Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where You Least Expect It--Heaven to Earth, Gillette

My New Year’s resolution was to focus on businesses that promote wine, and though I haven’t posted every week since I began, I really have been trying not to neglect my blogging responsibilities.  Today, I’m focusing on the promotion of wine in a place many may not have necessarily expected it:  a gourmet kitchen store.  I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “foodie” (only because of time and calorie constraints…hehehe), but I do love interesting and unique foods, both making them and consuming them.  I love so many aspects of kitchen stores and kitchen gadgets.   Most kitchen stores have a wine-related section that has wine tools and glassware.  However, Heaven to Earth in Gillette has taken this sometimes small relationship with wine to a whole new level!  A level I highly appreciate!

Gail and Emerald, owners at Heaven to Earth, approached me some time ago after they had surveyed their customers and found many were interested in wine, so Gail and Emerald were quick to oblige.  The proprietors of this wonderful store quickly came up with the idea to create a wine and food “club” so to speak, where students would first learn the basics of wine (that’s where I came in), and then learn different aspects of food and wine pairing, with monthly sessions that would focus on different foods, wines, and food and wine tools.  Gail and Emerald also wanted to have multiple sessions of the Intro to Wine Class, so that the large numbers of their interested patrons could ensure a date that worked for them.  I put together a class introducing the basics of wine with important terms, wine evaluation techniques, and food pairing basics.  If I do say so myself, I thought my class was first-class.  But even tooting my own horn, the information of my class was nothing compared to the atmosphere Heaven to Earth created for this class!

The tables were covered with black table clothes, set with glasses, Bling and Ty Nant bottled water, gold silverware, fun wine napkins, oyster crackers in artichoke shaped bowls, marinated olives in stoneware dishes, and a beautiful wine journal.   This was only the beginning of the fabulous spread for the evening.  During the tasting of the two white wines that evening, Gail’s kitchen staff served lobster ravioli with alfredo sauce, crusty bread with warm artichoke dip, and fresh vegetables.  With the two red wines, the kitchen presented a mini-cheese plate with hard salami, aged white cheddar, and mixed dried fruits.  The wines were great, and the food was wonderful!  The staff served the tapas portions to customers and made sure water glasses were full all night.  It was better service than I have witnessed in many restaurants.  Beverage Broker of Gillette—which I highly recommend readers check out—provided the wine and had the bottles that we tasted that evening for sale to take home that night.  Of course, Riedel glassware was available for purchase from Heaven to Earth, as well as the wonderful food we had with our wines and the many other gourmet products the store offers.  I left feeling these were the best classes I have taught!

In my quest of promoting wine in my rural area this year, I must remember not to overlook businesses that aren’t directly selling wine but may actually be supporting the wine culture on a whole other level!  Heaven to Earth is doing a fabulous job encouraging the wine industry, and they do it with extraordinary style!  I look forward to the classes I will be teaching there.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Back to the Beginning--Prairie Berry Winery

This past Saturday, I attended the Saint Patrick’s Day wine dinner at Prairie Berry Winery, and during that event, hosted by the youngest of five generations of wine makers, I was thinking about my own wine history. 

I started drinking wine a little over ten years ago.  Like many, I started drinking sweeter wines and then branched out from there.  I would go to the liquor store and buy a select bottle or two, but always the same few bottles of wines that I knew I liked.  Then, I stopped at Prairie Berry Winery, just after its new location in Hill City, SD opened.  I initially stopped because I had heard of Pumpkin Bog wine…and I was intrigued.  Wine from pumpkins?!  Yes, I needed to try that.  I not only enjoyed Pumpkin Bog, but the honey wines Prairie Berry produced were great.  I also developed a fondness for Calamity Jane and Red Ass Rhubarb.  Other favorites stood out for me as my wine palette developed and PBW helped me branch out to try different wines, but my true passion for wine was still on the horizon. 

During Prairie Berry’s first summer in Hill City, the staff hosted its first summer bistro wine dinner.  I found two girlfriends—Sonja and Sally—to go with me because I thought this sounded like so much fun and knew I had to take part in this event!  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 PBW dinner was by no means the same as today’s culinary delights; they served us wine in regular wine glasses and food on Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils…so far from today’s up-scale, modern dinnerware and beautiful, varietal-specific Riedel crystal stemware.  However, the pairings of the food with the wine were wonderful, and these pairings were what totally fascinated me about wine.  I realized the difference that wine made with food and food made with wine.  It was a total “aha” moment, as Oprah would call it, and though I liked wine before, I was completely hooked!  My quest to try more wines and foods was in full gear, and my drive to learn about wine was kick started. 

From that summer evening on, I have rarely (I’d say never, but I think there have been a sprinkling of events I have had to miss) missed any of the PB events in the past eight years—wow, it’s been eight years, I think—and I only miss if I absolutely must because of schedule constraints!  I have watched Prairie Berry develop into a leading “foodie” in the Hills with marvelous chefs serving amazing fare for special occasions and every day!  It is my favorite treat to be able to stop in for lunch on an average day for a mouth-watering sandwich, delectable cup of soup, and a glass of wine.  I also love the perks of being a wine club member there:  VIP tickets to the Fezziwig Christmas Festival, wine club pick-up parties, and gifts at the wine dinners (now in the fall and spring, as well as summer).  Like the winery, my palette has evolved into something much more sophisticated, but like a fine wine, everything gets better with age.  Also like a wine, Prairie Berry still has new surprises in store for us as it develops, like this year’s Mother’s Day brunch…which I WILL be attending with my family!  Prairie Berry not only kicked off the wine boom in my life, but this business was at the heart of the wine boom that is spreading across the Black Hills with other wineries and wine bars opening their doors to wine fans; these businesses are possible, in part, due to Prairie Berry. 

So, thank you, Prairie Berry and staff, for taking the risk on the establishment that would make so many changes in the Black Hills.  You are definitely like an award-winning vintage wine, and I know you will only continue to better with age!