You’re Not in France: What this Winemaker Says will SHOCK you!

When people think of sparkling wine, bubbly wine, or champagne style wines most think of places like France or California.  For a bubbly wine to be considered “Champagne” it must be from the Champagne region of France, so bubbly wines from other parts of the world may have names like: sparkling wine, Prosecco (from Italy), Champagne-style wine and be made in several ways (including traditional method, aka: Méthode Champenoise), Charmat (bulk processing), and carbon dioxide injected (similar to how soda pop is bubbly).

The best sparklers, in some peoples opinion, tend to have low fruit intensity, possess lively tartness, and have lots and lots of tiny, tiny bubbles.  Many of the Midwest grapes are well-suited for becoming sparkling wines.  While not many winemakers in the heartland are taking up the challenge of crafting traditionally made sparkling wines, there are a few that have successfully made outstanding bubbly.

We met with John Burns, owner/winemaker, of Barrel Head Winery in Dubuque, Iowa recently to interview him for our film.  This “On the Road” segment (updated graphics and music) puts a spotlight on Johns work making exceptional sparking wines in the heartland.  Take a few minutes to watch this short segment and make an effort to visit John soon!



Wine Conference a Blast!

The Wine Diamonds film team were out in force this past weekend during the Iowa Wine Growers Association‘s annual conference in Cedar Rapids at The Hotel at Kirkwood, on the campus of Kirkwood Community College.   The producers would like to extend gratitude to the IWGA for providing us space to showcase our promotional video and provide outreach to industry professionals.  We received a very warm reception from winery owners and vineyard operators, plus many words of encouragement from conference speakers and vendors.  We certainly felt appreciated and wish to thank the IWGA Board of Directors for making accommodations for us and giving us full access to roam and interview members, vendors and speakers.

In addition to being able to explain our project in person to industry and show our video, there were many highlights during our weekend at the wine conference.  On Friday night, we were on hand for a first – a Guinness record attempt for farthest wine cork flight.  We asked our media friends from KGAN CBS 2 and KCRG ABC 9 and the Cedar Rapids Gazette to come out and cover the event too and were happy they could make it.  The traditional method sparkling wine industry in Iowa is very young, so only three winemakers were on hand for the competition.  After the final cork landed the winner was Andrew Morris of Breezy Hills Vineyard and Winery (Minden, IA) with a new record of 45 feet 11 inches!  Congratulations!

On Saturday our film team was onsite for a day of impromptu interviews with industry leaders, winery and vineyard owners, and speakers.  We had modest expectations for the interviews, given the fact most attendees were there to network and learn and not to be bothered by a film team, and we were very pleasantly surprised by the willingness of participants to frankly discuss issues and to provide us with some amazing quality content.  We’re looking forward to processing the footage soon!

Here are a few photos from our weekend.  Enjoy!

There are perks to the job. This photo was taken after the Guinness record attempt (from left to right: Rob Bauer, Brad Johnson and Kirk Monson).
We interview Mike Vincent, IWGA Board Member and owner of Wooden Wheel Vineyard.
We interview Mike Vincent, IWGA Board Member and owner of Wooden Wheel Vineyard.
We interviewed Master of Wine, Tim Hanni. He was one of the featured speakers at the IWGA conference.
We interviewed Master of Wine, Tim Hanni. He was one of the featured speakers at the IWGA conference.
The team films Dr. Murli during a break at the IWGA conference.
The team films Dr. Murli during a break at the IWGA conference.
Wine Diamonds interviews IWGA Board Member and Train Wreck Winery winemaker and general manager, Steve Larson.
Wine Diamonds interviews IWGA Board Member and Train Wreck Winery winemaker and general manager, Steve Larson.



Flight of the Corks!

Flight of the Corks copyOur team will be attending the Iowa Wine Growers Association’s annual conference to interview industry officials and winery owners.  On Friday night we’ll shoot the “Flight of the Corks.”

A first of its kind Iowa “cork flight” record attempt is slated for Friday, February 27th (7pm) on the campus of Kirkwood Community College. Sparkling winemakers of Iowa have accepted the challenge for the first “Flight of the Corks” record attempt during the annual Iowa Wine Growers Conference in Cedar Rapids.

There is effervescence among some Iowa winemakers, a bubbly personality motivating them to craft exceptional wines, and a growing trend to create traditional method champagne style wines of incredible quality. The traditional method of creating sparkling wines (known as Champagne in the Champagne region of France) is a slow, time consuming process requiring patience and yielding some of the finest bubbly wines in the world.

“Some Iowa winemakers have recognized the grapes grown in the region are particularly well suited for sparkling wine production,” said Lucas McIntire, Kirkwood Community College enology and viticulture instructor and winemaker at the Winery at Kirkwood, “and the sparkling wines we’re making are gaining international attention.”

John Burns, owner and winemaker of Barrel Head Winery (Dubuque, IA) makes traditional method sparkling wines from grapes grown in his own estate vineyard. John’s 2012 bubbly, called Tomcat (named after his pet cat, Tom) won international recognition at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, going head-to-head with sparklers from around the world, earning top honors – a double gold medal, one of only two awarded.

“This is an occasion for Iowa sparkling winemakers to have a little competitive fun to see whose corks can fly the farthest,” said John, “and the only prize is the satisfaction of having won.”

In the two-round Cork Flight event, sparkling winemakers of Iowa will shoot their corks from a fixed table inside Washington Hall (Kirkwood Community College). Judges will measure each flight and the winner will be announced after the final cork has launched. The Friday, February 27th event will begin at 7pm and the public is invited to attend and are encouraged to arrive by 6:45pm.

Barrel Head Winery

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:

Barrel Head Winery
Don’t let the modest exterior fool ya. There is some fantastic wines inside!
Kirk disgorging the new sparkling Tomcat as John looks on.
Brad takes time to mug the camera..showing off a bottle of Tomcat
At the end of the day we sit down with owner/winemaker John Burns for a wonderful interview.