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.   


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