Every winery I visit and each wine I taste I’m transported back to wine school and the time in my sensory analysis class when my instructor Paul Gospodarczyk (formerly of Des Moines Community College’s Enology program, now executive director of Today’s Wine Professional) quietly, and individually, whisked away students. Thinking it odd at the time but not giving too much thought to it until Paul tapped my shoulder and led me away to a separate classroom where I was seated in front of three wine industry professionals (sommeliers and other similarly knowledgeable folks). Seated facing my judges and placed in front of me were two glasses of wine. My task: identify the wine varietal, geographic region where it was grown, year, and winery.
Frequently when visiting wineries I’m asked to play the game of “guess what’s in the glass?” Maybe a little stressful, but always fun to taste great wines and talk winemaking.
On this past Friday, both Kirk (producer and director of photography) and I drove to the outskirts of Dubuque, IA to the winery of John Burns (Barrel Head Winery – Facebook Page). This winery has been on my radar for several years. Some of the grapes, particularly the red wine grapes of the previous generation, have the tendency for vegetal (or green or earthy) characteristics. In fact, our winemaking friends even came up with a term to describe the special characteristic of Marechal Foch (cold hardy red wine grape) as the “Foch Funk.” Very few winemakers have the skill necessary to tame the “Funk,” however, John Burns has unlocked the secret code to Foch.
Barrel Head Winery is always a treat to visit. John is an fascinating character, passionate winemaker, and one of the most generous people in the business. Kirk and I planned our stop to coincide with the disgorging of John’s newest sparkling wine: Tomcat (2014). We followed along (and actually got to disgorge a bottle for ourselves) talking wine and eventually sat down for a more formal interview after a few hours of filming.
We filmed, enjoyed some brats, and sampled some very exceptional wines and before leaving John poured a sample of one of his latest creations. Of course, “guess what’s in the glass?” asked John. My answer: St. Croix, Marechal Foch..(dramatic pause)…and Frontenac. I should have just answered: Awesomeness!
Frankly, I’m a fan of all his wines but if I had to pick one that really makes my heart leap: Tomcat, the sparkling wine (made via the traditional method). Highly Recommended.
Here are some photos from our trip: