Last year, I read in an article that every single state in the United States now has at least one winery. At first, I was puzzled because I immediately asked “How the hell can Alaska have a winery????” (Nina is from Alaska, so I have at least a rudimentary understanding of weather conditions there….)
Some friendly bloggers gleefully pointed out that in the U.S., fruit wine makers actually qualify as wineries. Maybe it is just me, but it might also be the European in me that could only shake his head. Seriously? While I acknowledge that there is wonderful cider out there (aka “apple wine”) – although, at some point someone will have to explain to me how a bottle of cider can cost $20 -, I do not consider that to be a wine really. Same goes for any other type of “fruit wine”. In my world, wine is alcohol made from grapes. Period. The other stuff might be called “wine”, but the producers are definitely not winemakers. They might be farmers or millers or whatever, but not winemakers. So how can fruit wine producers call themselves “Winery”, that hallowed of all terms?
Sigh. End of rant. I still don’t get it. But, clearly my one and only Alaskan reader, one of my brothers in law (thanks Weldon!), was intrigued as well and gave us a bottle of Bear Creek Winery Strawberry Rhubarb wine for Christmas last year. We had a good laugh, and I vowed to try it (reluctantly).
And then spring came and went, then summer which we spent in South East Asia, upon our return summer was over way too quickly, and the bottle was still stacked in a wine rack (yes, we do have standards!)…what to do? Would it still be drinkable?
So, last Saturday, as I was preparing and heating up Glühwein (aka mulled wine) to make Feuerzangenbowle (literally “fire tongue punch”), a German winter tradition that involves Glühwein, sugar cones, lots of rum and fire (you have to have seen it to understand), Nina decided to throw the bottle in the freezer to chill it down quickly so we could have it before the guests arrived….and in time before I was leaving for Alaska to face my brother in law.
So, we tried it. In December. The rather well made label states boldly “Other than standard” and that the wine is made from equal parts strawberry and rhubarb. It is produced in Homer, Alaska (I’ve been there, it’s gorgeous), and has 10% ABV. It poured in a blush wine color and was immediately fruity on the nose (duh). Other than feared, it definitely had not suffered from waiting a year for its consumption. On the palate, it was fruity and fresh, the aromas as were to be expected, but it was neither in any way cloyingly sweet (as I had anticipated) nor boring. The rhubarb seemed to give it a nice acidic punch, and the strawberry was just fun. I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I can totally see us drinking this in summer on the porch, a nice switch from our obligatory Vinho Verde when we want something less citrussy.
We’re now actually talking about acquiring a couple more bottles when we are in Alaska for the holidays. Strike that. I just checked the price list and the Strawberry Rhubarb has a whopping $20 SRP (which makes it one of the cheaper wines on offer from the winery). And that, honestly, is not just a tad too much. Ah well, at least we were considering buying some of it…Who would have thought? Will my mother in law (and my mother, for that matter) stop referring to me as a wine snob? Probably not. But do I have a new found appreciation for fruit wines? For sure. Do I think they’re wines? Nah….
Also, given that I now have tried wines from several states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, New York, Texas, and New Mexico – I think New Mexico, not entirely certain), I think I will go on a mission to try wines from every state in the Union. Keep suggestions coming my way.
As a fermenter of lots of different fruits for several years I would like to throw in my two cents: Josh is absolutely correct about fruit wine. I make wine with vinus vineferia as well as many other fruits and vegetables (haven’t done herbs yet though).
May I also point out that the cost of the bottle of fruit wine represents the cost involved to create such a beverage and is not off base.
Hoping you find some very lovely fruit wines to expand your palate. Think about pairing that wine as well. I have a lovely white nectarine wine that pairs quite well with pork loin. The apple wine goes with my family’s Sauerkraut dinner. We had Cassis wine with our Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Thanks so much for chiming in and giving some more perspective here. It is very much appreciated!! I always figured that the time it takes for wine to ferment and rest in barrels, plus tending vines all year etc. was a key factor in the price of wine, and so assumed that it is less labor intensive to grow berries or peaches and also assumed that fruit wines do not spend months in barrels ripening. That is why I thought the cost of production should be lower (and that is at least what my very rudimentary understanding of fruit wine pricing in Germany confirmed, where fruit wines tend to be significantly cheaper than “grape wine”)…
I will think about pairing options, can totally see why what you write makes sense!! Sounds delicious!!
Glad you enjoyed it! I got a bottle today in the annual gift exchange at work from Montana. I’m looking forward to trying a Montana wine! It is a Pinot – not a fruit wine.
Sounds like an excellent wine! I’ve been enjoying the other-fruit wines quite a bit lately; had a pear wine, an apple wine, and a blueberry wine which I liked a lot. Strawberry Rhubarb? Sure!! :)
:) I like your attitude!! :D
This wine sounds like one I should try…if I kick in half, you wanna split it?
If it meant seeing you, I’d actually pay the full price to share…:D
Let’s do that sometime!
I think growing up in and around some of the world’s greatest wine regions has made you very protective of the word wine!
I think of it like this. Beer is a fermented beverage made using grain, no matter what the grain. Likewise, wine is a fermented beverage made from fruit. If you then distill (and age) that beer, it’s whiskey or whisky depending on the spelling conventions in your country. If you do that to wine, it’s brandy.
Most beer is made entirely from malted barley. If wheat or rye is used, does that mean it’s no longer beer? No. So if wine is made from (or with) cherries or strawberries instead of grapes does that mean it’s not wine? I would say no.
All that hat said, if one uses the word wine (or brandy) without modifiers, the assumption is that it is made from grapes. So I think it is appropriate to use wine and fruit wine as different categories because that assumption exists.
As for the price, it’s high but you’re paying for the novelty of owning a wine from Alaska. Whether that’s worth paying >2x what one would normally pay for something like that is an individual choice.
Josh, you’re just awesome. It’s been way too long since we hung out…just saying. I appreciate you taking the time to explain your take on things, and how can I not agree? I think I can live with the distinction “wine” and “fruit wine”…
Regarding price: One is also paying for it being produced in Alaska, where cost of living is significantly higher than in the rest of the States…
Now there’s a wine I never thought I would hear of! I’m a fan of cider and other non-wines and this one sounds delicious. On another note, I’ve visited Homer a couple of times and it’s a great town. On one visit I went halibut fishing which was the experience of a lifetime!
Heather, we really need to get together. All those connections between us. We are committed to have another food and booze blogger meet up in January, I will keep you posted! If that doesn’t happen, why don’t Nina and I try to have you over for dinner or so in January?
Agreed! I went to the meet up in November with Matt which was completely indulgent. Five courses with wine pairings… I thought I was in heaven :) Let’s definitely make something happen in January after the bustle of the holidays is all done.
Oh cool, you did go to the November thing…I so wish I could have gone…
We’ll make something happen for sure in January, either a meetup or we’ll have you over.
Now we’ve heard it all. Love strawberry-rhubarb pie, but wine?! Glad to hear it was good enough that you considered purchasing. We actually had an apple wine the other day made by friends who assured us it was going to surprise in a good way and it did! Cheers your brave wine explorations!
I do like apple wines as well, but the price tags on some of those local bottles are just way too high for my taste…