Clover Meadow Winery in Shell Lake, 80 miles northwest of Eau Claire, is out there on the green edge of things as the state’s only certified organic winery.
Alexia Gannon, who describes herself as Clover Meadow’s “chief wrangling officer,” says that as far as she knows it’s the only certified organic winery in the Midwest….
Gannon’s parents, Pat and Laura Walters, bought 180 acres in Wisconsin’s Bashaw Valley in the mid-1970s and moved to the land from Chicago in the mid-1990s.
Over the years, they planted orchards and vines “and then we needed something to do with the fruit, so wine came about,” Gannon explained….
In addition to making wine from both cold-hardy wine grapes and table grapes, it also ferments plums, blackberries, apples, cranberries, pears, dandelions, crabapples and — hold your breath — onions. (That last is a novelty wine.)
Schamberg explains that about half of the winery’s 20+ varieties are organic; the others are made with locally sourced (but not organic) fruit. The family behind Clover Meadow are also distillers, producing organic brandy, and run a cafe at the winery as well.
It’s a nice piece, highlighting a slice of Wisconsin agriculture that I previously hadn’t known about. Check out the full article here.
Picking up where I left off yesterday, here’s a look at more of the beer and wine adventures that J and I had on our recent road trip to the West.
Oregon wineries: We visited a few Willamette Valley wineries this time, including a visit to the Van Duzer tasting room. As you can see below, the view is just gorgeous. Our friends told us that the wines have greatly improved in recent years after a new winemaker came on board; the work is paying off, as we enjoyed our tasting flight. We also made a repeat visit to Sokol Blosser. There we got to visit their beautiful, new, sustainably built tasting room, and once again sample their amazing wine. We left with a bottle of the dessert wine that on our last trip I was surprised to love so much. Speaking of our last visit here, our tasting guide Jim was on duty again this time around. Amazingly, he remembered us and our friends from our visit a year ago, and he was as engaging as ever. Thanks to search-term bots that scour the web (for mentions of, say, Sokol Blosser), he even knew that I’d talked about the winery on this blog last fall. Very cool!
The Local Beer Bar, Eureka, CA: On our drive from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area, we stopped at this great bar, which I discovered on Yelp. They had dozens of amazing beers on tap, and a cooler full of a wide array of bottles for drinking on site or taking to go. The bartender was friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and the patrons all seemed to be beer geeks (90% men when we were there) who were happy to be drinking great craft beer in the company of their own kind. We geeked out with a few of them about West Coast and Midwest brews. Once again, I neglected to take notes on which hoppy beers J tried, but I know that I had the Noel de Calabaza (on tap) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, a holiday seasonal that I was delighted to try even in August. It was an absolutely fantastic sour! As the Jolly Pumpkin website describes, you can expect “deep mahogany and malty, layered hops, figs, raisins, sugar plums, cashews betwixt rum laden truffles.” Mmmm! I also picked up a sour from Mikkeller that I’m saving for another day: Spontannoble 2012. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit to The Local.
Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, CA: Of course, no self-respecting lover of great beer could drive near Santa Rosa, California, without visiting Russian River Brewing Company. The place was very busy even at 2 pm on a weekday, but we managed to snag two stools squeezed in near the front end of the bar. It was a bit of a madhouse there at the entrance to the pub, with folks crowded around to buy bottles, growlers, and swag to go or a beer to drink while they stood waiting for a table or a seat. Nevertheless, it was well worth the stop. J tried Pliny the Elder (I think) and Row 2, Hill 56. I was driving, so I kept it to one: Propitiation, a truly delicious barrel-aged sour porter. We also snagged a few bottles for the road, including Damnation (bottle-fermented golden ale), Temptation (sour ale aged in chardonnay barrels), and Supplication (sour ale aged in pinot noir barrels with cherries added). And yes, most of their beers have “-ation” religious names, making it nearly impossible to keep straight which is which. We even heard a bartender tripping over his tongue and getting confused as he tried to name and describe several beers to a patron.
Steins Beer Garden, Mountain View, CA: J and I missed this the last time we were in town, but we were happy to find it this time. (The prices are steeper than Montana Ale Works, but this is Mountain View after all.) I had the amazing Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge on tap for the first time, and then had a fun flight of mostly stouts that included North Coast Brewing‘s Old Rasputin (nitro), Clown Shoes‘ Vampire Slayer, and High Water Brewing‘s Campfire Stout. The bartenders weren’t nearly as knowledgeable as at the Local, but we had a nice time regardless.
And still more?! Yes, yesterday and today’s extensive lists still don’t cover all the great (and occasionally not-so-great) beverages that we enjoyed on our trip. Others included Terminal Gravity Brewing‘s Bar X Stout (delicious!) on tap in Oregon and Unibroue‘s Éphémère Apple (too reminiscent of a green apple Jolly Rancher) on tap in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Coming soon: post(s) about some of our culinary adventures!
J and I spent a long weekend recently in Oregon (the state, not the Wisconsin town outside Madison). One afternoon we visited a couple wineries in the Willamette Valley with friends.
The view at Soter Vineyards and their $109/bottle cab (!) were spectacular, but we had the best time and most consistently enjoyable wine at Sokol Blosser. Our server/wine-guru Jim was wonderfully informative in an enthusiastic wine-nerd way. Our tasting included a Pinot Gris, a blush, several varieties of Pinot Noir (for which the Willamette Valley is best known), and a dessert wine that ended up being my favorite, I think mostly because I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Despite its sugar content, it wasn’t overly sweet and the sugar was offset by a lovely acidity. There are scores of wineries in the area and hundreds in the state, but Sokol Blosser is one of the originals. When they opened in 1971, you could count on one hand the number of Oregon wineries. They’ve also made a name for themselves with their efforts toward sustainability, including USDA organic certification of the grapes grown on their estate vineyards. If you are in the area, don’t pass up the opportunity to stop by a vineyard or two and sample some of the fruits of the land.
P.S. Also check out this nice recent piece from NPR on what the future may hold for Oregon Pinot Noir in the face of global climate change. It even includes some quotes from one of the Sokol Blossers.
Let’s back up. I had agreed to go to a group dinner with some colleagues who were also in Vancouver, but at about 5 pm local time I hit a wall. I was just too work- and travel-weary to handle a big group event, so I bowed out. I headed back to my hotel room, Skyped with J, and blogged a bit. After that, I really wanted to be in bed vegging in front of some fluff TV, but I needed food. I decided to just make do with the hotel restaurant and headed down.
Fortunately (given how my night turned out), the noise level there was so high as to be completely intolerable. I turned tail just as soon as I walked in and hit the streets in an unplanned search for an alternative. Earlier in the day, I had noticed a small restaurant nearby sponsored by the culinary school at The Art Institute of Vancouver. They weren’t even half full when I approached, so after I took a look at the posted menu, I headed in.
The nicely decorated modern space was staffed by two friendly, experienced servers (a man who initially greeted me, and a woman who did most of the waiting on me). They providing a relaxed professionalism at the front of the house for the student chefs who, through a wall of glass, could be seen hard at work (and sometimes playfully joking around with each other) in the kitchen.
The restaurant offers a prix fixe three-course dinner for just $28. (I didn’t bother to bring my phone when I headed downstairs, so sadly no pics of my meal.) I had already settled on the wild local salmon for my entrée, so I asked the server to suggest a nice red wine pairing. At her recommendation, I had a glass of Cedar Creek 2009 Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed. As the menu explains, “Our beverage program has been created around our philosophy as a Canadian-based culinary school to support local producers wherever possible. To that end, all the wines on our list are from Canadian wineries using 100% Canadian farmed grapes and almost all are from British Columbia.”
My wine was soon followed by some nice bread and herbed butter. Then, to my pleasant surprise, a chef brought out a fish-and-chips amuse-bouche. On a small plate, a little piece of deep-fried fish was served over a light, tangy tartar sauce (soooo good!) garnished with a few microgreens and two extra-thin crispy chips. The amuse-bouche tied with the salad for my favorite dish of the night. Speaking of which, for my first course I had an endive salad that featured blue cheese, pears macerated in port, and candied pecans. Really lovely, though if I’d been prepping the dish I probably would have used a bit less cheese and a bit more endive, but my plate went back to the kitchen completely empty.
My salmon main course was quite good, but I didn’t love it, maybe because it was served with some of the skin on, which isn’t really my thing. Like the salad, it was a very generous serving: a big piece of fish atop a lot of veggies plus potatoes. With dessert still to come, I gave up before I made it all the way to the end of the dish. None of the dessert options ended up really striking my fancy, so I let the server guide me to the chocolate cake and mousse with raspberry sauce, served in a glass as a sort of parfait. It wasn’t fantastic, but that didn’t stop me from finishing the entire thing.
In the end, I left completely sated, pleased at how lovely the space and service were, and charmed by the enthusiasm of the chefs.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: I also left with my second “Hollywood North” celebrity sighting. After a brief, unintrusive, tactful interaction between the waitstaff and the man at the table to my right while his female companion was in the washroom (yes, they say “washroom” up here), the servers eventually confirmed that said companion was in fact Mila Kunis of Black Swan, Saving Sarah Marshall, That ’70s Show, and more. No one made a fuss while Ms. Kunis was in the restaurant, but the servers had a lot of fun bantering about it with each other, me, and the chefs after the couple had left. Our good-natured interaction about the brush with fame we’d had was another tasty morsel in an unexpectedly wonderful evening.
J and I could not care less about the Super Bowl, but we turned it on for background noise while we finished up cooking today. (Madonna is warbling and cavorting around as I type.) We tried to keep things simple this week, making two recipes from our regular repertoire: a black-eyed pea and corn salad that requires just a bit of chopping and mixing (no cooking), and an easy French green lentil salad from Cook’s Illustrated. We also tried our first recipe from Kim O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Sicilian-style roasted cauliflower with pasta. It calls for “white wine you enjoy drinking” — the wine first gets used to soak raisins, and then gets added to the cauliflower along with the raisins before the whole thing is topped with breadcrumbs and put into the oven. I ended up picking up Kitchen Sink, which I had never had before. Happily, it turned out to be pretty darn tasty. Here’s hoping the pasta dish is, too!