Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Mead!

Earlier this fall we received word that we had been awarded a Value Added grant from the US Department of Agriculture.

I applied for the grant last March. The idea behind "Value Added" is to help diversify an agriculture-based business. The Value Added product we proposed to add was mead.

Those who know us are probably saying, "but they already make mead." Yep, it's true. But we make it on such a small scale -- and with the successful completion of this grant we'll be making lots more mead!

Are you familiar with mead? It's believed to be the oldest type of fermented beverage known to man. Mead was made before people raised grapes for wine and grains and hops for beer.

Our first adventures with mead allowed us to try the process and find out whether our customers were interested in the product. They certainly were! Miel Amour, our first mead made with Asian pears and spices, sold out in a few months. Our next product was Apple Mead, made from our own apples and sweetened with a touch of cider from the Dexter Cider Mill.

What will we be making as a result of this grant? More Miel Amour and Apple Mead along with lots of new things. Already this fall Holly has started a raspberry melomel (mead) and a pyment (mead with grapes) with estate-grown Vignoles grapes.

Because honey doesn't spoil, you can start batches all through the year. After we move away from the craziness of the grape harvest, she'll be able to look into making other meads. We'll probably do a straight honey mead plus others. Maybe something with estate-grown hot peppers, maybe lavender and honey, the variations are pretty much unlimited.

So check back next fall for the first releases of the new meads!

Some mead terms:
Capiscumel - mead made with chile peppers
Cyser - honey and apple juice fermented together
Great mead - mead that is intended to be aged several years
Melomel - mead made with honey and any fruit
Metheglin - traditional mead with herbs or spices added
Pyment - honey and grapes
Rhodomel - honey and rose hips and/or rose petals

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Large Flying Objects

Cranes and mosquitoes. Who would've guessed that the skies would be filled with both at the end of October? Cranes, yes. Mosquitoes.... huh?

It's the weekend of the Crane Watch at the Haehnle Bird Sanctuary about 5 miles to the north of us. We love partnering with them every year -- introducing wine tasting to bird watchers and crane watching to wine tasters. Because of the popularity of the event, it has now grown to 2 days.

People meet at the Sanctuary at 4 pm on either day, Saturday or Sunday. First they drive around the area in caravans to watch the cranes feeding in newly cut corn fields. Yesterday they were able to spot our local celebrity, the Whooping Crane, on Wooster Road, about a mile or so directly north of us. He showed up last year with a group of Sandhills migrating from Florida and has decided to make Michigan his home. (photo above)

Next they return to the Sanctuary to watch the cranes fly in just before dusk.

We stay open late both days and encourage the crane watchers to visit us before or after the event.

The weather this weekend has been absolutely lovely. Crisp air and gorgeous fall colors. The only downfall this year has been the mosquitoes. They flourished after the heavy rains we had in mid-September (Raspberry Festival/Hurricane Ike weekend). We've had another generation since then and they're almost unbearable. Yesterday we welcomed quite a few crane watchers who came back early -- they couldn't stand the mosquitoes any longer.

It's always something, isn't it?

Photo of Sandhill Crane and Whooping Crane by Tom Hodgson

Monday, September 29, 2008

Going to the Dogs

Yesterday we held a Release Party for Abrazo, the wine we designed as a fund raiser for the Cascades Humane Society.

The weather was gorgeous -- we figured we'd earned it after the Raspberry Festival.

We weren't sure what to expect as far as turnout, but it was a very nice party. Not crazy busy, just a nice turnout.

The best turnout was by the dogs. I'd estimate that we saw at least two dozen yesterday!

Abrazo was designed to fit into a hole in the tasting list. We really needed a red wine that fit between the dry reds and Staccato, a semi-sweet red blend. It's perfect, just slightly off dry (basically, not perfectly dry).It's a hearty red with a velvety mouth feel. I think it'll be a hit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wet Raspberries

Just a note to express my appreciation and admiration for all our hearty customers who braved the rains last Saturday and attended our Raspberry Festival and 5th Birthday Party.

As we approached the day and realized what sort of weather we were in for (the fringes of Hurricane Ike), we were afraid no one would come.

We've been so lucky in the past with other outdoor events -- we just figured we were finally due for some nasty weather during one. And of course it had to be our biggest event of the year.

What we didn't count on was the steadfastness of our loyal customers. What fabulous folks you are!

It wasn't as busy as it would have been had the weather been beautiful, but it was so much busier than we ever expected. What wonderful folks to spend a rainy day with us on our "birthday!"

Thank you, every last soggy one of you.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Hug for the Animals

Over the 5 years we've been a winery, some of the nicest collaborations we've been a part of have involved local charities.

Early on, when we realized that we weren't legally allowed to donate wine, we figured out innovative ways to give to charities without giving away wine. The most notable way was to produce a wine specifically for that cause, and then donate part of the proceeds of the sale of the wine directly to the nonprofit organization.

Our first venture was A Thousand Cranes, a blend of white wine and apple wine that benefited Hospice of Michigan. Next came CraneBerry to benefit the Michigan Audubon Society. We're currently working with the Washtenaw Land Trust on a wine that will benefit their land conservation efforts in the area of the Waterloo Recreation Area (we're perched right on the edge of it).

Those wines were (and are) limited edition wines. We make a certain number of cases and when they're gone, they're gone.

We've also developed an on-going donation -- 50 cents of the purchase of Blushing Crane is donated to our neighbors and fellow Crane lovers, the Haehnle Bird Sanctuary.

Now we're about to release a second wine that will provide an on-going donation to a local charity. A portion of the sale of Abrazo, a new off-dry red wine, will be donated to the Cascades Humane Society.

Abrazo, Spanish for "hug," is a soft red wine with just a touch of sweetness and a lovely full mouth feel. A gorgeous photo on the label, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Walker, features Rusty, Holly's wonderful puppy who was rescued from the county pound by the Humane Society on his last day.

Abrazo will be released on Sunday, September 28 at a release party. Stay tuned to the website for more details.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Setting Up Dexter

It's another year (it's amazing how fast the time flies) and time again to open the tasting room inside the Dexter Cider Mill. The tasting room is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays as long as the Cider Mill is open -- generally late August through early to mid-November.

This morning, my Dad, Angelo, and I loaded up the pick-up and my car with two cases of each of our wines and headed east to the mill.

I missed the smells. The Dexter Cider Mill is one of the nicest smelling places on earth. Apples, fresh donuts, oak, historic building. Ummmm.

We set up the store, placing the bottles of wine in the old apple crates on the walls. I'll be there on Friday to open it to the public for the first time this season.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

California - Day 4: UC Davis

It was an amazing day. At the end of it, our brains were tired, our taste buds were tired, and we'd learned about as much as we could in a single-day class.

This class was the reason we made the trip to California. Holly has always wanted to take sommelier training, and this was the closest we could find without a long-term commitment.

"Advanced Wine Tasting" is a course set up to train and certify judges for the California State Fair wine competition. Those students who wished to be certified, paid an additional fee and took a test that day on their wine tasting knowledge. We weren't particularly interested in the certification, we just wanted the training. There were about 80 students in the class and about one-half took the test.

It was a hands-on class. Over the day we tasted about 50 wines for various aspects such as acids, sugars, tannins, flaws, and varietal character. Essentially the day was one long test (some of us were graded, some were not) -- an interesting and useful teaching technique.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

California - Day 3: Amador County Fair

It was the suggestion of the folks at Crystal Valley Winery that we attend the Amador County Fair that evening. We just lucked out to be there on day the Amador County Fair Wine Tasting event. How could we resist?

We had great advice to drive there via Old 49, rather than the new highway. The old road winds through several historic mining towns on its way to Plymouth, the host of the county fair. We loved taking some time and exploring Sutter Creek. The old roads reminded me of Cobalt, in northern Ontario, near our family cabin. They're carved out of the bedrock and wind up and down, up and down, and around. The little downtown in Sutter Creek is charming! We got there after most of the shops had closed for the day, but looked in a lot of windows.

It was very educational to visit the Amador County Fair wine tasting event. We're usually on the other side of the tasting table... serving the wine. It's so much saner on that side of the table! Holly and I tried a bunch of local wines, but only managed to stay for about an hour. It was just too crowded and crazy.

So.... on to Davis and our wine tasting class tomorrow.

California - Day 3: Lodi

It was Holly's dream day. A whole day spent tasting rich, complex Zinfandels.

Day 3 of our California trip was spent visiting [mostly] small to medium wineries within the Lodi appellation. Everywhere we went we found lovely Zinfandel wines... quite a bit of Petite Syrah... and some nice Barbera....

It was extremely interesting. Many aspects of the wineries were similar to ours, but the wines they make are pretty much the opposite. With their growing conditions, they make great big reds but struggle with their whites. It's just too hot -- their white wines lack acidity and are pretty flat. And we make great acidic aromatic whites and have a harder time with our reds.

We loved:
* Chatting with the winemaker at Crystal Valley Cellars
* Learning about the upcoming wedding at Berghold Winery along with great conversation with our fellow wine tasters there
* An amazing, fresh lunch at the Farm Cafe at Michael-David Winery
* Watching the effortless grace of the tasting room staff at VanRuiten Winery as they juggled an increasingly busy tasting room
* The warm, exceptional service from Akaylia at Jessie's Grove Winery -- we felt right at home!
* Meeting the sisters... and the adorable winery dogs at Macchia Winery

Today's photos:
An ancient (100+ year old) Zinfandel vine
Gorgeous grape gate, Berghold Vineyards and Winery

Friday, July 25, 2008

California - Day 2: Napa Valley

If you only had time to visit one winery in Napa Valley, where would you go?

That's the situation we found ourselves in yesterday. We left Copia after 3:00. Most wineries close their tasting rooms at 4:00 or 5:00. What winery should we visit? Our answer might surprise you.

We decided to visit Sadie.

Sadie is one of the four Airedales featured in the Wine Dogs USA book. And, of course, Rosie is another.

After Wine Dogs USA was published, Sadie sent us a calendar featuring her and her buddies at Dutch Henry Winery in Calistoga.

It seemed like the perfect choice. And it was.

Dutch Henry Winery is very small, based on Napa Valley standards. They produce about 7,000 cases of wine per year. We tasted five or six of their wines, visited with Sadie and all the other animals (they have more than we do!), and took a tour of their newly built wine cave.

It was the perfect end to our day in Napa.

California - Day 2: Copia

Our visit to the Napa area was centered around reservations for lunch at Copia.

Located in the town of Napa, Copia is the new(ish) food and wine museum that bills itself as "The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts." It's a grand idea and a beautiful facility.

Of course, having worked in museums AND wineries, I have an interesting perspective.

I'm aware of the financial problems Copia has been having since it opened. Like many larger new museums, it greatly over-projected annual visitation and income. And, like Cereal City in Battle Creek, there's really not that much to do once you're there.... and at Copia, almost everything costs extra.

My personal beef is with them billing themselves as "The American Center..." They are very much centered around Napa Valley, with northern California pretty much the furthest they reach. There was no wine for sale in their shop that came from outside California (except some from outside the U.S...huh?). And everything they said or did was all about northern California.

To be fair, my experience with them is pretty limited. But, as someone with museum and winery experience, those are my thoughts.

That being said, we had a really lovely time at Copia. The luncheon was delicious, the wine was even better, and I loved the program's format. We sat in a classroom/amphitheater where we were treated to a combination class on cooking, wine, and gardening. What could be better?

The luncheon was based on summer themes and local Zinfandels. The menu included lots of local foods, including some that were grown in Copia's gardens. Yum!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

California - Day 1

Holly has always wanted to learn more about wine tasting. She has an amazing palate and has learned a lot in informal settings, but has always wanted formal wine tasting/sommelier training.

One of the places we've looked at is the University of California at Davis. Known as one of the finest Enology schools in the world, they offer a range of classes for winery professionals. And the nicest thing is that some of those classes take place over just a day or two -- certainly do-able for folks coming in from out of town.

One of their classes, Advanced Wine Tasting, trains and certifies judges for the California State Fair wine judging. We're not particularly interested in that certification, but the training is exactly what we'd been looking for.

Yes, "we." Holly and I (and the rest of the crew) decided that it was more beneficial to send both of us. It always works out best that way -- if one person doesn't pick up something, the other does. And you're already paying for the hotel rooms and rental car...

Yesterday was Day 1 of our trip. We decided to take a few days extra to do some winery visits. Visiting other wineries is so educational -- you always pick up great tips about what others are doing. (And it's fun too, of course!) And, honestly, we (and our sinuses) wanted to be over jet-lag before we embarked on the U.C.Davis class.

We decided to visit some smaller, more out-of-the-way wineries (yes, you can still do that in northern California!), and planned the Clarksburg AVA as the destination for our first day. It's south of Sacramento in a lush, beautiful river delta area.

The website looked great -- just what we were looking for, we thought. Unfortunately, the website seems to have been set up before all the wineries were ready.

The first winery we stopped at, California Cellars, looked open. But when we got there, we were told that it wasn't the case. It's a lovely area, pretty much right on the river, with well-tended grapes and a nice-looking facility. We mentioned that we were from a small winery in Michigan and were told that we could drive back and look at the grapes, but nothing else. With no indication on either of the websites (the winery's or Clarksburg's), it was disappointing to drive all the way out there for nothing.

The next winery, Ehrhardt Estates, was vineyards and equipment... nothing for a visitor to see.

We were thrilled to see road signs for the next wineries. Located in a renovated sugar mill, the signs said "5 Wineries, Open Wed-Sun 11-5." But when we got there, only one was open on Wednesday, Carvalho Family Wines.

We had a great visit to the Carvalho tasting room, which included a barrel tasting of their '07 Te
mpranillo. The tasting room staff were terrific -- warm and open, with lots of information about their wines and where to eat while in Davis. We left there with their off-dry (I'd call it semi-sweet) Muscat Canelli, 2004 Tempranillo, and a dry Pinot Noir rose'.

The renovated sugar mill is a gorgeous building. Lovely high ceilings and lots of wood.

The last stop of the day was Bogle
Vineyards & Winery. The largest of the wineries in the area, we were familiar with a few of their wines that are distributed in Michigan. Located along another river in the delta area, the winery and tasting room are beautiful, with a lovely shaded picnic area along side the buildings.

We enjoyed everything we tried, but especially their Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs. Of course, we took a few of them with us to share back at home.

So what's up for Day 2? We have lunch reservations for the Zinfully Elegant Barbecue Lunch at Copia.... stay tuned!

raphics (from the top):
California Cellars
Clarksburg AVA display
Old Sugar Mill - interior
Old Sugar Mill - exterior
Bogle Winery - interior
Bogle Winery - picnic area & Hollyhocks
Bogle Winery - river

Monday, June 16, 2008

Following Up From the Frost

Since I've been making it a practice to photograph the same grape vine and post it here, I'd thought I'd do a follow up from the last post.

It's amazing how much growth we've had since that last frost a few weeks ago. But it's too early to tell what sort of yield we'll have. There are a few tiny grape clusters, but not many.

However, around the rest of the vineyard where we didn't get hit by the frost, the grapes are in bloom. It's a special ephemeral scent of early summer -- the spicy sweet fragrance of blossoming grapes.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I Was Wrong... (It Wasn't Really Spring)

Take a look at the post below. Yep, I was wrong.

As much as it really felt like we were past the threat of frost.... we weren't. We've had 3 or 4 frosts since then. Of course, I planted most of my tomatoes. I sheltered them on nights when we had a frost warning. Unfortunately, we weren't always warned and I lost quite a few from unannounced spotty frost. So now I've filled in the holes where I lost plants and the varieties are completely mixed up...

The grapes held up through all of the frosts until the most recent one (last week). That frost hit several of the grape varieties pretty hard... as you can see. We'll have to see how well they come back. The only good news it that it hit varieties that we don't count on -- most of the ones in the vineyard area east of the tasting room are old hobbyist varieties planted by my dad long before we were a commercial winery.

Ok, it's now June. Are we finally safe?

Ah, the pleasures of agriculture.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's Really, Truly Spring (knock on wood)

I tend to be a bit of realist (some might say pessimist) about Michigan winters. As a home gardener, I've had my heart broken numerous times. I think it's spring.... then winter reappears.

But... dare I say it? ... I think spring has finally come.

We had a lovely spell of warm weather early in April, following by some cooler temperatures. That's good -- you don't want the spring blossoms to open and fall too quickly. But, of course, you don't want the temperatures to be too cool!

It's been a beautiful spring.

Right now, the little clusters of grapes are popping out. Soon the vineyards will be green.

The final question remains.... do I dare plant my tomatoes at home? Is it really, truly spring?

Where did April go?

April was a blur.

It's the third year Governor Granholm has designated April "Michigan Wine Month," and certainly the busiest. At one point, I had 6 events (mostly off-site) in 7 days!

With the Johnny Cash song in mind... I've been to Clarkston, Livonia, Warren, Berkley, Grand Rapids (several times), Coopersville, Charlotte, Coldwater, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Chelsea, Lansing.... and I can't remember where else...

It's been a great (but tiring) month. We participated in a number of larger wine tasting events, along with two wonderful little events that benefited nonprofit organizations. And our wine is available in several new shops.

Now maybe I'll be able to breathe again.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Greetings from Ohio

For the past three days Holly and I have been attending "License to Steal," a wine marketing conference in eastern Ohio. The venue is nice -- The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake -- and right in the middle of one of Ohio's winemaking regions.

We attended the last conference in November 2006 and got some good information from it.

You know, you always pick up good ideas when you get a bunch of wine marketers together. But generally, I was a bit disappointed in the conference. It was slapped together at the last minute, didn't have a good sense of its audience, and was too basic.

However, one great session was entitled "Varietals." We didn't know what to expect -- normally a varietal session would include wine tasting. But this session was all about three different regions that are promoting (or have plans to promote) three different wines: Riesling, Norton, and Traminette.

Of course, that's great for us because we make two out of the three.

Norton is a grape grown in Missouri and surrounding states. It's the only grape (out of the three featured) we don't use. It requires warmer temperatures than what we have here in south-central Michigan. Norton is a native grape, but without the foxiness of most natives. It reminds me of Chancellor, one of the nicest of the red French Hybrids. They're making fabulous Norton wines in Missouri and have made it their official state wine. Visit, a website they've developed as part of a comprehensive branding project.

The Riesling presentation was based on the new International Riesling Foundation. I've heard bits and pieces about it, but was happy to get the whole story. We'll have to get involved...

And Indiana is starting to work on making Traminette its official state grape and do something similar to what Missouri is doing. Of course, that's great news for us. We have lots of friends in Indiana. And any publicity/education about Traminette is bound to help us. The more people who know the grape and like the wines, the better!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Back From Crystal Mountain

We spent most of last week at the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council annual meeting at Crystal Mountain. It's always a fun, educational experience.

The conference is always planned for a quiet time in the wineries, and that coincides with the "shoulder season" at Crystal... so the accommodations are quite affordable.

This year we stayed at the new "Cottages at Water's Edge" -- little 2 and 3 bedroom bungalows across the street from the conference center. Of course, I'm a bungalow fan (my house is a bigger bungalow) so, for me, these charming little cottages were perfect! Ours was a 2-bedroom named "Wild Rose." Perfect again, since we have a wild winery hostess dog named Rosie.

The sessions were very interesting and useful, we got to meet with lots of old friends, and (of course) try some great new wine. What's a winery conference without wine?

Thursday morning I got word that I had been appointed by Governor Granholm to the Wine Council. I've been working with the council for several years -- on their Promotions Committee and on a strategic planning task force. The Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council is an incredibly helpful, professional organization and I'm honored to be a part of it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Port in a Storm

We released our first official port, Port in a Storm, about 6 weeks ago or so. It's a lovely port -- made from estate-grown Frontenac and Chambourcin grapes.

But the bottle gets as much attention as the lovely wine inside. We saw this bottle about a year ago and knew we had to use it at some point. It leans about 15 degrees to starboard (or port, perhaps?), has a gorgeous thick bottom and a wooden T-top so it becomes a decanter after opening.

When we made the decision to use it, we knew we needed to go all out. So the name of the wine, the label, and the bottle all suggest a boat in a storm. In addition, we individually dipped the top of each bottle in wax and added a message-in-a-bottle tied around the neck.

Fun bottle, great wine. What more could you ask?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Blanket of Snow

It often seems like we get extreme weather on New Year's Eve. Ice storms, freezing rain, snow. Last night was no exception -- we accumulated about 8 or 10 inches of snow in a 6 hour period.

It started out as very wet snow and clung to everything -- trees, power lines, the grape vines. The snow came down quickly and mounded on every surface like frosting. It's a Christmas-card-fairy-land outside.