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 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.

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 47: Maryland

Welcome to Episode 47, focusing on a state that I think has one of the best flags in the country: Maryland. In this episode, we will be focusing on the 2017 Vin Doux Naturel from Old Westminster Winery, located in Westminster, MD. This particular bottle was one of three chosen by the winery as part of a #Winestudio event for the month of June.  Mind you, all three of the wines involved in the series were fantastic; especially the Cabernet Franc.  I’ve also been to their tasting room before and have picked up bottles and cans from this winery specifically for this podcast… which may well still appear in future episodes, or I may just drink them on my own without sharing.

All that being said, the opportunity to review a dessert wine and talk on the podcast about the intricacies of making dessert wines along with the various styles thereof was too good a chance to resist. And so, here we have the 2017 Vin Doux Naturel, a dessert wine made of 100% estate-grown Valvin Muscat (a cross between Muscat Ottonel and the hybrid Muscat du Moulin, for the record) which was fermented with wild yeasts and fortified during fermentation using neutral grape spirits distilled from estate grapes. This particular vintage is made in a way reminiscent of wines coming from the Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOC in France. 

Here, as with the Valvin Muscat from Old Westminster, fermentation is stopped by the slow addition of up to 10% of a 190 proof (95%) grape spirit. This additional alcohol basically slowly kills off the yeast, as most yeasts cannot stand an overly high concentration of alcohol. Port, as well as other similar fortified wines, are also made in this fashion. (Madeira is, too, but is then literally baked in hot steam rooms, or historically on the decks of ships; sweeter sherries are made this way also, but then develop a living coat of yeast known as flor while aging in barrel. I really should find American vintages made in both styles, as they are really fascinating wines to talk about and drink, but I digress.)

One can also create a sweet wine that isn’t fortified by halting the fermentation before completion through chilling the wine to the temperature where yeast goes into stasis, and then sterile filtering.  A second way of creating a sweet, desert-style wine is by adding sulfites to the wine at a high enough level where the yeast cannot survive, and then sterile filtering. Sterile filtering is important for the production of sweet wines of this sort, because, without filtering, any yeasts that survive will feed on the residual sugar.  This will either make the wine ferment to dry in the tank, or worse: if bottled, the CO2 created by the yeast as a result of fermentation can cause corks to pop or bottles to explode from the pressure.

A final way of making a sweet wine that could qualify as a dessert wine is to back-sweeten the wine after it has finished fermenting to dry with a sugar solution or honey.  The TTB classifies a dessert wine as any grape wine containing over 14% but not more than 24% alcohol by volume. Citrus, fruit, and agricultural dessert wines must be further identified as to the fruit that was used. 

I’ve rambled a lot about dessert wines here, and how to make them, so I’ll have to be brief about the history of the wine industry in Maryland here. The oldest continuously operating winery in the state is Boordy Vineyards, located in the rural region of Hydes, Maryland. This winery was bonded in the 1940’s by Philip & Jocelyn Wagner. Philip Wagner is one of the most important figures in the history of American wines that you’ve probably never heard of, as he quite literally wrote the first major book on the subject: American Wines and How to Make Them. The book was revised and republished as Grapes Into Wine, and it became the definitive book on winemaking in America for decades.

Old Westminster Winery is much newer in comparison (planted first in 2011, and is rapidly expanding with the acquisition of Burnt Hill), but is part of the rapidly expanding industry in Maryland which now contributes an estimated $50 million dollars annually to the local economy. Today, Maryland has over 40 wineries, and three AVAs thus far: the Catoctin AVA (named for an Algonquin word meaning “speckled rocks”) is located in Frederick and Washington Counties, while the Linganore AVA, part of the Piedmont Plateau, includes parts of Frederic and Carroll Counties. Lastly, the Cumberland Valley AVA we met in passing extends from Pennsylvania into Washington County in west-central Maryland.

As mentioned above, this wine was provided by Old Westminster Winery for the #Winestudio event. As far as I’m aware, this wine is not available to be purchased by the general public yet, but I plan on acquiring another bottle when it does become available.

Old Westminster Winery Vin Doux Naturel
In this episode, we talk a bit about dessert wines with the 2017 Vin Doux Naturel; a 100% Valvin Muscat from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland.