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          Tongue River Winery         

                                      Quality Made Wines with fruit exclusively from the Northern Plains!  



Awards: the Joy and the Reality

Posted on February 10, 2013 at 3:20 PM

This past weekend, Marilyn and I were present at the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association annual meeting in Bismarck and received the People's Choice award for commercial wineries  in all three categories:

Red Wine:  Our Tongue Tied dry, barrel aged blend of mostly Frontenac and Marquette

White Wine:  Our new FRONGRIA, a citrusy, tropical high alcohol wine made with Frontenac Gris

Fruit Wine: Our White Raspberry, the color of water and a lovely, smooth raspberry flavor and aroma.

There were other good wines to drink, and others certainly got some good votes.  But we were surprisingly chosen in all three categories.

Now let's put this into perspective.  The North Dakota wine industry is young.  I've been making wine for 45 years.  I SHOULD be making some of the best wines in the group.  The wines in North Dakota have been improving noticeably each year.  And the very same red wine, TONGUE TIED, that won the hearts of most tasters in this competion, was entered into the big Cold Climate Wine Contest a couple months ago in Minnesota and did NOT win gold, silver or brass.  Perhaps if they gave an award named LEAD, it might have gotten that far.  There were a few critical comments from the Cold Climate judges but not much more feedback.

I read a very interesting blog a few days ago about how difficult it is for a winemaker to remain objective about his or her own wines.  One can easily develop "cellar tongue", which might be defined as an inordinate appreciation of one's own wines, so much so that it is difficult to see one's own faults while not appreciating the quality of another's wines.

The bottom line is:  Professional wine tasters were dismissive of the five wines I submitted.  Amateur wine tasters liked what we produced.  The take-away meaning for me is:  Okay, I've made some fairly good wine.  But what I really want to succeed in doing is to make ever more excellent wine, and do my best with my fellow winemakers to help each other discover our strengths, our flaws and new possibilities so that together, we can all move the quality ever higher.

Thanks to the North Dakota Grape and Wine members for your vote of appreciation.  But let's keep pushing and challenging all of us to dare to admit our mistakes, share our insights and create some truly great wines in the future.  We're not there yet!


End of Autumn Wine Tweaking

Posted on December 14, 2012 at 10:05 AM

What?  It's still fall?!  With snow (SNOW??!!) on the ground, icy roads and chilly nights?  Oh well, Winter's got to come sometime...

APPLE ICE WINE: This week our Apple Ice Wine will finish fermenting at about 11% alcohol and 10% sugar.  It's only got a half-percent to go, and will probably finish later today.  Then outside it goes to chill the yeast down to stop their multiplying and sugar munching.  After a few days, we'll pump it chilled downstairs in the winery, run it through 5 grades of filter cartridges until it's crystal clear, then kill off most of the remaining yeasties with sulfite, and then stop any left in their tracks with sorbate (the birth control pill for yeast!) which doesn't hurt just prevents them from multiplying, starting up a ferment again and blowing up bottles!

FRONGRIA: Meanwhile, we're fine-tuning our Frongria, a new sweet version of Frontenac Gris.  It's a "white port" style of wine— strong and sweet.  With 17.2% alcohol, this wine is loaded with tropical fruit flavors and aromas including banana, pineapple, peach, and apricot.  Darn it!  If it had hints of coconut we could have called it "Pinã Frongria!"

CHILL PROOFING:  We moved our Frongria outside a few days ago to "chill proof" the wine.  Grape wines contain both potassium and tartaric acid, and if you chill them down they will often precipitate some of  those chemicals in the form of potassium bitartrate, known to you as cream of tartar.  It's tasteless and harmless, but looks like a layer of glass shards on the bottom of the bottle.  We do our best to get rid of them by chilling the wine, then when the crystals drop out and stick to the sides and bottoms of the cold containers, we pump the wine into clean tanks and leave the crystals and some of the acid behind.  WE DO ALL THIS BECAUSE WE KNOW YOU LIKE THE APPEARANCE BETTER!  Last year we didn't chill proof.  We could have run a pretty good competition with Jack Frost for "Most artistic crystals!"

See you next winter!   Bob 

Apple Ice Wine under way

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Ouch!  Freezing!  That's how we responded two years ago when we first started picking apples to make apple ice wine.  This year we wore thick rubber gloves and it was just fine!  That year we picked about 80 pounds of apples.  This year we picked more like 800 pounds.

By law, fruit must be frozen when picked and frozen when processed if you want to call the result "ice wine".  We pick the frozen fruit, hold it outside or in the freezer, and then press it while still frozen.  We use just a slightly warm water in our bladder press to get the fruit soft enough to give up the juice.

First of all, it's hard to find apples that remain on the tree until frozen.  If you have some and you live near Miles City, by all means give us a call!  We're after the large crab size (1 to 1 1/2 inches).  We've found three trees so far.

Normal apple juice runs between 7-9% sugar.  It might run a little higher as the apples dry out in winter.  But when pressed while still frozen, the sweetest fraction oozes out first leaving the ice behind, and increases the sugar levels to as much as 40%!

We save the very sweet juice when it gets down to about 30%.  We then press the rest out until we're in the 15-20% range and freeze that portion in plastic buckets or carboys.  After they are frozen solid, we invert them into another bucket and let about half the juice thaw out— again the sweet part— and end up with about half as much juice with twice the sugar.  For example 10 gallons of frozen 18% juice can become about 5 gallons of 36% juice when cryo-extracted in this fashion.

We will end up with almost 50 gallons of very sweet apple juice somewhere between 30-36% sugar.  If everything turns out well, we'll end up with about 375 bottles of smooth, sweet intense apple wine presented in gorgeous 500 ml German antique blue tapered bottles.  It's chilly work but the result is delicious!

Happy holidays!


A Touch of Luxury

Posted on November 13, 2012 at 7:05 PM

Marilyn and I drove to Traverse City, Michigan last week to purchase some gorgeous antique blue breganza bottles for this year's release of apple ice wine.  We certainly could have used cheaper bottles, because the cost of the trip and the German imported bottles make them a bit pricey.

But "oh my gosh!" are they beautiful bottles.  And something as tantalizing and smooth as ice wine deserves good presentation.  Here's what they look like:

The dark teal color is so unusual, reminds me of the bottom of icebergs and promises something special.  We hope you have an opportunity to try this occasional wine which we haven't released for two years.  We had our eyes on some crab apples that keep their apples well into winter, so Josh and I spend the past few early mornings picking while the apples were still frozen.  We'll post more on this delightful wine as we make it next week. 

Old wines return, new wines join the list

Posted on September 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM
SAND CHERRY KISS is again available at the winery and at Miles City Reynolds Market and Buy Montana stores. The harvest was slimmer this year so there's only about half as much to offer. Our newest wine is CHERRY PIE, a sweet dessert wine made with pie cherries and sure to please. Try sipping it over a piece of dark chocolate! We have 8 (yeah, that's eight!) new French oak barrels, and will be barreling some of our large batch of chokecherry wine in about a week, and of course our big red TONGUE TIED by sometime in October. We're really excited to add these barrels to our production line. We will have a modest offering of RED CURRANT wine this year by late October. And SWEET PROMISE returns also in October (a blend of plum, apple and rose hip wines!) We will also have a very nice plum wine which will mate well with your stir fries or other asian meals. Watch for fall events as soon as the crush (harvest) is over. We want to show off our new wines! Bob

Equipment makes it happen!

Posted on September 2, 2012 at 11:20 AM

You know how it is....for several years you hunger for a new piece of equipment but keep putting it off because  of cost.  And then when you finally get it, you wonder why you waited so long!!

LADDERS:  6 weeks ago after at least 5 years of yearning, we finally bought a pair of TALLMAN orchard ladders— those three-legged affairs.  We bought a 12 footer and a 16 footer.  These ladders are great!  They are incredibly stable with a very wide base, and the third leg can be threaded through pretty messy branches to get you right to the fruit!  At 29 lbs and 39 lbs respectively, these ladders are very light and easy to handle, although swinging a 16-footer is something else.  We'll post a photo or two one of these days.

BARRELS:  This past week, 8 nice French oak barrels arrived at the winery!  We've had a couple in the past, but have put off more barrels because they cost so much, especially the French oak ones.  Many winemakers find them more desirable than US barrels because they use a different species of oak with tighter grain, which produces a more subtle and gradual oaking of the wine.

You know, you can put wine in oak (barrels) or you can put oak (chips, cubes, staves, shavings) in wine.  We've done it both ways and.....I really believe there's nothing that replaces a good barrel for aging and giving character to wine.  We'll age some of our chokecherry wine in these new barrels and much of our Tongue-Tied red wine.

THE BIG TANK:  As we planned for this year's harvest and purchased grapes, we realized we needed a bigger tank for our Tongue-Tied red wine blend.  Our largest tanks in the past were 160 gallon tanks, but now we own a 400 gallon tank!  (I know, I know.  It's just a baby to those big, huge wineries!)  We can't wait to fill this monster and enjoy blending.

MACRO BINS:  We also purchased four Macro Bins, the staple fermentation tool of larger wineries.  These are approx. 4-foot square plastic tanks.  Ours are 33 inches high and they are a great way to ferment a lot of juice in one place.  In the past, we had 3-4 55-gallon drums fermenting the same wine, and then we'd have to try to blend them together.  This way we can ferment up to 200 gallons in one place.  The garage is getting crowded, but it sure looks like we're serious about wine-making now!


We'll put up some new photos of our new toys sometime soon.  Meanwhile, the crush will begin in a week and we'll be busy as can be for the rest of September.  Raise a glass...for our success in the 2012 crush!

New Wine Offerings for 2011-12

Posted on October 18, 2011 at 9:40 AM

All 16 of our wine tanks are now cradling this year's wine as it clarifies and ages.  If next year's prospects turn out as we expect, we'll need to buy more and larger equipment again.

This year we will be offering four new wines: (well, some were so limited last year that it's as if they were new!)


Perfect Kiss— a field-blended white wine that we sampled last night and found delicious!  Light, semi-sweet, lots of fruit and berries, perhaps strawberry.

La Crescent— This one is a bit like Riesling with an apricot finish in a semi-sweet style.  This has gained a lot of rave reviews from those who have tasted it.

Aranciano— White on skins!  This wine looks pink/orange colored, is tannic, full-bodied and you'd swear is a red wine when you taste it.  It's in an American Oak barrel for three weeks.

Frontenac Gris— Barrel fermented for a week, malolactic fermented (gives a buttery, smoother taste), this wine was produced like a classic chardonnay.  Dry, oaky, a good white table wine.

White V— We don't produce White Zin because Zin won't grow here without protection.  But Valiant will.  When crushed and immediately pressed from the skins, the wine has little color.  Done as an off-dry, light wine something like White Zin with a hint of Concord flavor.


Marquette— The flagship U of Minn. grape which produces a full-bodied red wine with a nice balance of tannins, sugars and acid.  This wine will be oaked and aged at least a few months before release.

Frontenac— Another U of MINN release with very rich, dark color, a hint of cherry.

Unnamed— We will release a blend of Marquette and Frontenac early next year when we determine what blend percentages are the best.  A good, dry, tannic full-bodied red wine. (We named it TONGUE-TIED!)

Sabrevois Nouveau— Done in the style of Beaujolais, a light hearted festive red wine with lots of fruit, little tannin and very approachable.  We hope to release it on the traditional Beaujolais Nouveau date:  The third Thursday in November.

Our other wines offered last year will all mostly be available as well.  Since are tanks are all in use, we cannot make more raspberry, black currant, haskap and Foxy Lady until we empty out some cherry wines.  But they will be coming along again at the turn of the year.

Thanks to all of our customers and retail partners for a great first year!

Business Taking Off: We Really Need Your fruit!

Posted on November 13, 2010 at 11:04 AM

We've had a great start, but that means that some wines will start running out this fall.  We really need your help!  Many great friends have shared fruit with us.  But we need more, if we are going to meet the need. Please contact us if you have:

RhubarbOur Rhubarb wine is gone!  We need your rhubarb!  Thanks to friends' donations, we have just received 50 pounds of frozen rhubarb and will start another batch of wine as soon as we hit 100 pounds.  If you have frozen rhubarb, just leave it outside the winery garage, or call at 853-1028.  And call if you have plants you don't want, or are dividing your plants and have extra clumps for our own planting.  We need your rhubarb!

Chokecherries— Thanks to Verne & Kathy Schlepp , we had enough chokecherries for our popular Prairie & Peaks Cherry, a blend of chokecherry, sandcherry and Flathead cherry wine.  But we need more!  Pick them for us, have us pick them, whatever.  We'll gladly take them frozen or fresh, anytime you have them.

Yellow Chokecherries— WE've located two plants but want more to make a white chokecherry wine.  If you have yellow chokecherries, please contact us, so we can pick fruit, and also take suckers from your plants to start a row of them in our own orchard.

Pears— Our Golden Spice pear tree makes luscious wine, but we could use more, especially the small, spicy pears that are awkward for canning.  If you have pears you're not using, by all means contact us!

Sand Cherries— Our sweet Sand Cherry Kiss has been one of our top sellers.  We've got a large planting and are putting in more, but we could use more. Contact us if you have sandcherries you don't use.

Rose Hips— Rose hips are the fruiting bodies of roses.  Thanks to Marilyn Schantz for picking some for us and turning us loose in her patch.  If you have LARGE HIPS (1/2 inch or more across) you don't use, please contact us so we can make more rose hip wine.  We have a batch brewing, and would love to make more!

Plums— Plums can make a great wine.  We have some growing, but could use more.  Let us know if you have extras, frozen now, or available next fall!

Grapes— Concord-style wine might not make it to the bigtime, but it has been a long-time favorite of the northern states where it was the only grape available the last couple of centuries.  Friends gave us enough for a small batch but we could use more.  When you're done making jelly and have more grapes, contact us!


We know of at least a dozen visitors to Miles City who came from out of town or out of state just because of our Winery.  And a stop at our place generally includes a visit to motels, cafes, gas stations, grocery stores and other businesses.  When you help us, you help the entire community.  We bank in town, we shop in town, so money coming our way mostly stays in town.

Contact either Bob (406-853-1028 or Josh (406-850-8325) and shower us with your unused Montana grown fruit!  Check your freezers, talk to your neighbors and help us provide more good cheer for our wine drinking friends.  Contact us NOW if any of these things are possible, so we can add you to our list to contact in the future.


Thanks a lot!  Bob

Fermenting almost finished

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 9:14 PM

Son Josh and I have been steadily at it since the last entry, and for the first time, we have nothing in the garage doing a primary ferment.  Almost all the wines are nestled in their steel and glass beds in the basement, clarifying and aging nicely.  We've bottled up a bunch of young wine, mostly apple and cherry.  Label approval for pear should arrive soon, along with Prairie & Peaks Cherry (sandcherry, chokecherry, flathead cherry blend).  The raspberry is coming along nicely.  We've hit 500 gallons of wine, with about another 50 gallons to go for this season.


The frost has come and the leaves are dropping.  The season of bottling is almost upon us in earnest.  We've been selling every couple of days.  DO DROP OVER and visit us and enjoy "something on the Tongue."

First Sale: Very provocative date!

Posted on October 4, 2010 at 10:48 PM

My first wine sale occurred last Friday, a good 5+ years since we started the vineyard.  It was 10 bottles of Sand Cherry Kiss, sold to returning nurses celebrating 50 years since they graduated from the old Presentation Sisters nursing program that was held in the old old hospital many years ago.


What makes the date provocative, at least for me, is that it was my 62nd birthday.  Ironic, that on the day I officially qualified for Social Security, I made the first sale in a new business.  Now the philosophical hat is on....


Over the years we've all heard of people who retired, put their feet up and died within several months.  The ones that last, the ones more likely to stay healthy, both mentally and physically, are those who keep themselves alert, active, thinking, committed.  It's important to have some kind of passion in life.  Right now, occupationally speaking, my primary passion is demonstrating that eastern Montana can grow good fruit, including grapes, and can make good wine.


One of the reasons I'm so enamored of nature is that she is so predictable, in the macro sense.  Every year in March or April, spring comes.  Robins return and eat worms.  Weeds, and crops if we are lucky, will soon be emerging from the soil.  Tomato fruits will follow blossoms.  Grapes will grow on vines.  Cooler weather eventually will arrive and winter will bring blessed relief from lots of hard work.


We wish human relationships were as reliable and certain.  We wish job security were so certain.  We wish our economic well-being were so constant.

When I find my life in flux and am anxious about all the uncertainties, then teaming up with Mother Nature by piggybacking onto her agenda, her timetable, her predictable laws, helps me feel that at least a part of my life has a trustworthy rhythm.


I think about these things when every day in Autumn I spend an hour picking raspberries, searching for the ripe ideas that appear suddenly in my mind as the fresh berries appear in my range of view.  The minor backache, pesky mosquitos and  the late afternoon long sun in my eyes seem minor as I consider sipping the nectar of fresh squeezed raspberries on my tongue in January's blizzard as I open up a dark rosé bottle of Tongue River Winery Red Raspberry wine.

Best to all of you. Bob