Monday, July 14, 2008

W(h)ine Shopping

A friend of mine was relaying to me her dismay with her own experiences when trying to source local food while making dinner last week. She had gone to a local meat seller and asked the salesperson where the pork came from. I think the first answer was something like, “a pig,” so she switched tack and asked which of the meats available that day came from local animals. Not only could the woman not tell her (which could be understandable, I suppose) but she got rather snippy with my friend, acting exsapserated that she would even ask such a question.

I must admit that I, too, have experienced such poor customer service/human interaction. Of course, most of the producers and local storekeepers I deal with are fantastic, friendly, helpful, and thoughtful. However, some just don’t fit any of those descriptions!

The week prior to Independence Day I knew I would need to find some local wine to serve to our guests. We had consumed the two bottles from Wollersheim in June so I thought I might set about finding some more. I learned from their website (see web links) that it could be purchased at Woodman’s in Wisconsin. The site only listed Wisconsin locations though so I thought I might try Woodman’s here in Rockford. I called the morning of July 3rd to see if I might have any luck and talked to a very friendly gentleman who sounded knowledgeable enough to have been a manager (unfortunately, I did not ask his name). He knew the Wollersheim name and immediately explained that only the Wisconsin stores carried that label.

He asked if there was anything else I was looking for and I thought I would pose my question to him… "Are there any wine producers within 100 miles who grow and use their own local grapes?" He was able to immediately list off some Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin wineries, as well as a few in Iowa, but he was unsure about who grew their own grapes and who did not. I took the list he gave me to the Web to do a little research and here is what I found (in relation of our local eating project):

Fox Valley Winery - Tasting rooms in Oswego and Sandwich, IL. Much of their grapes are grown by R.A. Faltz Vineyard, just south of Sandwich. However, they purchase many of their grapes, although quite a few come from southern Illinois and those that do are clearly marked "Illinois Wine."
Illinois Cellars – too far, southern Illinois
Oliver Winery – too far, Bloomington, Indiana
MassBach Ridge Winery – quite close! It’s outside of Elizabeth, IL (near Stockton). Their website states that they make wines “primarily” from grapes grown in Jo Davies County. Unfortunately, we haven’t tried any of their wines yet because I failed to ask the Woodman’s manager for a spelling and didn’t find it when I searched incorrectly. I see that their Reserve just took a silver medal in the Illinois State Wine Tasting competition and will look forward to trying it in the future.
Prairie State Winery – they seem to purchase all or most of their grapes so I did not try them. This is definitely also the case with Galena Cellars, they do so much volume that they must purchase grapes (they call their Galena-area vineyard “experimental.”

I had looked at one grocery store (Logli’s) a few weeks prior to this and found no wine local enough to count for our project (although they did have some Illinois and Indiana wines).

Going to Woodman’s

I used to shop Woodman’s when I lived in Wisconsin and go occasionally here in Rockford, although more often when I worked in that part of town. I was a little surprised to see how busy they were when I arrived late in the morning on July 3rd. I made my way to the liquor department and started looking in the areas where I expected there to be Illinois wine. I found some, but not what I was looking for (Fox Valley Winery). As I came to the end of an aisle I could hear something heavy rolling toward me from the cross-aisle at the back so I stopped and waited for it to pass. When it didn’t, I made my way into the other aisle and saw a woman stocking from a heavily laden cart. Going past her proved impossible (I had Kai in the stroller and Neva in tow) as she had parked smack-dab in the middle of the narrow aisle. I said, “Excuse me” and she pulled the cart out of my way while saying, “You have to watch it around here.” Her comment was not so much kind advice as accusing, as if I had been in her way. I decided not to ask her for assistance. I made my way up the next aisle, looking at all of the California wines that were now forbidden fruit. At the far end of the aisle was a younger man pulling a dolly with boxes of wine bottles. I asked him where I might find the Illinois wines and he answered that he was unsure but did I try this section (walking me to a rack). Yes, I had tried that section, merely Illinois and Indiana fruit wines from farther away.

He asked me to wait a moment; that he would ask someone else. Much to my chaigrin, he returned with the grumpy woman from the back of the store, now without her cart. I explained what I was looking for and she told me it would be near the front on either side of the registers. I had looked there and would look again with her but to no avail. She asked for the vintners I was trying to find and I showed her the list. She looked at it and said they probably don’t carry any of those. I patiently explained to her that I had spoken with someone who sounded like an older gentleman that morning who... “Did you read him this list?” she snapped back, before I could finish my sentence. “He gave me this list,” I explained. “Well, they would be with the fruit wines here,” she said. I told her that these were more traditional grape varieties and could there be a section of actual Illinois wines made from grapes? “No,” she said, clearly getting frustrated, “any Illinois wine would be with the fruit wines, not the grape wines.”

At this point, I said what I shouldn’t have: I joked that “technically, aren’t grape wines made of fruit as well?” She shot me a look and stalked off, muttering, “I’ve looked everywhere I think they could be. If they aren’t here then we don’t have them!” The younger guy who had brought her to me, apologized and told me that he didn’t even work there (he was from a distributer) but he was sorry he couldn’t help me more. I thanked him and said I would take another look around.

Two aisles later: jackpot – a whole section of Illinois grape wine (I believe it was aisle 4). I studied my options and made a few selections. I only purchased wines that indicated Illinois-grown grapes, even though I knew that this would likely mean that some of them had been grown beyond my 100-mile radius. I figured that Illinois is pretty close for wine. I selected 7 different varieties (I wanted to offer my guests a wide selection on the Fourth of July) and made my way to the register. I never saw the grumpy sales woman again but was pleased to see that the checker in my aisle who had just assisted a man with his $700, two-cart order, was happy, polite, and pleasing. She reminded that not everyone has to be grumpy. My hope for myself (and all of you): May your week have no whine.

Post Script: Sadly, I can’t say that any of the Fox Valley Winery wines we’ve tried have been anything fantastic. They were all drinkable but not to the point where we’d necessarily buy them again. We did think that Faltz Vintner’s Reserve varieties (red) were pretty good and these we would purchase again.

Post Post-Script: If you are going to Beloit (or to Prairie du Sac, home of Wollersheim Winery), here are the Wollersheim wines that are made from estate-grown grapes:

  • Prairie Red
  • Domaine du Sac
  • Domaine Reserve
  • Eagle White
  • Prairie Blush
  • Ice Wine
  • Ruby Nouveau (the first taste of harvest, intended to be drunk the fall it is produced, look for it in time for Thanksgiving)


VI said...

Last weekend my family and I were in Madison. We ran into a local IGA grocery called Pierces just for some ice. We found a pantheon (so to speak) of local wines (as well as a nice selection of local beers. We picked up a bottle of Bothham Vineyards Uplands Reserve from WI. We drank (some of) it the other night. Not bad, not bad at all. Keep an eye out for it.

I think I've mentioned this before on your site but other local booze includes Death's Door Spirits, Templeton Rye (IA) and North Distilliary in Lake Bluff, IL

UU Jerri said...

Thanks again Lenae. This information is great and I'm guessing the winery is an hour and a half to two hours? Could be worth a trip for a big purchase. Like for a group of people. I'm licking my lips to try them!