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!

 

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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!
Disgorge2
Kirk disgorging the new sparkling Tomcat as John looks on.
TomCat
Brad takes time to mug the camera..showing off a bottle of Tomcat
JohnInterview
At the end of the day we sit down with owner/winemaker John Burns for a wonderful interview.