing in the harsh conditions of the high plains, the state of Iowa contains 100 commercial wineries, with more than 300 vineyards that cover approximately 1,200 acres. There are no American Viticultural Areas that are solely in Iowa, but Northeastern Iowa is included within the area covered by the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA.

This bottle was kindly provided to the podcast by Greg Gonnerman of Laramita Cellars, who also guest-starred in this episode.  He acquired it from the Tasting Room directly.

iowa wine
The Candleglow White from Tassel Ridge Winery in Iowa is a dry white blend of La Crescent, Edelweiss, and Brianna, sourced from Iowa vineyards.

Episode 40: Minnesota

Welcome to Episode 40 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes: Minnesota. Located at roughly the same parallel as Bordeaux, Minnesota has many challenges due to an often bitterly cold climate. That being said, the 2017 Voyageur from Alexis Bailey Vineyard is a vintage which shows that this state can hold its own against all comers.  The 2017 Voyageur is a blend of Frontenac, Marechal Foch, and Leon Millot, sourced from the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. All of these varietals are complex French-American Hybrid varietals, adapted to cold-weather climates; a topic we discussed a bit at length back in episode 34. It should be noted here that Alexis Bailey Vineyard is home to the oldest planted vineyard in the state of Minnesota, dating back to 1977, and is the second oldest winery in the state.

The climate of Minnesota is harsh, making viticulture difficult. Prior to prohibition, most winemaking in the state seems to have been focused around fruit wines. It can be honestly said that the history of Minnesota wine truly only begins with the work of Elmer Swenson. Indeed, it might be said that without this man, cold-weather viticulture would not exist. Elmer Swenson started to breed grapes in Wisconsin, thanks to an interest in grapes brought on by his grandfather, along with a reading of T.V. Munson’s Foundations of American Grape Culture. On a whim, Swenson brought some of his early hybrids to a field day at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center. This led to him being hired by the department. The first varietals released from this program were in 1977: Edelweiss and Swenson Red. Many more varietals bred and adapted for cold climates have been released since then, including the Frontenac in this blend.

As mentioned above, Alexis Bailey was the first planted vineyard in the state, and also the first to produce a vintage made entirely of 100% Minnesota-grown grapes. Of note also, The Minnesota Grape Growers Association has had a dramatic role in promoting grape growing and winemaking not only in the state but also in other cold-hardy climates. Hosted annually with the support of both the MCGA and the University of Minnesota, the International Cold Climate Wine Competition is the only wine competition solely dedicated to the promotion of quality wines made mainly from cold-hardy grape varieties.

Today, the state of Minnesota has 70 wineries, and two American Viticultural Areas, including the largest in the United States; the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. This AVA covers an area almost 50 times larger than Bordeaux in France; a total of 29,914 square miles (77,477 square kilometers) located along the Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries in northwest Illinois, northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. Minnesota’s second AVA is the far more modest Alexandria Lakes AVA, which is also Minnesota’s oldest AVA.

This bottle was purchased online from the winery website, by yours truly. If you like this podcast and want to throw a few dollars into the bottle fund, you can find us on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast, and there are various rewards available for supporters.

2017 Voyageur
The 2017 Voyageur is a stunning exploration of Minnesota terroir, from Alexis Bailey Vineyard in the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA

Episode 36: Pennsylvania

Welcome to episode 36 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we focus on the Keystone state: Pennsylvania. Our wine du jour this time around is the NV Oaked Vidal from Spyglass Ridge Vineyard, which is located in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. This episode is our first real introduction into the major workhorse grape of the cooler regions of the United States and Canada: Vidal Blanc. Indeed, this grape is among the most cold-hardy varietals known, and it is used to make late harvest and icewines across most cooler climates throughout the Northern Hemisphere.  (We will meet a Vidal Icewine in season two of the podcast.)  Vidal Blanc is a white hybrid grape variety produced from the Vitis vinifera varietal Ugni blanc and another hybrid varietal, Rayon d’Or.

The history of Pennsylvania wine prior to the onset of Prohibition is nebulous and mysterious, though urban legend and the factsheet from Pennslyvania Wines tell us that the first vineyard in the state was planted by in 1863 by William Penn himself, in what is now Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Post-prohibition, the industry restarted in the 1970’s, with Presque Isle Wine Cellars and Penn-Shore Vineyards receiving their licenses on the same day in 1970. Today, Pennsylvania is the eighth-largest wine producing state in the country, with roughly 119 wineries and 5 AVAs: Central Delaware Valley AVA, Cumberland Valley AVA, Lake Erie AVA, Lancaster Valley AVA, and the Lehigh Valley AVA. The sale of Pennsylvania wines has historically been crippled by the state’s notoriously byzantine State Liquor Board, with made it difficult for those outside the state (and even in some cases, inside the state) to acquire local wines. This situation seems to be improving of late, however.

This bottle was acquired by my mother specifically for this podcast, from the vineyard tasting room in Sunbury while she was visiting members of my extended family.  Hi Mom!  We also have a new podcast guest member in this episode: Kim Musket, who is a cellar hand and winemaker at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards; though she got her first-hand education in Missouri.

spyglass ridge vineyard
The Oaked Vidal from Spyglass Ridge Winery is our introduction not only to the surprisingly vibrant wine scene in Pennsylvania, but to Vidal Blanc as a varietal.