Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Perfect Pair: Wine and Jazz

May 20th
4th Annual Nebraska Wine and Jazz Festival

While you won't get your Wine Tour passport stamped at the Nebraska Wine and Jazz Festival in Kearney, it is a great opportunity to sample wines from all over Nebraska without traveling across the entire state. Admission is moderately priced, and includes ten tasting tickets as well as a free souvenir glass. Other items, such as food and gifts, are available as well.

The Nebraska Wine and Jazz Festival typically brings in a dozen different vineyards and wineries, as well as several different musicians and bands. This year, there were wines from thirteen Nebraska vineyards. The festival also featured Thunderhead Brewery this year, which appealed to a wider audience, and is proof of the festival's growth and constant change.

I have been a dedicated attendee since the second year of the festival, and each year I have gained a more refined palate and wonderful memories.

My favorite memory from the Nebraska Wine and Jazz Festival was made in my first year of attendance, 2009. Pam, a friend of mine, had been asked to help out with overnight "security", and was allowed to bring helpers. Katherine and I quickly volunteered. Our job was to hold down the fort - or rather, the tent - and make sure nobody ran away with the sound equipment provided for the musicians. We passed the hours of the cold night by singing and dancing on the stage, watching movies on a laptop, and consuming ridiculous amounts of caffeine.

The late night proved to be worth it - for our vigilance, we were rewarded with free admission to the festival, and a tradition was born. We also discovered the most amazing white sangria, and I keep the recipe as secret as if it were passed down in my family for generations. The story of how we discovered the sangria is a secret too, but for different reasons... We don't want to be banned from the annual festival.

Although the Nebraska Wine and Jazz Festival is held in May and the climate is still a bit chilly, the wine, music, and friendship you'll find there will warm your heart.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Your Way - Or My Way

May 10th
Stop #4: WindCrest Winery

After visiting James Arthur Vineyards, we made the short trip to WindCrest Winery, which is also located near Raymond. We serendipitously arrived just as the owner was coming back in from his fields for a break.

Dale Lilyhorn has, so far, been one of my favorite people to visit. In his straw hat and pocketed T-shirt, he is the image of hard work, though one would probably assume he had been tending cattle rather than grapes.

As we were about ready to begin our tasting, Mr. Lilyhorn gave us an unexpected option: "You can do the tasting your way, or my way." "Your" way is the traditional tasting: choose six wines from his selection, and each sample would be of typical tasting proportion. "His" way, on the other hand, entailed a smaller portion of each of his twelve wines. By accepting this unique offer, the taster is allowed to step outside his or her comfort zone and experience something that he or she may not have otherwise tried.

We chose to do it his way, of course.

As we sampled all of his wines, Mr. Lilyhorn talked about each one, offering suggestions for pairings and answering our questions, both about the wines and himself. Mr. Lilyhorn opened his winery in 2007, after getting his start by growing grapes for his neighbor, James Arthur. When I asked if he had liked wine before becoming a grower, he smiled and gave us his answer - it was then that we realized we were in the presence of a kindred spirit.

"Oh yes. I used to make milk gallon wine in college. We used to hide it behind the furnace to avoid getting caught."

If you have the opportunity to visit WindCrest Winery for a tasting, do, and do it Dale's way. And when you come across a new favorite, make sure to buy a bottle, as it is not currently available in stores. It's well worth it.

Favorites: St. Vincent and Cherry Delight

WindCrest Winery's Website

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tasting OpPORTunities

May 10th
Stop #3: James Arthur Vineyards

James Arthur Vineyards in Raymond, NE

One of the most renowned Nebraska vineyards is the prestigious James Arthur Vineyards, located in Raymond. James Arthur is the largest vineyard in Nebraska, as well as one of the oldest. I had heard many people talk about JAV, seen it in stores, and finally sampled James Arthur Vineyards' wines previously at the annual Nebraska Wine and Jazz Festival in Kearney, but the best way to experience wine is to experience it at the vineyard.

When we first arrived at James Arthur, Katherine and I were struck by how beautiful the establishment was. The tasting room was elegant and rustic, and also houses a large gift shop full of items for wine lovers - or "wineauxs", a great term I discovered while browsing the gift shop. The tasting room was fairly busy when we arrived, and the sound of toasts and laughter filled the spring air.

Once a few of the other groups dispersed, we were able to chat with Barb Ballard, James Arthur's daughter, who is now married to the head wine maker, Jim Ballard. She was very friendly, and answered all of our questions about their vineyard and wines. When we mentioned that our palates have matured since we first started to enjoy wine, and are now better able to appreciate dry wines, she asked if we had tried their port style wine, Tropasti. We hadn't yet, so she quickly took our glasses and remedied that, then told us the story behind the name.

Because port has to come from Portugal to be a true port, James Arthur Vineyards came up with a creative and humorous way to bite their thumb at the rule. The name of their port style wine best illustrates their creativity. When read backwards, "Tropasti" reveals its clever hidden joke. The jibe continues on the wine label, where the word "port" appears at every opportunity.

One of my favorite things about Nebraska vineyards is that, no matter the size of the operation, the owners and growers welcome you personally and come together to share the joy of wine.

Favorites: 2 Brothers and Heartland White

James Arthur Vineyards' Website

Monday, August 8, 2011

Straight from the Finishing Tank

May 10th
Stop #2: Glacial Till Vineyard

Glacial Till Vineyard in Palmyra, NE

Having been thwarted by closed signs at two vineyards the day before, Katherine and I decided to strike out on our tour again. Our first stop of the day was near Palmyra. My trusty GPS got us most of the way there, but even though it wasn't exactly accurate, we could at least see our destination from where it left off. Glacial Till was a modest establishment, and we found ourselves in the position of not knowing which door to use. After circling the building, someone luckily stuck his head out of a door and directed us to the right one. The right door, which was the middle one, had a welcome mat in front of it. How did we manage to miss that? A different young man greeted us, along with his black and white dog, Zephyr.

The dog smiled at us.

Glacial Till, unlike most other vineyards, includes a tour of their facilities with their tasting. We got to explore the holding tanks, and see the different machinery used to make the wines. Our guide Tim, one of the owners' sons, explained the different phases and equipment used in their wine making process. We happened to drop in on a bottling day, and watched as the workers, who consisted of family and friends, bottled, labeled, and corked the wine. After we had moved on to another room, we heard a bottle break, along with the chorus of groaning and joking that followed. Tim let us sample four different kinds of wine straight out of the finishing tanks.

After our amazing taste of our first "fresh" wine experience, Tim led us up a narrow, winding staircase to the top of the building. From there, we could see acres of grapes under a blue, cloudless sky. Zephyr joined us as we sampled a few of the wines. Tim chatted with us and graciously answered all of our questions as we were savoring his family's wines. He told us about a few upcoming events Glacial Till was hosting, and encouraged us on our wine tour.

Artsy, I know.

Although I'm only an amateur wine connoisseur, I was very impressed with Glacial Till's wines. There wasn't a single one that I didn't like. When Katherine and I had finished our tasting, we each picked our favorite and enjoyed a full glass and our surreal surroundings before descending back below with a promise to return.

Favorites: Edelweiss and Frontenac Rose

Glacial Till's Website

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Errant Knights - Our Quest Begins

May 9th
Stop #1: From Nebraska Tasting Room

After kick starting our morning with wings and fried pickles at Buffalo Wild Wings, Katherine and I decided to start our wine tour by heading down to the Haymarket area in Lincoln.

The From Nebraska store carries a wide variety of items (mostly) made right here in Nebraska. Tastings are available all day, and the list of wines represents a nice assortment of wineries. Many more wines are available for purchase, and can even be built into a gift basket for any occasion.

As we were sampling the different wines we'd selected, we wandered around the rest of the store. From Nebraska offers a great selection of items and gifts, including art, books, jellies, crafts, and wine accessories.

Katherine couldn't resist purchasing a wine holder that looks like a medieval knight, which was quickly dubbed as our mascot. With our new companion in tow, we felt like errant adventurers, and that our quest was off to a great start.

From Nebraska's Website