Remote and onsite direct-to-consumer sales and membership management, writing, editing, content creation, education, marketing, social media, customer service, and travel management. Writer and editor for my own website, elizabethsmithconsulting.com (formerly travelingwinechick.com), as well as a contributor for other media outlets such as americanwineryguide.com, basilandsalt.com, drizly.com, plumdeluxe.com, and snooth.com. One of my recent articles entitled "Lodi: Beyond the Zinfandel" won a 2017 Born Digital Wine Award in the category of Best Tourism Content with a Focus on Wine. Independent travel consultant with Corporate Travel Management North America, Inc. DBA MTravel (CST #2129700-40) providing customized, remote travel services for business and leisure clients with a specialty in business and wine destination travel.
As I tasted, then revisited the pairings, my palate kept gravitating towards the final pairing of mystery wine #4 and the soft, Munster cheese with apricot mostarda and toasted caraway seeds. I must confess, as soon as I tasted this wine, I knew it was the Domaines Schlumberger. I am afraid I cannot adequately convey the pleasure of this pairing, but it was exquisite. Ripe, sweet tree and stone fruit flavors meshed lovingly with the contrasting flavor and texture of the cheese as well as the similarly sweetness of the apricot. The Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris (SRP $21) was all at once bright and rich, juicy and creamy. At the festival’s grand tasting, which followed the morning educational tastings, I searched for this beautiful wine to taste again. I left my heart at that table, longingly looking forward to my next Domaines Schlumberger moment. Do not hesitate. Find this wine, I know I will.
Firehouse Wine Cellars is aptly named, of course, after the 1905-era, former fire station purchased by some Rapid City, South Dakota, locals in 1991 to create a local brewery, Firehouse Brewing Company, South Dakota’s first microbrewery. From this venture came the idea of opening a winery beside the brewery. The entire operation – brewery and winery – is still owned and operated by the original partners and family members.
On the back label of Firehouse Wine Cellars’ The American Marquette, I discovered this lovely description from Michael L. Gould, whose Old Folsom Vineyard is the source of the winery’s South Dakota grapes:
Nearly 100 years ago, my grandfather, Antonio Finco, emigrated to this country on a ship called America from the port of Genoa, Italy. Like many others, he left his home and all that was familiar to start a new life in a strange new land. His few possessions he carried in a small suitcase, his traditions he carried in his heart.
Like his fathers before him, Antonio made wine and continued that tradition in his new country. Even now, we continue this family tradition from our own estate grown Marquette grapes, harvested from Old Folsom Vineyard, just south of Rapid City. Like my grandfather, this remarkable grape has made its start in America. Genetically, the Marquette and I are both grandsons, it is a grandson to the noble Pinot Noir. Together we have found our roots under the South Dakota sun.
It is in this spirit of tradition and family that I present to you Firehouse Wine Cellars and three of their wines: one made from Nebraska brianna and edelweiss grapes (my first Nebraska wine) and two made from South Dakota marquette (my first South Dakota wines).
NV Brianna Edelweiss, American, $24
(Sample; 235 cases produced)
While this wine is sold as non-vintage and is sometimes a blend of South Dakota and Nebraska grapes and different vintages, winemaker Adam Martinez confirmed that all the grapes in this offering are from Nebraska and the 2017 vintage. However, it was easier to keep the label consistent with previous releases. (Those who have submitted wine labels to the TTB understand.) Cool fermented at around 55 degrees, fined and clarified, and aged in stainless steel, this semi-sweet white, a blend of 50% brianna and 50% edelweiss, is a light gold in the glass. On the palate, the .08% residual sugar meets its match with the 10.4% total acidity, rendering a bright, integrated play of honeysuckle, sweet tropical fruits, tree fruits like apple and pear, and a lime finish. With an ABV of 11.1%, sip away without the guilt. Pair this with spring, summer, salads, and seafood.
2016 The American Marquette, Old Folsom Vineyard, South Dakota, $30
(Sample; Only 27 cases produced due to a summer of hail and bird damage) This 100% marquette wine, whose grapes are sourced from Mike and Marnie Gould’s 10-year-old vineyard just south of Rapid City, goes through a cool fermentation and manual punch downs, which, according to Martinez, creates more skin contact. This does not increase tannins, but rather, higher phenolic compounds. It is aged in for nine to twelve months in a blend of 60% French and 40% American oak barrels. With lower alcohol (13.6% ABV) and high total acidity (11.2%), this medium, brick-colored wine is replete with tart blackcurrant, cranberry, plum, and peppery spice, begging for rich, fatty foods like hearty, meaty pasta dishes and charcuterie.
NV Tradition Marquette, Year Two, $29
(Sample; 60 cases produced) Tradition is Firehouse Wine Cellars’ take on a fortified, port-style wine made from South Dakota marquette grapes and bottled every two years. During fermentation, Martinez adds a neutral brandy spirit made from distilled syrah grapes. The finished wine has 8% residual sugar and 20.5% ABV. Martinez uses a solera-style system’s fractional blending and aging regime. The first vintage was aged in barrel and the second vintage added to that barrel. Year One was the first year of bottling and this is Year Two. The original vintage and the newest vintage will always be part of future blends. As a result, going forward, the youngest part of the blend will be two years and the oldest is five or more years. This Year Two selection is dark and opaque in the glass, more brown than red, and tastes like someone spiked the homemade, chocolate-covered, black cherry cordials. In fact, chocolate-covered cherries are exactly how I imagine pairing this wine, although Black Forest cake isn’t out of the question.
For more information about Firehouse Wine Cellars and to purchase their wines, visit their website, or better yet, visit both the winery and brewery for a complete, South Dakota craft beverage experience.
The next day, Napa Elizabeth entered the festival’s grand tasting, and before her very eyes stood Philo Elizabeth (also known as Alisa or Ali Nemo) and her partner, winemaker André DuVigneaud (Andy), who beckoned her to taste two of the rieslings from Bee Hunter Wine, their winemaking project featuring a range of whites, a rosé, and reds from the hidden gem vineyards of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Like a bee is always hunting for the perfect garden, Bee Hunter, a word from Boonville’s own language dialect, Boontling, is always searching for lesser-known, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyards from which to source their grapes.
Napa Elizabeth’s mission: to find the festival’s perfect pairing for their 2015 Wiley Vineyard Riesling ($24), whose slight effervescence gave it a unique Pét-Nat or cider quality. She buzzed around the room (pun intended), stumbling up on the small plates prepared and served by Boont Berry Farm Store, which featured locally sourced foods like smoked salmon, turkey, avocado, mushroom, sweet onion, and cranberry. The winner: the plate that Andy fondly called “deconstructed Thanksgiving”, featuring the turkey, onions, mushroom, and cranberry cream cheese spread. Better grab this wine for your Thanksgiving table before it is gone.
The two Elizabeths would reunite that evening at Bee Hunter’s pop-up tasting at Aquarelle Catering & Events in Boonville. Napa Elizabeth tasted through their available portfolio and could not get enough, so returned once again the next day to discover that not only is Andy a winemaker, but he is a chef, making his own brisket sliders and BBQ tacos, surprising those who ventured in to taste. He made a special-order plate for Napa Elizabeth that fit her wellness lifestyle. The wine pairing: Bee Hunter’s take on Bordeaux, the Yorkville Highlands blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon and 50% merlot ($48), which showed off its higher-terrain terroir in unison with the rich, fatty brisket.
Napa Elizabeth was sad to depart Boonville, but Philo Elizabeth said that she and Andy would be in Napa soon, the following Thursday, in fact, and the two reunited for a wine club pickup at Mumm Napa. As they said goodbye, Philo Elizabeth handed Napa Elizabeth two open samples, the 2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir ($48) and the 2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60). She returned home to taste with her cat, Einstein, by her side, and spoke to Philo Elizabeth and Andy via telephone the next day to get the rest of the story.
As always, your palate may vary.
2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir
With grapes sourced from three vineyards in Mendocino County – Wiley, Docker, and Oppenlander – this wine is aged 20 months in a mix of 20-25% new, tighter grain, French oak barrels, and the remainder used one to four vintages. This oak regime, longer extraction time, and a blend of vineyard sources renders this wine very fruit forward and aromatic, a delight for even the most sensitive wine drinkers. A light garnet color in the glass, this wine shows juicy, sweet berry fruit like black cherry on the front of the palate, finishing with a tart berry mélange of redcurrant and cranberry with a backdrop of black tea.
2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir
Made the same as the previous wine, but sourced from one vineyard, Oppenlander Vineyard, located just north of Anderson Valley and east of the coast, but close enough to enjoy the cool, foggy coastal influence, this pinot noir is the dark and brooding sibling to the Mendocino. A medium garnet in the glass, this wine is creamier, more weighty on the palate, and reveals an intense, brambly fruit profile of blackberry, blackcurrant, and black raspberry. The zingy acidity and spice are notable, the latter of which reminded me of my favorite cinnamon tea. If you spend any time with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, you may hear this wine referred to as “Guns & Kittens”, a throwback to their first vintage meeting with the growers in their 1860-era farmhouse and its plethora of vineyard kittens and 30 long guns, which precariously found themselves together in a closet during this fateful visit. The following year, one of the vineyard kittens, Baxter, found a home with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, joining family members Cleo and Puff.
Thankfully for us, this is only the beautiful beginning of the tale of two Elizabeths and Bee Hunter Wine. Visit their website, where you can purchase wine, learn about their Bee Hunter Brand Ambassadorship program, book a tasting event, or become a Bee Hunter club member yourself. Stay tuned and always bee huntin’.
Truth be told, Valentine’s Day is not a favorite holiday for this very single wine lover. However, when I stumbled across the 2016 Malene Rosé, Central Coast, California (SRP $22, sample), I was immediately smitten with both the story and the wine. *CLICK HERE TO READ*
Situated on 75 acres in the rolling hills of Hogback Mountain in Loudoun County, Virginia, Stone Tower grows and produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, as well as Bordeaux-style black grapes such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot. They also produce very small amounts of grenache blanc, malbec, marssanne, nebbiolo, pinot noir, and roussanne. During this tasting, we had the opportunity to sample three wines. Unfortunately, during my life upheaval, I lost my notes for the viognier, but below are my reviews of the other two wines, the sauvignon blanc and the Wind Swept Hill red blend. As always, your palate may vary.
2016 Stone Tower Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Loudoun County, Virginia, $40 (sample)
Don’t let the delicate gold color in the glass fool you. This is a chardonnay lover’s sauvignon blanc. Although the blend is 90% sauvignon blanc and 10% sémillion, the sémillion influence is notable, with its pleasantly bitter fruit characteristics. However, the sauvignon blanc component dominates the palate with lush, rich tropical fruit flavors and spiciness from French and American oak aging. On its website, the winery compares this sauvignon blanc to those of California, but living here in the Napa Valley, I haven’t experienced a sauvignon blanc quite as voluptuous as this one yet.
2014 Stone Tower Winery Wind Swept Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia $65 (sample) A magenta-brick red color in the glass, this Bordeaux-style blend of 31% merlot, 28% cabernet franc, 28% cabernet Sauvignon and 13% petit verdot, is already showing some age on the palate. Restrained cranberry and plum flavors are accompanied by meatiness, mint, a bite of French and American oak spiciness, and a distinct minerality, so much so that I feel like I am tasting the vineyard soils of Hogback Mountain, and I mean that in a good way.
Both of these wines are still available for sale directly from the winery via their website at this link, and they also ship.