Monday, December 31, 2007

Hello 2008

In many ways, 2007 was an eventful, crazy year. There were lots of good things -- the winery is certainly doing well -- but quite a few unpleasant things as well. A lot of changes..... both highs and lows.

We lost some dear friends -- some forever, another just until we see immigration reform or can find the right loophole in the law.

For a while it felt like the universe was plotting against us. And I've heard similar feelings from other folks.

So, I'm ready to start a brand new year. Let's drink a toast to 2008. Some Sassy Rosé, perhaps? To a year with less drama and more sweet contentment. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Perfect Gift

I've been know to dream up a lot of [scathingly brilliant, I think] ideas, but I can't take any credit for this one. The creator of this masterpiece is Scott Blakemore, owner of Gilbert's Chocolates. Gilbert's is a Jackson institution -- in business since 1900.

What you're looking at in the photo (left) are two bottles lovingly enveloped in Gilbert's chocolate.

A while back, Scott saw a similar chocolate extravaganza at a food show and decided to try recreating it. We gave him the "go ahead" and a couple of bottles of wine for experimentation. It took him a while to figure it all out, but, oh, was it worth it!

A little earlier this fall, Scott brought the completed bottles to show to us. We loved them! He had covered bottles of our Raspberry and Rhapsody in Red wine with food-grade shrink-wrap plastic. The chocolate goes over the top of that -- primarily dark chocolate with some squiggles of white for decoration. To eat it, you just tear the shrink-wrap plastic and break off pieces of chocolate to enjoy with your wine.

This creation is the most amazing gift! It's perfect for someone who loves wine and chocolate. And the packaging is gorgeous and decadent. Since we began selling them, we've kept the little elves at Gilbert's very busy!

(Almost) The End of the Harvest Season

The 2007 harvest season began early and is just about over... finally.

We started about two weeks early. The warm weather this summer and fall sped up the ripening of the grapes. And the warm weather kept on coming. We really didn't have a heavy frost until late October. And the last of the grapes -- for ice wine, of course -- were harvested about 10 days ago.

Harvesting is a crazy time of the year for us. Because farming and wine making are two separate (but connected) operations, each has its own chores related to the harvest. Once the grapes are picked (or picked UP, as in many instances), it gets very busy in the cellar. During the peak of the harvest season, there are many, many batches of wine fermenting at the same time.

Currently we're down to two batches that are fermenting -- both ice wines. In addition to our usual Vidal Blanc ice wine, we're also making a very small batch of Chambourcin ice wine this year.

2007 harvest photos:
Top - Holly stirring yeast into a container of grapes
Middle - Angelo and Michael moving a tote filled with juice
Lower - Unloading a truck we rented to pick up grapes from the SW side of the state

Monday, October 08, 2007

Doin' Dexter

This is our 2nd year in the Dexter Cider Mill and we just love it. Now that we've gotten past the liquor licensing tribulations (I don't think it's EVER easy!) of last year, this year has been such a pleasure.

The Dexter Cider Mill is the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan. It was built in the 1880s and sits on the banks of the Huron River, just north of downtown Dexter. As you might expect, the mill originally operated with power from the river. Other than electricity now powering the mill, the cider is pressed as it always was, in oak. Most cider mills now press in stainless steel -- the old oak gives the cider a wonderful flavor. It's super-fresh and unpasteurized, so drink it quickly and enjoy the lovely, deep, sweet, complex flavors.

Nancy Steinhauer and her family run the mill. Just like us, they're a three-generation farm family.

We're located in the oldest part of the building. Last year we built a little tasting room, using old apple crates for wine storage. We carry the entire wine list for tasting and purchase. Stop by and visit us soon!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer in the vineyards

The days are long and hot. The grapes seem to grow so fast you can practically watch them get bigger and you stand among them. It's summer in the vineyards.

I took this photo about 3 weeks ago, intending to write about it then (dream on...). The grapes were just formed. Now they're nearly the size of full-grown grapes.

There are lots of chores in the vineyard at this time of year: spraying, up the vines, cluster thinning. The vines are growing madly around us. Next door, the corn is shoulder-height. And everything around us is green, green, green.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Time to Bottle

Everyone know about harvesting season. You harvest then process the grapes on their schedule -- once they reach a certain brix (sugar level) it's time to work. It's a crazy time with our vineyards and, of course, the other grapes coming in from other Michigan farmers as well. Holly goes for weeks and weeks without a break, sometimes working late into the night to process newly harvested grapes.

We're now in the midst of bottling season. Not so romantic. But not quite so hectic either. However, it still can be pretty crazy. We're madly ordering thousands of labels and bottles. And Holly has every Sunday (plus some other days) scheduled for the bottling of various vintages. I think of it as the equivalent of buying gas for your car. Boring. Expensive. Somewhat tedious. But you've gotta do it. The exciting part is introducing new wines or new vintages of old favorites.

We are exceedingly lucky that so many friends of the winery volunteer their time to help bottle. Sometimes folks who have volunteered don't get called (sorry - let us know if you haven't heard from us for a while). But we always appreciate eveyone's offers of help! The photo on the left shows Leo, Sue, and Diane bottling Serenade, our sweet Vignoles.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wine Competition Season

Because it's considered a down time in the winery business (personally, I'm not sure there's ever a down time :::sigh:::), most of the wine competitions are held during the late winter and spring. We've heard results from a few, have recently entered a few more, and have a several more coming up in the next few months.

When I came on board full time, I made a commitment to enter more competitions. They're great marketing tools and a lot of folks enjoy seeing their favorites win recognition. But they can be very expensive for a small winery (often over $500 between entry fees, cost of wine sent, and FedEx charges). It's too bad no one ever thinks about charging fees based on winery size... we currently pay the same as Gallo and Mondavi! And they take quite a bit of time to pull everything together. But a winery that is ignoring wine competitions is like an ostrich with its head in the sand. They can't be ignored or it really just hurts the winery doing the ignoring.

Anyway, recently we heard good news from two competitions we entered just before we left for Albuquerque. It was just the first year for the National Women's Wine Competition but they received over 1800 wine entries. Over 130 wineries that entered won no medals, with over 65% of the medals going to California wineries. We were extremely pleased to receive four medals: Silver for CraneBerry and Miel Amour (our new Spiced Asian Pear Mead) and Bronze for Serenade and Rhapsody in Red. And at the recent Finger Lakes International Wine Competition we received a Silver medal for Serenade and Bronze medals for CraneBerry, Rhapsody in Red, Raspberry, Dry Vignoles, and Staccato.

Earlier this week we sent just a few wines to the International Eastern Wine Competition and more to the Taster's Guild International Wine Judging (they're in Michigan -- it seems right to really support them). It's always interesting to see what happens. After helping out at a competition we know how much it means to luck into the right judge for the right wine. But Holly makes great wines so we always have faith in the system, and are always rewarded for that faith.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stop 3: The End of the Road

After leaving Albuquerque, the last stop in our long journey was Philadelphia/Valley Forge for Wineries Unlimited, a large conference and trade show.

When setting up the schedule, we were concerned about getting too tired, getting burnt out and then not getting as much as we wanted out of the conferences. But luckily that never happened. The only thing we were really tired of was plane flights.

Wineries Unlimited is BIG -- the largest vineyard & wine conference east of the Rockies. It's the first time we've attended but we've been wanting to go for years.

It was worth it. We learned a lot -- Holly especially loved the winemakers' sessions on Vidal. The trade show was huge. It took us all afternoon to go through it. We brought lots and lots of information home on various pieces of equipment, possible goodies for the tasting room gift shop, that sort of thing.

We returned home on Thursday after being gone about 10 days. What a great trip!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Stop 2: Warm Albuquerque

It wasn't just the weather. Everything about Albuquerque was warm. The people. The welcome. All the effort it took to get there was so worth it.

Holly and I arrived early Saturday morning, slept a few hours, and presented our sessions at the New Mexico Vine & Wine Society. The response was great, and we had such a good time. Holly spoke on Making Fruit Wines and French Hybrid Grape Varieties. I spoke on Winery Marketing and Winery Events. The audience was attentive and asked lots of great questions. They loved her wines.

We ended the day with a lovely banquet featuring many, many courses and some great New Mexico wines. In just one day, we got to know so many great folks involved with New Mexico wines.

The next day was even better. Gordon, the winemaker who originally invited us to the conference took us on a tour of Albuquerque and the surrounding area. We visited two wineries -- the first, Ponderosa Winery, high in the Jemez mountains. We loved everything we tasted, especially two dry reds and an incredibly yummy multi-layered Riesling. Probably one of the nicest Rieslings I've ever tasted.

The next stop was Corrales Winery, closer to Albuquerque. They are very similar to us in size. There we tasted more wonderful New Mexico wines. The most spectacular was a barrel tasting of a special Cabernet Franc. Fantastic!

One of the best parts of each winery visit was the behind-the-scenes tours given to us by the two winemakers, Henry at Ponderosa, and Keith at Corrales. The tours were personal, thoughtful, and attentive.

We hoped to visit at least one more winery before they closed, but a flat tire earlier in the day slowed us down. By the time we left Corrales Winery, the sun was setting and everyone was closing.

On the way back to Albuquerque we stopped for dinner at a great Mexican restaurant. Chile rellanos and blue corn enchiladas with an egg on top. All in all, a perfect day!

Planes, Planes, and Automobiles

Neither Holly nor I travel by air all that often. So our "adventures" on Friday seemed like a movie to us, but are probably not that out-of-the-ordinary.

After a grueling car trip from Crystal Mountain to Lansing through freezing rain and sleet on Thursday, we began our day flying out of Lansing for Chicago O'Hare. Because of snow in Lansing our flight was delayed 1-1/2 hours. And that's where all the trouble started...

With the delay in Lansing, we arrived late in Chicago, narrowly missing our flight to Albuquerque. Along with most other folks on our flight, we needed to reschedule. Picture here loooong lines at the United customer service desk.

We finally got through customer service and were rescheduled through Denver later that afternoon, with a flight from Denver to Albuquerque that evening.

Our next delay occured on the Denver flight. The 747's 3rd engine wouldn't start so the plane had to come back to the gate for refueling and to have the engine manually started. A three hour delay. As crazy as it was, we had several nice parts to the Chicago-Denver trip. The 747 was spacious and we were bumped up to Business Class due to the seat availability. Wow -- what lovely leg room! And the staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful.

We arrived in Denver about 35 minutes after our next flight was scheduled to depart. We were sure we'd be spending the night in Denver and hoped our talks could be rescheduled to accommodate the delay. But we finally caught our first break of the day! Our flight had been delayed due to the fact that the First Officer was on the Chicago-Denver flight with us.

So we made the flight to Albuquerque after all and arrived at our hotel at about 12:30 am. A mere 12 hours after our scheduled arrival. What a long day!

Stop 1: Northern Michigan

Our first conference stop was the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council's annual conference at Crystal Mountain in northern Michigan. This is always a great conference -- you get to see winery folks from around the state to touch base, share triumphs and frustrations, that sort of thing.

Crystal Mountain is a gorgeous location, and because we arrive during a "shoulder season," the rates are good. We rent a small condo... it's a fabulous luxury!

We had to cut this year's conference short because of our trip to Albuquerque and a nasty winter storm. We intended to leave after the banquet Thursday night to travel to Lansing, where we'd pick up a flight first thing the next morning. But with Thursday's nasty weather -- freezing rain and sleet -- we ended up taking off early. After a long, nasty drive, we arrived safely in Lansing, ready for the next leg of our trip.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's Conference Time Again

The grapes are dormant, but the winery conferences certainly are not! Because March is a quiet time for grapes and winemaking, it seems like just about everyone schedules a conference now.

This year we're doing a marathon.

First is Crystal Mountain - the annual conference run by the Michigan Wine Council. It's a great way to get together with other winery folks from around the state. The sessions are always useful and the behind-the-scenes socializing is a great way to get to know everyone better.

Unfortunately we'll have to miss the biggest social time -- the parties AFTER the reception on Thursday evening. Several wineries & winemakers traditionally throw blow-out parties in their condos. It's a fun evening and a great opportunity to try lots of Michigan wine! But this year we're leaving right after the reception because we fly out of the Lansing airport first thing the next morning for Albuquerque.

The second stop for Holly and I is the New Mexico Vine & Wine conference in Albuquerque. We are both presenting two sessions there. Holly will be talking about (and pouring samples) French hybrid wines and fruit wines. I'm talking about winery marketing and events. We're so looking forward to attending this conference and visiting some New Mexico wineries afterwards.

The last stop is Valley Forge, PA for the Wineries Unlimited conference. We've always heard that this is a great conference -- lots of information, lots of vendors. We are finally making it there this year. It was so inexpensive to add it as an additional "leg" to our plane trip, it seemed silly not to do it...

We'll be two tired girls by the time this marathon is over...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Reflections On A Year

I began this blog just a little over a year ago. Our first Mardi Gras Festival hadn't happened yet (where Holly and I spent the afternoon wondering if the building would burst at the seams, we had so many party-ers).

I was still working at the museum. But my "job" here was also pretty much full-time. We were starting to suspect that I'd have to make a move eventually -- I couldn't continue at that pace forever. And I knew that I wouldn't be able to give each place my full attention as this job grew and grew.

I left the museum in April, thinking it would be easier to do just one job. Well, yes, it's been a little easier. I'm no longer trying to focus on two sets of events, two budgets, two of everything. But as soon as I arrived, we (make that mostly "I") added lots of extra tasks -- more events, more wholesale outlets, our new tasting room in the Dexter Cider Mill, that sort of thing. It's been a busy year!

My job change and its resulting changes within the winery have been the been most dramatic changes this year. But all that is really just a part of our steady growth since opening in late 2003. This fall we made far more wine than we've ever made before. Holly's used pretty much every inch of space in the cellar and on the cement apron outside. There's wine stacked up everywhere!

At this point, we deal with growing pains everday. But that's a wondeful problem to have!

Our 2nd annual Mardi Gras Festival is scheduled for this coming Sunday. We should be better prepared for the crowds. We've rented a heated tent and porta-john. I'll make even more food. And the Dixieland band should be perfect for the occasion. It promises to be a great party.

And it's been a very good year.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mead, Cyser & More

With the winery closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the winter, we're able to take a few field trips. And no one has to stay at home to "watch the store."

We took our first field trip this past Wednesday to Munro Honey & Meadery in Alvinston, Ontario (about 30 miles east of Sarnia). Mead is made by fermenting honey to produce a wine-like beverage.

They've been in business for about 90 years, but mostly selling honey. The meadery only began about 6 or 7 years ago.

Holly has made a few small batches of cyser (apple & honey wine) and perry (pear & honey wine), but had lots of questions for John, the commercial mead-maker who took us on a tour of the facilities. She was interested in how long he ages his meads, what type of yeast he uses, that sort of thing. He was extremely generous with his time and information.

Their facility was very quiet, as you would expect in the depths of winter. However, one of the nicest advantages of working with honey is that it doesn't spoil. So you can store it and begin the mead-making process at any time of the year. A refreshing thought after the craziness of the harvest season!

The Munro Meadery makes a range of meads including dry, semi-sweet, and some fruit meads (also know as melomels). We brought several meads and a raspberry melomel home with us -- we seem to naturally gravitate to raspberry, don't we?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Jefferson Cup

We've never been particularly good about entering wine competitions. They take quite a bit of time and money. You send in 3 or 4 bottles of each wine you're entering, along with an entry fee for each one, and by the time you add up the postage, cost of the wine, entry fee, and your effort.... well, we've never been sure it was really worth it.

However, wine competitions belong in the category of learning-as-we-go. It's constantly amazing to us how many visitors rely on medals when they decide which wines to try. I saw it over and over while working in the Dexter tasting room.

The funny thing is, most of our wines that don't have medals, don't have them because we've never entered them into competitions. It's not that the medaled wines are better, it's generally that we simply haven't bothered to enter the others into competition. So we're trying to get better about entering.

About 6 or 8 weeks ago we were invited to enter the Jefferson Cup, a wine competition held in Missouri by Master Sommelier, Doug Frost. It's an interesting competition -- it doesn't give out standard medals. Rather they have several designations for selected wines they wish to honor. We recently received the results -- our Dry Traminette and CraneBerry were designated as "Certificate of American Merit" wines and our "Traminette" was designated as an "American Example of Greatness."

So I guess it's time to enter more competitions...

Am I Insane?


Across the country, businesses are closed and the owners and staff are enjoying a day off. Not us. Today is our "January White Sale." All white wines are on sale for one day only.

We tried this a year or two ago, thinking that there were probably a lot of folks out there who didn't want to be glued to the barcalounger all day. That maybe 4 football games in one day was too much. Or that they still had holiday visitors and were looking for some way to entertain them. And we were right.

I don't think we'll be crazy-busy today, but we should see a nice crowd. Visiting a local winery is a fun thing to do on your last day before you go back to work.

Perhaps we'll do our resting next week.

And Happy New Year to all!