Blind Horse Winery

Established in 1846, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sits on the western shore of Lake Michigan, about 50 miles north of Milwaukee. Although once a bustling Great Lakes shipping port, Sheboygan is now largely focused on manufacturing, including furniture, plastics, household equipment, automotive parts, metal products, air compressors, and wood and paper products. The city is also noted for its bratwurst and cheese; indeed, Sheboygan bills itself as “The Bratwurst Capital of the World.” Kohler, the village and company due west, is primarily known for the manufacture of plumbing fixtures, but also makes furniture, cabinetry, tile, engines, and generators.

Bob Moeller retired at age 56 after a lucrative career as a roofing contractor in Sheboygan.  As he was relaxing and ruminating on a beach in Clearwater, Florida, one afternoon, this thought came to mind, “If I continue to do this, I’m going to die.”

The Blind Horse

Once he returned to Wisconsin, he started making plans to open a restaurant, and if that proved successful, a winery as well.  In 2011 Moeller and his family purchased a seven-acre property that had been a small part of an 80-acre family farm in Kohler, started in September of 1862 by Anton and Josephine Dreps.  The Dreps family continued to farm this land for over 130 years, until 1996.  Like most farmers of that era, they used teams of horses to work the land. But, there was one, a Percheron draft horse in particular, that was the family favorite.  That horse’s name was Birdy, and Birdy was blind.   Many years later, Birdy was the naming inspiration for The Blind Horse restaurant, which opened in 2012.  A statue of Birdy stands in front of the restaurant.  Crafted by artist Carl Vanderheyden, it is made from old fuel oil tanks and stands seven feet tall and 10 feet long.

 

Birdy the blind horse.

The Dreps farmhouse, probably in the 19th century. 

The Blind Horse Restaurant is in the original farmhouse on the left.
The winery is the new gray building on the right,
which was built on the foundation of the old barn.
Photo courtesy of OnMilwaukee.com.

The Blind Horse Winery followed in 2014, becoming the Sheboygan area’s first commercial winery.   Like many ambitious producers in the midwest, the fruit is sourced from third-party growers in California and Washington.  (Shipping in grapes rather than juice is more expensive, but allows for greater control over the final wine.)  Once the grapes arrive, all other winemaking, including crushing, fermenting, barrel aging. and bottling happens on site.   There are plans to make wine from grapes grown by local Wisconsin farmers and to possibly start a vineyard to grow some of their own grapes.  To that end, a two-acre test parcel was recently planted with cold-climate varietals, including Marquette and St. Pepin.  At any one time, fifteen to twenty red and white selections are offered that cover the entire sweet to dry spectrum.  The property also includes the Granary that opened in 2018, a whiskey and bourbon bar housed in a renovated barn.

 

The Blind Horse Winery and Events Patio.

The tasting room.

The Winemaker

After working in the IT field in New Jersey, Thomas Nye started The Grape Escape winery there with his wife, Nancy, a Sheboygan native.  They sold The Grape Escape when Nye was presented with the opportunity to move to Wisconsin and become winemaker and general manager at The Blind Horse Winery.  A 12-year winemaking veteran. Nye follows a minimalist style of winemaking, believing that this enables the natural qualities of the fruit to dominate in the finished wine.  He strives to “make wine in the field,” a terroir-driven approach.  Nye’s winemaking team includes Winemaking Assistant Patrick Regenwether who has been at Blind Horse for four years.

“We wanted to start a winery making the types of wines we liked, which are drier wines,” Nye said. “When I came aboard, the idea was, ‘let’s create Napa Valley, right here in Kohler.’ That was the dream.”  Making dry wines in a state with wine drinkers who largely have a taste for sweet wines (not to mention beer!) was a bit of a risk. But it paid off. “That was really unusual in the state when we did that. There were 110 wineries in Wisconsin five years ago, and most of them were making all sweeter wines,” Nye continued.  Today, the Blind Horse’s top-selling wines are mostly red (four of the top six) and/or dry (seven of the top 10), Nye confirmed.

Nye uses a combination of French and American oak barrels that range from new to neutral (aka used).   Neutral barrels are typically four or more years old and no longer impart oak flavors but help with micro-oxygenation — the process that creates smoother wines.  “I don’t want to overwhelm [my wines] with oak,” Nye said. “That, to me, is hiding a lot of the fruit characteristics of the wine.”  Many of his wines age for at least a year, some longer.

The Blind Horse barrel room.

“Perfect food and wine pairings are what made me fall in love with wine,” he shared. “We want people to experience those on a daily basis.”

Nye’s long-term goal is to increase the operation’s current 4.200 annual case production up to as much as 10,000 cases

The Blind Horse offers a wine club with three shipments per year of their various selections, which currently include nine dry reds, five dry whites, one sweet red, three sweet whites, and one sweet rosé.

Two of the Wines

The Blind Horse Golden Bay White Blend NV

Packaged in an unusual high-shouldered bottle, this selection is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Viognier.  The first three varietals are sourced from a specific vineyard in Suisun Valley just east of Napa that Nye has relied on for ten years.  The Viognier comes from Lodi, California. The wine was barrel aged in two-year-old American oak. It was originally made as a separate 2018 and 2019, but after conducting extensive taste tests, Nye decided that the wine was even better when blended.

This wine pours a very pale yellow.  It is lightly aromatic, with subtle citrus and a suggestion of green apple on the nose.  That citrus blooms into lemon and grapefruit on the palate.  Since the barrels were essentially neutral, there is little or no detectable wood, “butteryness,” or vanilla.  (Nye claims to taste some vanilla; I didn’t.)  It offers just enough acidity, and ends in a short but crisp finish.  Nye made 134 cases.  ABV is 14.4%.

The Blind Horse Malbec NV

The fruit for this wine is sourced from the same Suisun Valley vineyard as the Golden Bay. It was aged in a combination of American and French barrels, some new and some three-years old for two to three years. This wine is also a blend of vintages.

It pours a transparent red, with a delicate nose.  It features flavors of cherry and blackberry, with a smooth mouthfeel.  There is moderate acidity, and subtle tannins, to be expected because of Nye’s penchant for used oak in his aging.  There were 394 cases produced.  ABV is 13.9%.

Here’s some nitpicking about the bottle labels: my wife is a horse person, and when she saw them exclaimed, “That’s not a drawing of a Percheron!  That’s more like a Thoroughbred!”  There is also a bit of Braille on the labels that spells out “The Blind Horse.”  However, it seems gratuitous to me, as the dots are so shallow I seriously doubt any blind person could read it.

Maison M. Chapoutier has included Braille on their wine labels since 1996, and it more usefully includes information on the producer, the vintage, the vineyard, the region, and the color of the wine.  But even there the embossing is quite shallow, so I am suspicious of how useful it really is.

https://theblindhorse.com/winery/

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Black Willow Winery

Just about everyone knows about the world-famous Niagara Falls, of course, but the area is home to some increasingly serious winemakers as well, on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the border.

New York State’s commercial wine industry began when its first bonded winery, Pleasant Valley Wine Company, was founded in Hammondsport in 1860, and the state now ranks third in grape production by volume after California and Washington. But 83% of New York’s grape output is Vitis labrusca varieties, mostly Concord, that find their way into grape juice, jams, jellies, and wines such as, ahem, Manischewitz. The rest is split almost equally between Vitis vinifera (the broad vine species that produces 99% of the world’s wines) and select French hybrids.

Black Willow Winery is located on the south shore of Lake Ontario in Burt, New York, a part of  the Niagara Wine Trail and in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.  Because of its northern location, at first glance this region hardly seems suited to quality winemaking.  However, the climate is moderated by lake effect* from Lake Ontario.  Also, the Niagara Escarpment, an approximately 600-foot-high ridge that runs from east to west through the Great Lakes, retards winds coming off the lake. This makes for good air circulation and helps protect the local vineyards from frost and disease. (The escarpment is most famous as the cliff over which the Niagara River plunges at Niagara Falls.)

The Black Willow property is comprised of 43 acres, with soil and drainage well-suited to growing grapes. It was founded by Michael D. Chamberlain and winemaker Cynthia West-Chamberlain in 2010.  West-Chaimberlain received her Enology Degree from VESTA, the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance.  It is a National Science Foundation funded partnership between the Missouri State University system, two-year schools throughout the Midwest, state agriculture agencies, vineyards, and wineries, with a 21st century vision for education in grape growing and winemaking.

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Black Willow’s estate vineyard is planted with Diamond grapes, which are a cross between Concord and Iona, both native American varieties, developed in the 1880s in New York.  The winery currently sources other grapes from vineyards across Niagara, Erie, and Seneca.  At this time, Black Willow produces 17 different wines, of which I profile six below, including two meads.

Dry Wines

Black Willow Trilogy Red NV

This red blend, made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Marechal Foch, and Chancellor,** shows a rich dark red in the glass.  Next comes a nice aromatic nose of cherry, cola, and a bit of plum.  With 12% alcohol, it’s also less boozy than most other reds, which tend to come in at 14% to 16%.  You might not think just that slight difference matters, but it does, particularly if you’re looking for something a little less powerful. On the palate, the fruit becomes surprisingly lean and recessive.  The acidity is relatively low, and the tannins are mild.  Overall, a pleasant wine, especially if you are just getting into reds. 250 cases were produced.

Black Willow Trilogy White Reserve NV

Made from Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cayuga White,*** this very pale yellow wine is crystal clear. The nose offers aromas of honeydew melons and crème brûlée.  The palate features a smooth, creamy mouthfeel with flavors that include lemons and limes. It’s all supported by good balanced acidity.  12% ABV, and 250 cases were made.

Black Willow Estate Diamond NV

The winery characterizes this white wine as “unique,” and indeed it is.  Very pale straw-colored in the glass, it is made from 100% Diamond grapes. This wine starts with scents of Granny Smith apples, nectarines, and papayas.  These continue on the palate with the addition of canned pineapple, backed up with a zing of lemon.  It qualifies as dry, but I’d say it’s right on the edge of that; the acidity saves it from being pushed over.  11% ABV, and 500 cases were made.

Sweet wine

Black Willow Classic Diamond NV

This sweet wine is also  100% Diamond grapes, and demonstrates how a skilled winemaker can produce remarkably different products from identical ingredients.  It is nearly colorless, and starts with a nose of apricots and lavender.  There is a smooth mouthfeel on the palate, with flavors of Granny Smith apples, apricots, and peaches.  The sweetness characteristic of those fruits is there for sure, but it is nicely balanced by some racy acidity.  The winery suggests this would pair well with “cheese, desserts, Asian, Thai, and Indian cuisine.”  Before tasting the wine, I was down with the cheese and dessert, but was skeptical about the rest. But that acidity certainly makes it doable, especially if you lean towards sweeter wines, or even soft drinks, with meals. Clocks in at an approachable 11% ABV, and 750 cases were bottled.

Meads

“What the heck is mead?” you may be asking.  Good question.  It is an ancient tipple, dating back as far as Biblical times, and was produced throughout Europe, especially early England, Africa, and Asia. It’s very popular on Game of Thrones. Long relegated to the dust bin of history, mead has been enjoying a renaissance over the past few years.  Because its production shares much of the ingredients and equipment of winemaking, it has been embraced by a few boutique producers like Black Willow.  The alcohol content can range from about 3.5% ABV to more than 18%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority or all of the beverage’s sugar is derived from honey, which is fermented with water and yeast, plus optional fruits, herbs, spices, or flowers.  It may be made as still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling; and as dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.

Mead has played an important role in mythology, particularly that of Scandinavia. For example, the Mead of Poetry was crafted from honey and the blood of the Norse deity and seer Kvasir, and allegedly turned the drinker into a poet or scholar.

Black Willow Odin’s Nectar Mead NV

One of three meads Black Willow makes, Odin’s Nectar draws on Norse mythology.  According to the winery, “The horns of Odin, father of all Viking gods, are recalled in traditional Norse toasting rituals. Odin uses his wit and magic to procure the magical brew over three days. The three horns reflect the three draughts of the magical mead.”

Odin’s Nectar presents as nice medium gold. The nose has a distinct floral quality, mostly honeysuckle, with aromas of honeycomb and toasted almond as well.  Even though it is made from honey, it is less sweet than might be expected, and definitely qualifies as semi-dry.  It is soft on the palate, with tastes that echo the aromas, plus dried pear and vanilla.  The finish is long and dry.  12% ABV, and 500 cases were made.

Black Willow Valkyrie’s Lure Mead NV

This mead also is connected to an ancient Norse story. Says Black Willow, “Commanded by Odin, the Valkyrie claimed the fallen from the battlefield. They are believed to have welcomed warriors into Valhalla, the afterlife hall of the slain, with a horn full of mead. Lovers of battle heroes and harbingers of death, they are sweet but deadly.”

This mead is a rich, honey gold.  Appropriate, no?  In addition to the honey, it is made with pears and cinnamon. Like Odin’s Nectar, there is distinct honeysuckle on the nose, along with pear, predictably.  The palate features flavors of pear,  a hint of that cinnamon, and surprisingly, some mango and apple.  It has a smooth mouthfeel, and is only semi-sweet, so it would work well both as an apéritif and with cheeses or dessert.  I guess you could call this a wine to die for, eh?  12% ABV, and 500 cases were made.

https://blackwillowwinery.com/

*As the spring growing season begins, the lake’s cooling effect retards the vines from budding until the spring frost season is over. The lake stores daytime heat as the growing season continues. The effect of the warming water lessens the variation between day and night temperatures, which can lengthen the growing season by as much as four weeks. As summer draws to an end, the stored warmth of the lake water delays frost that might damage  the vines or fruit in the early fall. In winter, the lake also causes heavy, moist snowfall, which blankets the vineyards, insulating and protecting the vines from the frigid air.

**Marechal Foch and Chancellor are French-American hybrids widely grown in the eastern U.S. and Canada.  They produce light, Beaujolais-like red wines.

***Cayuga White is a hybrid created by the New York State Agricultural Office by crossing  Seyval Blanc with a native American vine.

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Adega Northwest Winery

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When most of us think of a winery, what usually comes to mind is the romantic stereotype of a rustic but exquisite barn situated halfway up a mountain in the western U. S. overlooking a bucolic valley below; a fabulous hundred-years old chateau surrounded by ancient vines somewhere in France; or perhaps even a charming azienda agricola in Italy with a view of Roman ruins. But that’s not the only way to do it.  Adega Northwest of Portland, Oregon, is very much an urban winery.  There are vineyards, of course, you just won’t see them if you pay the winery a visit (by appointment only).  And because they are not tied to an estate, Adega Northwest can and does draw on sources throughout the region.

It doesn’t get much more urban than this.

THE WINEMAKER

Bradford Cowin began by working in the restaurant industry. He pursued and completed a wine certification from the International Sommelier Guild, and has worked as a sommelier in New York City, Colorado, Washington D.C., Seattle, and now Portland, Oregon.

In 2007 he decided to focus on making wine instead of just serving it. He started as a cellar hand (aka a cellar rat) at R. Stuart & Co. in McMinnville Oregon, followed by working Malbec-focused vintages at Bodegas Renacer in Mendoza, Argentina, where he was also exposed to Italian Amarone-style winemaking techniques through work with renowned winemaker Alberto Antonini.

Once back in the U.S., he toiled at the famous Williams Selyem, Andrew Rich Vintner, and Long Shadows Winery. His time at Long Shadows proved to be an important turning point in his pursuit of full-time winemaking. In 2011, under the mentorship of Gilles Nicault, Long Shadow’s Director of Winemaking and Viticulture, Cowin purchased his first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope of Washington State (from which he continues to source fruit to this day) and was given space at Long Shadows to produce it. This was the beginning of his first winery, Script Cellars, formed with fellow sommelier Frederick Armstrong and wine enthusiasts Ken and Cheri Hick of Portland, Oregon.

Script Cellars’ Exordium 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon won the Platinum Medal and Best Red at the Northwest Food & Wine Festival, and received 91 points from Wine Enthusiast (for people that care about such things). Production increased from 100 cases to 500 cases within three years. Dramatic, but still quite modest.

Although he continues to make wine for the Script Cellars label (in Adega’s Portland facility), by 2014 Cowin was ready to try something new. Adega is Portugese for wine cellar, and  pays homage to his grandfather specifically, and the family’s Portuguese ancestry in general. Cowin teamed with his mother, Tana Mendes Bidwell, to establish the new operation. The aim was to  create hand-crafted wines in the Pacific Northwest influenced by the wines of Europe, especially Bordeaux and Rhone in France. They were later joined by investor and real estate mogul Darren Harris.  Cowin had this to say about opening an urban winery, “I’ve always been more of a city kid, having lived in large cities most of my life. For me it is more appealing to operate out of a facility where I prefer to live. We aren’t really much different than any other winery our size. I like being able to offer high quality wine to the general consumer without having them go out of their way for it.”

The winery currently produces Alvarinho (aka Albarino), Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Grenache, Mataro (aka Mourvedre), Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Souzao, and Graciano.

THE VINEYARDS

I mentioned that Adega, not being tied to an estate, can draw from many vineyards.  And do they ever.  These are their 12 current sources.

Destiny Ridge Vineyard Columbia Valley, Paterson, Washington

This 267-acre site, the only one actually owned by Adega, is located high on the bluffs overlooking the  Columbia River, in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in southeastern Washington, and is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Elevation in this area ranges from 200 feet above sea level in the south to 1,800 feet above sea level at the northern boundary. Destiny Ridge itself sits at 850 feet. Strong winds arrive from the west via the Columbia River Gorge, reducing the likelihood of rot and fungal diseases taking hold, and keeping frost at bay. The quick-draining soil includes clay, limestone, schist (medium sized mineral rocks), and gravel, along with sandy top soils.  It is exclusively planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Delfino Vineyard, Umpqua Valley, Roseburg. Oregon 

This 18-acre site is similar climatically to Spain’s Ribera del Duero, with a mix of rocky soil types. There are seven grape varieties under cultivation here: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Müller Thurgau, Merlot, Dolcetto, and Tempranillo (for which Umpqua is becoming increasingly well known).

Double Canyon Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, Prosser, Washington

Located between Yakima Valley and the Columbia River, the 90-acre Double Canyon Vineyard has a dry desert landscape. The weather is influenced by close proximity to the Columbia River, which creates sweeping winds and other distinctive weather patterns that protect the vines from extreme temperatures, fungal disease, and pests.  The soil is sandy, quick-draining loam. The vineyard is planted primarily to Bordeaux varietals and Syrah.

dutchman vineyard, yakima valley, Grandview, Washington

Dutchman Vineyard was planted in 1991. It is located in a very cool region in the Yakima Valley. Adega Northwest has been sourcing Alvarinho, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Riesling from here since 2017.

Firethorn Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Echo, Oregon

Firethorn was originally developed between 2006 and 2008 by famed NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe under the name Flying B Vineyard. Jay and Kim Bales purchased the vineyard in 2010 and have done the farming ever since. The vineyard sits on basalt cliffs that support a layer of granite and basalt silt deposited as the Missoula floods receded at the end of the last ice age. The top layer of soil is wind-driven loess (a silt-sized sediment that is formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust). It is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Muscat.

french creek Vineyard, yakima valley, prosser, Washington

French Creek was established in 1981 with the planting of nine acres of Wente Clone Chardonnay. The vineyard is on a south-facing slope above the Yakima River, and lies at the edge of a canyon that allows for great air drainage, crucial for mitigating frost damage. The soils are mainly silt loam with weathered and unweathered basalt bedrock. Plantings are primarily Chardonnay, 28-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.  Adega NW has been sourcing  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from here since 2018.

Gamache Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Basin City, Washington

Planted by brothers Bob and Roger Gamache in 1980, this 180-acre vineyard sits up on the white bluffs overlooking Basin City to the east in the Columbia Valley AVA. The soil is primarily Warden sandy loam, with a little Kennewick sandy loam, as well as, in the northern part of the site, caliche (a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate) about 12 inches down. The property is planted to Riesling, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Malbec.

Kamiak Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Pasco, Washington

Established in the mid-1980s by Jeff Gordon of Gordon Estate Winery, the 100-acre Kamiak Vineyard is south-facing, and is perched 620 feet above sea-level along the Snake River. The vineyard has excellent air drainage and benefits from the river’s moderating influence. It has a unique volcanic soil breakdown that includes basalt, sandy loam, clay loam. and gravelly loam. It is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer, with a few small lots set aside for Tempranillo and Malbec.

Red heaven Vineyard, red mountain, Benton city, Washington

The many varieties planted here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah (aka Durif), Tinta Cão, Souzão (aka Vinhão), Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo (aka Valdepeñas), Counoise, Grenache, Mourvèdre (aka Mataro), Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Barbera. Adega Northwest has been sourcing Rhone and Portuguese varieties from Red Heaven since 2017.

Two Blonds, Yakima Valley, Zillah, Washington

This is the estate vineyard of Andrew Will Winery. Two Blonds, named for proprietor Chris Camarda’s late wife, Annie, who was a 6’2” blond, and Melody, the also-blond wife of vineyard partner Bill Fleckenstein, it was planted in 2000 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. The soils of the 30 planted acres are silty loams.

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mountain, Columbia Valley, sunnyside, Washington

Farming wine grapes since 1968, four generations of the Newhouse family have helped maintain the Upland legacy, which started over 100 years ago. Originally planted by William B. Bridgman in 1917, Snipes Mountain is widely considered the birth place of Washington wine. Today that original vineyard is still bearing fruit, and the vines’ longevity is a testament to the favorable weather conditions there. With an elevation that ranges from 750 to 1300 feet, the fecund Upland is able to grow over 35 varieties of wine grapes. (To be clear, Upland is in Washington, and on Snipes Mountain, but the snow-covered promontory in the background is Oregon’s Mt. Hood, seen looking to the southwest.)

Weinbau Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, Washington

With views of the Rattlesnake Mountains to the south and the Saddle Mountains to the north, Weinbau Vineyard slopes gently south, with elevations ranging from 710 to 950 feet. It is a relatively warm site, with excellent air drainage, and the soil is dominated by Kennewick silt loam. This 460-acre property was originally planted to Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer in 1981.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Mourvedre, Merlot, Carmenere, Grenache, and Cabernet Franc were added in subsequent years.

[SOME OF] THE WINES

Adega Northwest normally produces between 2,000 and 2,500 cases annually. Unfortunately, this year COVID-19 has forced a retrenchment back to 1,500. Although Adega Northwest’s production of each selection is quite limited, and therefor harder to find, they are very reasonably priced and are worth seeking out.

Interestingly, Adega, as well as another producer I have recently encountered, doesn’t use a foil at the top of the bottle.  Cowin shared, “Foil doesn’t do much other than being for aesthetics. I prefer the natural look of the cork. It also makes it easier to tell if there is a cork malfunction or a storage issue. On my single vineyard wines I do wax just the very top of the cork. However, you can still see all the sides of the cork in bottle.”

The cellar image on the labels was inspired by a picture of a classic Portuguese Adega from an original design by Cowin.

Adega Northwest Double Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2016

This 100% Syrah was fermented in stainless steel, followed by 22 months of barrel aging in 500-liter puncheons made of 100% French oak, 30% of which were new. A semi-transparent dark purple, it opens with aromas of dark fruit, mostly wild blueberries and mountain blackberries, and a hint of camphor (which receeds after the bottle has been open an hour or so).  The lean palate follows with muted fruit, especially tart cherry, with some leather thrown in.  It all wraps up with a medium-length finish. ABV is 14.6%, and 135 cases were made.

Adega Northwest Tempranillo 2015

Sourced from the Delfino vineyard, this wine is 10% Syrah and  90% Tempranillo. The latter is an important red-wine grape in Spain, and two Spanish clones of Tempranillo were used: Tinto del Pais (Rioja Clone) and Tinto del Toro (Toro Clone). It was fermented in stainless steel, followed by 20 months of barrel aging in 100% French oak. It is dark purple, with a nose of dark fruits plus black olive and leather. The full-bodied palate features flavors of tart cherry, cocoa, tobacco, and earth. There is lively but unobtrusive acidity, and a relatively short but dry finish. ABV is 13.8%, and 100 cases were produced.

Adega Northwest Weinbau Vineyard | Block 10 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was fermented in stainless steel and then saw 21 months in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new. It is dark purple, but a bit more transparent than is common for Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is classic Cabernet, with big aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and cassis. These continue on the palate, supported by cedar notes, bracing tannins, and good acidity.  It all wraps up in a nice long finish. The ABV comes in at 14.6%, and 125 cases were made.

Adega Northwest Eremita White Blend 2018

The fruit for this blend of 70% Marsanne and 30% Roussanne came from the Dutchman vineyard. After barrel fermentation, it underwent full malolactic fermentation and aging, all in neutral  French oak.  The wine pours a hazy medium yellow. The nose is predominantly grapefruit (with hints of orange marmalade and apricot), and this dominates on the round and creamy palate as well, supported by Seville orange.  There is plenty of zippy acidity.  The ABV is 13.3% and 150 cases were made.

Adega Northwest Alvarinho 2018

The type of low-yielding, thick-skinned grapes from which this wine was made originally hailed from Portugal’s Vinho Verde. It is also cultivated in Spain’s Galicia region, where it is known as Albarino.  Adega NW sourced the fruit from the Dutchman vineyard. The wine is all Alvarinho, which underwent a cool, extended fermentation in stainless steel. It spent further stabilization (but perhaps not enough; see note below) and aging in stainless steel as well.  It is a medium yellow in the glass, with a hint of pink.  The nose offers up honeydew, cantaloupe, and peach. The palate features a full, creamy mouthfeel, with flavors of those same melons, joined by Seville oranges.  It’s all backed up up by plenty of racy acidity.  The ABV is 13.5%, and 250 cases were produced, and although still quite modest, it’s a relatively high number for Adega NW.

Note: when I finished my sample bottle after 24 hours in the refrigerator, some tartrate sediment had precipitated out. While this doesn’t impact the quality of a wine, it is an inconvenience, and you should consider decanting through a filter before serving, just in case.

Adega Northwest Chardonnay 2018

This 100% Chardonnay was sourced from the French Creek vineyard. It underwent barrel fermentation, followed by partial malolactic fermentation and aging, all in in neutral French oak.  It is crystal-clear, medium-pale straw in color. It is mildly aromatic, with scents of honeysuckle and brioche. The creamy palate features Meyer lemon and grapefruit, balanced by harmonious acidity and hints of vanilla and oak.  It closes with a medium-length finish. The ABV is 14.5% and 100 cases were made.

https://www.adeganorthwest.com/

Marius by Michel Chapoutier

Marius by Michel ChapoutierHonor Thy Grandfather

Languedoc-Roussillon (often called “the Languedoc”) is a historical coastal region in southern France, extending from Provence to the Pyrenees Mountains and the border with Spain. It’s now part of Occitanie. The area is a major wine producer, with Vin de Pays d’Oc and sparkling Crémant de Limoux among its best-known varieties. The regional capital, Montpellier, is home to a well-preserved medieval quarter.

It is in the Pays d’Oc that Michel Chapoutier produces his Marius wines, to honor the grandfather (that’s him on the label) that inspired in Michel a passion for quality winemaking.

Marius, son of Polydor Chapoutier who founded the family business in 1879, played a key role in the development of the wine enterprise, acquiring vineyards in the Hermitage area (from which Chapoutier’s most acclaimed wines hail) and constructing a new winery in 1929.

As a young man, Marius’ son Michel left the town of Tain l’Hermitage to study oenology at one of France’s best winemaking schools, and then moved to California for winemaking internships. In 1987, the prodigal son returned home to Tain, and began to improve and upgrade the quality of the wines and vineyards of the business which he by then oversaw.

As part of the Chapoutier commitment to quality and terroir, their vineyards are all managed to produce biodynamic wines. And, Michel is especially keen on the enjoyment of wine with food. “These are honest, deymystified wines—wines that bring people together,” he said.

Marius Blanc 2014

This pale-yellow wine is a blend of 68 percent Vermentino (abundant on the French island of Corsica) and 32 percent Terret (whose home is the Languedoc, and is often used in Vermouth production). On the nose, citrus notes predominate, complemented by hints of peach. These continue on the palate, with flavors of green apple, lime, and pear at the fore. The wine finishes dry, with lingering fruit and lively acidity. Fermentation was carried out at low temperature in French oak.

Pair this easy-going sipper with crostini di pomodoro, braised swordfish in white wine, or Catalan shrimp in sweet red pepper sauce.

Marius Rouge 2014

Marius Rouge is a blend of 56 percent Grenach and 44 percent Syrah (Mourvèdre, which is often paired with these varietals, is MIA here.) Although the nose of this selection features aromas of sweet plum and vanilla, the taste is quite different. It is driven by tart cherry, cigar box, and minerals, and is complimented by robust tannins, good acidity, and a short finish. I suggest you serve it somewhat chilled; 52° F. should be just about right.

Some Mediterranean dishes that would go nicely with this wine include Niçoise chicken with tomatoes and black olives; braised rabbit with wild mushrooms, or veal shanks with artichokes.

http://www.mariusbymichelchapoutier.com/gb/index.cfm

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Wines of Anselmi

Ciao, Italia!

Wines of AnselmiRoberto Anselmi is a legend of north Italian winemaking, a charismatic, motorbike-riding rebel whose uncompromising quality-over-quantity approach has helped redefine the wines of the Veneto through his insistence on higher standards.  It has earned him the title, “the conscience of Soave.”

Anselmi produces crisp white wines from the indigenous Garganega (gahr-GAH-neh-gah) grapes. Garganega is known for its distinctive lemon and almond flavor profiles.

These two summer sippers are characteristic of his work.

Anselmi San Vincenzo 2013 is grown on 110 acres in the Monteforte area of northern Italy. Light straw in color, with scents of minerals, lemon/lime, apricot ,and yellow apple. It is medium-bodied and dry.

Anselmi Capitel Foscarino 2013 comes from 24 acres of vineyards on south-facing slopes 1,140 feet above sea level at the top of the Foscarino Hill.  Light straw-gold in the glass, opening to vibrant aromas of tropical fruit, citrus, and honey. Its medium to full body features flavors of fresh apples, peach, and lime underscored by mineral notes.

For both of these wines, the soil is volcanic tuff, a type of rock made of volcanic ash ejected from a vent during an eruption. Following ejection and deposition, the ash is compacted into a solid rock in a process called consolidation.  Over time, the tuff is broken up with grass undergrowth.

The vines are trained using the horizontal spurred cordon method. In earlier times, this method was common for training grapes on house façades. Foliage and fruit grow from one or two horizontal, strictly trained arms or cordons. Unilateral cordons (1 angle) and bilateral cordons (T-shape) are possible; the vertical main trunk usually remains without foliage.

https://www.terlatowines.com/brands/italy/anselmi/san-vincenzo

https://www.terlatowines.com/brands/italy/anselmi/capitel-foscarino

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Israel’s Yatir Winery

Yatir Winery

The Yatir region in the Judean Hills has produced grapes for winemaking since the ancient days of the Judean kingdom.  A large Jewish settlement existed in this region between the periods of the destruction of the Second Temple to the inception of the Islamic period.

Although the Israeli wine industry is 2,500-years-old, winemakers from this area of the Negev have only relatively recently been drawing critical and commercial acclaim.

David Ben-Gurion was the primary national founder and the first Prime Minister of Israel, which he led from 1948 until 1963 (with a short break in 1954-55).  He had a quixotic dream of making the Negev region in the south bloom and blossom.  When he decided to plant a forest in the area, he consulted with experts to guide him through the process. After numerous discussions and assessments, the agronomists determined that the region, which was predictably dry and warm, was unsuitable for planting trees. Ben-Gurion had other plans in mind however.  “Replace the experts!” he demanded.  A forest was in fact established, and it has gone on to become one of Israel’s largest . It was named after the Levite biblical city of Yatir, whose ruins remain within. The site serves as a “green lung” and a hiking site, as well as an experimental model for innovative methods for combating desertification. The Yatir Winery vineyards were planted as part of that effort.

Yatir Winery was established in 2000 as a joint venture between local growers and the Carmel Winery, who recognized the potential of the Yatir region. The Yatir Winery was built at the foot of the Israelite Tel Arad Fort (an archeological site), 10 minutes away from the vineyards.

Yatir Winery’s first wine was released in 2004, and today the winery produces 150,000 bottles. Over the years, this desert winery has become a symbol of the region.

Yatir’s  growers and winemakers are committed to excellence every step of the way – from growth and cultivation to harvest, fermentation, aging, and bottling – employing the most cutting-edge technology and equipment available to the industry today.

The vineyards of Yatir Winery are planted at an altitude of up to 900 meters [3000 feet] above sea level, and are scattered across various locations in the forest. The plots in these vineyards have varying soil compositions, with different slants and angles. The climate is characterized by cool, breezy mornings, dry days, cold nights (even at the peak of summer) and snowy winters. The soil is well-drained limestone, chalk, and clay that ensures low yields.

“We are proud to be planting in vineyards from an ancient region, where wine presses existed more than 3,000 years ago,” said Yaakov Ben Dor, Yatir Winery’s general manager.

“Although Israel’s winemaking tradition is ancient, the current industry is still young.  Israel has been widely recognized as capable of producing world-class wines, and growth is happening fast. We are pleased by the exciting potential of the region,” reported Etti Edri, Yatir’s export manager.

According to Eran Goldwasser, who oversees Yatir’s vineyards and production, “At Yatir Winery we are integrating state-of-the-art winemaking and technology within a man-made forest in the heart of the desert, to produce award-winning wines.  Though it seems unlikely, this area in Israel provides an excellent environment for wine making.  Due to Israel’s warm Mediterranean climate, the grapes have no trouble ripening.  As the vines age, yields will decrease, and our wines will become more nuanced.”

Yatir Creek 2016

This blend of 76% Syrah, 12% Tannat, and 12% Malbec is plum red in the glass.  The nose offers aromas of rhubarb, cherries, cassis, and a hint of green olives. The palate presents flavors of recessive fruit, coca, and cigar box.  The  tannins feature a slightly salty and pleasantly bitter finish.  The wine was aged  for 12 months in large oak barrels,  and aged in the bottle for two years.

I suggest serving this wine with Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives; souvlakia (skewered lamb) with grilled vegetables; or sghenna (a one pot meal for the Sabbath).

Yatir Mt. Amasa White 2017

With an unusual blend of 52% Chenin Blanc, 39% Viognier, and 9% Roussanne, this  white displays a pale golden-greenish hue.   The aromas hint at grapefruit and actetone (which disappears after chilling).  That grapefruit is joined by peach, and pear on the palate.  There is a soft mouthfeel and balanced acidity.  The wine was fermented and aged for five months in a combination of concrete amphorae (a growing trend internationally), oak barrels, and stainless steel vats.

Yatir Mt. Amasa White would go well with Libyan fish tangine; sea bass with olives and roast tomatoes; or saffron chicken and mussels.

Or, if you’re not an observant Jew, you could do as I did and make a lobster and champagne risotto.

https://winervana.com/lobster-and-champagne-risotto/

These wines join other Yatir products, including Yatir Mount Masa Red (which is a best seller), Yatir Rose, Yatir Peti Verdo, and the flagship wine, Yatir Forest.

https://yatirwinery.com/en/

 

Above: Etti Edri [left], Yatir Winery’s export manager
and Israel’s Ambassador Dani Dayan [right] with bottles
of Yatir wines.

 

These wines are “kosher for Passover.”  This certification requires handling and processes unique to these types of wine.

Kosher wine is grape wine produced according to Jewish dietary law (kashrut). To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and sometimes handle the entire winemaking process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled. Any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher as well. Wine that is described as “kosher for Passover” must have been kept free from contact with chametz, such as grain, bread, and dough.

To ensure the kosher status of the wine it must be overseen by a Jewish authority who supervises the kashrut status of the producer. Generally, this supervisor will physically tip the fruit into the crush and operate the equipment. Once the wine emerges from the process, it can be handled in the normal fashion.

Here’s some more information on kosher wines:

https://winefolly.com/review/myths-facts-kosher-wine/

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Acquaviva Winery

Acquaviva WineryA Vino You Can’t Refuse

Although the address is officially in Maple Park, Illinois, Acquaviva Winery and Bistro is on a very rural stretch of Illinois Route 38, 60 miles due west of Chicago. The faux-Italianate building incongruously appears, mirage-like, as you approach.

As a child, owner Vito Brandonisio would visit his grandfather’s small vineyard in Acquaviva delle Fonti in Bari, Italy. The lessons and memories formed there carried through to adulthood as he became an amateur winemaker.

In 2002, Brandonisio fulfilled a lifelong dream of having his own wine estate when he purchased 40 acres in Maple Park, naming it Acquaviva in honor of his homeland and his grandfather. Determined to produce his wines from indigenous local grapes, here he planted such hardy Midwest varietals as Prairie Star, Brianna, Chardonel, Marechal Fosh, and Frontenac, types largely unknown even to seasoned wine connoisseurs.

By 2007, it was time to build a winery to make use of the maturing grape vines. This 20,000 square foot facility is to the north across Route 38 from the estate acreage, and in addition to the winery itself (housed on the basement level), it includes a tasting room, the bistro, a retail market, and private party facilities. Tours are available by reservation; a fee of $10 to $30 is charged, depending on tour selected.

Acquaviva encapsulates the American experience. Brandonisio is Italian, of course, his grapes are American, and his current winemaker, Sergio Benavides, is Chilean.

Brianna 2011

Personally, I’m not a fan of sweet wines with the dinner entrée. However, I realize many others don’t share my position (white zinfandel, anyone?). This Brianna is almost completely colorless in the glass. The nose features scents of peach and honeysuckle. It is indeed sweet, with flavors of pineapple, peach, and a hint of apricots.

Although not a true dessert wine, Brianna can convincingly fill in as one. This would pair nicely with Sweet Pastry Fritters, Almond Cake, or Mixed Berry Pizza.

Don Giuseppe 2010

This red blend is made entirely of Illinois grapes, although the varieties are not specified. It is surprisingly grapey on the nose, but fear not, this is no Concord.

This wine was barrel-aged for twelve months. The color is dense purple, and it has good legs. On the palate, it is quite approachable and well-balanced, with understated tannins that add just enough structure. The dominant flavors are dark berries, cedar, and a hint of black pepper, not unlike a Zinfandel, although there is none in the blend.

For dinner, go classsic with Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatora, or try Braised Pork Chops with Tomatoes, Cream, and Porcini Mushrooms.

https://acquavivawinery.com/

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Kourtaki Retsina of Attiki

Kourtaki Retsina of AttikiThe Greek Wine Even Greeks Won’t Drink

At least, all of the Greek-Americans I know won’t.  And my local Greek restaurant recently quit carrying Kourtaki Retsina of Attiki (the only retsina they had), citing a total lack of demand from their customers. Quite a bold move, considering Retsina is routinely called the “iconic wine of Greece” and is ingrained in the food and drink culture of the nation.

And a move which I don’t understand.  I’ve been enjoying Retsina for decades, although I will admit it’s in part because of Retsina’s origin story.   More on that in a moment.   The traditional grape for Retsina is Savatiano with Assyrtiko and Rhoditis sometimes blended in. Modern Retsina is made following the same winemaking techniques of white wine, with the exception of small pieces of Aleppo pine resin (!) being added to the must during fermentation. It is this pine resin that gives Retsina its name, as well as its unique flavor profile.  The resin exudes an oily film on the surface of the fermenting liquid;  after racking, the wine is clarified and the solids and surface film are removed.

Nowadays, much less resin is used than traditionally called for. Such wines lack the pungent “whiff of turpentine” of old.  Indeed, it seems to me the resin content goes down every year.  Frankly, I miss that resin punch, and even as producers seemingly try to make the wine more accessible, fewer people are willing to try it.  Even so, it is considered an ideal accompaniment to such flavorful Greek dishes as saganaki, pastırma or garlic dips, which are often consumed as appetizers.

But why add pine resin in the first place?  Isn’t this a gross adulteration, easily remedied?  In ancient Greece, long before the advent of the barrels and bottles we take for granted today, earthen wine jars and amphorae were sealed with pine resin to protect the contents from oxidation.  Some of this inevitably flavored the wine.  So much for the historical record.

But the legend is far more interesting.  It centers on the siege of Greece by the Romans in the second century B.C.  As the invaders plundered everything that came their way, the beleaguered Greeks were determined to deny them the wine.  “You will take our freedom . .  but you will not enjoy our wine!” they reportedly cried.  It was deliberately tainted with the now-famous pine resin, and in fact the Romans refused to drink it.  Once the war was over, however, it was time to celebrate.  But, all of the available wine had been dosed with pine resin.  What to do?  Well, drink it anyway, of course, and acquire a centuries-long taste for it!

This Kourtaki Retsina of Attiki  is lemonade-yellow in the glass.  The nose features, predictably, a delicate and pleasant pine scent.  On the palate, this  receeds, allowing flavors of grapefruit and lemon to come through.  This crisp wine has a lively acidity, with just a hint of bitterness on the finish.

Enjoy (yes, enjoy!) this Retsina with dolmades, porgies with avgolemono sauce, or chicken souvlakia.

https://www.greek-wine-cellars.com/

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