Thursday, January 9, 2014

Catching Fire--Firehouse Wine Cellars and Brewing

Long before at home-brew kits and microbreweries began to dot the landscape of small and large cities alike, Firehouse Brewing Company, located in the historic fire hall on Main Street Rapid City, opened its doors as the first microbrewery in the state of South Dakota.  In fact, at that time (1991), one had to drive hours and hours and cross several states before finding an establishment of its kind.  No, this isn’t another blog where I “cheat” on wine and talk about beer…although I could.  The Firehouse is doing a little cheating of its own by getting into the wine business and fermenting grapes behind the backs of all the hops it loves!
Starting the fire--Firehouse beer brewing.
 The affair with wine officially started over a year ago when Firehouse owner Bob and brewer Mike decided to continue their experiment of fermenting just about anything and add grapes to the mix.  They contracted with a vineyard outside of Rapid to produce Firehouse wines with South Dakota grapes.  Due to a hail storm this summer, and more ambition than originally planned, the local grapes were supplemented with California juice to produce quite a variety of white and red wines.  Brewer Mike now splits his time between the grapes and the hops as he continues his education through a California winemaker’s program.  Mike also receives on-the-job training from a consultant from California who has frequented South Dakota during the first vintage of Firehouse wines.  The consultant just spent time in Rapid to oversee the bottling of the California Syrah and will be back at the end of February to continue work on the wines.  March is the projected, and hopeful, release date of the inaugural vintage of Firehouse vino.
Wine making facilities; the original plan was only a tank or two! 

Basement barrel room.

The Sweet Sommelier and her sidekick in the barrel room.

Firehouse wines should have something for just about everyone.  Brianna and La Crescent, South Dakota hybrids, will make a lighter-bodied, off-dry wine, while an orange Muscat and a Gew├╝rztraminer will be the sweet and citrusy whites.  Other whites will include the unique grape varieties of Chenin Blanc and Viognier.  Red wine lovers, don’t worry—there will be plenty for you, too!  Marquette and Frontenac, more South Dakota grapes, will start the list of dryer wines.  There will also be the usual and unique suspects of Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese.  A delicate rose from Grenache will round out the lineup of still wines.  I am also looking forward to the Port-style wine that is being barrel-aged until ready. 
 Tasting room area with tasting bar outlined in blue.
VIP room and additional tasting space.
The production and tasting areas are still works in progress.  The fermentation area sits behind the current Firehouse and upcoming tasting room.  The barrel room is in the actual basement under the historic buildings.  With the stone walls, this will eventually make a beautiful space for customers to see all steps in the wine-making process.  Future plans include staining the beams of this basement ceiling for better ambiance.  Though the tasting bar is currently under construction, the layout of the actual bar space is in place, and the storefronts will make a perfect new addition to downtown Rapid. 
Store front area--the future location of Firehouse Wines.
The Firehouse has been a trailblazer (fire pun intended) in the beer business in this area.  That spark has now started the fire for wine production.  Cheating on his great friend beer may keep Brewer Mike on his toes, but this new venture will fire up Black Hills wine lovers, just as Firehouse beer did for beer lovers two decades ago.  I am counting down to having yet another winery on the fast-growing Black Hills wine trail.