The wineries located on the Great River Road Wine Trail are becoming some of my favorite places to spend a Saturday or Sunday with friends and family. Many of these wineries offer award-winning wines that are sure to please any palate. For those of us looking for a bit of bubbly, there are a handful of local wineries offering sparkling libations. My friend Kathy Lane and I set out to find these hidden gems.
A Scrumping We Will Go
Our first stop is Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery located in the bluffs above Stockholm, Wisconsin. The barn-style tasting room is cozy and casual and surrounded by an apple orchard.
We arrive at the tasting bar to sip sparkling cider and chat with the “cider wrangler,” Tony Edlin, a man who knows his cider.
The name of the first sparkling cider Kathy and I try is Scrumpy. Its color is clear with tiny bubbles floating around the edges of the glass. I am curious and ask, “Is a sparkling cider tasting similar to wine tasting? Am I supposed to swirl, sniff and sip?” Edlin replies, “No, [swirling] actually reduces the carbonation or bubbles.”
Scrumpy is light, crisp and delicious. Kathy wants to know why it’s named Scrumpy. Edlin says, “During prohibition the peasants would steal the old shriveled apples off the ground at orchards to make cider. It’s called scrumping.” He chuckles and tells us not to worry, “We don’t use apples from the ground, but we use a variety of apples as opposed to one particular kind. This creates a full flavor.”
Maiden Rock offers two other sparkling ciders, Rocky Dog and Honey Crisp Hard. We taste the Rocky Dog first. Kathy says, “Mmmm, there’s a flavor lingering. Is that vanilla I taste?” Edlin confirms her suspicions. Rocky Dog, a limited edition cider, is made with St. Edmund’s Russet, a soft-skinned, pear-like apple and hints of vanilla. The Honey Crisp Hard Cider is light with a smooth finish, another excellent choice.
After our scrumping lesson, we drive a short distance south to Villa Bellezza in Pepin, Wisconsin. When we arrive, both Kathy and I feel like we’re walking into a villa in Italy. The exterior of the tasting room has pale yellow stucco with an arched-tile roof. Larger, Italian-style buildings for weddings and other events surround it.
Kathy and I meet one of the owners, Julianne Dahlen. She pours us a sampling of the Brilliante, a sparkling white wine they launched in August of 2014. Brilliante is crisp, dry and effervescent. It’s made with the cold hardy Brianna grape.
Dahlen says, “We developed this sparkling wine for celebrations. We’ve hosted many events, and our customers were asking for a sparkling wine to toast at wedding receptions.” Even though they’re marketing it for celebrations, Dahlen says, “It’s perfect with a good seafood meal at home.” Villa Bellezza plans to launch a sparkling rosé in the near future.
The following weekend, my husband and I drive to Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery in Spring Valley, Minnesota for brunch and a tasting of their sparkling Moscato and Loon Juice, a sparkling hard cider.
The sparkling Moscato smells and tastes sweet like a Moscato, and it has a golden color. There’s only a hint of bubbles. The Loon Juice, on the other hand, is bursting with bubbles. It has a rich golden color too. Vicky Vogt, one of the owners of Four Daughters says, “We’re releasing a sparkling LaCrescent wine in January of 2015.”
Vogt says all their sparkling products are made in Brite tanks similar to the champagne making method. The wines and ciders are infused with carbon dioxide and they go through two fermentation processes.
“After the first fermentation process is complete, the product is bottled and more yeast is added to the bottle. This allows the product to go through another fermentation process,” Vogt explains. She says the bottles with additional yeast are stored upside down, allowing the yeast to settle to the top of the bottle. The neck of the bottle is frozen. Then, when ready, the yeast is removed and the bottle is sealed. This creates the explosive cork.
Cannon River Winery is introducing Edelweiss Sparkling in 2015 and Elmaro Winery is introducing Elmaro Melacato in January 2015. Cheers!
Nicole Czarnomski is a freelance writer.