Friday, October 23, 2009

Vino de South Dakota?

If you thought the idea of Wisconsin wine was odd, wait until you hear this: South Dakota's wine industry is booming. Well, it's still relatively minescule, but as I recently found out at the SD State Fair, it's doubled in size almost every year for the last 5 years. Wine is catching on all over the country! The state agriculture board is boasting grape growing as a potential boon to poor farmers. One thing to consider is, like Wisconsin, much of the wine made in SD is made from fruit like black currants. Now, you know I don't like fruit wines, but you'd have to be a real "snob" to not at least sample them and THEN judge how poor they are. And the fact is, they are not all bad.

Prairie Berry is a Winery Located in Hill City, SD, which is pretty much in the black hills area. I have not been to their winery (yet!), but they are doing it right. They have well manicured grounds, a classy tasting room, and food in addition to their wines- which might surprise you should you sample them. Certainly not as sophisticated as offerings from say- Washington or California, but interesting none the less. As a side note, you might think that on average, South Dakotans are less sophisticated wine connoisseurs than other states- and you'd be right. However, like many americans, wine is slowly catching on all over the place.

I recently tried the last two generations of Black Currant wine from Prairie Berry. The older being "Deadwood" and the newer being "Lawrence Elk". I believe these wines normally sell for around $17, which is a little steep for me, but not bad. What does black currant wine taste like? Well, like black currants. No really, they do. If you read a lot of wine reviews, you'll notice that it's a flavor that pops up a lot in reviews of red wines, often Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. In these wines, it's the dominating flavor. It starts off sweet and finishes with a slightly tart dark fruit flavor. These wines are sweet, but probably not as sweet as you might think- they are very pleasant. The color is a rich red, reminiscent of light-bodied french reds such as Beaujolais wines. The aroma has fruit on the nose. It's a simple flavor, not a lot of spice, fairly low acidity, but the nature of the black currant itself is a rich and somewhat complex taste.

We enjoyed the Deadwood with a meal of baked Salmon, roasted red pepper risotto, and roasted green beans. The light red wine with a touch of sweetness actually complemented the meal quite nicely, which was a pleasant surprise. Unlike many wines I served, everyone enjoyed the wine and the pairing of the food- the bottle was gone quickly. Next time you are driving through the black hills, I recommend you check out Prairie Berry or another fine SD winery. You might be surprised at what you find.

Mt. Audubon- it's COLD in the mountains!

I recently climbed Mt. Audubon, which is a a "13er" at about 13,200 ft above sea level. In fact, Colorado has so many mountains HIGHER than this one, it's tough to claim some sort of moral victory from climbing it. However, it does offer an excellent view and a moderate difficulty trail (moderate when compared to 14ers, fairly strenuous for a normal hike). It's ONLY 4 miles long, how bad could that be?

Well, let's find out shall we? Keep in mind, I did this hike in September. It was 39 degrees when I started out around 11,000 feet. (yes, the trailhead is really high)
That's the top! Much further away then it looks.
Yes, that's snow coming down, rather fast. The clouds eliminated the possibility of any good "views"

This is me at the summit, cold, wet, tired. But still smiling (kind of)! This little 4 mile hike took me over 2 hours to summit. Of course, the "rock scramble" at the end was at least 35 minutes of that!
Let it snow! This was about 2 hours of accumulation. The phrase "winter wonderland" crossed my mind.

Look familiar? This is the same hillside as portrayed in the first picture, with snow on it. I was so happy to get down to this point- it's only about a half mile to the car from here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wollersheim Winery: Vino de Wisconsin?

In an effort to broaden my horizons and explore the world of wine, I've been trying to visit different wineries in my travels. Wollershiem Winery is located in Praire Du Sac, Wisonsin. This is located on the steep slopes next to the Wisconsin River. There are over 30 wineries in Wisconsin- although many of them make cherry or fruit wines.

The grounds are well maintained and quite attractive. This vineyard is set up really well for visitors, who get a glance of real grape vines, the aging cave, and a great tasting/retail area.
I wish I would have purchased more wine, but these two were some of my favorites. The Praire Fume is a light, off-dry fume blanc with fruit, light minerals, and low acidity. It is unoaked and clean tasting, that represents the fume blanc taste well.

The Dry Riesling is the first non-sweet riesling I've tasted. The Gold Riesling (sweet) and the Dry Riesling were both pleasant tasting, delicious and juicy examples of the riesling grape. The difference is the dry riesling has lower sugar content- it's more of an off-dry or semi-sweet wine, and I find that it really goes well with the unique riesling taste. The best part about these wines are, they are reasonable- the three whites I've referred to are only $8/bottle at the winery, which is quite reasonable for a decent, local wine.

This winery also made a lot of French-style "light" red wines, in the style of Beujolais wines. While lighter reds are not my favorite style of wines, these were very true to the style and still moderately priced.

If you are in the area and want to check it out, I recommend it- the free tasting was informative, and their retail area was impressive. A good experience, and some good wines to boot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Longs Peak Summit!

Longs Peak

First 14er attempt/summit!

I recently climbed Longs Peak in Colorado. It's 14,255 feet above sea level, with roughly 5,000 feet of elevation gain. It's also 7.5 miles each way. It is rated as "difficult" because of the altitude, exposure, and a few somewhat technical sections. I'm happy to say that my friend and I were able to summit it on our first attempt. We did pass people on the way up, on to a respectable time of 4 hours and 41 minutes from trailhead to summit.

The first 3 are taken in "the trough"; It's very hard work climbing up a loose 40% average grade.
Danny climbing near the bottom of "The Trough"
Looking up at the exit to the trough section

Looking down on "the trough" from the top

Looking Northwest from the top of the trough.

Looking West from "the Ledges" section at Mt. Pagoda
Looking South from "the ledges" area towards the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Danny navigating the crux of "the narrows" section.
Danny on "the ledges" section

Danny resting at the end of "the narrows" section
"the homestretch"

Danny getting ready to top out on Longs Peak

Looking NW on the summit, which is as big as a football field.

Looking SW from the summit.
We are happy to summit! We dont' even know these people.
 Awesome mountain, great route, and a fun time! I will be back to this awesome place. I felt like this was a huge accomplishment being my first 14er. Our success was due in part to our extensive training, and also the great weather and early start.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Perfect for Summer!

This wine is something a little different. Twin Vines Vinho Verde from Portugal. Literally translated, that means "green wine" in spanish. It's a special kind of wine that I think only Spain produces. Green meaning new, it's aged only for a short time in stainless steel casks- so there's no hint of wood flavoring. It's made with 42% Loureiro, 39% Trajadura, 19% PedernĂ£ grapes- definately not the common varietals.

It's very light in color, and about 10% ABV. It's got a very light carbonation to it. It's very light and crisp, with fresh citrus flavors. It's mild and smooth, semi-dry with flavors of lemons, limes, starfruit, and a hint of green apple, with very light mineral flavors and decent acidity. I picture this going very well with fish and seafood that is common to portugal. With the mild flavor and alcohol, this is a wonder wine to enjoy in the spring and summer on a hot day- it would also be a decent wine to serve to people who aren't much into wine.

At 7 or 8 bucks a bottle, this screw-top from across the pond is a good value and a good wine. I give it 3 and a half corks (out of 5).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Longs Peak- Keyhole

Keyhole Route- 4000' of elevation gain, 13 miles RT

In 2009 Danny Chapman and myself hiked to the Longs Peak keyhole and back down to Chasm Lake to train for summitting Longs Peak. It's a nice trail and a beautiful area, I would recommend this hike to anyone.

Wild Columbines thrive in the harsh alpine environment
This waterfall is fed by snowmelt, and spills from the frigid chasm lake

13,000 foot peaks shrouded in clouds
It was late July, and about 40 degrees at noon.
This is the route you take to reach the summit of Longs Peak. See that trough that goes up and to the left? You climb up that on the standard Keyhole route.

They Keyhole is an interesting place that really highlights how different weather can be above treeline. It's an interesting hike for people who are hesitant to test their mettle on the summit push.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A good RED is easy to find...

Here are some of the red wines I have thoroughly enjoyed lately that also represent a good value.

Under $10
2005 Meridian Merlot
2006 Cellar No. 8 Cabernet* and Merlot
2007 Mirassou Pinot Noir
2006 Veramonte Cabernet* & Merlot
2007 Little Penguin Cabernet / Merlot Blend

Under $13
2007 Folie a Deux Menage a Trois Red
2006 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Substance Shiraz (Washington)
2006 Bogle Vineyards Petite Syrah or Cabernet

*I prefer the cabernet to the merlot, but that is due to my personal tastes

Veramonte Sauv Blanc

Just a quick note- I finally got to try the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc that I have pictured in my title picture. It offered the usual fruit and melon flavors, as well as a strong citrus and lime flavor. It was pretty smooth and fairly sweet, but not at the level of a riesling. It's fruity flavors and fresh crispness would be a good compliment to grilled chicken, white fish, pork chops, fruit and salad. It's unoaked as most Sauvignon Blancs are.  At about $9-10 a bottle, it represents a good value in wine and a fine example of a sauvignon blanc.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Marble Pictures, Part 2

Here's more pictures from our marble trip in late June. It was awesome!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chasm Lake

Chasm lake is a beautiful snow-fed lake at the base of Longs Peak's sheer East face (called the Diamond). From this vantage you have an impressive view of an impressive mountain.

Here I am at Chasm Lake, 11,803 feet above sea level. I made it to the lake in just under 2 hours, which is decent for the 4.2 mile trip and 2400 feet of elevation gain. I passed about 30 people on the way up.
Here's the lake with the famous east face of Longs Peak in the background.
Longs Peak, Elevation 14,258 feet. One of the highest mountains in the continental US.
I liked the way the sun sparkled off the clear snowmelt. Gorgeous!
This is Peacock Pool- named for the wonderful colors I'm guessing!

Wildflowers above treeline- 11,500 feet

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Camping in Caribou

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. It's rare to see one, especially this close.
Mt. Meeker, 13,800 feet. Longs Peak is hiding behind it!

I love aspen trees. This was at our campsite.

We love wildflowers. These are in the Caribou basin.
Caribou Basin. Some of these pictures may have been taken by my wife. She gets good shots!