Friday, June 28, 2013

Wyoming Wine That Will Make You Jump For Joy--Buffalo Jump Wines

Denis Waitley once said, "Chase your passion, not your pension.”  Like good entrepreneurs, that is exactly what Beckie Tilden and Scott Wagner did to fulfill their dream of making wine in Wyoming.  This passion-filled endeavor didn’t just happen overnight.  It was a labor of love that has felt some growing pains as Buffalo Jump Wines leap to success.

Before making wine a full-time business, Scott commuted to his former job…in New York City!  The Powell native worked in finance and boarded the plane to Wall Street every week.  After the economy turned in 2008, Scott did economic development work for Cody.  During this time, Beckie (from a six-generation Meteetsee, Wyoming ranch family) was known as “Beckie Home-Eckie” since she was the middle school home economics and then the Title I reading and math teacher for a total of 16 years in Cody.  Scott had been making wine for decades—literally; his first wine making experience was in his college dorm room in Utah.  In April of 2011, the couple started the federal and state licensing processes to open a commercial winery in Cody.  They sold the first bottle of Buffalo Jump Wine on December 8, 2011.  By mid-2012, the winery was taking off so fast that it could no longer be just a part-time venture.  Scott left his day job and began making wine full time.  Beckie finished the school year in May of 2012 and made the decision to leave teaching.  This was scary for her, but as she said, they, “Have never looked back!”
Buffalo Jump Wines on display in a Wyoming liquor store.

Of course, one of the biggest wine-making obstacles in Wyoming is where to get the grapes.  Buffalo Jump sources its fruit from different areas of California, depending on the grapes.  The Cabernet Sauvignon (also made into a rose) comes from the Suisun Valley, the Sauvignon Blanc comes from Lake County, and the Chardonnay from Santa Maria.  All of these grapes are chosen for their specific wine-making qualities, and the vineyards that grow these grapes have long-term contracts with Buffalo Jump.  The grapes are handpicked, crushed, and fermented before the trip to Wyoming because Scott and Beckie do not yet have the facilities to do the crush in-house.  Once in Cody, the art of winemaking continues.  The wines are fined (removing visible particles in the wine) with vegan-friendly measures—though this isn’t necessarily advertised on the label.  Some of the white wines are filtered and some also go through cold stabilization to remove certain acids and particles that might cause sediment.  Few additional sulfites are added during the process.  (An ironic side note to this is that Scott has a sensitivity to sulfites.  His slight allergy makes for wine drinkable by others who may also have this  same issue.)  Wines are aged in French and American oak before they are bottled and labeled on site. 
 Here, Laura (University of Wyoming chemistry and molecular biology student) tests and quality controls the wine in the new production area.  Alex (UW graphic design student) and Jerrod (smart phone app writer) also help run the tasting room and bottle wine.

Though the winery is growing by leaps and bounds due to passion and perseverance—Scott and Becky were just moving into a new tasting room with triple the space when I visited—there were hurdles to jump.  Most of these issues occurred because Buffalo Jump was a venture no one in Cody knew the exact steps to follow for legality purposes.  For instance, the city was unsure of what to do to fulfill the federal, state, and city licenses.  The health inspector wasn’t aware of how harmful chlorine could be to wine at any step in the winemaking process so had to rethink the health inspection of the facility.  (The winery uses acid sterilizers, which have no effect on the wine, for disinfection purposes instead of chlorine and bleach.)  Scott and Beckie have even called on their Republican senator, Mike Enzi, to help them clear up a few issues with the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  However, all of these “problems” then became positives as Buffalo Jump paved the way for other area businesses that may want to follow in their footsteps.  The other difficulty faced has been marketing the wine.  Let’s face it…Wyoming is a HUGE state.  Scott traveled over 75,000 miles in one year promoting Buffalo Jump Wines to those around the state.  Wyoming has been incredibly receptive though, as people all over have supported Scott, Beckie, and Buffalo Jump Wines. 
New winery tasting room space. 

When I heard Scott and Beckie talk about their wines, I could hear the passion in their voices.  Scott said, “We just love it!”  And this love for the craft of winemaking is evident in each wine they make.  The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is a unique wine with ample lemon and melon notes, very smooth on the palate.  The stainless steel fermented 2011 Chardonnay is a crisper style of Chardonnay with mineral and a hint of butter.  The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon rose is a great summer wine.  Beautiful light ruby in color, it is filled with tart strawberries and just a slight suggestion of leather.  (Plus, I love a single-varietal pink wine.) The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is filled with baked fruit, vanilla, and cedar.  Aged for 16 months in French and American oak, it has smooth tannins.  I also love that it is only 12.6 percent alcohol, proving that a good Cab doesn’t have to be hot with alcohol.  The Petite Sirah from 2007 is one of Buffalo Jump’s reserve wines.  With notes of forest floor, pine, earth, baked plum, and cedar, this is a special wine.  The last regular tasting wine was the 2007 Merlot, with smells and tastes of berries, petrol, garage, berries, earth, and spice; this was a solid Merlot with a very-pleasant finish. 

 The regular tasting lineup.
When we finished tasting in the front tasting room, Beckie and Scott led me back to their new and improved production area for barrel tastings of some unique wines they bought when they were trying to source grapes.  A winery in California was actually going out of business, yet still had wines in barrels; some needed bottled and some still needed aged.  Beckie and Scott helped that winery bottle its final vintage and then purchased the barreled wines to continue aging in Cody.  The wines included a 2006 Petite Sirah, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2007 Cabernet Franc, and a 2006 Petite Verdot.  Scott and Beckie aren’t sure yet what path they will take with these wines, but whatever they choose to do…I want to be able to purchase these wines!  The extended aging has softened the tannins while bringing out the fruit.  My two favorites were the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (already achieving a brick-orange color with baked fruits, pepper, oak, and soft tannins) and the 2006 Petite Verdot (inky, brick-red with Fig Newton, dried fruit, vanilla, and supple tannins).  These are wines I will jump at the chance to have in my glass!
The new tasting area. 

Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you,” said Oprah Winfrey.  Beckie and Scott make Buffalo Jump Wines with a true passion, and these wines are exciting for all who taste—and all wine lovers in Wyoming.  The future of Buffalo Jump is also exciting as they plan to make mead (honey wine from Lovell, Wyoming honey) and a moscato; they are also looking at the possibility of opening another tasting room in Wyoming at some point and creating a wine club for customers.  I have jumped on the bandwagon of Buffalo Jump Wines, a bandwagon I will be riding well into the future!
Personalized glasses at the tasting room for Buffalo Jumpers who stop in to enjoy wine. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wonderful Wines in the Wyoming West--Cody, Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming—made famous by Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Rodeo—nestled in the north-western corner of the state, is often overshadowed by the more well-known, and much more posh and expensive, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Cody is on the edge of Yellowstone National Park like Jackson.  However, Cody is also on the edge of becoming the preeminent wine destination of Wyoming.  On my recent trip to and through Cody, I was impressed with the promotion of wine and the wine industry in the quaint and comfortable town.  I was so impressed, in fact, I had to write about it!

Impression number one:  a master sommelier!

Perhaps a driving force behind some of the wonderful wine experiences happening in Cody is Amanda Luther, master sommelier in training.  (And from one sommelier to another, this is INCREDIBLY remarkable!)  In her mid-twenties, Amanda is near the half-way mark of her sommelier studies.  She is doing most of this work through independent study with online and social networking resources, while sipping and evaluating wines almost daily.  Amanda teaches wine classes at Juniper Wine and Spirits (more on that business soon), teaching about anything wine related, whether it be Chardonnays or Greek wines.  (During a recent Greek wine class Amanda paired Greek wine with Greek food…yum!)  As if this isn’t enough, Amanda is working on her MBA through a Colorado university.

Master Sommelier in training, Amanda Luther.  (Photo from the Casper Star Tribune.)

Impression number two:  Juniper Wine and Spirits

Juniper is the absolutely adorable liquor store and gift shop where Amanda spends many of her hard-working hours.  In addition to the wine classes, Juniper has an incredibly well-organized wine and liquor selection.  Every wine has been tasted (Amanda and other staff at work) with tasting notes for customers to use to help guide buying decisions.  Juniper also has a cute tasting bar in back where clientele can sit and sip a taste or a glass of one of the wines on the ever-changing tasting list.  Juniper has plans to expand in the next year because the current space just isn’t big enough for this growing wine-centric business.

The tasting bar at Juniper Wine and Spirits.

Impression number three:  Libations

Libations is an incredibly unique full-service liquor store.  It is has a large wine selection spread out so patrons can easily see what wines are available for purchase.  What makes Libations so one-of-a-kind is in the large wine area are pub tables and three, four-bottle Enomatic wine dispensers just waiting for wine lovers to try one of the twelve wines on tap or buy a bottle to sit and sip in the store.  Wine glasses just happen to be waiting in this serve-yourself establishment.  If sitting inside doesn’t sound appealing during these beautiful summer months, there is a patio area for sitting and relaxing with a drink.  If wine isn’t the preferred libation (wink), there are also multiple daiquiri machines to choose from, or a six pack of beer could be purchased with the same serve-yourself premise. 
Enomatic wine dispensers at Libations.

Impression number four:  Buffalo Jump Wines

Last, but definitely not least, is Buffalo Jump Wines. Winery owners and winemakers—husband and wife Beckie Tilden and Scott Wagner—are producing wines right in Cody.  Though the fruit is sourced from California, the winemaking process continues in Cody.  In fact, when I was in Cody last weekend, Beckie and Scott were just moving into a larger space because within two years they had already outgrown their former facility.  Buffalo Jump has wines ranging from a Sauvignon Blanc, to a Cabernet Sauvignon rose, to a Merlot.  I don’t want to give away too much since I am planning on a full blog about Buffalo Jump.  However, let it suffice to say that even in the middle of a move, Beckie and Scott showed me wonderful hospitality, and I sipped on some of their equally wonderful wines. 
Buffalo Jump Winery's tasting lineup. 

Though Cody may be thought of as the second entrance to Yellowstone, or the “other” town in the north-western corner of Wyoming when compared to Jackson, I see Cody creating its own reputation when it comes to wine.  (I should also add one microbrew is already up and running with an amazing restaurant—Geyser Brewing Company and the Terrace restaurant—with two other microbrews in different stages of planning, so Cody isn’t focusing solely on wine.)  I look forward to going back to Cody again next summer; I truly think that all of these wine-loving businesses will be doing well and continuing to expand.  I want to witness the evolution of Cody as the Wine Capitol of the Wyoming West! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cork Craft Craziness

The sharp metal point pierces into the soft material in the neck of the bottle.  The “squeak, squeak, squeak” echoes as the cork screw is imbedded into the cork.  After pressure to remove the stopper, a familiar “pop” sounds, followed by a waft of aromas entering the air.  The dark, chokecherry-colored liquid slowly fills a clear piece of crystal stemware.  Pouring a glass of wine remains a beautiful routine that many love to repeat.  Nevertheless, this common practice also has some universal drawbacks, number one being the garbage left after enjoying a wonderful bottle of wine:  glass and cork.  However, there are some truly fun ways to reuse wine waste, especially corks.  Hello, my name is Kara, and I am a cork craft-aholic!

Cork craft one:   Corks themselves can be fun d├ęcor, especially when put in a cork cage, which there are currently multiple designs.  If something more distinctive than a cork cage is desired, find a unique antique bowl or glass vessel.  Stores also carry many glass containers that can serve double duty as cork holder and candle holder or other function.  This is the easiest craft of all; just put the corks in after each bottle is empty, and a simple cork craft is born!
Cork cage easily purchased at a wine or kitchen store.
 Antique glass bowl used to hold corks--art in itself.
Large, antique pickle jar that holds hundreds of corks.
 Candle holder that can hold corks in the bottom, found at home decor stores.

Cork craft two:  Tables can be set with many different objects made from corks.  Corks with a slit cut in the top make great placecard holders.  With just an easy jewelry-making kit, corks can also be used to make wine glass charms.  I have seen center pieces and napkin rings fashioned from corks.  Of course, used wine bottles also make great crafts for the table, but that is another blog entirely!
Placecard easily made with slitting the top and flattening the bottom of the cork.

Corks with string as wine glass charms, placecards, or table decorations.

Cork craft three:  Corks used as bulletin boards, trivets, and coasters are fairly easy to make and are very popular.  The larger the board, the more corks needed; however, the hardest part of hot gluing all of the corks in place is making sure that the corks are the right size to fit in the necessary spot on the board.  Corks can be split in half horizontally or vertically to use half as many corks to finish the project, but this takes a very sharp blade to complete.  I usually use whole corks for my bulletin boards.

Heart-shaped cork trivet; kit can be purchased from home and wine shops.
Large bulletin board from whole corks.

Cork craft four:  Though this project takes many corks, cork wreaths of varying sizes make wonderful decorations during any season of the year.  There are multiple patterns that can be found for different style wreaths; one internet search can show these varieties.  I did a random pattern and then tied a bow that matched the kitchen of the individual to whom I was gifting the craft.  This was a really fun project and one I am going to make to keep for myself at some point!

All-season cork wreath--took almost 200 corks.

One search for “cork crafts” online shows very unique cork projects for completion, anything from vests, to bathmats, to table tops, to wall coverings.  I haven’t decided what my newest venture with corks is going to be, but I do know I will continue to hear the squeak of the corkscrew in the bottle before the pop of that cork.  After the routine of pouring the final drops of what I like to think of as “the nectar of the Gods” from its bottle, I will save my cork to continue my crafting.  Don’t throw those corks away!  Use them to counteract the only drawback I see to responsible wine drinking—the waste involved.