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!

Episode 45: Montana

Welcome to episode 45 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we examine the wine scene in Big Sky Country: Montana. Our wine of the episode is the Dandelion Wine from Hidden Legend Winery, located in Victor, Montana. Now, we’ve looked at some particularly odd “Country wines” (as they’re known in the UK; in the US as I’ve discovered, they’re known more mundanely as “Agricultural Wines”) in previous episodes before, but this wine style, admittedly, is something I’ve always personally had on my bucket list.  I never expected to find one being made in commercial volumes, so I had to snatch this vintage up, despite the fact that Hidden Legend also produces award-winning meads and vintages made from Montana-grown grapes.

The fact that there are Montana-grown grapes is, in and of itself, miraculous.  The landscape and climate of Montana is harsh and unforgiving often in the best of times, which means that most wine-making in the state until fairly recently has focused on fruits such as huckleberry, cherry, and apples, along with vegetables such as rhubarb… and dandelions.  (Dandelion wine actually does have a long history associated with prairie settlement, apparently.) In other cases, wineries in Montana would bring in grapes from Washington or California to make wine: a facet of the industry we will cover in a future episode, I promise.  However, thanks to the tireless work of viticultural scientists at the University of Minnesota, cold-tolerant “hybrid” varietals have been bred that can tolerate or even thrive in the harsh Montana conditions.  There are no American Viticultural Areas in Montana yet, but today, the state has eight licensed and bonded wineries.

I acquired this bottle directly via the website for Hidden Legend Winery, specifically for this podcast. I also want to make a shoutout to Derrek for sharing a link to my other blog, who has an interest in Dandelion wine. As for this wine itself, the winemaker, Joe Schultz, reports that “Our dandelion wine is made by combining dandelion flowers and cane sugar with water and fermenting with yeast just like wine. The flowers are removed after the right amount of time and the wine finishes fermenting and is racked and clarified just like grape wine. We strive for balanced flavors concentrating on acidity, alcohol, and sweetness/dryness. It is then filtered and bottled.”

Next Episode: It’s time for Miles’ least favorite Varietal.

Montana Dandelion Wine
The Hidden Legend Winery Dandelion Wine is our introduction to the wine scene in Big Sky Country.

Episode 24: Utah

Mysterious, ancient, and full of both Uranium and Mormons, you would expect the Utah landscape to be hostile to winemaking, and among the last places one would imagine wine to be made in the United States.   And… in some ways, you are absolutely correct.  Utah is indeed somewhat hostile to winemaking these days, both climatically and politically. Perhaps that is why the wine in this particular episode was vinified in Colorado at Sutcliffe Vineyards (the same vineyard who produced the Cabernet Franc in our Colorado Episode) from Grapes grown in Montezuma Canyon, near the Four Corners area. This white blend is made of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, and Chardonnay; percentages of each grape within this vintage were not available.

The Mormons weren’t always hostile to the grapevine, though; the earliest wine grapes here were planted in the 1860s, right after Mormon settlers colonized the area.  However, the Mormons enthusiastically embraced Prohibition, and it was not until 1989 that hope was rekindled.  The winery which opened that year, Castle Creek Winery, produced 1,500 gallons of quality wine off the bat. Today, there are several small estate wineries producing both vinifera and French-American hybrids, as mentioned in this episode. Vineyards in Utah tend to be located in mountain valleys, with elevations up to 6,000 feet, which create a unique set of circumstances and challenges for growers and winemakers. Winters here are cold, so winter kill and frost damage are real risks; therefore protecting vines in the winter and keeping a watchful eye towards the sky are essential for success.

Currently, Utah has six wineries–somehow making Utah now less of a Prohibition state in terms of viticulture than Nevada. (Go figure!) That being said, the local liquor board does have its own stranglehold on the industry, as it is state-controlled, and does not allow much exporting of finished products outside the state.  This will mean I will have to make a visit to Utah myself… soon.

This bottle was purchased by yours truly at Vino Loco, a wine shop located in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.

utah
The 2014 White Blend from Sutcliffe Vineyards, sourced from Montezuma Canyon, is our First Utah vintage.

Episode 9: Colorado

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast; in this episode, we will be exploring Colorado for the first time!

Colorado is a land of extremes, with everything from towering mountains that scrape the heavens to high plains and deserts. It is also a land with some fascinating viticultural potential, producing both vinifera and fruit wines. The Palisades region, also known as the Grand Valley AVA, is perhaps the central point of the thriving viticultural industry in Colorado. Our wine of the day, the 2015 Colorado Cabernet Franc from Sutcliffe Vineyards, is sourced from this AVA.

This episode provides an introduction on how to approach making wine tasting notes, and Old World versus new world approaches to viticulture, as we were all gathered to help my friend Jen Condon (who provided the bottle) with some homework for her classes in the viticultural program at Yavapai College.  An entire podcast featuring Old World vs. New World wines and their approaches will be posted on my other website in the near future.

Cabernet Franc Count: 2

The 2015 Colorado Cabernet Franc from Sutcliffe Vineyards was sourced from the Grand Valley AVA. Here it is at dusk.

Episode Eight: Wyoming

We are going to something just a little different for the time being when it comes to our first episode featuring the Equality State.  Or the Cowboy State.  Whichever.

You see, when Gary was travelling through Wyoming a few months ago, he couldn’t find any wines in the local liquor and bottle shops that were made locally.  He was told by staff in these places that there wasn’t any wine at all made in Wyoming. (Which is wrong, there are at least three wineries in the state of Wyoming, and one of them even grows their varietals on site, but so it goes.)

But he did find a whiskey.  A Bourbon Whiskey, to be precise.  As it turns out, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding what, exactly, a Bourbon is.  Bourbon, as it turns out, does not have to be made in Kentucky after all.  Pull up an Old-Fashioned glass, pour a libation, and plug in your headphones for our examination of the Wyoming Whiskey: Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey.

 Wyoming Whiskey: Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey.
Yes, that is a Deathstar ice cube… and I am aware that this isn’t the best glass to try spirits, but it is what I had for the Wyoming Whiskey: Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey.