The Story Behind Johnson Estate's May Wine
Johnson Estate is located in a special microclimate along the shores of Lake Erie, similar to that found in Germany. As a result, the grapes grown and wine made in Germany - Rieslings, Pinot Noir, and ice ones - are exactly the ones which also do well here in western New York.
Johnson Estate's Winemaker Jeff Murphy, travels to Europe every year or two and often comes back with some new insights or "discoveries" which are utilized in our products or events. These have included: the terracotta bottles used for our Ruby Port and Cream Sherry; the glass corks manufactured in Germany and now used on our Freelings Creek wines, and the idea of serving "Fedderweiser", a partially fermented grape juice, for a fall Riesling celebration.
May Day in Germany
In Germany, spring festivities feature "Maiwein", or white wine punches with strawberries and a handful of the shade-loving herb, sweet woodruff (shown here, behind the bottle, just emerging for spring). Jeff was inspired by the annual celebration of May Day in Germany to create Johnson Estate’s own May Wine, using estate-grown Vidal Blanc wine and an infusion of dried sweet woodruff. This sparkling May Wine was first released in 2016 and since the "experiment" was so well-liked, production was doubled the following year. Our current plan is to release, each spring, a limited vintage of this special wine. .
But What is Sweet Woodruff?
In Germany, sweet woodruff is called “Waldmeister” or the “Master of the Woods”. It is a spring blooming perennial plant which thrives in moist woodland shade. In the Middle Ages, it was known as an herbal medicine since the dried leaves contain coumarin and infusions were used as a spring tonic and even as an aphrodisiac. When dried, the herb has the long-lasting scent of freshly mown grass and vanilla. The dried herb has been used for centuries as a strewing herb, for pot pourri or as a perfume ingredient, as a tonic in tea, and an ingredient in German May Wine or a punch made with white wine, this herb, and strawberries – to celebrate the coming of spring.
See May Wine product listing.
Johnson Estate is very excited and proud to announce the following awards at the
2018 East Meets West Wine Competition. The multiple accolades for our favorite Sparkling Traminette are, we believe, well-deserved. It is an elegant and delicious wine, complementary to a wide variety of food, ranging from appetizers to desserts.
2016 Sparkling Traminette:
DOUBLE GOLD & BEST OF CLASS & BEST OF SHOW SPARKLING
2016 Founders' Red: GOLD
2016 Niagara: GOLD, BEST OF CLASS
2016 Concord: GOLD
2016 Vidal Ice Wine: GOLD
In addition, Beverage Testing Institute (Tastings.com) just released
its ratings for Johnson Estate's 2016 vintages of Riesling and Traminette:
2016 Sweet Riesling: GOLD, Exceptional, 90 Points
2016 Traminette: GOLD, Exceptional, 90 Points
2016 Black Locust Dry Riesling: SILVER, Highly Recommended, 89 Points
2016 Dry Riesling: SILVER, Highly Recommended, 89 Points
2016 Semi-Dry Riesling: SILVER, Highly Recommended, 89 Points
So, just what are estate wines? Why is it important to know?
Why does Johnson Estate include it in its brand/name?
The Estate Label
Producing estate-grown and bottled wines is analagous to the French phrase "mis-en-boteille en chateau" - wine bottled at the estate/chateau. "Estate" wineries, which have a financial interest and own the vineyards AND the winery provides incentives to maximize quality of grape production, not quantity, and thus gives the winery in question some good advantages and attributes.
The U.S. government, through the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (known as the TTB), sets the requirements for wineries that want to use the word "estate" on their labels.
Thus, an "estate winery" is one whose operations are vertically integrated to include farming/growing of grapes in vineyards owned by the winery, wine-making, and bottling. As an estate winery, Johnson Estate's vineyard practices are wholly integrated into the production of its wines, and quality, rather than quantity, is the governing principle from bud to bottle.
Dear Mother Nature,
Thanks for getting me up so early Thursday morning. The stars were sparkling over the vineyards as I tromped through knee-deep snow hoping for an early harvest.
Each winter, we watch the long-range weather forecasts to see when you will bless us with several "cold-enough" days (that means 12-15 degrees!) to crystallize the juice in the grapes we net for ice wine. Earlier this week, it began to look promising, and we'd sent out the "Ice Wine Harvest Alert" to all our hardy volunteers.
So, on Thursday, well before dawn, I stopped in the midst of the snowy Chambourcin vineyard to check on the state of the grapes set aside for ice wine. When I popped a grape berry into my mouth, it was slushy.....but not yet crunchy. A no go......not cold enough. Then I had to text the volunteers: "stay in bed!".
So, back to watching your weather. In the meantime, and for all of the regular folk too, here's a link to an article on ice wines in the most recent issue of Edible Western New York. Publisher, Stephanie Schuckers Burdo, was with us last December and took that photo of me hauling a crate full of Chambourcin; then she put the camera down and helped with the harvest!
Fred Johnson, A hopeful vignernon
A Visit to the Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape
Winemakers, Jeff Murphy (Johnson Estate) & Sam Sheehy (Winery of Ellicotville)
After attending a trade show in Montpellier, we travelled to Avignon, the small French town set upon a hill in southern portion of the Rhone Valley where the “Pope’s New Castle” was built in the thirteenth century. It housed eight popes over the course of 70+ years before the Pope moved back to Rome. But it was the popes of the era who first encouraged the growing of grapes and the production of “vin du Pape” in the nearby countryside. Chateauneuf du Pape, where we traveled during much of our visit to France, is one medieval village located near vineyards, some of which are over 100 years old.
The Appellation d’Origine Controlée for Chateauneuf du Pape was established in 1936 and fifteen varieties of grapes are allowed to be planted in the appellation. Grapes must be hand-picked to make the approved appellation wines (sometimes with stems, sometimes not). Today the area with roughly 6,000 acres of vineyards has about 250 growers/wineries. Grenache is by far the most popular grape variety planted in the region (roughly 75-80%), along with Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Syrah. –In old vineyards, these varieties might be mixed to provide field blends, but today are often used to blend the famous red fruity, lush wines of the region which are very drinkable young and may also be successfully cellared. Only five percent of the region’s production is white wines – from Roussane and Grenache Gris – but these more rare white wines were some of the most interesting which we sampled during on our visits to several of the regions wineries.
We use the word “terroir” to describe a wine region’s climate, geology, and wine culture. Most of the wineries we visited had educational “displays” of the terroir of the region, illustrating the importance of terroir and the differences amongst the wineries in the Rhone Valley Yes, in sometimes cases, the displays were very elaborate set-ups in which a winery would display “dirt” - the soil, sand, clay, and stones/pebbles characteristic of different vineyards. Old vineyards were a source of pride and are pruned very short to protect them from the “mistral winds” which are an integral part of the region’s terroir – which is otherwise features sunny, hot, dry Mediterranean summers and mild winters. BUT, we will say that during our visit, that the region had its first snow in ten years! It was not what we were expecting!
We were very impressed with the size and quantity of the concrete tanks we saw in this region. Fermentation occurs in these tanks as well as in stainless steel ones. And aging, of course, done in large even giant, French oak barrels.
Cheese and sausage!!! Every meal, it seemed, came with a cheese and charcuterie board, with soft cheeses, like Brie, predominating.
What is Quince Paste?
Quince trees (Cydonia oblonga), of the apple or “pome” family, are native to the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, Armenia, and northern Iran/Persia. The hard, sometimes fuzzy, fruit is apple or pear-shaped and the green skin becomes bright yellow when ripe. Its whitish-yellow flesh turns a beautiful ruby color when cooked. Quince fruit is high in pectin and has a unique sweet-tart, floral flavor which is perfect in preserves, jams or jellies, and quince paste. Known as “dulce de membrillo” in Spain, quince paste is a thick, sliceable jam, often served with Manchego cheese.
The Story of Quince at Johnson Estate:
Fred William Johnson was an orphan from England who immigrated to Saskatchewan at the age of 14 and worked as a cowboy until making his way to Cornell in the late 1800’s. He bought the farm in 1908, planting orchards of cherries, peaches, apples, and pears. He grew quince for his own consumption and both Fred Sr. and Fred Jr., founder and current owner of Johnson Estate respectively, grew up eating poached quince. Although quince trees were popular in England and the colonies, quince orchards are now somewhat rare in the United States. Fred and Jennifer Johnson have planted three varieties: Van Deman, Orange, and Aromatnaya, providing quince not only for Fred’s dessert with cream, but sufficient quantities for Jennifer to make quince paste to pair with cheese and wines and to sell in the winery.
How to Serve Quince Paste:
With a small knife, gently pry the quince paste out of the glass jar and onto a plate or cheese board. It will hold its shape and may be cut into slices to accompany cheese or charcuterie. In Spain, quince paste is traditionally served with Manchego, a salty sheep’s milk cheese, but the paste is delicious paired with a large variety of hard and soft cheeses.
Serve as dessert with cookies or crackers; pair with Johnson Estate Vidal Blanc.
Gitane, Tom or Palimino from Reverie Creamery, Mayville, NY (Riko Chandra, Owner)
Various sharp cheddar cheeses (Yancey Fancy & Cabot brands available in the winery)
Parmesan and other hard cheeses; goat and soft cheeses
There is a story behind this event.
Last year, Jennifer saw one of Brenda McCutheon's origami "stars" at her booth at the Westfield Farmer's Market. After some discussion of the possibilities, she commissioned Brenda to make ornaments for the winery Christmas tree using cream cardstock and the winery's old labels. The new ornaments make the live Christmas tree (grown and supplied by the Knapp family who live nearby) a deserved focal point in the tasting room for the month of December and a source of pride and delight as we upgraded the winery's made-in-China "ornaments" for something much more meaningful. Yes, we've asked Brenda to make extra ornaments which we will be selling in the winery so that you may have one too!
So this year, we'd like to celebrate properly. With a tree lighting. And the other activities that make our Christmas holidays special:
We hope that you can join us. No reservations necessary.
Last week, another harvest was completed; today the first flakes of snow swirl, but melt as they touch the golden leaves. It is time for giving thanks. Thanks to our creator and shepherd who has given us the most glorious fall in many, many years. Not only that, but a growing season that has delivered the cleanest, ripest, most luscious bunches of grapes; bunch upon bunch, ton upon ton. It should be a memorable vintage.
We owe abundant thanks too, for the loyalty of our customers, the steady, unstintingly cheerful work of our teammates in the vineyards, cellar, and wine-shop. We are grateful, as well, for the community that surrounds and supports us, and we wish all good cheer.
As is our custom after harvest, we are again pleased to offer free shipping to customers nearby and far away. We know that many of the people who visit us during the season have roots in our community, but either now live at some distance or have family or friends that do. It is with this broad, western New York 'diaspora' in mind that we reach out in gratitude with this humble offer of wine transport - free as Santa’s sleigh, if not so magical!
As the first bands of snow march off Lake Erie, I am warmed by the memories of summer just past: the vineyard walks with cheerful, interested and interesting visitors, the golden sunsets out over Lake Erie, the planting of our newest Pinot vineyard block, the breathless unloading of our newest wine tanks and barrels, and the raising of a new barn among the vineyards. I eagerly look forward to tasting the wines of 2017. I forecast that they will be excellent.
Jennifer and I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving among family and friends. We thank you for your interest and support and may your holiday season be joyful. May you return to visit us, preferably in person if you can, or on-line in the meantime!
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