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 28: Indiana

Welcome to episode 28, where we focus on Indiana!  Our featured wine for this episode is the Creekbend III, from the Creekbend label of Oliver Winery, located near Bloomington, Indiana.  This wine is a blend of barrel-fermented Vignoles and Chardonel, along with some stainless-steel fermented Vidal Blanc.  Oliver Winery, as it turns out, is one of the oldest post-prohibition wineries in the state of Indiana, opening its doors in 1972.  Oliver winery was founded by Professor William Oliver, who was instrumental in passing the Indiana Small Winery Act in 1971, kickstarting the Indiana wine industry. Today, Oliver Winery is entirely employee-owned, which is pretty impressive considering that it is among the largest wineries east of the Mississippi River in terms of production.

Prior to Prohibition, the wine industry in Indiana was surprisingly fruitful, being the  10th largest state in the country in terms of wine production.  In many cases, the wines being produced were hybrid varietals, with Catawba (a grape we have not met yet) being a popular option.  It took the Indiana Small Winery Act of 1971 to change the winery landscape, and now the state is a success story; as of 2015 there were 76 wineries in the Hoosier state. Today, Indiana produces about 1.4 million gallons of wine a year and grows approximately 650 acres of grapes, from a variety of French-American Hybrids (such as the three varietals used in vinifying the Creekbend III) to vinifera varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Gewürztraminer.  There are also two AVAs in Indiana: the Ohio River Valley AVA (which actually happens to be the second largest wine appellation of origin in the United States, covering 16,640,000 acres of portions of the states of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, along with Indiana), and the Indiana Uplands AVA, which has 17 wineries totaling around 200 acres under vine.  (Oliver Winery is located within this AVA)

In this episode, I am again joined by Megan and James, and we talk a bit about the two major varietals in this wine (Vignoles and Chardonnel), as well as some techniques for white wine vinification: Malolactic fermentation, barrel-fermentation, and sur lees aging.  My occasionally crippling dyslexia also shows up as well, as does James’ penchant for bad jokes.  Enjoy!  (And thank you, Oliver Winery, for including the tech sheets! You have no idea how much that is appreciated!)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly, online through the Oliver Vineyards website.

indiana episode 1
The Creekbend III from Oliver Winery is our introduction to Indiana wines and several wine-making techniques used for white wines.

 

 

A Snooth Interlude: Murietta’s Well Tasting

A few days ago, I did an online tasting with Snooth, focusing on the wines from Murietta’s Well, which is located in the Livermore AVA in California.  It was my first experience doing an online wine tasting; the center point was the winemaker, Robbie Meyer, on video chat talking about his wines while we all sipped along and inquired about the processes and ideas behind each wine–something I enjoy doing rather often with local winemakers over on podcasts at The Arizona Wine Monk wherever possible–the main difference was in the distance, and tasting with a group of others was particularly fun.

All the wines from Murietta’s well are small lot (though larger lots than anyone in Arizona, by and large), and wild-fermented, which is fascinating.  Wild fermentation can be difficult to do well, after all, as wild yeasts can be a bit… Well, cantankerous to deal with, to say the least.  Overall, these wines had a more Old World feel to them than most wines I’ve encountered from California.  Here are the wines we tasted, and some thoughts I had about each.  The next podcast episode will load in another six days–we will stick to the every tenth-day cycle which has worked so far. (There won’t be any Riesling to miss it, so stay tuned.)

muriettas well tasting
Here is their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which was fermented in neutral oak; resulting in something very like a Sancerre. This was nothing like the over-bearing oak bombs I usually encounter with California Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of pear, apple, gooseberry, and apricot intermingled with crisp minerality and high acidity.

 

muriettas well tasting
Next up was The Whip (2016), a blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat, and 10% Viognier. This was a well-balanced white blend that really struck me as quite sophisticated and versatile. What was particularly interesting for me was that I could pick out the role of each grape in this blend, which is always a fun exercise. The Viognier provided the strong apricot character, the Sauvignon Blanc provided most of the skeletal structure, while the Semillon provided the heavier body to this blend, and so on. I honestly wanted to pair this wine with Pad Thai, which is odd to me because I normally don’t want to pair white wines with this sort of body with such spicy food.  (I also think it could work well with enchiladas, but that’s just me.)

 

Third up for the tasting was their 2016 Dry Rosé. This was a well-structured, high acidity savorfest blend of 42% Grenache (farmed specifically for rosé), 39% Counoise, and 19% Mourvèdre. Watermelon/Cotton Candy notes imparted by the Counoise were especially prominent,. intermingling with the bright strawberry notes imparted via the Grenache. Overall, this wine was evocative of some of the heftier rosé blends from Provence or Bandol. This wine was probably tied for second out of all the wines. I really do wish more winemakers played with Counoise.  I would serve this wine as it is–no food needed–it is a great summer sipper.

 

muriettas well tasting
The rosé was tied with The Spur (2015) for second place in the tasting as far as I was concerned. This was a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Livermore Valley is apparently well-known for Petit Sirah, which adds in a dimension of place, according to Robbie Meyer.  Apparently, it is pretty common in the Livermore Valley to blend in a bit of Petit Sirah into otherwise “Bordeaux-Style” blends there. (This aspect made me think of how often in my homeland of Arizona, we add in Petit Sirah to our GSM-style blends for color and tannins.)  The 2015 vintage of The Spur (named, of course, for a part of the grapevine) was savory, fruity, and well-balanced, with an elegant scaffold of tannins. Nothing was over the top here on this vintage, which again struck me as unusual for most California “Bordeaux-style” blends which usually require me to decant extensively to enjoy them in any form.  This elegance will lend this wine to being paired with a wide variety of foods–I ended up pairing the rest of this bottle with a crockpot pork roast with root veggies and green chili and it worked fantastically.

 

muriettas well tasting
My favorite wine of all the Murietta’s Well vintages was the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a pre-release preview. Now, I normally do not like California Cabernet at all; I find them generally to be too brusque, masculine, and inelegant. I usually find that I either need to decant wines of this sort for three hours, or smoke a cigar with them, to peel back the insane use of oak that seems to be the de jure style.  I am convinced that many winemakers in Californa use this insane level of oak to hide flaws that are resulting from potentially shoddy winemaking, or to hide an otherwise unexciting vintage.  Now, that being said, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Murietta’s Well was completely the opposite of that.  I was amazed by this wine.  This was an elegant, balanced, well-structured and sophisticated vintage–sort of like a well-dressed professor in tweed. Notes of olives and Connecticut shade-grown tobacco wrapper intermingled in this wine with earth, vanilla, cassis, and blackberry, alongside hints of lighter fruits such as plum and raspberry. It is, I think, a wine well suited for a New York strip steak and a nice cigar like an Ashton Symmetry. I was deeply impressed by this wine and was sad when I finished it off. If I didn’t already have all of my wines lined up for the California episodes of this podcast, I would have used this bottle in a heartbeat.  It is everything that a California Cabernet Sauvignon *should* be.

 

 

 

 

Episode Three: Massachusetts

In this episode, the 2014 Cinco Cães from Westport Rivers Winery provides our introduction to the wine industry of Massachusetts. This fun white wine blend introduces us to first to Rketselli, one of the oldest grape varietals in the world. (The 2014 blend also contains Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, and Chardonnay.)

Furthermore, this wine aids us in a discussion concerning America’s take on a wine classification system, known as an AVA (American Viticultural Area). In this case, the Cinco Cães introduces us to the Southern New England AVA; an AVA that will feature again in future episodes about Rhode Island and Connecticut. Lastly, this wine also provides a fascinating introduction to the concept wine geeks refers to as terroir, and rootstocks–a wine grower’s secret tool.

This wine was purchased on the grounds of the winery, by yours truly.

2014 Cinco Cães
The 2014 Cinco Cães from Westport Rivers Winery is our introduction to both Massachusetts and the New England AVA.