Exclusive offer: 7/7/2023 — The American Wine Project

Offer available through Monday, 7/10/2023, or as inventory lasts.

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Hi everyone –

It’s time for me to push you out of your comfort zone. If you’re up for the challenge, read on.

(BUT … if you are resisting the new frontiers of wine and flavor, then kindly wait for next week’s offer while drinking some more California Chardonnay or Cabernet. *wink* #nohardfeelings)

Ready for the challenge? Here we go.

First, raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I do solemnly swear that I’ll read this whole post and watch the videos, and I won’t stop halfway through and walk away.” Thank you for that. You may put your hand down.

Second, let me introduce you somebody very important in the wine world.

This is Doug Frost, MS MW, who lives and works in Kansas City, Missouri. Those letters at the end of his name indicate “Master Sommelier” and “Master of Wine.” There are only four people in the world to hold both titles. Doug is considered one of the top of the top wine experts in the entire world. In addition to being a profound thinker, he’s a heck of a nice guy and has good taste in eye ware.

Okay, now that I have set this up carefully, watch the first 60 seconds of this video that I’m not allowed to embed (the movie Wine Diamonds): https://youtu.be/6q_PbLcsdGY — the first voice you hear is that of Doug Frost.

I’ll wait …

In case you missed it, one of the top experts in the world of wine just said “Some of the most interesting stuff in the world of wine [is happening here in the Upper Midwest] … the world is far more complex than Chardonnay and Cabernet and has been for quite some time.”

Pretty cool, huh?

Statements like that take many wine lovers by surprise, but this kind of thing is being heard more and more in the professional wine circles AROUND THE GLOBE. And as humble midwesterners we have a hard time believing it and accepting it.

It turns out that expectations of wine and wine flavors/aromas are changing fast. Younger wine drinkers are looking for distinctive flavors (on top of quality), which stems from their embracing of the new.

In other words, drink these wines and be young again. **wink**

Onward to introducing you to Erin Rasmussen

Erin Rasmussen and the American Wine Project

I first met Erin when I invited her to pour at an event we did earlier this year. She enthusiastically drove up on Highway 61, and proved to be a fountain of knowledge, sharp wit, and personality. I had a blast talking with her about all things wine, from her time in New Zealand, Sonoma, and Napa, to her decision to blaze her own path through her own winery making wines in her own style.

That style is low-intervention with lots of natural personality, but VERY IMPORTANTLY — technically correct wines that aren’t going to go sideways or random on you. These are the kinds of natural wines that I really like, and the fact that she had the guts to move away from California wine to take on the challenge of upper midwest grape varieties in an honest fashion (i.e. not adding west coast juice into the mix, which is becoming more and more common) makes her vision stand out.

There is nothing else like American Wine Project in today’s wine scene.

From the winery website:

American Wine Project was started in 2018 as a way to explore the possibilities of winegrowing in the Upper Midwest. In 2019, we moved into our current home in historic Mineral Point, Wisconsin. The winery is housed in the former high school Tech Ed building which was later converted into a garden center. In addition to a winemaking space and tasting room, we enjoy an acre of landscaped perennial gardens.

A native of the Great Lakes region, Erin Rasmussen grew up in Madison, Wisconsin experiencing the intense pleasure of seasonal produce and handcrafted cheese. Her interest in flavor grew into a passion for fermentation and wine, and in 2008 she relocated to Napa Valley to pursue a winemaking career. She completed her graduate studies in winemaking and viticulture at Lincoln University in New Zealand in 2012. In 2017 Erin returned to her midwestern roots to explore the complexities of cold-climate winemaking and in 2018 founded her innovative wine brand American Wine Project.

Before we get into the wines, a bit of press …

PunchDrink.com: “Erin Rasmussen, whose envelope-pushing American Wine Project taps local grapes, including Marquette and Frontenac, for inventive natural wines, sees it on the wine side, too. “There’s a younger crowd here of people who left and come back, but have a global understanding of what kind of flavors are out there and what’s possible.” https://punchdrink.com/best-cities-cocktails-wine-beer-travel-2023/

San Francisco Chronicle: “Wisconsin’s American Wine Project is doing good work, and I especially likes its bottling called Rivals, made from the LaCrosse grape. Its wooly aroma reminded me a little bit of Chenin Blanc; it’s dry, clean and nicely structured.”
See their whole article on the rise of hybrids.

Food and Wine Magazine: Wisconsin Wine is Worth Your Time (a full profile on Erin and a great article in general).

And though it doesn’t mention Erin, last weekend’s wine column in the Wall Street Journal (“Are you a wine geek?”) had this juicy paragraph highlighting three Minnesota-created grape varieties on a list at a high end Italian restaurant:

Leeward is a high-profile, Italian-focused restaurant, and I was curious to see its wine list. I found wines that were definitely uncommon, including bottles from small producers, many of whom were working with lesser-known varieties—hybrid American grapes (Marquette, Vidal Blanc) as well as European ones (Grolleau, Jacquère, Erbaluce). I found some wines I knew and many I did not but was curious about, including a red blend, Mimeomia, from the Kalchē Wine Cooperative in Fletcher, Vt., featuring Marquette, Frontenac Noir and Petite Pearl. The last was a grape I’d never heard of; that wine, said Leeward’s general manager and wine director Paige Buehrer, was probably the geekiest one on her list.

I pulled a PDF of the article … shhhhh. Read whole article.

(I’m proud of the fact that I was one of the first to talk loudly about Petite Pearl, developed in Hugo MN by Tom Plocher. I love the version made by Carlos Creek Winery.)

Onto the wines – and some videos!

Rather than distill too much verbiage on these wines and grapes that are unknown to 99.9999999% of humans, we decided to make some videos. That way you see our true reactions and immediate thoughts.

(If you like the video format, let us know in the comments.)

Oscar REALLY liked these wines, as you’ll see in the photos below.

Let’s start with our conclusions

The goal here is to share our excitement after tasting through the wines, hopefully spurring you to view all of them.

Ancestral Pet Nat 2021

176 cases produced. 100% Brianna (Swenson 1983), cold fermented in stainless steel and undisgorged, done is a traditional Pet-Nat style … and I honestly think it’s one of the best PT’s on the market. Erin: “Tropical and fresh.”

Summer Land Brianna 2020

94 cases produced. 100% Brianna (Swenson variety from 1983 and related to Muscat) with a touch of skin contact, and aged in neutral oak with 100% malolactic fermentation. Erin: “Brings an almost savory quality to this expression of Brianna.”

Modern Optimism Skin Contact St. Pepin 2020

100% St Pepin. 50% Wisconsin, 50% Minnesota and 50% direct press, 50% whole cluster fermented. Whole cluster fermentation gives this skin-contact “orange” wine lots of structure and finesse. Spicy, herbal and full of juicy pome fruit flavors. 125 cases. 12.3% ABV.

Song of Myself 2020

160 cases produced. 79% La Crescent, 13% Frontenac Gris, 8% Frontenac Blanc. The LaCrescent and Frontenac Gris were whole-cluster fermented. Erin: “Elegant, spicy, aromatic, and savory.”

I cannot wait to try this wine in the fall and with Thanksgiving. Bring on squash season with this gem!

After filming this video, I sat down for a simple dinner of a grilled pork chop with some asian noodles (heavy on the umami sauce), and it was honestly one of the best food and wine combos I’ve had this year. The concentration of the wine balanced out the food perfectly, and afterwards I leaned back in giggly satisfaction.

Social Creature 2021

69% direct-press Sabrevois (Elmer Swenson hybrid named after a town in Quebec Provence) with 15% Frontenac Blanc and 16% LaCrescent. “Blood orange, sage, and red raspberry.”

Sympathetic Magic Marquette 2020

100% Marquette. 100% Wisconsin (44% Oconto County, 29% Dane County, 27% Iowa County). Whole cluster fermented and aged in neutral oak for 12 months. 100 cases produced.

Erin: “Rich, bright and layered, with notes of crunchy cranberry and warm tree bark.”

Jason’s note: this might be the best Marquette on the market today, and deserves a place in the ‘serious wine’ category along with other great wines of the world.

Buying advice

A few things to note here.

  1. These wines aren’t cheap, nor should they be. Grape growing is hard work, you have to drop lots of fruit (money) in order to up the quality. Top notch winemaking equipment is a serious investment. Many Upper Midwest wineries are making the mistake of trying to lower prices which leads to tradeoffs and lower quality. Kudos to Erin for going the other direction and showing us the potential. I think these wines are worth every penny.
  2. Try to remove yourself from the mindset of “Upper midwest wines will never be as good as …” because if what you’re looking for is complexity of aroma, concentration of flavor, and layers of detail you have all of those characteristics in each of these wines.
  3. Realize that until the 1960’s, 90% of all wine made in California was sweet.
    Realize that until the 1900’s, 85% of American wine came from Missouri and New York.
    Realize that in 1850, 90% of American wine came from Ohio.
    Realize that well into the 1980’s there were fewer than ten wineries in Washington State.
    The development of the wine industry in the Upper Midwest, along with the incredible strides and growth of the last ten years, is simply the next chapter in the story of wine.

Okay … onto buying advice.

The three best wines, in my opinion, are: Summerland, Modern Optimism, and Sympathetic Magic.

However, the three most interesting wines are, in my opinion: Ancestral, Song of Myself, and Social Creature.

In other words, if you’re looking for simply a great glass of wine in a style you may not be familiar with, pick from the best. And if you’re looking for a wine that might push you out of your comfort zone (in a VERY healthy way!) pick from the interesting.

Lastly, pick a date on your upcoming calendar and make the drive down to Mineral Point, Wisconsin and see what Erin is up to.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer is open Friday at 3:00pm central until Monday at 6:00pm central, or as inventory lasts.

One Comment

  1. I love when you guys taste the wines and tell me your unfiltered opinion, give me pairing ideas, and generally help me decide if I’ll like it or not. I am giving two thumbs up to the video format. 👍👍

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