Tongue River Winery         

                       Quality Made Wines with fruit exclusively from the Northern Plains!  

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Occasional Musings about grapegrowing and winemaking

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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!

New wines! Others Gone! But not forgotten!

Posted on February 3, 2015 at 7:50 PM

Alas, the White Raspberry wine is already sold out!  In just three weeks, our meager 48 bottles were grabbed up by eager customers.  One wanted to buy a whole case, and we had almost to take the whip in hand and limit him to 4 bottles so that others could have some of the delicious fun!

But for those who missed out, DO, ABSOLUTELY DO become a member of our website.  It is free, and it brings you occasional updates on new wines released, events we're doing, harvest days you can attend, prizes we've won and sundry other items.

120 bottles of Apple Ice has been sold since early January.  This is probably the first time that rhubarb wine has NOT been the top seller!  We have approx. 350 bottles left, so it will be here for a while.

Frontenac Trio Rosé has also been selling well.  And next week, just in time for two chocolate events (see the Calendar), we'll have our Aronia wine ready for sale, which pairs really nicely with dark chocolate!  Look up aronia on the NET, and you'll find lots of interesting things about this uncommon but healthy fruit.

New & Returning Wines Coming Out Shortly

Posted on December 22, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Returning Wines:

   Black Currant: 2013 is sold out, but 2014 should be ready by sometime in January 2015.


  White Raspberry: This delicious water-white premium wine will be ready late January.  Only four cases and it will go fast!


  Apple Ice:  So popular in 2012, we made even more of this premium wine this year after missing a year.  Sold in 375 ml splits, this intensesweet/acidic "bowl you over" apple intense wine will surely please.  This is definitely a sipping wine, not a guzzler.


New Wines:

  White Currant will join its siblings, Black Currant and Red Currant, both very popular wines.  Ms. White will be sophisticated, pale with a hint of sugar and light floral aroma.

 

Aronia, sometimes called Chokeberry (not chokecherry) is America's super antioxidant native fruit.  Neglected for centuries, it traveled to Russia and Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe about 50 years ago and became really popular there.  It has recently made a comeback in the US, beating out the Acai berry for antioxidant content by about 2 or 3 to 1!  Our ARONIA has an upfront berry-fruit character, with a subtle milk chocolate woodiness on the finish.  It will be presented off-dry.  Look for it late January.

But we've still got your old favorites!


Experimental wines in the plans

Posted on August 23, 2014 at 12:15 AM

Several years ago Costco was selling Aronia juice, and Marilyn and I really like it— tangy, fruity, dark.  But then they stopped.  Now aronia has become the darling fruit of the anti-oxidant crowd, and with good reason.  It ranks higher than just about anything in antioxidants, by a wide margin.

Most aronia wines we've tasted have not excited us.  But we've got 100 lbs to play with this fall, and we're going to try a couple of experiments and try to turn out a decent aronia wine.

We're also considering a chokecherry port.  We mocked up a half-bottle a few days ago, quite sweet and fortified with decent brandy.  The cherry flavor grew enormously, even having hints of maraschino.  This could turn out to be a wonderful sipping wine on a cold snowy evening!  When winter comes, we'll help warm you up!

Our cherry crop was late-spring-frost-damaged this year, so not as much good Cherry Pie wine as last year.  But our additional 150 cherry shrubs showed a hint of fruit this year, so we're expecting quite a crop next year.  Sandcherry Kiss is also back, and will be available for purchase in mid-September.

For those wishing to pick their own chokecherries in quantity, search the internet for a "Swedish berry picker."  They are red plastic and about $20 each.  We can pick about 4 times faster with these tools.:)

Hybrid Wine Shows Its Stuff!

Posted on June 14, 2014 at 2:25 PM

This conversation happened at a winery in Oregon about a month ago as two women were on their way from California going east, visiting wineries along the way.

"Don't bother stopping in Montana," the wine steward said to one of his customers. "Their wine is crap!" I know about this because his customer was one of OUR customers two weeks ago. In that spirit I offer the following:

2014 NORTHWEST WINE SUMMIT RESULTS ARE FINALLY IN: Tongue River Winery won the Granite Peak Award for the best Montana wine submitted to the late April 2014 competition in Hood River Oregon for our La Crescent wine, which also won a gold medal. It was one of 89 gold medals from 69 wineries out of a total of 942 wines. It was one of 37 white wines (all the rest European grapes) which won gold medals.

But to really put this in perspective, THIS IS A HYBRID GRAPE! Not a European grape. And it was awarded a gold medal above 138 other white grape wines (not to mention the 341 non-medal winning wines). It out-ranked 853 of the 942 wines entered.

Here's the list of European grapes that won Silvers and Bronze medals. Our La Crescent Gold Medal winner stood out above them all:

25 Pinot gris wines

26 Rieslings

16 Gewurtztraminer wines

10 Sauvignon blanc

28 Chardonnay wines

14 Viognier

18 proprietary white blends.

The significance of this is that La Crescent is a hybrid. The kind of grapes that will grow here. It's tough terrain here: we have harsh winters. We have hot summers. We have high pH soils. We rely on irrigation water which may contain salts and other baddies. We cannot grow vinifera (European grapes) without burying them. But we CAN grow hybrids,(sometimes poo-pooed as second class grapes...e.g. hybrid wines are banned in France). But our hybrid La Crescent outranked 140 other medal-winning wines ALL OF WHICH WERE VINIFERA!

We won 14 medals at the NW Wine Summit:

GOLD: La Crescent

SILVER: Frongria, St. Croix Rosè, Black Currant, Chokecherry

BRONZE: Arancione, Cherry Pie (Gold at Finger lakes), Frontenac Gris (Silver at Finger Lakes), Pretty Wild Plum, Sabrevois Nouveau, Foxy Lady, Perfect Kiss, Rhubarb and Tongue Tied (Silver at Finger Lakes)

HYBRID wines, like La Crescent, Frontenac, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, St Croix have arrived! So who says Montana can't make good wine?!! Check our website at www.tongueriverwinery.com for locations that sell our wine. And remember, we ship to customers in California, Montana and North Dakota. Let us know if you want your state included.

The mistress you hate to love

Posted on June 11, 2014 at 10:45 PM

I tell people that Mother Nature is the most seductive mistress anyone will ever have.  She wafts beautiful scents your way in spring, bedecks herself with incredible finery and intrigue (think butterflies, gorgeous flowers) and promises wonderful fruits and vegetables and lots of fun.  You can't help falling in love with her again every year.

But then.....hail; or yellow-jackets and birds eating your crop. Or disease.  Or drought.  And it all too often happens after a very promising beginning to the year.  She's seductive, but she's a B____ (rhyme's with itch!)

But we love her anyway.  If growing plants were simple, we'd quickly become bored.  It's partly because every year is a crap shoot that partnering up with Mistress Nature is so much fun.  You never know how the year will turn out.

Like this year.  WE HAVE A COMPLETE GRAPE CROP FAILURE!  The good news:  we're not alone.  Vineyards all over the northern states from Idaho to New York have suffered losses.  The bad news:  we're not alone.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of vineyards took the same hit.

For us, it was -40°F in late December.  That simply burned a lot of vines to the ground, as far as life is concerned.  the roots are alive and pumping up new trunks, but the superstructure was destroyed in most varieties.

But despite the cold, all three of our Frontenac varieties (Noir, Gris and Blanc) braved the winter almost entirely unscathed.  The bad news is, we got a late frost in the spring, and even though the plants are healthy, the primary buds were destroyed, and secondaries never throw much of a crop.

But the good news is, we have a lot of wine left from a very good 2013 year (9600 pounds of grapes in our vineyard!), so our larders are still amply full, and we'll spend 2014 rebuilding the vines with even better support and prepare for the 2015 season.

And the last bit of good news is:  Other crops are thriving.  Great rhubarb crop this year.  The chokecherries are loaded.  Our currant crop looks really good.  There are quite a few wild plums in some locations.  So there's still wine to be made and we'll have a good year of it, if a little less hectic.

Yup, she's a helluva seductive mistress, and I hate to love her....but I do!


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