Cold Country Vines & Wines

Author Archives: Heather

Wine Serving Temperature?

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Wisconsin the next Napa Valley

Ok, there are several so called rules on wine serving temperature that we will get out of the way right away.

  1. All white wines should be served chilled. This is true for the most part except in the area of chardonnay. Many chardonnay drinkers like it served closer to room temperature. It has to do with the amount of oak tannins that exist in a particular chardonnay. Still, most people drink even these whites chilled to about 52 to 55 degrees.

  2. All red wines should be drunk at room temperature. First of all, what most people don’t know is that this rule of thumb is talking about cellar temperature. If you are in a 75 degree room, it would not be ideal to drink any red wine at this same temperature. The second thing that most people don’t know about this rule is that it is referring to dry reds with a lot of tannin structure. So when you are drinking a dry red with some tannin in it, the ideal serving temperature is between 62 and 68 degrees.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go over Jay Stoeger’s rules:

  1. Drink your wines at whatever temperature makes the wine taste the best to you! (or your guests).

  2. Sweet reds, without a lot of tannin, taste excellent all the way down to 40 degrees on hot summer days.

  3. Find your preferred temperature for whites by experimenting. I myself like most whites a little warmer than the typical serving temperature at restaurants, and definitely not straight out of the refrigerator.

  4. If you pull an excellent red off of your wine rack and it’s 70 degrees or more, put it in the refrigerator for a half hour. Get it down to between 58 to 60 degrees. It will warm somewhat in your glass and be at the perfect temperature when you drink it. Of course, this is slanted toward what I like which is about 62 degrees. If you don’t believe me, try this on a warm summer day. If you’re not amazed at how much better it tastes, I would be surprised, but again that’s me.

Now I hate to talk about Winter when the weather is still warm, but when you get out to that outdoor festival or ski slope or ice rink, consider trying the hot spiced wine. It’s amazing how good this tastes on those cold days. The other side of the coin is the wine slushie. I have not tried one of these yet but it sounds like something that would go good on those really hot summer days.

So you see, you can find the right temperature for a wine or you can find the right kind of wine for the temperature. It’s all about enjoyment of a delicious beverage.  Now some people consider me an expert, but I’m just a guy that cared enough to find out what really worked well for me.  It turns out that a lot of other people like it that way as well.

Until next week,

J Stoeger

Residual Sugar in Wine

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This issue is misunderstood even by some of the most devoted amateur wine makers that I’ve talked to.  When you make wine, especially fruit wine, you sometimes want to add sugar to the juice before fermentation.  It’s more common than I would have imagined that some of these wine makers believe that this addition of sugar sweetens the wine.  In most cases, it does not.  Sugar is usually added before fermentation to increase the final level of alcohol.  That’s what fermentation is, converting sugar into alcohol and the more sugar you add the more alcohol you will get to a certain point.  Grapes usually have enough natural sugar that you don’t need to add any to get an acceptable alcohol level.

Here’s where it gets confusing.  If you add enough sugar, you’ll get to the point where the alcohol is so high it will kill the yeast.  In this case, there will be sugar left over and the wine will be sweeter.  The left over sugar is called Residual Sugar.  The confusing part is that all wine has some residual sugar, even dry wine.  These dry wines are in the vicinity of about 0.25% sugar.  A sweet wine can be as much as 5% and even higher.  Our 2015 Ice Wine starts out at 36% sugar before fermentation, (all natural), and finishes at 14% residual sugar which is about average for that particular style wine.

The real question in your mind, I’m sure, is “Where does the sweetness come from, if in most cases it’s not the sugar added before fermentation?”  The wine is actually sweetened with sugar just before bottling.   If you add it too early it again will just start fermenting and creating more alcohol.  So add the sugar just before we filter all of the yeast particles, then you have sweetened and sterile wine that can no longer ferment because you’ve taken all of the yeast cells out of the wine.

If, however, all of the yeast was not removed during filtration or you haven’t sterilized the bottling equipment well enough you will get another round of fermentation only this time it will be in the bottle.  When this happens you get fizzy wine that will often pop the cork and get wine all over the place.  We’ve had this problem and it’s quite embarrassing.  We think we’ve resolved that problem but you are always one contamination event away from a new batch of wine that will have this happen.

So if you drink wine that is more sweet than dry, you will probably run into this every once in a while.  Don’t worry about it hurting you, if it tastes good you can still drink it.  It will just be a little less sweet and it will be carbonated.  In this era carbonated wines are actually selling pretty well but most people who buy regular table wine don’t want any surprises.

Until next time

J. Stoeger

How to Read a Wine Description

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Cold Country Wines

This is another question that comes up many times. Does the wine description describe what actually goes into the wine? The answer is no. The wine description describes what the different flavors in the wine taste similar to. So when descriptions say “black cherry”, “raspberry”, “with notes of chocolate and leather”, that means that that particular person senses resemblances of those flavors in the wine. Almost all wine is made of grapes and only grapes. Granted, your local boutique winery will have what are called fruit wines, usually made from locally grown fruits of every kind, but these are really a novelty. On the other hand there are a few fruits, such as blackberry and cranberry, that break out of that mold and occasionally produce an acceptable wine.
Our own winery produces a grape cherry blend, which of course, is another exception to what I said in the first few sentences. We take a cherry wine which is extremely one dimensional and blend it with the very strong flavors of the Frontenac grape and what results is a quite complex wine we call Northern Lights. So in this case, the cherry flavors actually come from cherry wine.
The next part of the question is the divisions of the tasting experience. The description usually stops at the front end after the first flavors you experience when you take that sip of wine. There is also the middle mouth, mouth feel, and finish to describe the experience. The middle mouth is somewhat debatable but my version is, that part of the tasting after the initial impression that will include the sides of your tongue and further back. The mouth feel is really the texture of the wine often described as thick or thin. Ice wines usually have a thick mouth feel whereas Rhone style wines are almost always thin.
And then there is the finish. The finish is the final impression you get when you swallow. Low alcohol wines score lower in this category because you don’t get the warmth or burn when you swallow. Tannins affect both the middle mouth and the finish based on both its’ dry feeling and the varying degree of bitterness it imparts. I always thought this would make wine judging difficult to define in this area, (because they don’t swallow), but talking to several wine judges I am convinced that it is possible.
So where does that leave us. People who spend a lot of time evaluating wine clearly can dissect the experience and divide it into even more parts than I’ve described here. What should that mean to you? It can mean that you start studying wine to get up to speed on all the descriptors and evaluations, but what you should really be aiming at is enjoying wine. Yes, the real point is to enjoy it.
Until next time,
Jay Stoeger

New Rose’ Released at Cold Country!

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Pink Snowflake Front

Cold Country Vines & Wines has released a new rose’ wine, Pink Snowflake. This is our first Rose’ to come out of our vineyard. It has notes of pineapple, peach, and orange peel with just a slight fluttering of tannin to make for a balanced middle mouth. A refreshing summertime wine for those that want a little more than a white wine. Incidentally, this is was made out of the grapes picked during our last Harvest Fest. That’s right, many of you had a hand in making this wine. The Marechal Foch that was picked at Harvest Fest was blended with some of our LaCrescent, Brianna, and a touch of Merlot.  This was a rose’ made by taking the red grapes and pressing them immediately verses fermenting them on the skins for a week or two. The other way to make a rose’ is to take a white wine and blend it with a red wine. Each has its advantage but the red grape straight to press approach gives a more balanced wine.  This particular wine is a combination of the two methods.  So come on out and try it. There is only about 50 cases so don’t wait too long.

Also If you would like to pick grapes during this years harvest, there are two ways to go about this.  The first is to come to our Harvest Fest on September 24th, which is always a good time and has been since 2012.  Or the second way is to sign up for picking at our tasting room or just send us an email at  We would love to have you, and you get to take part in something special.  Picking is paid in cash or wine, your choice, (must be 21 years old to take the wine).   And if you pick Ice Wine (burrrr), you get a bottle of our amazing Ice Wine.  You won’t regret it.

Until next time,

J Stoeger

Terroir or Terror in Wisconsin Grape Growing

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It’s time to talk about how great Wisconsin is for growing grapes and how terroir is a part of that.  Just don’t ask those in the Southwest quadrant of the state.  Southwestern Wisconsin had a late frost this past spring and lost as much as 75% of their crop.  Our vineyard suffered that same fate in 2015.  Now we could feel sorry for ourselves, or we could just come to grips with the fact that late frost is a danger to most grape growing regions including France, Italy and California.  While visiting Paso Robles just a few months ago, my wife and I were told about the terrible frost that hit them just a couple of years ago, where the shoots were 18 inches long and a sharp drop in temperature one night turned everything brown.  How devastating!  Walking through our own vineyard in 2015 felt like I had a stake driven through my chest.  Anyway, enough depressing talk.

The real point is that you can grow grapes in Wisconsin and this year is looking very promising so far.  If you drive down any country road right now you’ll see beautiful corn and wheat fields unlike anything we’ve seen for many years.  The same thing is going on with our vineyards.  We’ve had a mild winter and spring and now the summer is hot but not too hot and there is rain but not too much rain.  More importantly, the sun has not been hiding behind the clouds for weeks on end like it did back in 2014.  So with just a little more blessing, we could have an abundant and high quality crop.

With all that being said, there is that word that grape-growers always use; terroir.  Terroir is everything that affects the grape except the weather.  The soil, the slope of the vineyard, and the latitude and longitude where the vineyard exists all affect the flavor of the grape.  Some find this hard to believe but having grown grapes for seven seasons now it has become very apparent that these things do have an impact.  The slope of the vineyard is a prime example.  A vineyard that slopes to the south as little as 2 or 3 percent will have a significantly earlier ripening than an area sloping to the north.   Most grape growers think it goes much further than that in that it produces flavors on that south slope that are not attainable on the north sloping.  I myself would not readily believe this except for the fact that all the great grape growing regions of the world hold this concept as fact.

In Wisconsin, specifically the Niagara Escarpment, we have many gently rolling hills to make this a very common situation.  We also have the same longitude as Bordeaux France and our soil is very well suited to growing fruit.  So, several years ago the Federal Government declared Northeast Wisconsin an American Viticulture Area called “The Wisconsin Ledge”.

So what is our Terroir all about?  Good soil and good sunlight.

Until next time,


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,

Glass Painting at the Winery

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Cold Country Vines & Wines is having a glass painting class right at the winery.  Proceeds will benefit the Kewaunee Pier Head Lighthouse


Tuesday July 12th, 2016  6pm to 8pm

Bring your own glass, or purchase one that night.

Cost is $25.  This includes a glass of wine and a chance to wine door prizes

Limited to the first 10 people.

Please call for reservations



Class instructor is Robin Nelson

“The reason for the need for The Friends of The  Kewaunee Pier Head Lighthouse, is that there are many costs associated with the lighthouse that are not covered with the recent grant to the City of Kewaunee. The City will be fixing the exterior of the lighthouse, to protect it from further damage. But any work inside or improvements to items not done by the city, will have to come from other sources. There is the expensive Fresnel ( fray-nel) lens that has to be cleaned and removed, and the interior has to be completely redone if anyone would go inside to see the lighthouse. Also there are fees associated with the application to have the lighthouse placed on the National Historical Register. It is hoped that eventually the lighthouse could be open  to the public, perhaps as part of a walking tour of the historical places in the city. There is an organizational meeting for The Friends of The Kewaunee Pier Head Lighthouse, on July 7th at 6:00 PM in the meeting room of the Kewaunee Library. Please attend the meeting if you are interested in helping.” Questions? Please call Jayne Conard 1-920-388-2728