Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Crazy Good Wines!

By Brad Johnson

My brother and I began writing about wines back in December of 2008 and since then a lot has transpired, both personally and professionally, but the last couple of years were a gut punch of sorts as I left my job to care for our mother before she passed away.

Leaving my winery job, my dream job, was difficult but in the long run has been really good for me.  In the past two years I began working as a wine industry consultant helping wineries and other businesses with public relations, marketing and communications.  Last year my friend and business partner/guru (Kurt Karr) and I were speakers at the Iowa Wine Growers Association where we shared our views on branding, social media marketing, and marketing in general.  It was a hoot!

This year, after working with a local creative productions company (we created television commercials for a mutual client) called MVP Video Productions, we decided to come together and create a feature length documentary movie, called “Wine Diamonds: Uncorking America’s Heartland.”  We’ve been filming since July 2014 and will continue to shoot until fall of 2015.

Winemaker John gives Jennifer a barrel sample
Out and about I get to taste a lot of wine, a lot of very good wine, and occasionally there are wineries where something magical is taking place.  Those are the wineries I get very excited about.  I’ve known about Barrelhead Winery (near Dubuque, IA) for several years and revisited them again this fall with our good friend Jennifer Farnum.  We’d planned an all day long winery road trip but never made it past John Burn’s winery.

Barrelhead Winery is one of Iowa’s (if not the Midwest) best wineries!  Period.  Or is that Exclamation point?!  Either way.  Granted, I’ve known John for a while and have always been impressed with his wines, but on this trip (and another more recent trip with my friend Martin Blind) it was reinforced. 

John was kind enough to take us into his barrel room and provide us samples of his wines - all estate grown and made.  Our first wine, a Marechal Foch, straight from the 2014 harvest and still in its stainless steel tank was our first “barrel” sample.  Extraordinary!  If you know anything about Marechal Foch it is a bugger to work with, in other words, there is what’s become affectionately known as the “Foch Funk,” a heavy herbaceous quality that’s just not the most appealing aroma or flavor for a wine.  Somehow, someway John has tamed the Foch beast and created an amazingly special wine.  Let me say that again to those that have ripped out their Marechal Foch plants - replant, talk to John, and make more of this lovely elixir. 

This Foch is so un-Fochlike that some wine competition judges have docked his Foch wine for lacking Foch characteristic --- Really!?!?  Wasn’t that the point? 

Moving on in the barrel room we were given samples, of various years, of St. Croix, Leon Millot, GR-7 (Geneva Red 7) and Marechal Foch.  One thing was for certain - these wines are fantastic!  The St. Croix and Leon Millot, both wines typically suffer under the heavy hands of some winemakers, are elevated to the heavens in this back road winery. 

Back at his winery tasting room we were treated to more exceptional wines.  Don’t get me wrong when I say the following, because his dry red wine are really amazing and worthy of serious recognition, but his sparkling wines…are as good as I’ve ever had.  Painfully good!  He wants to go toe-to-toe with the French in competition and given what I know about John and his wines, I’d place my bet on his sparklers!

John uses the traditional method (also known as M├ęthode Champenoise) - the slow and laborious way to make sparkling wines (aka: Champagne style wine) and in my opinion, the only way to make a truly great sparkler - using his own grapes.  Enchanting!

Folks…this is the real deal.  If every winery in the Midwest made wines like these there is little doubt we’d become a serious wine destination!

John is a character, the best sort of wine character with a lot of personality and passion for wines that others could emulate.  I highly recommend visiting his winery to enjoy these fantastic wines.  You can only find his wines at BarrelheadWinery.   


Sunday, May 11, 2014

2009 Fireside Winery, Frontenac, Iowa

Terry Post:

2009 Fireside Winery, Frontenac, Iowa

A few years ago I was discussing with my brother a concept taught in B-School, that was the, "unfair competitive advantage".  An unfair competitive advantage is a business situation where a company has a product which was so superior or so different that it was seen as having an unfair advantage over its competitors.  As an example, a few years ago the brand Soft Soap was the first to market with soap dispensed from a bottle via a pump. 

For those of you under thirty trust me on this one - it was a big deal.  The unfair competitive advantage held by Soft Soap was that the pump device which was necessary to patented and the Soft Soap brand bought exclusive use rights over the pump mechanism for three years.  This unfair competitive advantage allowed Soft Soap to firmly establish itself as the premier product and immune from competition for three full years.

Now to Iowa wine.  What is the unfair competitive advantage which Iowa holds over France, California, Australia, Oregon, Washington or any other wine producing region?  Could it be Frontenac?  I am not sure.  I think when things settle out, it is my opinion that Brianna will provide that unfair competitive advantage for Iowa grape growers.

My impressions: 

Garnet in the glass. 

Not much on the nose.  With a lot of sloshing and more effort than should be necessary I could detect tart cherries.

One dimensional fruit with a brief acidic finish.  Warming.  Perhaps some added alcohol??

It paired satisfactorily with the Mother's Day prime rib I prepared for my bride of thirty-seven years. Food friendly thanks to the acidity.  A good but not great dining companion.

Disclaimer:  It is perhaps not fair to be writing about a 2009 Frontenac in 2014.  Five years in the bottle may be too much to expect from any Frontenac.

Recommended.  If for no other reason than I really want Iowa wines to succeed.  Will buy a more recent vintage the next time I make the trip West.

$15ish at the Winery

~ Terry

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2011 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River Valley

Terry post:

Restaurant Week in Washington DC is a wonderful thing and the wife and I are taking full advantage with one dinner, one lunch and one brunch out.  Yesterday we had a nearly perfect lunch at Range, one of the dining off-shoots from “Top Chef” alumnus Bryan Voltaggio.

During evening hours the restaurant advertises three sommelier on duty but during lunch there are precisely zero.

So even I, dear reader, was somewhat overwhelmed by page after page of sparklers, whites and reds in their aluminum-covered wine list.  What to do?  What to do?  I took the cowards way out and selected a nice safe Paul Hobbs Chardonnay.

My impressions:

Medium gold in the glass - a shade deeper in hue than any chardonnay I have sampled in a very long time.  

Bright citrus and vanilla on the nose when first poured and swirled about.  Too much oak?  I don't think so.

Medium bodied with a brief caramel finish.

It paired spectacularly with my intensely flavored goat cheese ravioli. 

Food friendly.  Complementing while not overwhelming. 


$62 at Ranch in DC.
$35ish at retail

~ Terry

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Terry post:

2010 Port of Leonardtown Winery "1634" Chardonnay

When it comes to wine I am a "homer".  That is, I strongly support the local teams and unabashedly so.  So, it came with a great deal of anticipation and apprehension that I visited the Port of Leonardtown Winery a few weeks ago and bought a case of Vidal Blanc and a case of their premium Chardonnay, labeled "1634".

The anticipation was that I bought a case of the Vidal Blanc - I believe it to be far-and-away their best wine. 

The apprehension was that my last sampling of the 2009 "1634" was deeply disappointing.  It's razor sharp acidity made it nearly undrinkable.

I was hoping that for whatever reason: global warming, Federal Reserve policies, Kepler's harmonic theorem, sunspots, or whatever that the 2010 version of their premium chardonnay would be superior to the 2009 version.

I was not disappointed.

My impressions:  Light wheat color in the glass.  Subtle perfume of flowers and grass in front.  Nicely balanced with the acidity only slightly over-taking the understated sugars.  Medium bodied.  Not a full-bodied monster like French Montrachet and also not overly buttery.  A friendly companion for dining.

I enjoyed a bottle with a dinner of Pasta with Oysters and Mushrooms.  It stood up very well to the challenging umami-intense offering. 

Highly Recommended

$15ish at the winery

Updated on August 22, 2013 based on three subsequent tastings.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Midwest Winery to Watch - Elmaro Vineyard

Brad Post

This past weekend my wife, Jill, and I spent the New Years Eve weekend in Lacrosse, WI.  While there we made time to visit some friends who recently opened a winery (Elmaro Vineyard) in Trempealeau, nestled beautifully within the Mississippi River valley.
Elmaro Vineyard (taken from website)
The winery, built on the family farmstead, is attractively styled for visitors and creatively designed for wine making.  Planning includes use of gravity-fed systems, to gently move the grape juice and must, thoughtfully constructed cold-stabilization rooms to take advantage of naturally cool temperatures, and a top-tier mobile bottling line (useful for bottling at their winery and contracting to other local wineries - read more about it here).
Elmaro Wines - picture from website
The beautifully crafted and undulating tasting room bar encourages visitors to cozy up to the bar.  Our hosts were gracious and allowed us ample time to taste and enjoy each of the wines.  The Elmaro Rosa, a fruity and fun blush wine containing Concord and Catawba, was wonderfully balanced and it's easy to see why it is incredibly popular.  Mine and Jills favorite was the off-dry Vidal Blanc - sumptuously aromatic and deliciously pleasing on the palate!

One of the most satisfying aspects of visiting a winery is getting to know the owners, their wine making philosophy, and to get a read on the passion they have for wine making. It's truly a family operation with an immense sense of pride and professionalism going into each bottle.  

Great things are happening at the winery and if you have an opportunity, or live within a few hours, you really need to visit!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

We Wear Many Hats

Brad Post:

When most people think of working in a winery they probably conjure images of the winemaker, the tasting room attendant, or someone out in the vineyard tending the vines. And for large winery operations it's probably a valid conceptualization, however, for most of us in the wine business, those of us in a small-to-mid sized winery, we wear many hats.

In 2005 I began playing around with making wine and shortly thereafter enrolled in an enology (wine science) program.  By 2008 my interests took me to a local winery where, until June, I volunteered to learn winery operations and gained a great deal of knowledge.  With my shiny new wine making credentials in hand and my college teaching baggage behind me, I sought full time employment.

The wine gods must have been smiling on me because, in short order, I found myself up to my neck in a job, whose making was my own.  You see in these parts of the country it isn't often a guy can find full time employment in a winery, frankly because most operations are small family-run enterprises, but I was lucky.

Understanding wine from the perspective of a winemaker, and as a vocal advocate for a regional wine industry, was a bonus as I began my new endeavor.  As the External Relations Manager, a fancy new title that captures everything from public and social media relations, writing and editing, to my main focus - strengthening and building a wholesale program, I wear many hats.

Some days I visit potential wholesale/retail accounts, other days I deliver wines, many days are filled with scheduling my volunteer wine ambassadors monthly wine tastings.  There are days when I work behind the tasting room bar serving guests, while other times I shoot a short video and post on YouTube, but all times I am thrilled to be part of a growing local wine industry.

I'd like to think that I am somehow special in this way but I know I am not.  I meet many colleagues who wear the same hats, perhaps in different ways, but we are all trying hard to do it right.

The days become weeks and weeks blend together too quickly.  The Summer events are now the snapshots I visit on my Facebook photo album, and our harvest, which began in late August finally reached its zenith last week with the delivered Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel.  I rode shotgun during the fermentation while the winemaker took a week-long vacation.  Another hat.  Working in the cellar doing Punch Downs and Pump-Over operations was enjoyable and brought me back to my wine making roots.  I've missed that.

Can't help but wonder what's in store as the next year approaches and what style of hat I'll be wearing. 

Cheers, my wine friends!


Saturday, November 12, 2011

NV Freixenet, Cordon Negro, Brut, Spain

Terry post:

Sparkling wine and Champagne are associated with special occasions. I once read that over 70% of the sparkling wine and Champagne consumed in America was reserved for parties, celebrations and other non-ordinary days. Only around 30% of those wines being consumed during non-special times such as ordinary dining.

Sparklers can be reliable friends for pairing with foods when nothing else seems to fit. Having characteristics which are both bold and subtle I am fearless in pairing sparklers with virtually any food. They go with anything!

It was Winston Churchill who famously consumed vast quantities of French Champagne with oysters during with colleagues during late night political ramblings at his country home, "Chartwell". While I have not had a Churchill Champagne/Oysters night myself: it remains one of my bucket list.

My impressions:

Light-gold in the glass.

Fragrant with flowers and green apple most prominent when first poured. As the wine warms in the glass I noted a more pronounced citrus fragrance.

Wonderful acidity but not to the point of overwhelming. Very food friendly. I have paired this sparkler with omelets, curry dishes and Alfredo topped pasta all to great success.

Long-lasting citrus finish.

I continue to be impressed with this wine. I have enjoyed it for several years now and found it to be a reliable friend. It is a very good wine at a very reasonable price making it a spectacular value in the sparkling wine category.

You don't need a special occasion to drink this sparkler. At the price and quality this is an every day wine which should not be passed by.

Highly recommended.

$9.00ish at the Fort Belvior PX.

~ Terry