Really. Just avoid those malls after Thanksgiving and head straight to all of your local wineries. They’re waiting for you.
In Ohio, we have the annual barrel tasting. On Saturday, Nov 28, you can visit five Ohio wineries to try unreleased vintages and current wines.
Barrels @ Harmony Hill
You can visit our friends at Harmony Hill and Kinkead Ridge, along with Burnet Ridge Winery, Henke, and Woodstone Creek. Hours and costs at each winery vary, so make sure to double-check the web site before you head out on your winery journey for the day.
Barrels @ Kinkead Ridge
Additionally, Elk Creek is having an anniversary sale at all of their locations. (Disclosure: I do a little freelance marketing for Elk Creek and they advertise on this blog.) If you want to stay on the Kentucky side, Elk Creek is offering deep discounts on their wines and a party atmosphere at the winery in Owenton.
Now, don’t special tastings and winery sales sound better than crazed shoppers and long lines? I thought so. I’ll see you at the wineries.
This weekend, which will hopefully be a lovely autumn weekend, you can experience a lot of Kentucky wine and you won't have to go much further than Covington and Camp Springs.
Kentucky grapes? Yes, actually. Those tobacco fields aren't getting
much use now that smoking is being banned in many states and causing
cancer in general. But they do provide the perfect soil for growing
grapes. I admit, Kentucky wineries are still young and growing, but you
might be surprised about the quality of many of the wines.
On Saturday, you can partake in the Northern Kentucky Wine Festival right down on Mainstrasse in Covington. The festival runs from 2-10 pm on October 17. Your $10
admission includes a souvenir wine glass and 4 tastings, although you
can buy additional tasting tickets for $1 each or 6/$5.If you find a
wine you like, you can purchase it by the bottle or by the case.
Ky Wine Festival is all Kentucky wines, but not all of Kentucky's
wineries. Some of our favorites in the past have included Black Barn, Ashwood
Cellars, Elk Creek Vineyards,
Lover's Leap, Wildside Winery/Wildside Vines, and Chrisman Mill.
The wine festival isn't just wine though. It's an opportunity to try some tasty Kentucky Proud
snacks. I tend to buy a lot of these products at Remke; I'm a big Ky
Proud supporter because the food is just so good. In addition to food,
there will also be crafts such as ceramics, rustic furniture, and
jewelry. The last couple of years, these vendors were mixed in well with the wineries,
giving you a chance to enjoy your wine and keeping the wine tables from
being too crowded. I usually buy jewelry from several of the vendors.
On Sunday, you can enjoy the 3rd Annual Camp Springs Herbst Tour. (Herbst meaning Autumn, apparently.) This is a self-guided tour. You'll pick up a map and start driving, and probably be surprised not only by how beautiful it all is, but by just how close our fair city is to the country.
You'll visit three working farms, six stone houses, a horse farm and equestrian center, four churches, artist studios & crafts, a daylily farm, plowing fields, a pumpkin patch, see draft horses and miniature Hereford cattle. But the important things on that list are the two vineyards and wineries.
You'll get to visit the vineyard, farm, and tasting room of Stonebrook Winery. If you go, make sure you try their pomegranate wine. Additionally, you'll get to visit Camp Springs Vineyard, which is holding their grand opening the day of the Herbst Tour. You'll be the first ones to try their inaugural white, red, and fruit wine.
To get started on the tour, stop by the Camp Springs Firehouse and pick up your map. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday!
Every month, wine bloggers the globe over participate in Wine Blogging Wednesday, where we all write to a specific theme. This month, our assignment is to go drink local, but to do it at the local winery, talk to the winemaker, and just get to know the place. Wine always tastes better "at the source."
This ended up presenting an interesting conundrum for me. I wanted to branch out and visit a Kentucky winery instead of an Ohio one. The nice folks at Elk Creek in Owenton invited me down for a tour and tasting (and even threw in Temptations tickets). So two weeks ago, I went to the winery, had a great time, and came home and whipped up this post (which has been patiently in my queue, waiting for WBW). Now for the conundrum: a few days after my visit, Elk Creek reached out to me for social media marketing. Effective today, Elk Creek is a client. I made the decision to go ahead and publish this post because it was written early, but I wanted to make my new relationship with the winery clear as well.
Now that we've got that out of the way …
I'd never been to Elk Creek, and I was surprised to find out it's only an hour from Cincinnati. In fact, it's only an hour from Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington, and it sits halfway between I-71 and I-75. To get there I took the scenic route from I-75, which had a lot of twisty-turny roads. I came home the highway, on I-71, which took about 15 minutes longer but was much more my speed.
The Elk Creek campus is lovely. It includes the winery, an outdoor amphitheater where they hold concerts, grape vines (of course), the Elk Creek Hunt Club (clay shooting), and a bed & breakfast with a small spa. Inside the winery building is an art gallery and a deli.
Vineyard and Lodge
While I got a great tour of the winery (they make over 220,000 bottles), what I really want to tell you about is the wines. They offer a lot of varieties, running the gamut from the popular and best-selling sweet wines to dryer wines.
Joe Hall took me through the winery and chose wines he thought I might enjoy. I'm not sure what Joe's position is at the winery, but he definitely has a handle on the production process as well as on what makes each wine unique. Joe also has his own watercolors on display in the art gallery!
Elk Creek grows some of their own grapes (about 45 tons), but they also bring in a lot of grapes for their wines. They source their grapes from farmers throughout Kentucky and occasionally bring in grapes from California and Oregon. Their current estate (grown on property) wines are a Chambourcin, a Chardonelle, and a Cabernet Franc.
Estate grown grapes
I tasted a fair number of wines, although not as many sweet wines as they offer. Not surprisingly, the sweeter wines, both white and red, are their best sellers. Here's is a quick run-down of the notes I scribbled:
2006 "Kentucky Blue" Vidal Blanc ($9.99/bottle): I tend to enjoy Vidal grapes, and this one was not too sweet, very light and tart.
2007 Chardonnay (14.99/bottle): I was told that this particular Chardonnay is similar to their special edition bottlings for their US Open Chardonnay and the Ghostly White Chardonnay for this year's Halloween wine. This vintage of the Chardonnay was oak-free. Despite my overall dislike of Chardonnay, this may have been my favorite of what I tasted.
2006 Kentucky Blue Riesling ($14.99/bottle): Light and sweet with apples and peaches. I have girlfriends who would love this wine.
2006 Crazy Elk Blush ($9.99/bottle): I noticed at the Temptations concert that this was a pretty popular wine. It's not my thing though. The notes read that it's got a hint of strawberries – I'd say it was more than a hint. It's also really similar to a White Zin style, which explains both its popularity and why I didn't really care for it.
2006 Sweet Owen Red ($12.99/bottle): When I tried this the first time, I didn't really like it. It's a Norton, which is perhaps my least favorite grape on the face of the planet. Again, this is one of their top selling wines because it's a sweet red. However, I tried it again at the concert and this time, it was chilled. While still not my favorite, I thought chilling it showed a marked improvement.
2007 Estate Chambourcin ($19.99/bottle): These grapes were grown right on property. I'm a big fan of Chambourcin in most cases and this was no exception. It was aged in oak for 1.5 years, but I thought it was well balanced.
2006 Viognier ($19.99/bottle): I wanted to like this one a lot, as I love a good Viognier. This one was too oaky for me, but it was very round, and filled my whole mouth (as it should). But I definitely needed less oak.
2006 Chardonnay ($17.99/bottle): While I have girlfriends who would love the heavy feel and oak of this Chardonnay, I preferred the "naked" Chardonnay I had earlier. This one was too much for me.
2006 Sangiovese ($24.99/bottle): This is an enjoyable wine, although in the past I've tried what I think was the 2005, and its even better. The 2006 is a soft summer red, fairly dry. Apparently it pairs well with Italian (which makes sense) but I'll need to try it out.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99/bottle): This wine is supposed to be similar to the US Open and Halloween Bone-Dry Red limited edition bottlings. The Cabernet is a bright young wine, a bit tangy, and would probably do well to be saved for about a year.
2007 Estate Cabernet Franc ($34.99/bottle): This is a really good wine. Is it a $34.99 wine? I don't know. I understand the price point based on the work that goes into an estate wine, but I tend to get extra picky when the price crosses $25. That said, it's a soft Cab Franc and my exact notes are "not a lot of pepper, really enjoyable," which is saying something. I usually can't stand Cabernet Franc.
If you live nearby (as in Louisville, Lexington, or Cincinnati), Elk Creek is certainly worth the hour drive. The people are incredibly nice, the wines are good (and in many cases local), and there's a lot to do. The view from their patio is gorgeous. It's a perfect excursion for a nice autumn day.
Elk Creek at Sunset
View all my photos from Elk Creek.
My big thanks to my friend Lenn at the newly renamed New York Cork Report for hosting this month's edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday.
So, have you heard of Grüner Veltliner? Don't worry – I hadn't heard of it either until a couple years ago, when I participated in a Terry Theise trade tasting. I had many Grüner Veltliners that day, and I still wasn't sold on the white grape that accounts for ~36% of all the grapes grown in Austria.
At the time, I didn't like Grüner Veltliner because it seemed to be oily – not just on the finish, but the entire mouthfeel. What I didn't know was how food friendly Grüner Veltliner can be – in fact, it carries a reputation of being a wine to enjoy with food. I've since read that you can even pair it with asparagus.
We were at MicroWines a few months ago, and David convinced me to bring home a bottle without trying it first. He promised I would love it. Since I trust David & Jenn (the staff at MicroWines), I bought it. Over the weekend, we got around to trying it.
Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg "Gobelsburger" Grüner Veltliner 2007
The Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner is a Terry Theise selection. Terry Theise is this man who brings in only the very best of the small European vintners, imported through Michael Skurnik. If the back label lists either of those names, you know you're in good hands – and good vines. This is actually a second-label from the Schloss Gobelsburg winery and not one of their
"premier" wines. It's made partially from estate grapes and partially from
In his 2008 catalog, Theise describes the Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg winemaker, Michael Moosbrugger, as someone who is searching for the soul of the wine. Theise goes on to describe this particular wine as "an alarm clock that wakes you up with the songs of a thousand birds; wonderfully sorrely and nettle-y and spearminty; less body and more brilliance than ‘06, and still absurdly fine in its class."
I do not know if I found all of that in this wine, but I certainly enjoyed it. We tried this Grüner Veltliner on its own, without food. I don't have Theise's gift for words, but I thought the wine was well-balanced, laced with bright clear notes and the tartness of Granny Smith apples. We even detected some underlying butterscotch, giving this wine a fullness we hadn't expected. As for that oiliness I don't like? Maybe my palate has improved with age. I detected it, but only on the finish, and it was appropriate, without being overdone. We drank this on a hot summer evening, but it would have been equally as pleasant on a Sunday morning with brunch. It's that kind of wine.
Michael Skurnik comments that winemaker Moosbrugger's "special genius seems to lie in the making of very pretty fine-grained wines at the “low” end of his range—no small gift." I would agree. My experience with the Gobelsburger has made me want to re-explore Grüner Veltliner.
Growing up in Cincinnati, I vacationed a lot in the Smoky Mountains. And why not? It's an easy 5-hour drive south. In fact, way back in college, I visited Mountain Valley Winery in Pigeon Forge. It was the first winery I ever visited.
We spent this past weekend in the Pigeon Forge area and discovered that Mountain Valley Winery has become part of the Rocky Top Wine Trail. It's not really a wine trail. It's three wineries, owned by the same folks and I believe sharing a winemaker, which are all close together along the beginning of the Pigeon Forge "strip."
We didn't make it to Mountain Valley this time around. However, we did visit the Apple Barn Winery (at the venerable old Apple Barn) and Hillside Winery (near the sprawling outlet mall complex). Apple Barn Winery focuses on apple and other fruit wines, whereas Hillside had more Italian-style wines.
It's funny how impressed we always are with these small wineries. We shouldn't be; we know the little guy can produce some great wine. And with our recent experience judging Wines of the South, we shouldn't be surprised by Tennessee wines. In fact, there were signs proclaiming several gold and one silver medal from Wines of the South displayed at Hillside Winery. We helped award those medals.
Again, we only tasted at Hillside and Apple Barn. Both wineries have split their list into dry, semi-sweet, and dessert/sparkling. At the Apple Barn, our favorites were the Apple-Raspberry wine and the Raspberry port. At Hillside, we didn't like the Sangiovese at all, but we enjoyed several of their other wines. I think their sparkling wines are excellent, and we purchased the Sonata – a sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc.
Tastings are free at all three wineries. They'll give you a Wine Trail passport at the your first stop. Visit all three wineries and you'll receive a free souvenir wine glass embossed with "Smoky Mountain Wineries."
You can turn your entire trip into a winetasting excursion. The Smoky Mountain Winery, specializing in mostly French-American hybrid (Chambourcin, Muscadine, Chancellor, etc) grapes is in Gatlinburg in Winery Square along the main strip. Kentucky and Tennessee have several wineries just off I-75 as you head to and from the mountains, including Shady Grove Meadery, Jean Farris (review), and Acres of Land.
Who says you have to camp in the mountains? Instead, you can drink wine. Cheers!
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