Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Transitions—Fall and Winter Wines

Fall arrived in the Black Hills yesterday.  It came in the form of rain, so we are desperately trying not to complain; we know how easily this could be snow—think Atlas, the blizzard that dumped literally feet of snow on us exactly three years ago today. 
The bright yellows, oranges, and reds on the trees make this a spectacular time of year.  Yet this morning was downright chilly, so chilly I could see my breath.  Last night it was already dark at 7:00 p.m., all trade-offs to the beauty that is fall. 
It is time to put away the dreams of summer and open the thoughts of winter.  Time to realize that the warm days will become fewer and farther between.  Time to grasp the fact that snow is on its way…much too soon for some of us.
However, the benefits of cooler temperatures can be seen, especially in the changing seasons of wine.  I have finally come to terms with the fact that winter is coming.  I have even embraced this idea.  Proof?  The wines I have chosen to pull from my cellar this week.  Here’s to fall sipping that soon will turn to winter gulps.  Enjoy these amazing wines to usher in the next season of the year!

            Twenty-six months on the lees before disgorgement, then six years in the bottle, make this the perfect sparkling wine for the cooler weather of fall.  Though this is made in the traditional method with a wonderful acidic backbone, the time in bottle has allowed the Pinot Gris to become fuller and rounder.  Pear and pineapple on the nose and palate add to the gorgeous golden hue.  This bottle matches the season and the delightful fall colors outside.

            William Allen’s Grenache Blanc from the Saarloos Vineyard is an impeccable autumn white.  It is aged on the lees and in neutral oak, making for a creamy texture that pairs perfectly with cooler temperatures.  The acid is just right to add a snap to the flavor, creating an incredibly well-balanced wine with complex flavors from tart-citrus to ripe-golden fruits.  William has a wine for every season, and the 2013 Grenache Blanc is the one for this fall.

            From the Nunes Vineyard in Sonoma County, this is a great sipper for the fall.  It is a slightly richer style of pinot, with just-ripened berries showing through on the palate.  There is a great zing in the flavor, adding the exact touch to balance the ripeness.  Forest floor and spice give just the right amount of autumn to this beautifully-colored, deep-garnet wine.  The Beery family has taken their wine-stained dream to another level.  Enjoy this wine this year or wait several years to come.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Bountiful Harvest--Great Garden Recipes

Fall is every wine lover’s favorite time of year.  Harvest is upon us, and the actual production of wine begins.  Fall is also the time of other harvests, such as from my first-ever garden!  This summer I decided to mark an item off my bucket list by planting and harvesting a garden for the first time.  I planted what I considered easy plants to grow…after much consulting with people who actually know about this gardening stuff.  I also grew fruits and vegetables that I would enjoy nibbling as the fruits of my labors. 
Over the course of the summer, I watered and weeded, pampered and plucked.  And in the end, I had nice harvests of my red strawberries, cherry and Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh garden lettuces, yellow squash, and zucchini squash.  These easy crops made me almost feel like I had a green thumb; they were incredibly prolific.  Therefore, I was left finding tasty recipes in which to use my home-grown veggies.  I hope you enjoy these delicious recipes as much as I did!

Lettuces:  Spinach, Butter Crunch, Black-Seeded Simpson
Fill a bowl with the garden lettuce mix.  Top with sliced home-grown strawberries.  Sprinkle one tablespoon of feta cheese on top.  Scatter with one tablespoon of spiced pumpkin seeds.  Top with balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  (I make my dressing with balsamic, Dijon mustard, and a touch of honey.)  Add boneless, skinless chicken breast strips if more protein is desired.  Serve with a California sauvignon blanc/fume blanc.

Tomatoes:  Cherry Tomatoes, Yellow Grape Tomatoes
Slice tomatoes in half; put in bowl.  Cut fresh mozzarella into cubes.  Add to bowl with tomatoes.  Harvest fresh basil.  Cut into narrow strips and scatter on top of the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Lightly drizzle with high-quality olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.  Sprinkle with salt.  Serve with an Oregon pinot gris.

Tomatoes:  Large Red and Yellow
Slice the tomatoes into large rounds.  Put on toasted whole-grain bread spread with real mayonnaise.  Add strips of already-cooked bacon and garden lettuce/kale mix.  Serve with an Oregon or Russian River Valley pinot noir.

Yellow Squash
Slice yellow squash into half-inch-thick rounds.  Place in one layer on lightly oiled cookie sheet or cookie sheet covered with parchment.  Evenly sprinkle shredded, fresh Parmesan cheese on top of each round.  Put in pre-heated 400-degree oven.  Bake 30 minutes.  Check.  Then bake 5-10 more minutes or until cheese on rounds is golden brown.  Serve with a California or French chardonnay.

Zucchini Squash
Shred two cups of fresh zucchini, no need to peel.  Can also be frozen.  Add 1½ cup sugar; I use ¾ cup sugar and ¾ cup Splenda.  Then mix in ½ cup oil (I blend olive and canola), 2 cups flour, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1½ tsp. soda, and 2 tsp. Mexican vanilla.  Mixture will be somewhat thick.  Bake at 350 degrees in ungreased (9 X 13) cake pan for 30 minutes.  Let cool.  Continues to stay moist for days after baking.  Serve as a dessert (or late-night snack) with a glass of California cabernet sauvignon.  

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!--Harvest at Old Folsom Vineyards

No, I’m not one of those that gets out the Christmas decorations way, way too early.  It’s harvest time!  The most wonderful time of the year…as far as a wine lover is concerned, anyway.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience harvest multiple times for different wineries, even though I live on the edge of South Dakota.  Yes, grapes are grown here.  And yes, wine is made from the estate-grown grapes. 

So, here is to the harvest!  Please enjoy these pictures from Old Folsom Vineyards, just three miles south of Rapid City.  And remember to celebrate this season!

Before the harvest:  time in the vineyard with Mike Gould--owner.  Netting is removed before harvest.  The marquette grapes are ready!  So is vineyard dog Nel.

During the harvest:  time to pick!  Nets are removed.  Then pickers, volunteers like me, come in to remove the grapes.  Hundreds of pounds of fruit are plucked and then sent to the winery.  (These harvest pictures were actually taken in 2014.  Unfortunately, I had to miss 2016's harvest.  But I got in on all the other harvest 2016 fun!)

After the harvest:  time to press!  Grapes are brought into the vineyard and weighed.  Then they are fed to the crusher/destemmer to release the juice.  From there, the juice, grapes, and skins are pumped to the tank where the magic of fermentation will begin.

After the work:  time to party!  Nothing beats the sight of the vineyards basking in the sunset as wine lovers enjoy the vineyard with wonderful food, fun friends, great music, and fabulous footwear.  Oh, and don't forget the wine...lots of it.

Friday, September 2, 2016

My First Beer--T&A Brewing Company

            On July 29, 2016, Andrew Wright had his first beer.

            No, he didn’t just turn 21. 

            No, he didn’t suddenly decide to drink.

            He literally had his first beer. 

            It was a process that started almost two years before.  Andrew and his wife Tea, high school sweethearts and parents of two teenage girls, opened T&A Brewing, a tap room with the motto “No crap on tap!”  This might not seem like a big deal, but Tea and Andrew spent the first year convincing patrons to drink beer other than Bud Light. 
            Andrew had been home brewing as a hobby for about four years.  Then he got sent out of town to work for eight weeks.  This job did not just send him to the community down the road, but all the way to Arizona, with no options to come home on weekends.  This was just too much for a family man like him.  It was the final straw that pushed him and Tea toward brewing on a larger scale and owning their own business. 

            The couple purchased a historic building on Main Street of their home town, Newcastle.  Though the Wrights have heard this structure was originally a hardware store, most locals referred to it as the Bronco Bar, the business it held for decades.  They then gutted the space from front to back, exposing original stucco and brickwork and making room for the brewery. 
            As Andrew and Tea jumped through the numerous federal, state, and local hoops to receive all the required licenses, time quickly passed.  Financial hurdles also acted as obstacles to the brewing timeline, but each time a complication occurred, Andrew found a solution.  Though Tea and Andrew did not have any business partners or financial backers, they did have a lot of friends and family supporting them at every one of these twists and turns.

            This leads back to Andrew’s first beer:  T&A’s 747 Amber—the first in a series of beers Andrew is going to name after those who helped him and Tea make this dream a reality.  The beer’s namesake has a long history with Andrew.  Garrett Borton and Andrew go back a long time…way back.  Andrew and Garrett moved in together as seventeen-year-old seniors, both longing for their own freedom and space away from home. 
            Fast forward nearly fifteen years, and Garrett was one who helped gut the historic building.  He spent hours sandblasting the stucco and brick walls.  He loaned tools, vehicles, and trailers for the moving of the brew equipment.  He may even be a valued customer at T&A now and again…wink, wink.  This helpful energy Garrett has given to Andrew and Tea’s business is shown in Garrett’s time of birth—7:47—proving Garrett’s high-octane, jet-fueled personality, a personality reflected in the amber ale.

            Andrew chose an amber—Garrett’s favorite style—as the inaugural brew because it fits many palates.  It is more serious than a light beer, yet can still be good for non-craft beer drinkers.  Keeping with the high-octane motif that Garrett’s character provides, the ale is nearly seven and a half percent alcohol…yes, basically 7.47 percent. The 747 is “light on the palate for a dark beer with light caramel maltiness and a clean finish.”

            Need any more proof that this initial brew is truly something exceptional?  Keep in mind the entire brew process took nearly six weeks—four weeks in the fermentation tank, one week in the brite tank, and one week in the kegs (carbonating).  That is six weeks of work to create a quality product...that sold out in just half that time. 
Yes, in a mere three weeks after the release, the 747 was gone.  Sold out.  Done.  Drank.  Enjoyed by Black Hills beer enthusiasts.   Enthusiasts that just can’t wait for Andrew’s second beer.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Magazine is Coming! The Magazine is Coming! Sip the Hills

And here is your sneak peek of the much talked about (by me) Sip the Hills publication.  Enjoy a few snipets from the editor (also by me):

Over a decade ago, I started a love affair… with wine.

I can still remember when this love started. It was on a beautiful summer evening on a patio at the (then) brand new Prairie Berry Winery. The facility had just opened the year before, and the winery was hosting its first wine dinner. I found two girlfriends to go with me because I thought this event sounded like so much fun, and I knew I had to take part! I was right not missing the occasion.

This was the time and place I can pinpoint my wine passion blossoming and turning into (dare I say) an obsession. This first Prairie Berry dinner was by no means the same as what the winery is known for today... the same time, I looked around and noticed how the wine and beer industry was blossoming here in the Black Hills—pun intended...the number of possibilities for modern, trendy, and tasty fare kept increasing, as did the appetite for customers to learn more about and enjoy more of what was available to them...

...I made it my goal to promote these businesses and what I saw as an incredibly exciting and new trade, a truly ground-floor industry ripe for new customers (again, pun intended). Through these pursuits, I have witnessed the Black Hills wine and beer trade evolve and develop...

...for instance, Prairie Berry is now a leading establishment for foodies in the Hills, with marvelous chefs serving amazing treats for special occasions and every day. The Firehouse has grown and now also produces wine, including some from Black Hills grapes. Belle Joli keeps expanding and is doing something never done in the state before. Naked Winery is more than just a wine tasting room; it has also started making beer. There is a craft brewery in almost every town, from Newcastle to Sturgis. Botticelli’s wine list was recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine. Trip Advisor named Black Hills Burger and Bun a top ten burger joint in the country! Chubby Chipmunk chocolates were part of goody bags for the Grammy Awards. The list goes on and on...

...hence, my one-woman mission to support all wine, beer, and food activities in the Black Hills was born, and from that, the idea behind the Sip the Hills which you will soon be reading...
Look for this cover starting Friday, June 10 in locations all over the Black Hills:

Firehouse Brewing
Firehouse Wine Cellars
The Wine Cellar
Belle Joli
Naked Winery/Sick and Twisted Brewing
Someone's in the Kitchen
T&A Brewing
Pizza Barn
The Knuckle
Bitter Esters
Prairie Berry Winery
Miner Brewing
Twisted Pine
Black Hills and Badlands Center
Smith's Liquor Gallery
Independent Ale House
Canyon Lake Liquors
and many others!

Features will include stories about pioneers in the beer industry, sparkling wines in South Dakota, and Black Hills grape growing.  Other pieces include guides to delicious chocolates, great restaurants, beautiful patios, and interesting wine and beer information.  Also check out the useful wine and beer map as the center of the publication with a directory of all of these establishments.  

This is the ultimate guide for tourists and locals alike.  Find a copy next weekend.  Then use #sipthehills to show your great wine, beer, and food adventures in the Black Hills.  I will be!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Eyrie, The Nest

Roots and wings.  Roots and wings.  The most important things I have given to my children are roots and wings.

As I sit staring at the hawk soaring through the sky on the 1996 bottle of The Eyrie Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir—the birth year of my son—the symbolism of the label completely hits home.

I am no longer a mother to a teenager.  Period. 
My youngest is twenty.  A truly milestone age.  Though eighteen is considered legally an adult, we all know that’s not true.  But twenty…there’s something about twenty that seems so old, so mature, so heart-wrenching.

My son would probably tell you he was this grown up two years ago, but I’m not buying it.  Two years ago he was still in high school.  Still under my roof all the time. 

But now, just like that soaring bird, he has left our family nest, leaving his parents’ eyrie empty for the first time.  It might not seem like a big deal to many parents, but his father and I have never been adults without kids.  Never.  Parenting is what we have done every day, week, month, and year of our adult lives.

When I was eighteen, I had my first child; my husband was twenty.  There’s that age again—twenty.

My advice on parenting has always been that it isn’t about the parents; it’s about the kids.  Many would say, “Well, duh!”  However, not many parent that way. 

I have always tried to do what was right for my children, no matter how that affected me.  When a parent tells a screaming toddler no, it is hard on the parent.  It is much easier to give in to the screaming and let the toddler have his way, but that isn’t often what is right for the child.

When a pre-teen screams, “I hate you!” at her mother.  It is really easy to let that child have her way and for the parent to be the good guy.  This is probably not the best choice though.

When a teenager has a curfew, the parents have to stay up waiting, no matter how tired those parents are.  When a teenager is grounded for staying out past said curfew, the parents are, in essence, grounded, too, because they have to stay home to monitor the teen. 

Sometimes it is easier on parents if they bury their heads in the sand and become best friends with their teen, to let the teen do whatever, whenever.  This is never what is right for that teenager.

Am I a perfect parent?  Hell, no.  Have I made mistakes?  Hell, yes!  But overall, I have always done what was right for my kids, even when they threw a fit, even when they screamed at me, even when they lied to me.  I have held them to a standard.  A standard of which I knew they were more than worthy, a standard which I knew they deserved.  Because I loved them that much.

As my youngest enters his twentieth year, I can see the results of all of this hard parenting.  And believe me, it is hard, the hardest—and the best—thing I have ever done, that I ever, ever will do.

It has truly been the highlight of my life.  And will be until the day I die.

Our son is back to the safety of our nest now, home for the summer after his first year of college.  Our roots have brought him here.  He will fly from our eyrie again. I want him to do that.  I can’t wait to see where his wings take him. 
As his father and I sit and drink this birth-year bottle together, we inhale the musty earth, the muted fig, the strong mint, the zippy acid.  After twenty years, this is still a gorgeous wine, barely showing its age.  It is perfect.  So perfect we make parenting be about us, just for a short moment, as we bask in another milestone of our son’s life.  Only one milestone of many yet to come.  A milestone my son doesn’t even think is that important because it is only twenty…not twenty-one.
But mostly, I stare at the wings of the regal bird on the bottle of 1996 The Eyrie Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  My English-teacher heart ponders the symbolism.  My mothering heart lurches with a bit of sorrow while it wonders at the passing of time—but my heart does not break—it explodes with pride while it remembers the deep roots beneath those soaring wings.

Why The Eyrie Vineyards?

            I had been on the lookout for a birth-year bottle of wine for our son.  My husband and I opened a birth-year wine on our daughter’s twentieth birthday and were determined to do the same on our youngest’s birthday.  I had looked around online, never finding the bottle that completely met my standards or my taste buds.

            Then my husband and I spent our spring break in the Willamette Valley.  I love pinot noir.  I love Oregon.  I love Oregon pinot noir.  I was thinking of looking for a bottle when we stopped to taste at The Eyrie Vineyards.   The Eyrie has quite a library selection.  David Lett, known as Papa Pinot for his pioneering status growing pinot noir in the Willamette, grew many of the earliest vineyards in the area, experimenting with my favorite varietal.  As part of this “experiment,” Lett also held back many cases from past vintages.
            These cases were not just left and forgotten.  The Eyrie actually has quite a certification process where library wines are tasted through for quality before being re-blended and re-corked, then covered with a wax capsule to store for more aging.  The tasting room always has one library selection on its menu for customers to enjoy.  On the day of our visit, a 1978 Merlot was on the list.  There was also a 1987 Chardonnay for a white option.  Both were absolutely amazing.  The age was showing, but only in the finest ways.  Lett’s experiment has obviously been proven a success time and time again.  If I wasn’t a believer of the Willamette Valley and Oregon wines before (which I was), I surely was at that moment.

            The Eyrie had two different options for 1996 wines—the year for which I was looking.  My husband and I contemplated our selections and made our choice, taking home the South Block Willamette Valley.  This was just another serendipitous event on a trip that was filled with such moments.   Truly, this birth-year wine capped off a great trip and proved why The Eyrie Vineyards is considered a must-stop winery.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Final Thoughts—Willamette Valley

            Spring has finally arrived in the Black Hills.  The snow showers have turned to rain.  Green grasses are sprouting on the hillsides.  The sun is rising earlier and setting later.  The most beautiful season in the place I call home is here to stay…at least until fall.

            This arrival has me thinking less about my earlier travels to other picturesque spots and more about the short trips I get to make around the gorgeous area where I live.  However, a few final thoughts of Oregon keep swirling in my mind.  The newly-green slopes here have me reminiscing one last time about the Willamette Valley—some pretty great memories to have!

            Penner-Ash recently made the news after it sold to wine giant Jackson Family Wines.  (Though this isn’t a blog about Jackson Family, I will say that company has great taste!  It keeps snatching up some of my favorite producers.)  However, Penner-Ash had already made the headlines with me as a winery I could not wait to visit.  The trip there proved to be as good—maybe even better—than I expected.

            Wonderful wines, fabulous vistas, and friendly staff members all helped to make this worthy of memories.  The view of the gravity flow facility from the tasting deck is incredibly interesting.  The outdoor area is so inviting.  Additionally, the view is so breathtakingly amazing, there is nothing better than sitting with a glass outdoors…which is exactly what we did.

            Another northern Willamette Valley producer still bringing a smile to my face is Domaine Drouhin of Oregon—fondly called DDO by the locals.  Also with panoramas that delight the eye, DDO is unique in many ways.  First, the Drouhin Family—long-time producers in the Burgundy region of France—sought out Oregon as the next great place to grow pinot noir.

            They have not been disappointed by the region, nor has the region been disappointed by this stellar producer.  The tour here is incredibly informative, taking in both the outside grounds of nearby vineyards and all levels of the gravity-flow facility.  Options to taste include the Willamette Valley wines, but opportunities are also given to sip some Burgundian wines the Drouhins produce.  A great way to compare the concept of terroir in wine.

            Moving further south in the Willamette Valley, King Estate Winery has become one of the best known Oregon producers, based first off the amount of wine produced there.  But please don’t think that a large quantity of wine means poor quality.  This is just untrue.  King Estate makes great wines at great prices…and then does other top-shelf and single-vineyard options incredibly well, too.

            These wines all start in the organic vineyards, the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world.  The drive up to the stately tasting room steers patrons through charming vineyards, made even more so when the sheep are seen grazing.  A bit of advice is to go hungry.  After sipping these wines, experience the tasty bites at the King Estate restaurant, so delicious all around.

            All trips must come to an end—as does my writing about these trips.  This one is no exception.  But like all good travels, I will end on a high note, like the fun had at Sweet Cheeks Winery.  Though it becomes repetitive to say the view was beautiful, I repeat it because it’s true—there really are few bad sights in the Willamette.  Sweet Cheeks sits on a hillside and has a large, charming patio overlooking the valley floor.  Often offering live entertainment on evenings and weekends, this is an enjoyable place to hang out. 

            Many still wine options are available, but a wine must be chosen to pair with this festive setting, so order a bottle of the sparkling, get multiple glasses, and enjoy time with friends.  This is the spot screaming for joyous smiles and raucous laughter.  It is what wine is all about:  bringing people together to enjoy moments and memories.  Sweet Cheeks is the perfect place.

            Though this is my final “official” writing about the beautiful Willamette Valley, my recollections of this fabulous trip have gotten me through two months of Mother Nature evilly teasing me with the thought of spring…only to have her rip those warm thoughts away to be replaced by snow. 

            But spring is finally here—to stay—in my beautiful Black Hills home.  Thank you Oregon, thank you Willamette Valley, for helping me get here, for being my much-too-short substitute for spring.  I can’t wait to return.  However, for now, I can enjoy my own backyard.