Natural Wine at the Old Westminster Winery’s Summer Solstice Festival


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“Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.” — Raw Wine

On June 22nd, Maryland’s Old Westminster Winery hosted the inaugural Summer Solstice Festival featuring natural wines from across the globe. The event was held at the winery’s Burnt Hill Farm which is their second vineyard but the first farmed using biodynamic practices. Once mature, the harvested grapes will be processed with little or no intervention in the cellar and Old Westminster will produce Maryland’s first natural wines.

But what is Natural Wine? When asked, representatives at the festival provided …

Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth – What Would Hemingway Do?


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“That evening the priest from Henry’s mess comes to visit. He brings some presents for Henry: a mosquito net, a bottle of vermouth, and some English newspapers. Henry invites the priest to share some of the vermouth with him. The priest breaks off the cork on trying to open it and must push the cork down into the bottle. He sees this as a personal disappointment. ” Chapter 11 Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms

“‘Let’s have some vermouth then’ I said. ‘Tell Bolo to bring out the bottles’. We had the tall glasses with mixed French and Italian vermouth (two parts French to one of Italian, with a dash of bitters and a lemon peel, filled with ice, stir and serve)…” Esquire article, “There She Breaches! or, Moby Dick Off the Morro” published in May 1936

Most characters in Ernest Hemingway’s novels were not shy of alcohol and these …

Missouri Wine: Norton – Missouri’s Official State Grape


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The Norton grape has been the backbone of the Missouri wine industry through the industry’s rise in the second half of the 19th century and the modern era. It was a Norton wine that was declared the “Best Red of All Nations” at an 1873 International competition in Vienna, Austria – a feat repeated in several other subsequent world fairs. At the same time nurseries, such as Bush & Son & Meissner near St. Louis, were propagating the grape throughout the Midwest and most likely France too. These Missouri nurseries are credited with saving Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century after the phylloxera crisis by supplying disease-resistant rootstock. A major reason for its popularity is that Norton vines are very hardy and vigorous, resistant to numerous vine diseases and other growing problems such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, and bunch rot.

Post-prohibition, When Jim and Betty Held purchased the …

Navigating the Crus at the Beaujolais Road Show


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Discover Beaujolais



“In 1395 Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, ordered that all Gamay vines be uprooted by the following Easter. The Duke believed the cultivation methods used in raising Gamay were damaging the reputation of Pinot Noir. Although the decision sparked such uproar among the public, the Duke’s attempts at eradicating Gamay were thorough, enforcement of his ordinance did not reach Beaujolais in the very south of Burgundy, where pockets of the grape continued to grow.”, Discover Beaujolais

Discover Beaujolais

And Gamay held on in these pockets quietly, until 1937 when Beaujolais became a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). At last, Gamay was finally recognized as that region’s protected grape. Gamay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc and it was originally brought to the area from Croatia by the Huns in the 4th century. Beaujolais is located north of Lyon in eastern France and actually overlaps …

Missouri Wine: Excelsior Springs is a Craft Beverage Destination


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In 1880, what is now downtown Excelsior Springs was a wheat field. Yet, within the end of the decade, Excelsior Springs was a vibrant town with transportation links provided by stage and rail and with a resort hotel – the Elms Hotel. The discovery of healing mineral springs instigated this growth and eventually more than 40 mineral water wells and springs were identified. In fact, “there are more groupings of mineral springs in Excelsior Springs than anywhere else in the world”. (1)

Over the next several decades the town expanded fueled by healing tourism and a water bottling plant. The current Elms Hotel was completed in 1912 (the first two were destroyed by fire) and the Hall of Waters was completed in 1938. This facility was built as a Federal Public Works Administration project and at its “height was the most completely outfitted health resort in the state”. (2) President …

River Hill Wine and Spirits – From Moonshine to Bourbon to Country Wine


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I couple years ago I started purchasing the River Hill Distillery Corn Whiskey as it provides a clean, textured, sweet corn flavor with little burn. Hard to do that at 100 proof, but old family recipes have their secrets.  An opportunity occurred this month while driving past Lurey Caverns and suddenly realizing we were close to River Hill and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder provided quick navigation. That’s when I discovered that the distillery had re-branded to River Hill Wine and Spirits since they also produce a range of country wines.

Proprietor Fred Foley greeted me when entering the tasting room and we discussed the origins of the operation and the distilling process during a short tour. He and his wife Ann board horses, raise beef cattle and grow corn to feed these cattle. After a few years of excess corn in 2013, they spent a year applying for a distillery …

Silver Branch Brewing Company – A World of Beer


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As downtown Silver Spring Maryland revitalized it is also becoming a craft beverage destination with three breweries and a winery within a two-mile radius. Silver Branch Brewing Company opened in February 2019 as the latest addition and is well worth a visit. Proprietors Christian Layke and Brett A. Robison produce a wide selection of Central European, British Isles, Belgium, and Americas styled beers that will impress most visitors. They also pour wine – including those from Austrian grapes – and offer German sausages. But on the beer.

During our visit, we tasted through their entire lineup finding several immediate standouts. On the Central European side, the Killer Castle Kellerbier is basically an unfiltered version of their Czech Pilsner Glass Castle and is more refreshing with enhanced minerality. Our group split on The Oracle Speaks Weizenbock disagreeing on its powerful banana character but returned to an agreement on the Fashion Killer

Old Westminster Winery, Burnt Hill Farm, & The Summer Solstice Festival


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“We’re going to challenge current beliefs with unique and transparent wines – wines that offer balance, nuance, and character. We’re going to farm thoughtfully, using biodiverse cover crops, biodynamic principles and incorporating animals. And then, in the winery, we’re going to craft wines with a light hand, ferment with indigenous yeast, and bottle it all without fining or filtration. These wines will be made without makeup – a pure reflection of the time and place where they’re grown and the people who guided the process.” Drew Baker.

Photo Courtesy of
Old Westminster Winery

This is the guiding principle behind the next phase of Maryland’s Old Westminster Winery as this accomplished and innovative winery attempts to challenge contemporary winemaking through The Burnt Hill Project. The Baker family has been very successful in their previous endeavors, first by immediately impressing consumers and critics after an initial launch of Old Westminster Winery, being …

Villa Maria’s First Sip Of Summer


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This week Villa Maria Estate presented their seasonal #FirstSipNZ witter campaign and this chat featured a trio of ready for summer wines.  The winery is one of New Zealand’s most famous having operated for six decades starting as a one acre – one man shop in 1961 and growing to where founder George Fistonich is inducted to Restaurant and Hospitality Hall of Fame.  Fortunately, these wineries are widely distributed across the United States so here are some tweets why you may want to pick up a bottle or two…

Villa Maria 2018 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($14)

The grapes were sourced from the Awatere and Wairau Valleys – spreading from coastal Wairau to a higher altitude in Awatere (900 feet). This provides a  mixture of warmer and cooler vineyard sites which showcase the herbal and tropical notes.

Missouri Wine: Reviving American Heritage Grapes at Vox Vineyards


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Albania, America, Brilliant, Carman, Cloeta, Delicatessen, Favorite, Lenoir, Lomanto, Marguerite, Muench, Wetumka

These are winegrapes that were once grown in Missouri and middle America prior to Prohibition. They are just a handful among the many grapes developed in the rigorous breeding programs of viticulture pioneers Thomas Volney Munson, Hermann Jaeger, George Husmann, and Isador Bush. Each of these gentlemen received commendations from the French for rescuing that wine industry as mentioned in The Basics and between them developed hundreds of new wine grapes and rootstocks. The Show Me State is a prime grape breeding region as several diverse climates merge (eastern woodlands, western plains, Ozark Highlands, and the Mississippi Delta). Across the globe, there are about 79 different species of grapes in the genus Vitis (grapevines); but 27 of those are native to middle America. Thus Missouri has historically hosted many of these species: labrusca, aestivalis, riparia, rupestris, cordifolia, among …

Lodi Wine: The Unique, Unusual, and Unconventional


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During our SnoothLodi Wine trip there were dozens of wonderful wines that we sampled that could keep us writing for months. But in order to conclude this Lodi Wine series, this post will focus on several wines worth mentioning – emphasizing wines made from unconventional grapes or a unique Lodi heritage.   Note also that most of the information regarding the grape varieties come from wine-searcher.com.

Reds

St. Amant Winery 2017 Lodi Barbera ($18)
Barbera is a dark-skinned wine grape variety found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania and even the island regions, Sicily and Sardinia. At the turn of the 21st Century, it was Italy’s third most-commonly planted red wine grape, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. In Lodi, Barbera thrives in its Mediterranean like climate and this wine derives from a 57-year-old vineyard. It’s also one I brought home afterward.

Bokisch Vineyards

Missouri Wine: The Basics


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Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board

In the 1870s, 6 million acres of French vineyards were destroyed by a mysterious plague. Desperate, the French government invited Missouri’s first entomologist Charles V. Riley to diagnose the situation. He determined that the vines were suffering by an infestation of phylloxera, most likely introduced by imported American vines. Riley also suggested the idea of grafting vinifera vines to native American rootskocks were immune to the louse and introduced French authorities to growes such as George Husmann, Hermann Jaeger, and Isador Bush. Subsequently, millions of cuttings of Missouri rootstock saved the French wine industry from disaster. (1)

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board

At the time seeking out a Missouri specialist was a logical choice as the state was one of the largest producers in the country.  Early in American history, European immigrants brought their wine-making skills with them as they settled west of …

A Tutorial on Left Coast Estate and Their Summer Wines


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In the past when I received samples from Oregon’s Left Coast Estate, I opened each bottle over the course of at least a week – sampling each wine multiple days.  Not so for this latest shipment of summer wines as I shared the four bottles with neighbors during an impromptu block party.  Actually, the evening turned into a mini-wine class as I discussed the Willamette Valley AVA, the Van Duzer Corridor AVA, 45 degrees latitude and Burgundy, white Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Meunier, lees, sparkling wine, and the wonderful estate that is Left Coast Estate.

We started with the 2017 The Orchard Pinot Gris ($18), a blend of 91% Pinot Gris and 9% Pinot Blanc.  While sipping I explained first how Pinot Blanc provides a bit of roundness to the wine and second, the Left Coast estate itself. Particularly, that The Orchard is a distinct …

Lodi Wine: Prost from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards


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During our Snooth trip to Lodi, a major theme stressed was the large diversity of grape varieties grown in the AVA.  Over 100 in fact.  But this number results primarily from the unique endeavor of one family, the Koths and Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. This vineyard is located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA right alongside the river and is planted with more than 50 German and Austrian grapes. It’s hard to imagine that there are even that many such grape varieties, but the Koths found them.  Their entire portfolio is listed below but we will be focusing on a few grapes:  Kerner, Bacchus, Dornfelder, Blaufränkisch, and Zweigelt.

It all started in the early 1990s when Bob Koth and his wife Mary Lou started traveling to Germany to visit their daughter Ann-Marie, who was studying abroad on a Fulbright scholarship. After becoming acquainted with German …

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Jerez Xeres Sherry


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“There can’t be a more misunderstood type of wine than Sherry.” The Misunderstood Genius that is Fino Sherry  – De Long Blog

Fino (“refined”) is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez located in south-western Spain, near the coast and just northeast of Gibraltar. The Jerez DO (Denominación de Origen) title was Spain’s very first, awarded in 1933. It is strongly influenced by both the cooling effects of the Atlantic Ocean and the warmth that originates in the eastern plains. The coastal winds moderate temperatures, helping to preserve acidity and also provides natural air-conditioning in the wine cellars. According to Wine-searcher.com, “this contributes to a slow and gradual maturation of the wines”. Because Fino is delicate, it is generally made from Palomino grapes grown on the best soils, namely the chalky, white albariza marls. It is meant to be consumed fresh and …

The Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin: Enjoy Neat or with Tio Pepe Sherry


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Most gin brands differentiate their products by the amount of juniper or other botanicals used in the process.  In general, the grain bill has less impact on the spirits as the botanicals drive the flavor.  This differentiation is definitely the case with the Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin ($35) as it consists of only two botanicals: juniper and honey. Like a distilled gin, the juniper is added to a neutral spirit before running through the distillery’s custom designed 300-gallon extraction still. The spirit is cut with water to 45% ABV and then fortified with honey to provide a unique profile. Since this step is performed post-distillation the product is labeled correctly Gin as opposed to Distilled Gin (labeled if all the botanicals were added pre-distillation).

Caledonia Spirits is named after its Vermont county home and was founded by beekeeper Todd Hardie. In 2009 he acquired a 15-gallon fire heated pot …

Harpers Ferry Brewing – Overlooking the Potomac and Maryland Heights


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On September 13th, 1862 Confederate units under Brig. Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw assaulted the lightly defended Maryland Heights, the highest mountain overlooking the strategic transportation hub of Harpers Ferry. This town was strategically significant because it was built at the point where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River with a junction of the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad. Thus Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to capture the town to buttress his supplies while he marched into Maryland prior to the Battle of Antietam. Harpers Ferry was virtually indefensible as it is surrounded on all sides by higher ground. Yet the Union commander, Col. Dixon S. Miles refused to strongly fortify any of these positions and instead concentrated his forces near the town.

By mid-afternoon, the inexperienced and overmatched Union soldiers had abandoned Maryland Heights and escaped across a pontoon bridge into the town. Col. Miles, compounded …

Lodi Wine: Turley Wine Cellars Old Vine Cinsault & Zinfandel


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The quality of Lodi wine grapes is not only evident in the excellent wines made by Lodi wineries, but also the wines produced by non-Lodi wineries. One example is Turley Wine Cellars, who largely make single-vineyard designate wines, with several focusing on Lodi old vine Zinfandel & Cinsault. The winery is based in Paso Robles with a second tasting room in Amador and sources fruit from several of Lodi’s old vine vineyards such as the Bechthold Vineyard, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Dogtown Vineyard, and Steacy Ranch. During our SnoothLodi visit, Turley Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua introduced us to these vineyards through a couple of verticals within a single-vineyard designate and a horizontal across multiple vineyards.

The Bechthold Vineyard

The Bechthold Vineyard
Much has been written about the famous Bechthold Vineyard — not only the oldest continually planted vineyard in Lodi but also in the world. The vineyard was …

The 2019 WineAmerica Wines of America Reception


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After a week of meetings and lobbying, WineAmerica held its annual Wines of America Reception in coordination with the Congressional Wine Caucus; an event that features a wide selection of wines from across the United States. This year the states represented crossed the map from Georgia to Vermont, Texas to Michigan, and Arizona to Washington.  The wine grapes continued to expand across regions as there was Gruner Veltliner from Pennsylvania (Galen Glen Vineyard & Mazza Vineyards) and Michigan (St. Julian Winery); Albarino from Virginia (Ingleside Vineyards) and Washington (Maryhill Winery); Blaufrankish-Lemberger from New York (Fox Run Vineyards), Indiana (Huber Orchard & Winery), and Colorado (Carlson Vineyards); Viognier from Idaho (Cinder) and Texas (Blue Ostrich Winery & Vineyard & Becker Vineyards).  Cinsault is now grown in Texas-(William Chris Vineyards) …

Lodi Wine: Mediterranean Mineral Vermentino


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Vermentino — the “thinking man’s Pinot Grigio”, Jim Moore, winemaker/proprietor of Uvaggio (1)

Like Albarino, our Snooth group quickly noticed another under-appreciated white wine grape grown in Lodi Wine county: Vermentino. This Mediterranean grape propers in the Italian regions of Liguria, Tuscany, Piedmont, Corsica, and Sardinia as well as in the southerly French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon where it is known as Rolle. Vermentino wines typically exhibit herby and lavender-like notes in the nose, bright citrus, stone fruits, and mineral characters, particularly if the grapes were sourced from seaside vineyards. Vermentino also seems to be able to retain its natural acidity even in relatively warm areas. And on occasion winemakers use various winemaking techniques such as skin contact, lees contact, and barrel aging to create a Vermentino whose weight and aromatics can be compared to that of Viognier.

During our Lodi tour, we sampled four Lodi …