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          Tongue River Winery         

                                      Quality Made Wines with fruit exclusively from the Northern Plains!  



Occasional Musings about grapegrowing and winemaking

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Posted on June 16, 2019 at 8:30 AM

Really?  Buying more land at age 70?!

Well, we did.  The place at the beginning of our lane came up for sale— a house and almost 4 acres, with enough agricultural land for another 500 vines and some shrubbery.  We bought the place, rented out the house and Bob spent a month building 28 rows of trellis, 100 feet long apiece and has now planted just over 300 vines out of space for 500.  It will be filled by next year.  Oh, and he also built deer fencing around it and dug in a new irrigation line.

The additional land will make it less likely that we'll run out of some of our favorite grape wines, as we did this year with Warm Front (Frontenac grapes) and Frontenac Gris: our Chardonnay-style white wine.)   We also plan to put in a few more apple trees and some aronia bushes next year.

In four years, this should free us from buying as much fruit from other growers and give us more wine flexibility.  We sure appreciate all the customers who are making this necessary!

Double Gold: Jefferson Cup!

Posted on November 20, 2018 at 8:20 PM


But we never expected to win a Jefferson Cup prize.  The Jefferson Cup Invitational invites only about 500 wineries each year out of the 8700 wineries in the US.  And of those wineries, approximately 750 wines are received for judging each November.  They are first judged for Bronze, Silver and Gold, and if every judge at a table gives a wine a gold medal, then it's a Double Gold.

Next, all of the judges taste the Double Gold wines and select any they feel should get a Jefferson Cup award.  In 2017, there were 62 Double Golds, and only 16 Jefferson Cup awards were given.  So it's quite an honor— first of all to be invited at all, and second, to receive a Double Gold (our first) and then on top of that, the exclusive Jefferson Cup award.

Josh and I treated last year's Marquette differently, using a bentonite clay technique to strengthen the tannins, and used the so-called saignee technique (removing some of the juice from the skins before fermentation starts) to concentrate the skin to juice ratio about 10%.  The resultant wine was richer in tannins, bigger in body and had wonderful clean dark fruit characters on the palate.

We are so pleased with this technique that it will become the standard for any big red wines we seek to produce.  Full details about the Jefferson Cup competition will be shared as soon as we receive them.

Pruning Finally!

Posted on April 9, 2018 at 7:30 PM

It has been a looonnngggg winter this year.  It snowed again last week, and is supposed to this coming Friday, April 13th, and then the Tuesday after that!  We've had more precipitation this winter than we ever remember, and it's made the vineyard snowy, and then muddy, and then snowy, and then....snowy!

Today I made good progress by finishing 5 rows (out of about 90).  Tomorrow should be a lovely 60° F day, so I hope to do several more.  I'm working through our hardiest grapes, the Frontenacs.  They are least likely to be damaged by late spring frosts, so they are the safest for early pruning.  Our average last Frost date is about April 15-20, but with the buds totally hard yet, we should be okay.

I tested all the varieties about a month ago, wading through knee-deep snow, and everything looked green.  So we anticipate another great year!

Late Winter blahs!

Posted on February 26, 2018 at 3:50 PM

After a record-setting amount of Winter snow, it looks like the white stuff is finally over!  We still have two feet on the ground, but I waded through the vineyard last week and checked each variety for nice green tissue.  And what I found was........nice green tissue!  In every cultivar.

Now we have to wait for some of it to melt, and hope that the river thaw is very gradual and doesn't come over the banks and flood our home and shop.  It's a worrisome thing.

Marilyn and Melodie are making lists like crazy to help us prepare to open a Bed and Breakfast in our home later this spring— bigger beds, new door trim, perhaps monogrammed towels, new mattresses and a thorough clearing out of stuff we don't need!

The wine-finishing part of the season is about over.  Josh is bottling our first release of COLD FRONT today, which is a lovely, dry white wine made with Frontenac blanc.  It's somewhere between a Riesling and a Pinot gris in style.  We'll soon be releasing our first ever version of Brianna, boasting an old-fashioned side-profile view of our co-worker, Melodie.  Frongria, a very tropical, semi-sweet version of Frontenac Gris is also coming soon.

Then in late March we'll release this year's version of Apple Ice, and a new wine made with yellow Chokecherries called White CHokecherry.  As spring comes on and your thirst grows, why not try some of our newest releases!

Harvest Over, Wine finessing in progress!

Posted on November 27, 2017 at 3:10 PM

Our 2017 crop beat our expectations and came in over 12,000 lbs of grapes!  This was 2500 lbs more than our second best crop back in 2013.  We also harvested a half-ton of cherries, plenty of haskaps, apples, pears and plums.  So it was a very good year.

Every day, Josh is clarifying, acid-adjusting, balancing the wines these grapes and other fruit produced.  We're glad we'll have a big batch of our popular La Crescent for sale again soon.  This year we'll be introducing Brianna, a grape that clearly has notes of pineapple and banana, and Cold Front, a lovely barely sweet white wine made from Frontenac blanc.  These wines should be out by late 2017 or very early 2018.

We're open year round.  Drop in and visit anytime you are in the area and we'll do some tasting together!

Do we have enough tank space?

Posted on July 8, 2017 at 11:05 AM

Barring terrible hail, we're off to the best year in the vineyard we've ever had.  For the past two years, hard late frosts have taken out most of the fruit blossoms in this area.  But this year, nothing was going to stop our fruit from happening!  Which leads to a happy, vexing uncertainty:  Do we have enough tank space for all this fruit?

This year, for the first time we're going to get the Carmine Jewel cherry crop we deserve:  We'll probably pick close to 1000 lbs of these delicious sour cherries, which are the basis for our award winning Cherry Pie and Sweetie Pie wines.

We have a great crop of La Crescent, Marquette, all three Frontenacs (noir, gris and blanc), Swenson Red and Brianna.  Not to mention our modest plantings of several other grapes.  Wild plums are plentiful this year.  Apples are plentiful this year.  We made a huge batch of rhubarb this year.

Sooo, now I need to go through the vineyard and try to estimate, however crudely, how many pounds of each variety of grape we have.  And then we need to decide how many plums to pick.  And then we need to see what tanks are available and what tanks we MUST make available by bottling more wine before October when the big harvest happens.

Today feels like the right day to make this survey.  It's too hot to do hard physical labor, so why not wander with a clipboard and make some notes?

April 2017: Exciting New Year!

Posted on April 11, 2017 at 1:05 AM

After a month in Australia, it was wonderful to come home to cooler temperatures!  Last Saturday I did some pruning in the vineyard, and the grapes show a lot of promise this year.  A mellow winter and a nice cool, gradual spring is bringing things out of dormancy nice and slowly.  This protects the buds from late spring frosts.

Several exciting things showed up elsewhere on the property.  Unless it frosts:

1. We're going to get some yellow chokecherries this year!

2. We should be getting some domestic plums this year by the look of all the buds beginning to show.

3. We might even get some cider apples on our relatively young apple trees.

4. Another pear crop is in the works, and the red currants look great!

  5. Rhubarb is starting to push stems.

The next four weeks will find me busy almost every day pruning the grapes, manuring the rhubarb and doing some weed control.  Josh is back to bottling like crazy to keep all of you thirsty people happy!

Happy Spring, 2017!

Mixed year, plenty of wine

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 1:10 AM

2015 has been another year of mixed blessings.  On the plus side, we had a nice crop of wild plums and our intense Golden Spice pears, and five times the crop of yellow raspberries, for a big increase in our Gold-medal winning White Raspberry wine.  Our Frontenac and Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc did fairly well, so we'll have a boost to our very popular Warm Front, Frongria and Frontenac Trio Rosé.

On the down side, that giant wind in mid-July took the skin off of one of our high tunnels.  We've got the replacement plastic, but still need to put it on.  It has been five years since erecting the tunnels, and the skins are rated for "about 5 years", so we don't feel too cheated.

The Marquette grapes pretty much failed us again this year, as did the La Crescent, so we won't have those wines available again.  But the tanks are full of delicious wines in process so we feel pleased with how things are going.  The Brianna (pineapple-tropical flavor) did pretty well as did the Petite Pearl.  We planted 110 more of the Pearl, and expect it to be the future centerpiece of our dry red wine blend.

FINGER LAKES INTERNATIONAL: 3 wines�?? 3 medals!

Posted on March 26, 2015 at 12:05 AM

GOLD: Black Currant

SILVER: Frontenac Trio Rosé

BRONZE: Aronia

Just announced March 25th.  Finger Lakes International Wine Competition is a great contest to enter, because it supports special needs kids who are struggling with sickness, abuse who attend Camp Good Days in NY State.  As a Gold medal winner, we are required to send a case of our winning wine for their fund-raising auction and dinner.  We're glad to help out with such a good project, and glad to win recognition not just for Tongue River Winery, but for the northern states wine industry in general!  Montana and North Dakota won about 16 medals from a half-dozen wineries in a contest that included almost 4000 wines entered!

Next, the Northwest Wine Summit in Oregon, and the Mid-American Wine Competition in Iowa!

Spring: the season of Anticipation!

Posted on March 19, 2015 at 1:55 AM

This is the time of year for anticipation! Here are a few things we're anticipating:

GRAPES:  We're pruning like crazy, hoping to see signs of green in all of the grapevines.  Some (alas!) look like they've died back to the ground again.  Winter 2013 to Oct 2014 was a really tough year.  -40° F in Dec 2013, a late spring frost (early May), and then a very late hard fall frost (Sept 7th, three weeks early) put a lot of our vines out of comission.  Early fall frosts can really hurt, because plants are not hardened off enough yet.

RASPBERRIES:  Additional yellow raspberries were shipped Monday this week.  More of our delicious White Raspberry wine coming up late this year.

RHUBARB: We're planting at least two dozen new crowns this year.  They will ship next week.

HIGH TUNNELS: These are like single skin greenhouses, which warm up the soil about two months early.  I planted radishes, lettuce and spinach about 10 days ago.  Spinach and radishes are up already!  The ground outside is still frozen about 6 inches down.

What do you anticipate?  It's a great time of the year to emerge from the cave of winter darkness and spring forth with energy to start the new growing year!