Cold Country Vines & Wines

Archives: July 2016

Wine Sediment – What is this Stuff in My Wine?

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This is a question I don’t mind answering as long as they are asking about someone else’s wine.  Kidding aside, it is not usually a defect that causes this.  There are two common sediments that annoy all but the seasoned wine drinker.  That’s right, the wine drinker that understands wine will usually dismiss the following types of wine sediment.

The first type of sediment is the tartrate.  Tartrate crystals form when wine is chilled below its tartrate saturation temperature.   All wine has tartrate in it, so if you get it cold enough the wine may start to precipitate tartrate.  A good winemaker will take steps to ensure that the temperature at which the precipitation occurs is at or below freezing.  We usually do this by bringing the actual temperature of the wine down to just below 32 degrees for anywhere from a day to two weeks.  This is a process called cold stabilization.  This can be undone by blending wines after the cold stabilization process has been performed.  Tartrate crystals can re-form in the bottle because blending can change the acid balance of the two wines which results in them becoming unstable.  This is a mistake I’ve made myself and had to re-bottle because of it.  So, when you see these completely harmless crystals in the bottom of your nice bottle of white, don’t worry, you can still enjoy the wine.  Just be a little careful not to pour too vigorously so that it gets into your glass.

The other type of sediment commonly found is a tannin sludge in red wine.  This sediment is a kind of dark red sludge that you usually get in the last glass or two.  This is actually considered quite normal for high tannin wines.  As red wine ages, the tannins string together and eventually get heavy enough to precipitate out and settle to the bottom.  This is another case where it is perfectly harmless.  The biggest problem here is you usually don’t see it until you take that last sip and you get a mouth full of sediment.  Even though I know it’s ok, I still find it repulsive.

Both of these issues can be compensated for by decanting the wine.  Carefully pour the wine into a decanter before serving and no one will ever know.  In fact, many red wines have a notable improvement in flavor due to decanting.  So don’t stress over a little sediment in your wine.  Just enjoy the wine the way it meant to be.  Consume with abandon, (that last comment was inserted during editing – but I’m not pointing fingers – Kay:-)

Until next week,


Cold Climate Grapes for Winemakers

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Pictured is Petite Pearl at Cold Country Vines & Wines

Twenty years ago the grape Frontenac was released by the University of Minnesota.  This was not the first grape of its kind, but it was the most significant to winemakers at that time.  A grape that could survive the northern Winters and still ripen within the short growing season.  What made it significant is the fact that it could be made into very drinkable wine.  Our best-selling wine Northern Lights is 80% Frontenac.   This grape was a cross breed of Landot Noir and Vitis Riparia.  The first, Landot Noir, is a somewhat hardy grape that has been around for some time but the Vitis Riparia is one of the two main grapes native to North America.  Those wild grapes you see growing along the edge of farm fields and even up into the telephone lines are usually Vitis Riparia.

So that was the first new cold climate grape to take off.  After that, we started seeing many new varietals from University of Minnesota and elsewhere.  The next most significant red varietal was Marquette.  This grape is a grandchild of Pinot Noir which is a harder grape to grow.  Marquette did not fall far from the tree either.  It is quite prone to vineyard problems and is more sensitive to 2-4D (weed killer) than most other grapes.  The wine, however, is quite delicious.  It is medium bodied, just like Pinot, but for a northern grape has much more complexity and some significant tannin structure.  It has the characteristic black cherry and black pepper flavors.   We at cold country make a dry red named Marquette, and Red Sunset a blend of Marquette and Frontenac.

LaCrescent is the next most popular varietal and only so because of its rapid rise in popularity.  For about the last 5 years it has stolen the show at most of the cold climate wine competitions throughout the world.  Cold Country won double gold on our LaCrescent at the Cold Climate Wine Competition held in Minneapolis.  When we first made wine out of it, I thought it was just a northern version of Riesling.  As we got better at it, we in the industry started making wines that in our opinion are even better than Riesling.

A couple of recent newcomers would be Petite Pearl, developed by Tom Plocher of Northern Minnesota and Itasca developed by University of Minnesota.  Each of these grapes has unknown potential but they are looking very promising so far.  When we first planted Petite Pearl there was no one who could really recommend types of yeast or fermentation procedures.  We were the pioneers of those grapes.  Once a year we had been getting together at Tom’s house in Minnesota and shared our Petite Pearl wines we had made from the previous season.  Each of us has gained considerable knowledge on this grape and in the years to come it will probably be a rising star.  Itasca is much less known.  It was released in the Spring of this year and will be available to plant in the Spring of 2017.  Kay and I will be planting about an acre and are very excited to once again be the pioneers of the cold climate wine industry.

Of course this is not all of the cold climate grapes now available but they are some of the most exciting.  We at Cold Country Vines & Wines will be working hard to make these grapes into something special for our customers.

Until Next Time,


Names Wineries Choose for Wines

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This is another question that comes up all the time in the Tasting Room.  How do you choose your names?  In many cases, wineries just use the name of the grape.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Marquette, and Brianna are all grapes bred specifically to make wine.  Other names such as Red Sunset, Spring Thaw, and Summer Mornings are what the TTB (the old ATF), refers to as fanciful names.  In other words, they are a fancy name for our wine that we invented for one reason or another.  As you may have guessed, our wines are all based on the theme of our cold climate environment.  We have a new wine coming out in a couple of months that will somewhat differ from that convention but I’ll write more on that as we get closer to release.  Let me just say that it’s a Muscato style wine which was made popular by certain music icons and we chose a name accordingly.

With that all being said, I sometimes question the logic used by other wineries to choose their brand names.  Of course I won’t mention them specifically but many of these names are chosen on a theme that their customers could care less about.  One in particular located in Minnesota, picked names of his immigrant ancestors.  Weird!  I follow the logic but not the relevance.   On the other hand, Kay and I tried a wine near Paso Robles, called Bob Wine.  You guessed it, the winemaker’s name was
Bob.  But there was a relevant story behind it that made sense.  In his amateur winemaking days, Bob would make this blend that everyone loved and everyone nicknamed Bob Wine.  The story and the history of the wine fit the name.

Ok, enough opinions already.  This was a shorter story but next time, I’ll talk about some of the newer cold country grapes (oops I mean cold climate grapes).  See even my mistakes are relevant J

See you next time


What Causes My Wine Headaches?

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wine tasting in wisconsin

As a winemaker, this is one of the top 5 wine questions I get from our guests.  This is a confusing issue for most people because there are so many theories on the subject.  First off, sulfites get blamed most of the time, however, the only people who may get a headache from sulfites are the ones who are actually allergic to it.  They are just as likely to feel asthma symptoms as get a headache.  So you could be the one in a million who is allergic but probably not.  There are four other factors that are much more likely to cause that wine headache than sulfites.

  1. Drinking too much wine and not enough water. The obvious solution to this issue is to not drink as much.  However, there are two issues here;

    1. If you are at a long lasting party and you want to be part of the crowd, just drink a glass of water between each glass of wine. This will have a positive effect both that day and the next.  Of course, this only works to a certain extent and then you’ll pay the consequences anyway.

    2. Some people can’t take the sugar/alcohol if they tend to dehydrate easily. This person has to hydrate, (drink water), both before and during wine drinking even if it’s just a small amount.

  2. Tannins – a substance in wine that, when drank, will leave the dry feeling on the tongue. This is a common problem that usually gets blamed on sulfites.  People tell me this all the time and they say it’s because of the higher sulfites in red wine, when in fact red wine almost always has less sulfite than white wine.  The problem can be verified with the Tea Test.  Very strong black tea has a large amount of tannin.  If you are affected by reds, try the Tea Test and then if you find you are affected by tannins, you only have to avoid the reds with significant amounts of tannin in it.

  3. Histamines – this is an allergic reaction to one of the chemicals in the wine. Aged wine seems to cause this reaction more than younger wine.  I myself have slight symptoms to some wines but no headaches.  The cure for this is to treat it like any other allergy.  If you already know you have allergies you know what to do.  However, if you are like me, who doesn’t actually have allergies that can be verified, you just have to take a Zyrtec or something similar.  I was actually tested for allergies and was told I had none.  However, I was told that I was sensitive to a number of substances.  The difference between an allergy and sensitivity?  You can’t do much about sensitivity!

  4. Sulfites – yes as stated above some people are allergic to sulfite but it’s such a small percentage of people who get headaches from wine that it’s almost not worth talking about. But if you are one of the one in a million, I would suspect that the Zyrtec approach would work as well.

So there you have it.  The headache issue is much more complicated than most people imagine.  But as more is learned about the subject, we as winemakers will try to accommodate our eventual new customers.

Until next time,