Friday, January 22, 2016

New Traditions

With 2016 well underway (oops, almost wrote the wrong year again), I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of them – they’re meant to be broken. That’s not to say that resolutions are bad; obviously, people usually make them to better themselves in some way. The downfall comes when people try to make too drastic of changes too fast and all at once. I changed my way of thinking about resolutions a long time ago and decided instead to make new year’s goals and new year’s traditions. 

So in that vein, one of the new traditions I’ve decided to adopt for 2016 is wine related. Go figure. 

A couple of months ago, I was talking to a close friend, Tosha, and she told me about a fun thing one of her other friends does with her corks. I’ve been keeping my corks for a long time, mostly because I’m a bit of a pack rat, but also because I have high ambitions and good intentions to use them for crafting. One of my Pinterest boards is full of creative and cute things to do with corks, including making trivets, shower mats, place-card holders, and these, uh, unique shirts.

I might have to rethink the… nippular… area.

Tosha told me that her friend writes a little note on each cork about what she was celebrating or doing when she drank it. I pondered this idea for a second, and then said, “So I would write… Tuesday?” She laughed, apparently thinking I was joking. But the idea stuck with me, and a few weeks later I found myself staring at a pile of Christmas presents, wrapping paper and tape in one hand, a glass of red in the other. After tackling present wrapping and only misplacing the tape and scissors a few times, I carefully wrote on the cork.

Cat-eaten bows in the background.

And thus, my new year’s tradition for 2016 was born. At the end of the year, I think it’ll be fun to dump out all the corks and look at them, remembering where I was, who I was with, and what shenanigans we were pairing with our wine. 

Or maybe it was just a frigid winter night in.

Or a...
Tonight, I’m celebrating a fancy new bottle opener, and, more importantly, I’m celebrating that I actually figured out how to use it. It’s much more elaborate than my “bunny ear” corkscrew. And thank you to my friend, Katharine, for the tutorial before gifting it to me.

Happy 2016, wine lovers! Here’s to new traditions.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On the Trail

October 1st
Stop #14: 5 Trails Winery

We stayed in North Platte at Katherine's parents' house. Although I've never met her dad because he's always on the rails when we stop by, Katherine's mom is a great lady and is fun to be around. We had originally planned on this being a mother/daughter day, but my mom was recovering from knee surgery and wasn't up to going. Katherine's mom was free, so she was still able to come along.

5 Trails Winery in Paxton was our first stop of the day. After much discussion about whether Mountain Time began before or after Paxton (I was right, it was just before), we took of towards the west. We arrived pretty early, so we went past our destination to Ogallala, where we drove by Lake McConaughy because Jenna had never been there.

If only my shower had this kind of pressure.

After our scenic detour, we drove back to Paxton and went to 5 Trails. The tasting room is located on the main street in Paxton, so we found it easily. We were greeted by Pat and Lori Gamet, two of the winery's owners. As soon as we walked in, Pat knew what he was in for. "Here comes trouble," he said, grinning.

Between the four of us, we managed to taste all seven of the wines that were currently available - some wouldn't be ready for a few more weeks. I wasn't a fan of their Edelweiss, which is something I never thought I would say since it's usually my favorite. I did greatly enjoy two of their reds, though, so I'll be adding a few more reds to my list of favorites.

5 Trails Winery in Paxton

I once bought a bottle of 5 Trails wine when it was on sale at Boogarts. I had never tried their wine before, so I jumped at the chance. The wine itself was good, although I can't remember which one it was, but the cork that came with it is probably the handiest thing ever. It's plastic, and the shape of it makes it perfect to use on any bottle of wine I open. When I told Lori about how I guard my 5 Trails cork, she laughed, and informed me that corks like that are called "zorks."

New favorite word? Yes, I think so...

When we had finished our tastings, we walked across the street to one of the most renowned restaurants in Nebraska - Ole's Steakhouse. Ole's is pretty much your average steakhouse - except for the decor. In 1938, Ole bagged a deer and decided to mount it in his steakhouse. The buck was just the beginning. An avid hunter, Ole traveled to every continent over 35 years, and the bar is now the final resting spot for over 200 different mounts, including moose, big cats, a polar bear...

And a jackalope.

I pointed the jackelope out to Jenna, and Katherine and I teamed up to convince her that although rare, jackalopes roam about the sandhills. We almost had her going, until Katherine mentioned that they fraternize with snipes, and I couldn't keep a straight face anymore.

Still laughing, we said our farewells to the polar bear and headed back to North Platte.

Favorites: Passenger and Frontenac Blush

5 Trails Winery's Website

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Love is in the Aerator

It's that time of year again - Valentine's Day. Like it or not, it's not a day that can easily be ignored. Having previously worked at a Hallmark store for two years, I'm a little cynical about February 14th. That's a rant for another time, though I'm sure my story about having to call a lady five minutes before delivering flowers from her boyfriend to make sure her husband wasn't around would provide both entertainment and insight into the joys of bringing people Valentine's happiness...

When florists snap.

With four days left until "the most romantic day of the year", I'd just like to suggest breaking away from the tired flowers and chocolate bit. Any gesture is appreciated, but if you're looking to do something a bit different this year, I would highly suggest looking into events going on at local vineyards. Many of the vineyards I've been to on my tour are hosting special Valentine's Day events, such as five course dinners, murder mystery parties, and wine and chocolate pairings. One of the benefits of going to a local vineyard instead of a restaurant is that the vineyards only allow a preset number of people attend these events, resulting in a much less hectic and more romantic atmosphere.

If staying in is more suited to your taste, a wine gift basket could be a great addition to the evening. Pick out a wine that each of you will like, add in two sexy-stemmed wine glasses (our term for wine glasses with tall, skinny stems - like stiletto heels for wine glasses), maybe some dark chocolate for pairing and voila! Let the love affair begin.

The sexy stem.

Or, you could celebrate the way I plan on celebrating. I'm scheduled to work the open to close shift, so after work I'm going to grab one of my favorite bottles of red - I have it narrowed down to Mac's Creek River Valley Red or Glacial Till's Frontenac Rose - put on some Micheal Buble, and dump an entire bottle of bubble bath into the tub. Bliss.


Whether you're celebrating solo or spending time with someone you love, wine is the perfect addition. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

To the Mac's

September 30th
Stop #13: Mac's Creek Winery and Vineyard

When the hot summer days began to cool off, I realized that Katherine and I needed to have another wine weekend before winter set in. We were lucky in our timing - I discovered that one of our favorite vineyards was having their harvest party on the weekend we had taken off.

In my very first post, I described my cork ritual. I try to keep the corks from all the bottles I've enjoyed. I recently had to upgrade to keeping them in a bigger vase because the old vase was beginning to overflow. As I was transferring the corks, it became obvious that I've enjoyed more bottles of wine from Mac's Creek than from any other vineyard. My first taste of Nebraska wine was from Mac's Creek.

I even crashed a Christmas party there a couple years ago.

Laughing about our shenanigans at the Christmas party, Katherine, our friend Jenna, and I set out to experience Mac's Creek again. Mac's Creek is located in Lexington, about a thirty minute drive from Kearney. There were already several groups of people there, so we didn't get a seat around the new fire pits. We were able to grab one of the last picnic tables, which had a nice view of the band, and we each got our first taste of wine and some hors d'oeuvres.

 Mac's Creek in Lexington, NE

The Kearney-based two-man band played music from several genres, and almost everyone sang along at some point. A few people stared at our table as we joined the band in singing Sweet Caroline. Formerly Three put on a great show... but while Katherine, Jenna, and I came up with a few theories, we never did figure out what their band's name meant.

 Currently Three.

The harvest celebration had a great turn out. Two new wines were debuted that evening: Pinkys 2010 and Frapple 2010. A third wine, Manzanas Dulces, was supposed to make its debut as well. Unfortunately, the labels were not delivered on time and it hadn't been bottled yet. Max MacFarland, one of the owners of Mac's Creek, came out and poured wine for his guests. The rest of the MacFarland family each did their part to make their guests feel welcome as well.

 Max MacFarland serving up some Buffalo Wallow.

After an evening of great wine, music, and friends, we headed further west so we could visit a few more vineyards the next day.

Favorites: River Valley Red & Buzzard's Roost

Mac's Creek Winery and Vineyard's Website

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Grape Experience

August 27th
WindCrest Winery

Since visiting WunderRosa Winery, I have been interested in experiencing harvesting first-hand. My intention was to help out at WunderRosa, but as harvest season began to peak, I started to worry that I would miss out if I didn't jump on the next opportunity that arose.

Many vineyards reach out through social networking sites when they need extra help for harvesting. Dale at WindCrest advertised his need for help several days in advance, so I quickly volunteered. The last weekend of August must have been a busy one - as the week progressed a few other vineyards also reached out. On Friday, WunderRosa contacted me about helping, but since I had already agreed to help Dale, I politely declined, asking them to please keep my contact information for next year.

Typically, vineyards only get a few days' notice when the grapes become ready. This is because they need to monitor the fruits' Brix level, which is a measurement of the grapes' sugar development. When the Brix count reaches the desired level, the grapes need to be harvested quickly,

While I usually sleep in a bit on Saturdays, I woke up at 5:30 the day of the harvest. Instantly, I was taken back to the many summers my friend Tosha and I picked sweet corn. We woke up early and were in the fields before the sun was up. The mornings were usually foggy, and the field was wet with dew and dense with mosquitoes. In an attempt to wake up, we would sometimes hit each other with corn stalks, and chat away until my mom would yell "Less talking, more picking!"

Remembering my experiences in the cornfield, I put on jeans, an old T-shirt, and most importantly, a light waterproof jacket. Sure enough, as I drove to Raymond at 6:00 am, a heavy fog clouded the country, and I knew the field would be wet.

When I arrived at WindCrest, I filled out half a page of paperwork. Pickers could choose to be paid or volunteer - I chose to be a volunteer, because I mostly just wanted the experience. Each picker was given a group number, shears, and a bucket. After a short orientation, we split into our groups and began harvesting.

Once we filled a bucket, we'd take it to the guys on the four wheelers.

Although we had been instructed in the orientation to take our time, be efficient, and essentially pick everything, many of the paid pickers took off at a run to gather the easy bunches. The paid pickers were getting paid by the bucket, so they took off and grabbed all the easy clusters to fill their buckets faster.

As a volunteer, I took my time and cleaned up after those who ran ahead. The paid pickers may have picked double and triple what I picked, but I feel that the volunteers worked harder. There were a few paid pickers who followed directions, but for the most part the volunteers did the more difficult tasks. I spent most of my time inside the vines, harvesting grapes that were more difficult to get to.

 From beneath the vines.

After we had been picking for about half an hour, a rooster started crowing. At that moment, I decided I was going to have chicken for lunch - I was drenched in dew and tangled in vines before the rooster was even awake. As the morning progressed, I forgave the rooster for reminding me of my lack of sleep. It felt good to be back in the field.

Each time I was ready to dump a full bucket, I gave the WindCrest staff my group and number (mine was 2-13), so they could keep track of how many buckets we filled. The buckets had to be absolutely full, because that's how they kept track of the grape tonnage. I personally picked three and a half buckets, which amounts to about 70-75 pounds of grapes.

I did try a grape straight from the vine, and I definitely understand why Edelweiss is my favorite wine. The grapes are very sweet, much more so than any you can buy at the grocery store. I was so excited when I found out we would be picking edelweiss, and I wasn't disappointed.

Edelweiss, edelweiss...

Eighty-seven pickers helped with the edelweiss harvest that morning - there were hardly enough buckets to go around! Altogether, we picked a little more than 14,000 pounds of grapes.

That's more than an elephant weighs.

Because of the huge turnout, we were done by 11:00 am. I turned in my shears and bucket, peeled off my drenched jacket, and sat for a moment, feeling accomplished. I was able to chat with interesting people, learn new things, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work that goes in to every bottle of wine.

It was a grape experience.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Full of Hot Air

August 13th
Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival

My good friend Alysia came back from San Francisco for the summer for an internship, so we made it a point to stock up on girl time and to catch up. There was no better way to bond and beat the heat than to relax in her brother's pool and sip wine.

Alysia always seems to know about upcoming events, and thankfully she always invites me along to the ones that pique her interest. After spending a good portion of the summer listening to me talk about Nebraska wine, she knew that I would be interested in checking out the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival in Omaha.

We spent most of our Saturday walking around Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, because the Balloon and Wine Festival didn't start until evening. Seven hours at the zoo wasn't enough time to see everything, but we were able to see the main attractions, including my favorites, the Lied Jungle and the Cat Complex. It was the last weekend of freedom before school started, so the zoo was pretty packed.

Every time I go to the zoo, I feel like I've been dropped into somebody's Zoo Tycoon creation. My zoos were always pretty awesome, but it's hard to compete with the reality of our own Henry Doorly Zoo. It's only missing dinosaurs.

After we had pretty much wore ourselves out at the zoo, we headed over to the Balloon and Wine Festival. There were several food vendors, business booths, and about a dozen different vineyards in attendance. Alysia made me feel like an actual wine connoisseur by listening to my suggestions about which wines to try, and I managed to sample a few new ones as well. At dusk, the balloons light and launch.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for the hot air balloon launch, because Ribfest was going on back in Lincoln and we wanted to check out some BBQ-y goodness as well. The ribs were awesome, but next year I'll make sure to go to each event separately so I can get the full experience.

Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival's Website

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wild Colleens

Aug 10th
Stop #12: Deer Springs Winery

Back in May, when we first began our wine tour, Katherine and I had tried to make Deer Springs one of our first stops, because it is located right outside of Lincoln. We were disappointed to discover that they were closed, and resolved to try again another time.

On our second visit, Deer Springs Winery was not only open, it was packed. In a side building, several people were hard at work bottling wine. In the tasting room, there were several small groups of people enjoying wine and picnic baskets. A few groups took their picnics outside - it was a beautiful day out. I, however, didn't quite feel like becoming a picnic for the mosquitoes, so we enjoyed our tasting inside. We didn't get much time to talk to Jennifer, one of the owners, because she was busy pouring for her guests.

Deer Springs had attended the Wine Under the Pines event at Kimmel Orchard the day before, and I tried their Traminette because it was a wine I hadn't crossed before. The Traminette became an instant favorite, as well as several other wines including their Bianca, Wild Colleen, and Brianna. We loved the name Wild Colleen, which means "wild Irish girl" - although I'm a bit more Irish than Katherine, we're both wild about wine.

Katherine and I followed our usual routine, each picking different wines from the list and then sampling each other's. This is the best way to sample all the wines, instead of limiting ourselves to choosing only five or six.

This is also the best way to catch mono, according to my mom. But her advice never deterred my habit of sharing drinks in high school, and some things just don't change.

Wine is meant to be shared.

As we were doing our tastings, we debated whether or not we wanted to share a picnic basket. Our inner Yogi Bear won out, so we each bought a glass of wine after we'd finished our tastings and shared a basket. The basket included cheese from the UNL Dairy Store, locally made summer sausage, a baguette, and a few pieces of Baker's chocolate. The picnic basket was the perfect snack, and Deer Springs was the perfect end to our weekend.

Favorites: Traminette & Wild Colleen

Deer Springs Winery's Website