The last few months I’ve been on the road a bit and had the extreme pleasure of visiting a few wineries along the way. Wineries are popping up all around this country and it certainly makes for an interesting drive when you can stop and not only smell the roses, but taste the grapes.
Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI
Natalee and I had the pleasure of joining several cyclist friends from Dubuque in Trempealeau, WI just north of La Crosse. Trempealeau is in the heart of the Driftless Area of the upper Mississippi River basin.
On the outskirts of town, a new winery has developed into quite a lovely place to visit. Elmaro Vineyard is owned by Mark and Lynita Delaney and their family, Todd and Laura (Delaney) Roessler, and Cameron and Megan Delaney. The winery began after the family visited Italy in 2004 and fell in love with the wines. Laura and Lynita make a great winemaking pair. Laura is a graduate of UW-Madison in bio-chemistry and Lynita is a 40-year veteran as a Wisconsin Licensed Master Plumber. The tasting room opened in 2011 and soon they began serving award winning wines.
Five gold medals this year have bested all previous years. Additionally, three Best in Class and one Sweepstakes Award have made this a very good year for Elmaro Vineyard. Elmaro’s gold medals include the 2013 Frontenac Gris Ice Wine (Women’s International Wine Competition), 2014 La Crescent off-dry white wine, the 2014 Sweet Cheeks semi-sweet rosé (the last two received Best in Class at the 2015 Wisconsin State Fair Professional Wine Competition), and 3-Cheers, a semi-sweet blend and the last gold medal winner. On the top of the list, the Elmaro West Prairie White, a semi-sweet white wine, won the Sweepstakes. Winning the Sweepstakes means top honor for a wine at the Long Beach Grand Cru. The Long Beach, California competition includes wines from across the U.S. and around the world.
Natalee and I walked the vineyard and were very impressed with the beauty of the vines and clusters. We had the pleasure of speaking with Mark and Lynita while we tasted the wines.
There were fourteen wines on their tasting list. We tasted the La Crescent (dry white), Vidal Blanc (off-dry white), Chardonel (dry-oaked white), West Prairie White (semi-sweet white), 2014 Marquette Rosé (dry rosé), Sweet Cheeks (off-dry rosé), and Chambourcin (off-dry red).
They were delicious. I absolutely enjoyed the white wines as they were bright and crisp with low alcohol (around 10%). The red wines were a joy to consume as the flavors were up front and smooth. We also had the opportunity to taste their Frontenac Gris Ice Wine, which is a sweet dessert wine. It had aromas of honey, orange, and I found a bit of peach on the nose. Don’t pass this place by if you are anywhere near La Crosse or Trempealeau. Budget some time and money to bring a bottle (or two) of Elmaro Vineyard back home with you.
Wine Country, Washington State
The southeast area of Washington State is ideal for growing grapes. Due to the loess and silty soil, one can drill 60 feet down and not strike water. This stresses the grapes which helps develop flavor. There is, however, plenty of water for irrigation from the Yakima, Snake, and Columbia rivers that bisect the region. Drip irrigation directly at the base of the rootstock is standard operations for most vineyards. Some experts are saying that, given time, some of the finest wines in the world will come from this area. Their reasoning is that this area has not been hit with an infestation of Phylloxera that has affected most all other major grape growing regions of the world.
A group of ten from Dubuque ventured to Washington for a wonderfully long weekend of incredible food, fine wines and wineries, and cherished fellowship. We toured the following wineries: Fidelitas Winery, Hedges Family Estate, Col Solare, Barnard Griffin Winery, and Bookwalter Winery in the Richland/Benton City area, and Pepper Bridge Winery and Abeja Winery in the Walla Walla region. I won’t try to share all the wines we tasted, but will touch on the highlights.
Fidelitas Winery sits at the base of Red Mountain, at one time the smallest AVA in the state. It is not the size of the area (4040 acres) that makes Red Mountain unique, rather its dramatic temperature swings of nearly 40° F (temperatures exceed 100° F in the ripening phase of fruit development in August and September, with overnight lows dipping well into the 60° F range). The intense heat, in combination with sand and eroded soils, limits vine vigor so that the vines on Red Mountain focus their energy towards fruit development resulting in super intensified wine grapes. Charles Hoppes, owner of and wine maker for Fidelitas, is a master blender. His Optu Red Mountain (a luscious red blend) and the 2014 Klipsun Vineyard Semillon were favorites in our group.
Just across the road from Fidelitas, sits the Hedges Family Estate owned by Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges and their family. The Hedges Family and company believe that place of origin is the keystone of authenticity in wine. Their goal is to treat the grapes with reverence and let the Red Mountain terroir speak for itself. Without question, every one of our group would agree, Hedges is a winery to be visited again.
We were extremely privileged to visit Col Solare. Col Solare is a partnership between Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori and Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle. This winery sits high up on the side of Red Mountain. Col Solare produces a single red blend wine that is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon.
John Bookwalter hosted our group for an el fresco dinner on Friday night at his winery. The setting was divine, the staff exceptional, and the food and wine were only overshadowed by the host, hostess, and wonderful company.
Saturday the group visited the Walla Walla AVA and toured Pepper Bridge Winery and Abeja Winery. Pepper Bridge is a certified sustainable winery. At the end of our winery tour, near the bottling process, we had descended fifty feet from our point of entry. All movement of must (juice from pressed grapes) to wine is accomplished using gravity. Sediment and water from the wine making process is piped to a pond where it goes back onto the vineyard at irrigation. We tasted their 2012 Merlot, their 2012 Trine, and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. There was a healthy conversation about who liked which one the best.
Our last stop was Abeja Winery just outside Walla Walla. At the end of a drive was a delightfully quaint setting with bed-and breakfast accommodations, an herb and flower garden, and a secluded tabled area with Adirondack chairs. The wine, in keeping with the environment, was unique and delicious. From the Bee Keeper’s White and Viognier, to the Bee Keeper’s Red and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, it gave us much to compare with all the others we had tasted.
Our time ran out before we were ready to depart, but there is much more to see and wine to taste. There will be a next time! Now, you may not want to build an entire trip around visiting wineries, but regardless of where you are traveling, leave time in your schedule in case you come upon a road sign that indicates a winery is just around the corner. You may just find a new favorite wine.
October 2015 – Sidebar
2015 Dubuque Food & Wine Festival
The 3rd Annual Dubuque Food & Wine Festival is just around the corner. Beginning Friday night, November 6 and closing Sunday mid-day November 8, you’ll not want to miss what is being offered.
Friday night opens at the Mississippi Moon Bar with food offerings from four of the best restaurants in Dubuque. To accompany the food, there will be a selection of wines from around the world.
On Saturday, the group reconvenes at Stone Cliff Winery for more food, beer, and wine and the awarding of the coveted Golden Ladle to a local restaurant that creates the favorite soup.
On Sunday, the fest wraps up with Mimosas or Blood Mary’s at Van’s Liqour Store and food from East Mill Bakery.
For the food, wine and beer lover, this is an event not to be missed.
Get complete information or tickets by going to: www.DbqFoodAndWine.com.
Wines I recently tasted
Goose Ridge 2007 Retro Red – Columbia River, Washington
The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (22%), Syrah (19%), Malbec (6%), and Petit Verdot (3%), which gave it an incredibly smooth mouth feel. The nose showed espresso, blackberry, and a hint of brown sugar. The flavors of Bing cherry and vanilla came through.
Elmaro LaCrescent – Trempealeau, Wisconsin
This wonderful summer wine is an off-dry white with notes of grapefruit and tropical fruit. A hint of green and yellow give this wine its hue. It is one of the wines I brought back to Dubuque to enjoy.
Chateau LaBorde 2009 Bordeaux
I won this bottle at a Rotary raffle. The body of this wine was quite thick with hints of pepper. It surprised me for an older wine as there were a lot of fruit on the nose with a strong smoky bouquet. Though thick, the body was smooth.
2014 Tranche Pink Pape Rose – Blackrock Vineyard Yakima Valley
From the wineries website: “The 2014 Rosé is a blend of three traditional Châteaunuef-du-Pape varieties – Cinsault, Counoise, and Grenache – all grown on the Blackrock Estate Vineyard on the eastern edge of the Yakima Valley AVA. The wine has delicate aromas of rose petal, white peach. and nectarine with notes of sweet pink grapefruit and lemon zest.”