Episode 17: Maine

Maine is the focus in our 17th episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast.  The wine in question is the first fruit wine we’ve explored in our podcast, the Wild Blueberry Wine (Semi-Dry) from Bartlett Maine Estate Winery, located in Gouldsboro, Maine.

At this time, Maine has only 17 wineries and vineyards, which are largely focused on fruit wines, as well as French-American Hybrid varietals, because of the cold, harsh climate of the region.  The oldest winery in Maine, which happens to be the winery we are focused on in this episode, opened in 1983.  This focus on fruit wines makes the industry in the area a little different than other regions we’ve explored thus far in our podcast.  Fruit wines, for me, are hard to pin down and discuss, as we explore in this episode, as they stretch “sommelier speak” to the absolute limit.

Generally speaking, fruit wines are defined as fermented alcoholic beverages that are made from a wide variety of base ingredients which are not grapes.  These wines may also have additional flavors taken from other fruits, flowers, and herbs. This definition is sometimes broadened to include any fermented alcoholic beverage except beer, which of course is the state of the ground in American liquor laws, making this definition so broad as to be effectively useless. (Although, for historical reasons, mead, cider, and perry are excluded from the definition of fruit wine.) In other parts of the world different terminology is used; as an example in the UK, fruit wine is commonly called country wine. Generally speaking, these wines in the United States are labeled according to their main ingredient: in the case of this wine, blueberries.

Anyway, onto the show!  This bottle was brought to me for use in this podcast by my friend Elizabeth Krecker, who acquired this bottle from a bottle shop in Maine.

episode 17
The Wild Blueberry Wine from Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Maine was pretty fun to explore, as I don’t have much experience with fruit wines.

Episode 16: Vermont

Vermont is the focus of our 16th episode here at the Make America Grape Again podcast.  Barely more than a stub of a Wikipedia page, Vermont so far has only seven wineries, and a very recent beginning, with the first commercial vineyard there being only since 1997.  But boy howdy, have they been running to catch up with the rest; the wine we selected for the first episode examining the viticultural industry in this state has absolutely blown me away.  It is not every day that I meet a wine that can single-handedly make me doubt my commitment to Arizona viticulture, but the 2017 Tectonic from Iapetus Wine (a label from Shelburne Vineyard) has done just that.

The 2017 Tectonic is our vintage introduction to a number of new wine concepts, as well as a continuation of some themes we explored in our last episode about Wisconsin wine. This vintage is an all-natural, skin-contact wine made from a grape called La Crescent.  We touched upon natural wines a little bit in our first California episode; to explore the idea further, these wines can be roughly defined (since there is no official legal definition as of yet) as wines that are farmed as organically as possible, and are made/transformed without adding or removing anything while in the cellar.  The idea is that these wines are fermented using the natural yeast growing on the grape, without any additives or processing aids, and that intervention in the fermentation is kept to a minimum. These wines are not fined, nor filtered, and it can be argued that the result is a wine that is “alive”–still full of naturally occurring microbiology and the truest expression of the terroir of a region possible.

Like the Seyval Blanc we examined in our last episode, La Crescent is a complex American hybrid varietal, and one which is very recent; only developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 2002.  The genetics for this grape look like something out of a Habsburg family tree: with ancestry including Vitis viniferaripariarupestrislabrusca and aestivalis. Saint-Pepin, and a Muscat of Hamburg crossing feature among this grape’s progenitors. (I really wish I still had the genetics diagram I referenced when recording this wine–I lost it somewhere. Alas.)  Also like Seyval Blanc, this grape is a white wine varietal; to make a Skin-contact wine such as the 2017 Tectonic (also known as Amber wines or Orange wines),  the grape skins are not removed from the must, (unlike in as in typical white wine production) and instead remain in contact with the juice for days or even months. As in red wines, these skins provide pigments and tannins to the resulting vintage. This is actually a very ancient style of wine, dating back at an absolute minimum of about 6,000 years in the Caucasus Mountains.

That, in my mind, is one of the coolest things about the 2017 Iapetus: it is made from an ancient style of production for one of the newest-developed grape varietals out there.  I look forward to hopefully trying more wines from this label: Ethan Joseph is doing some pretty cool stuff up there in Vermont.

While I first encountered this wine via a #winestudio event on Twitter, this bottle was provided to me through the kindness of Elizabeth Krecker who purchased this wine for me directly from the vineyard when she visited New England earlier this year.

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The 2017 Tectonic from Iapetus wine is, without a doubt, my favorite wine of this podcast so far. There, I said it.

Episode 15: Wisconsin

Apologies for this late post; I was working for the last few days on the crush pad in Willcox, and I was too swamped to post on time. Future episodes should continue loading every 10 days. Onto the show!

Episode 15 focuses on Wisconsin.  This state is part of the largest American Viticultural Area, the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA. There are also two smaller AVAs in the state: the Lake Wisconsin AVA and the Wisconsin Ledge AVA. It must also be noted that Wisconsin has a surprisingly important role in the history of wine in America. As it turns out, Agoston Haraszthy, back in the mid-19th century, was the first to plant and grow wine grapes in Wisconsin. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mr. Haraszthy eventually migrated to California, and kickstarted the wine industry there when he founded the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, in the year 1863.

The vineyard he planted was located overlooking the Wisconsin River, at what is today the Wollersheim Winery, located near Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The bottle that Elizabeth and I talk about today is from this very same vineyard: the 2016 Prairie Fumé. This wine is 100% estate-grown Seyval Blanc, and is the center point of our discussion. This wine has more or less been declared the best wine that Wisconsin makes, so I was eager to try it: vintages of this wine have won 2018 Best of Show, 2017 Best Seyval Blanc, 2015 Best Seyval Blanc & Hybrid White, 2013 Best Wisconsin White Wine and 2013 Sweepstakes Best White.

This bottle was provided by my friend and fellow Arizona wine blogger Elizabeth Krecker, and was purchased from the winery when she visited Wisconsin earlier this year. Thanks Elizabeth!

The 2016 Prairie Fumé from Wollersheim Winery was a very enjoyable Seyval Blanc and a fun introduction to Wisconsin wines.

Episode 14: Washington

In Episode 14, we focus on Washington. Washington produces the second largest amount of wine per capita in the United States, after California.  Established in 1984, the Colombia Valley AVA is the largest wine region in the state of Washington. This AVA includes over 11,000,000 acres (4,500,000 ha), of which over 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) are under vine.  Indeed, about 99% of the vineyard area in Washington is under this AVA, and subsequent Sub-AVAs.  (American Viticultural Areas, like some of their Old World Counterparts, can be nested within each other like Matryoshka dolls.)  This particular suite of AVAs has become well known for producing traditional Bordeaux varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

But you know me. (Or, at least, are getting to know me at the very least.) I don’t like to review and look at the common stuff, necessarily. I like to look at the less usual things, when possible. Which is why I chose to look at the 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery, instead of, say, a Washington Merlot. (which I do have lined up for the second episode discussing Washington Wines at a much later date).  Gary and I found ourselves extremely disappointed with the 2012 Colombia Valley Pinot Gris, and it is telling that it seems that Maryhill has uprooted their Pinot Gris vines since the production of this wine.  Why is it disappointing?  Take a listen to find out.

(In retrospect, we should have talked more about Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris in this episode, but we ended up far too disappointed in this wine to do that.  Suffice to say, they’re largely the same thing, except not; there are some stylistic differences. Italian-style Pinot Grigio vintages are typically lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh, with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas and a touch of spice, while Pinot Gris, especially from Alsace, tend to be more full-bodied, richer, spicier, and more viscous in texture, meaning this particular vintage does align more on the Gris side of the spectrum.  And now you know.)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly via Underground Cellar.com

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The 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery is our introduction into Washington wines.

 

Episode 13: Connecticut

Connecticut is the focus of our lucky 13th episode of the Make America Grape Again podcast, centered around the 2015 vintage of the Dry Summer Rosé from Sharpe Hill Vineyard, in Pomford, Connecticut. This wine is a really fun dry rosé with one of the most intense colors I’ve ever seen, made from the American Hybrid varietal known as St. Croix.  We touch upon Hybrid crosses a little in this episode, but the main focus for hybrids will be at a later time.  Gary and I also talk a bit about the Rosé phenomenon, and what sometimes makes a good Rosé.

The state of Connecticut has two AVAs; the Western Connecticut Highland AVA, and part of the Southeastern New England AVA also crosses through the state.  Interestingly, Sharpe Hill Vineyard resides in neither of these two American Viticultural Areas, which shows that you don’t necessarily need to be in an AVA to make stellar wine.  Indeed, Sharpe Hill vineyard is probably the most critically acclaimed, and famous, vineyard in the Northeast, with a host of awards having been won by vintages made by their winemaker, Howard Bursen.  Their most famous wine is probably the “Ballad of Angels,” which will be covered in a (much) later episode.

This bottle was acquired on the vineyard estate in June of 2017 by yours truly.

2015 Dry Summer Rosé
The 2015 Dry Summer Rosé from Sharpe Hill Winery is a really fun exploration into St. Croix

Episode 12: California

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the grape (and region) that is most associated with California wines to the average consumer and wine drinker. However, there is a LOT more to California wines than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnays which have been buried in oak so much that they may as well be coffins. There are a lot of cool things going on in California Wine that aren’t really talked about, which is why the focus of this episode is the 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cabernet Pfeffer, from Winc. (They usually have some fun and interesting goodies available, so use that link if you want to join in the fun… it gets me some more wine, and gets you some too.  For the record, they are not a sponsor.)

I chose the 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cab-Pfef for a couple of reasons.  For one, it is a wine that can easily induce conversation on several topics, such as the winemaking technique of Carbonic Maceration, and the increasing popularity of “natural wines,” especially in vintages from California. (Just what counts as a “natural wine,” anyway? Which reminds me, I want to give a shout-out to my other new favorite wine podcast: Natural Disasters. I only found out these guys about after recording this episode. They’re hilarious folks, go and listen.)  Gary and I also dabble with the great mystery surrounding Cabernet Pfeffer–namely, just what the hell IS Cabernet Pfeffer?

Also, this bottle was kind of a “Screw You” to the people who are demanding I review a California Cabernet for this podcast.  Here you go.  This is your California Cabernet.  (You didn’t specify WHICH Cabernet, bitches.)

I acquired this bottle with my own cash from Winc.com, and while this bottle is long gone, there is another Cabernet Pfeffer there right now.

2016 PYT Cab-Pfef
The 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cabernet Pfeffer is a lovely introduction in this podcast to the Natural Wine phenomenon… and it’s freaking delicious.

Episode 11: New York

The 2016 Dry Riesling from Empire Estates provides our introduction to New York State in our eleventh episode of The Make America Grape Again Podcast.  This wine is sourced from a number of different vineyards in the Finger Lakes AVA.   With 100 wineries and roughly 11,000 planted acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes AVA has one of the highest concentration of wineries outside of California.  Indeed, New York as a whole ranks third in terms of grape production (by volume) after California and Washington.

In this episode, we talk a little bit about the history of Riesling, and about the etymology of grape names, which can be a fun, exciting philosophical endeavor.  We also talk about how simplicity can be a very good thing with wine, and why Riesling does not have to be sweet, despite what the few bottles in your grocery store seem to tell you.

From the Tech Sheet for the 2016 Dry Riesling (which we did not have when we recorded this episode, sadly): Harvest occurred over a two-week period from October 6th right up to a major rain event on October 21st; allowing the grapes to be picked at peak ripeness. Each vineyard site was vinified entirely separately to best bring out individual character; from cold soaking decisions, to fermentation style, to storage in stainless steel or neutral oak. After resting through winter and spring, the wines were then blended together and bottled in early summer. The vineyard sites have a mix of mineral soil types ideal for dry Riesling, including: shale & gravel, shale & clay, sand over shale, and limestone & shale.

This bottle was donated for the cause by my friend Nicole Silvestri.

Empire Estate Dry Riesling
The 2016 Dry Riesling from Empire Estate in New York provides our introduction to the Finger Lakes AVA.