Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wine Drinkers are Made, Not Born--Black Hills Wineries

Okay, I am not sure if this is scientifically true, but I know this is anecdotically (may have just made my own word) true.  What I mean is I have seen numerous people become drinkers of better wine just from drinking more wine.  My favorite story is of my sister-in-law who when she started drinking, drank only the sweetest wines she could get her hands on, like Moscato.  Within one year of drinking wine regularly, she was a California Cabernet drinker!  Now that is a palate that developed quickly!  At the end of June, my daughter turned 21, so I saw the fabulous opportunity to build the palate of her and her newly-21-year-old friends!  They weren’t born with Riedel in their hands, but they are now on the path to learning how to drink wine, that’s for sure!

            Finally legal, the last of her friends to be so, Ashlyn came home for the long Fourth of July weekend.  Before coming I asked if she might want to stop at a winery (or two), and she was very excited.  So of course, I took that inch she gave me and went a mile, deciding to visit three of my favorite wineries in the Black Hills over two days.  Each winery has different qualities that make it special and different qualities for wine newbies to enjoy.  (I have written about each of these wineries at some point before, but they are worth a recap today.)  Of course, Ashlyn, Caitlin, and (later) Dorothy were trying the sweeter wines at each stop.  However, please don’t cringe at this.  I have always considered sweet wines “gateway wines” that will eventually open the door for other wines.  Again, making a wine drinker does not necessarily happen over night!

Winery One:  Naked Tasting Room, Hill City

            Naked Winery is a tasting room for Naked Wines produced in Hood River, Oregon.  There are two tasting rooms in the Black Hills, the Hill City location, where we stopped, and the Custer location.  Hill City is unique in that it is now producing its own beers under the Sick and Twisted label and has started to blend its own wines that were first produced in Oregon and then shipped to South Dakota for blending, bottling, and labeling.  My only rule here was I wanted the girls to try the traditional vitis vinifera grape wines, not the super-sweet other fruit wines.  The novice wine drinkers balked at first…that is until they took their first sip!  They started with an off-dry pink wine—Booty Call Blush—and their love for wine began.  They tried several whites, from Score Sweet White to Tease Riesling to Sundressed Outdoor Vino.  The girls enjoyed them all, but their favorite was Cougar, a semi-sparkling white from Oregon grapes.  They did try one peach-Moscato blend, and I was very pleased when that was almost too sweet for their blooming pallets…all good news for a sommelier mom!
Winery number one--Naked Winery tasting room in Hill City.
Fun and funny merchandise at Naked.
Winery Two:  Prairie Berry, Hill City

            My daughter has been to Prairie Berry on several occasions before; it is one of my favorite places for lunch, and I have requested Mother’s Day brunch here with the family on more than one occasion.  However, she was excited to be able to enjoy some wine with her food for a change!  We ordered food before tasting, and Ashlyn tried a wine cocktail, the Blue Suede Shoes blueberry wine with lemonade.  (I have had this before and knew it was a yummy summer drink!)  After the fabulous food, we started sipping some of PBW’s sweeter wines.  Of course, the first one to try had to be the flagship wine that put Prairie Berry on the map, Red Ass Rhubarb.  This and Lawrence Elk were standouts in the wine lineup.  The girls did try one of the sweetest wines on the menu, Calamity Jane, reminiscent of Concord grape juice.  Again, I love Calamity as a gateway wine that gets people hooked on wine, but to my pleasure, it was also too sweet for my wine drinkers in-the-making.  Stop two and once more, sommelier mom is happy with the palate progress. 
One Prairie Berry's outdoor stairway.

Winery Three:  Belle Joli, Deadwood

            I love Belle Joli’s story.  Winemaker Matt went to enology school in California, then came back to South Dakota to grow the majority of the fruit for the wines he and his wife Choi make.  Belle Joli is very much a family affair, with Matt’s parents also acting as brawn (and maybe some brain) for the operation, which is still small but has plans for expansion with new vines and a new facility near Sturgis.  My group of wine novices had grown to three by this point, and the young ladies were very pleased with all of the Belle Joli wines they tasted.  La’ Lure (an award winning wine) started off the tasting with a splash, and the positive progress continued through the Edelweiss, Mon Cherry, pear dessert wine, and peach dessert wine (both mimicking the sugar content of ice wines).  The favorite was a tie between La’ Lure (a blend of Edelweiss and Riesling) and Edelweiss, showing that the beginners have already moved on to German-style wines, a wine win as far as sommelier Kara is concerned!

Tasting at the outdoor tables at Belle Joli in Deadwood.

            So yes, building a wine palate that can impress others often takes years; however, learning to appreciate wines is the first step to loving more complicated and serious wines.  I often think of where I would be now if I had started appreciating wine at age 21.  Over twenty years of wine experience instead of ten and who knows what I might know now…I guess we’ll see in ten years, won’t we (wink).  I do know that I loved sharing one of my loves (wine) with one of my loves (my only daughter).  I also tried to use it as a tool to teach these college students about responsible drinking for enjoyment, of which I have always said wine is the epitome.  Wine is meant to be sipped and enjoyed, slowly with food, as an experience often shared with others.  This experience is now passed on to three more (hopefully) wine lovers.  And to all of you:  keep building that wine palate!  Cheers!