Thursday, August 19, 2010

Iowa State Fair -- Wine

Who would have thought that I would be blogging about the Iowa State Fair, or even more weird... wine at the Iowa State Fair? I recently had the privilege to visit  the Fair and take a look at the happenings in relation to the growing wine industries across the nation. As I am the State Field Editor for Winedustry - News for the "Other" grapes, I felt it my duty to go up and experience what Iowa has to offer! I am also looking forward to upcoming blog posts, as I will actually be blogging about WINES!!!

At the Iowa State Fair there are several ways to find the Iowa wine industry. One option is to head to the Wine and Cheese Garden, the second option is to head up to Grandfather's Barn (a State Fair mainstay) and participate in one of three daily grape-stomps!! Yep, you heard it three times a day, they hold competitions to see who can get the most juice. Also you may sample the "State Fair Wine" Also at Grandfather’s Barn the awards for the Iowa State Fair Commercial Wine Competition & the State Fair Oenology Contest featuring Amateur Wine-makers are on display proudly showing Iowa’s award-winning wines.

At the Wine and Cheese Garden, nine Iowa wineries are featured, as well as frozen wine-a-ritas, and wine gelato all available to purchase samples. I spent most of the afternoon at the Wine and Cheese Garden, sampling fourteen different wines over the period of the eight hours I spent at the fair. Fifty wines in all are available for sampling, with a wide range from dry to sweet. I am continually surprised as the quality of the wines from Iowa improves! Most of the wines I sampled ranged from good to excellent. Highlights of the samplings were; St. Croix from Tabor Home Winery, Harvest White from Summerset Winery, and Chardonel from Snus Hill Winery though many quality Iowa wineries were missing from the samplings. Several of the winery owners were available to answer questions about their wines. My only complaint is they were not educated AT ALL about the other wines they were pouring, nor appeared willing to learn or share anything about them, which would benefit guests to the Wine & Cheese Tent.

At Grandfather’s Barn, there are several things to see. While I did not participate in a grape stomp, I did get a chance to listen to a presentation from Jean Groben, owner of Jasper Winery in downtown Des Moines. She was presented “Steps to Starting a Winery” and described to the attendees the steps her and her husband took when starting out their winery. I found this presentation very enjoyable, open, and engaging. Lots of questions were asked from the people attending, some were from Tennessee, others from North Carolina, and of course Iowa. Every day at Grandfather’s Barn there are presentations such as this, available for people willing to learn about the wine industry, ranging from the business standpoint, to agriculture, and wine-making. Lots of education is available, which I feel is VERY important. I also did get the opportunity to watch a Kids Grape Stomp, it very fun, and lots of kids were interested in participating. Ribbons were awarded to winners, and the kids left with sticky hands and feet, and smiles on their faces! Every evening there is also an adult grape stomp. I had the privilege of meeting one of the winners, as they stopped into the winery I work at on the way home from the Fair the following day. Beaming with excitement she told me all about it, and was very proud to be a winner (I guess everyone is a kid at heart when it comes to a Grape Stomp)

Also at Grandfather’s Barn the awards from the Wine Competitions are on display. The biggest winners for this year!!

Double Gold Medals:
Whispering Pines Winery – Back Roads Red
Ackerman Winery – Raspberry Wine
Summerset Winery – Harvest White

I would say the big winner for 2010 Commercial Wine Competition would be Eagles Landing Winery, who took home 4 Gold Medals this year for the following wines. Summer Crush, Sweet Ruby, Campfire Hootch, and Serenity. Eagles Landing is on a hot streak this summer, they also did exceptionally well at the Mid-American Wine Competition, and I look forward to trying a few of their wines (I may have called in a substantial order a few days ago) Link below to the results page.

The final experience that is available at Grandfather’s Barn is sampling of the “State Fair Wine”. This year there were three wines available, all produced by Jasper Winery of Downtown Des Moines. Two wines were there from last year, a semi-sweet Edelweiss (one of Iowa’s most popular white grapes), a 2008 Chancellor, and a new addition this year, a semi-sweet Chancellor / Frontenac Blend. Samples of the wine are available for $1 per sample only at Grandfather’s Barn, or you can purchase a bottle for $15. I decided to splurge and sample all three. The new Chancellor / Frontenac blend was by far the best of the three. I would ask a few questions regarding the State Fair Wines. How do they get selected? Why is only one winery selected? Why are those grape varieties chosen? I would like to see a greater variety of grapes, and also of wineries. I have had many Edelweiss wines that were (in my opinion) better than that State Fair Edelweiss. How did that one get selected? Also, you would think popularity would be taken into account. Why are the most popular wines in Iowa not selected/considered as the state fair wines? (the two that come to mind are Caba Moch from Summerset Winery, and Red, White, & Blue from Tassel Ridge Winery) It is a great benefit and tourist ploy to purchase the wine with the State Fair label. I am sure sales of these wines are great at the fair, even though I did not purchase a bottle, I am sure many did.

The Iowa State Fair was a very enjoyable experience and I applaud Barb Rasko (Make Mine Wine Magazine), Mike White (Iowa State University Extension), and all the winery owners/employees that are out there on the front line sampling Iowa wines for the Fair attendees.

I look forward to the upcoming weeks, 

Derek Whittington

Friday, August 6, 2010

Indy International Wine Competition

The results are in! The 2010 Indy International Wine Competition is officially over. It is the largest scientifically organized and independent wine competition in the United States. If you are on twitter you can follow the hash tag #indy10 and see lots of posting and photos, it was crazy as the event was going on, lots of posts going up online and this great photo!!  who would not want to be there? Look at all that wine!!!

How did Iowa do you might ask? Fairly ok, not as much as could have been expected from the past (with quite a few double gold, and gold medals received from past Iowa winners) Fireside Winery in Marengo, IA brought home a gold medal for their Frontenac Wine. Tassel Ridge Winery, Leighton, IA, brought home 7 medals total, Prairie Crossing Winery brought home 5 medals, other wineries receiving medals were: Breezy Hills Winery, and Winneshiek Wildberry Winery.

Overall wines from the Midwestern states did VERY well. There are TONS of wines from these lists that I will want to try at some point!! 32 wines from Midwestern States (IL, IA, WI, MN, MO, MI, IN) received Double Gold medals. Wineries that did exceptionally well were: Huber Orchard, Oliver Winery, Satek Winery, all from Indiana, all received multiple Double Gold Medals!  Other wineries in the Midwestern states that did well: Galena Cellars, Lynfred Winery (IL) Holyfield Winery (KS) Stone Hill, St. James (MO) Cheers to ALL the winemakers in the Midwest!! Below is a link to the competition results.

The next big competition for Iowa wines is in a few weeks. The Minnesota State Fair will host the  2nd Annual Cold Climate International Wine Competition and will tout some of the best "cold climate" wines. Results will be posted as they come, keep a look out for Iowa wines that do well!

-Derek Whittington

Background & Vision

Ok, so I will start off this adventure with a disclaimer. I love to learn!!! I am always willing to try something new, to go somewhere I have never been, or to try a funny looking fruit in the produce isle. I am going about this adventure with an open mind, open to learn about new grape varieties, new wineries, and meet/chat with new people.

I love to try wine. I work at a winery, I take wine classes, I make my wife drink wine all the time, we both try wines from grapes we have never heard about. My goal with this blog is to experience news wines, to try grapes that are new to you, and to myself and have fun doing that. According to many sources, there are over 10,000 different grape varieties in the world, I know I will never try all of them (I am not sure if I will ever find the names of all of them) I soon will officially be a member of "The Wine Century Club" having tried over 100 wines from different varieties of grapes (a fairly good accomplishment for  someone who is only 26 years old)

During my blogging, I will focus on grapes made from wines besides the more popular vitis vinifera grapes (think grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, or Chardonnay). Unfortunately not all grape growing regions can grow those popular grapes.  I will occasionally post a blog about a nice Cabernet, but you can read all about that wine on someone else's blog, I will try and keep it fresh. How many blog posts do you read about a nice LaCrescent (never heard of that grape?? you will very soon, a lot of cold-climate wineries are making some great wine from this grape!!) or Brianna? I will focus on those grapes, or other wines made from not so popular grapes, and who knows where I/we will end up!

I will try and utilize all of my assets to compile the best blog I can. I will call upon my knowledge of grapes, and at times pull in others who are more knowledgeable than I am. I will try and be humble, try and be objective, and be honest. I will also be open to suggestions, and comments made by readers. As my "guests" really it is your opinion that I value. So thanks, and enjoy!!