The word “sommelier” is so sophisticated sounding, so beautiful as it rolls off one’s tongue. Just so…French! However, even though I am a certified sommelier, sometimes I am forced to not be a sophisticated wine drinker. Part of this is the area I live and part of this is the circumstances of my life. I sometimes drink cheap wine (really cheap wine) out of cheap glasses (really cheap glasses). It happens. In Wyoming and the Black Hills, not every restaurant is an awesome restaurant; sometimes it is just an amazing burger joint, and not every amazing burger joint has a wine list. Or if said burger joint does have a list, it often consists of Cabernet, Merlot, and white Zinfandel, that's all. I try to stay away from box wines, but I had to try the wine that came in a box that looked like a purse, and I love Bota Box wines for hikes and picnics. But today I am not talking about that kind of sommelier’s shame, a shame that sommeliers in metropolitan areas don’t have to contend with like I do in my rural surroundings. Today I am talking about the shame that I have made it my goal to explore and promote all things wine related in the Black Hills and Wyoming, and I have knowingly not done this. Here’s my confession:
About five years ago, I stopped at Stone Faces Winery outside of Hill City, South Dakota. (Wines made by Valiant Vineyards in eastern South Dakota; Stone Faces is the western SD tasting room with a different name.) The non-descript sign out front and lack of branding/marketing put me off right away. I went inside, tasted some wines, and left…never to go back until this past weekend. Shame. On. Me! I claimed to be promoting area wine businesses, and yet I had chosen to neglect one. I was so glad I got back to following my own advice; I don’t know why I wasn’t impressed last time, but my second trip made up for this.
The sign welcoming visitors to Stone Faces.
Once I got past my sign issue, I bellied up to the tasting bar to try my six wines (with no tasting fee). Because there are still so many newbie wine drinkers in our area, wineries need to have a mix of both sweet and dry wines. I focused on the dryer reds and whites. Stone Faces makes wines from both grapes and other fruits, sometimes mixing the two. The wines also have names primarily dealing with South Dakota or the Black Hills, like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Mount Rushmore. This was shown in the first wine I sipped, the Full Throttle red that was a brandy-fortified wine with 16 percent alcohol. I was impressed that this was not too hot from alcohol, though the heat did show up more on the finish. I then was able to do a short vertical tasting of the Sturgis Merlot 2011 and 2013. These grapes were sourced from California, as Merlot does not grow well in the harsh Midwestern winters. The 2011 was dryer with more baked plum notes, while the 2013 was more Pinot Noir-like in body and taste. (Possibly because grapes were sourced from completely different vineyards, areas, etc.) Since I was in the process of getting my summer wine palate on, I bought the lighter-bodied 2013…and drank it already! The next dry red was the Artisan, a mix of California Cabernet and South Dakota St. Croix grapes. This was also very pleasant, and I liked the idea of the state-sourced grapes.
2011 and 2013 Sturgis Merlots.
The final red was sweeter, the Rushmore Red. This was made from California Merlot and eastern South Dakota Noirette. I transitioned from the reds to the whites with Stone Faces’ pink wine, Pasque (named for the South Dakota state flower). This was a blend of Frontenac and Niagara grapes, both SD grown. This was another great summer wine, and I bought a bottle. It was filled with floral aromas and flavors and had a clean laundry smell--a fun wine with a really beautiful color. Rushmore White boasted a German style, made from Riesling and Edelweiss grapes—Edelweiss grapes grow well in this area. The final white, called Sweet White, used Niagara grapes. There were six other wines on the tasting list, but these were all other fruit wines (like rhubarb and blueberry) and a bit sweet for my palette.
Stone Faces blueberry wine, with a picture of the tasting room on the label.
After my stop, I don’t have to be ashamed that I am not experiencing and promoting all aspects of wine in our tiny, budding wine world of the Black Hills as I said I would. Stone Faces taught me to not judge a book by its cover (maybe I am finally going to get over the issues I have with their poor signage). I enjoyed the wines I tried, and my tasting associate, Cynthia, was informative, friendly, and energetic. I could also tell I was not the only one giving more attention to these wines. The tasting room was quite busy with patrons of all ages: from me, to distinguished gentlemen, to 20-something couples. (I always love it when I see young people experiencing wine! It makes me so happy for the future of the industry.) Now my sommelier’s shame only has to be when I am forced to drink cheap wine (I don’t mean inexpensive and good quality…I mean CHEAP) out of a red Solo cup (hey, it happens!).