Earthy, Smooth, with a Hint of Chocolate and . . . Limestone?

At its best, drinking wine is a sensory experience, full of
complex flavors and intoxicating bouquets. A fine wine can also
transport your imagination to another place in time: an afternoon
in Tuscany sipping Chianti; a sultry night of dancing in Barcelona
dizzy on Roda II; the day you plan to pour up a glass of Frog
Hollow Foch and propose to your beloved in a windswept Iowa
cornfield.

Iowa?

Yes, Iowa. And Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The Upper Mississippi River Valley may not be Bordeaux yet, but
the region is beginning to hold its own in the world of wines.
Dozens of wineries dot the Upper Mississippi, reports Big
River Magazine
(Sept./Oct. 2005), and together they are
vying for federal designation as an American Viticulture Area
‘based on the distinct topography, soils, bedrock, and
microclimates of the Upper Mississippi.’

Known more today for corn and soybeans, the region has a strong
history of grape production (in 1919, Iowa ranked sixth in the
nation). The liberal application of the herbicide 2,4-D to other
crops in the 1930s and 1940s, and its subsequent drift, ’caused
considerable damage to remaining vineyards and was a key factor in
the decline of the grape industry in Iowa and other Midwestern
states,’ reports Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable
Agriculture at Iowa State University. Even today, 2,4-D drift can
wipe out an entire vineyard, and in heavily industrially farmed
states like Iowa, it is a serious concern.

Cold weather is another challenge to Midwestern vineyards. While
warmer-climate grapes can be grown in the Midwest, they struggle to
survive the harsh winters. The University of Minnesota and other
institutions are creating new cold-hearty hybrid grapes that can
withstand temperatures of -20 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. In the
French tradition of terroir, which denotes the ‘taste of place’ of
a food or drink, the new grape hybrids are being named after
regional towns and rivers, such as La Crosse and St. Croix.

State governments have jumped on board to foster the burgeoning
Midwestern wine trade. Iowa now has more than 30 acres of vines,
and southwestern Wisconsin, with the help of a program instituted
in 2000 to switch tobacco crops to grapes, has more than 50 acres.
Illinois hired an enologist (wine expert) to help develop its wine,
and while the state’s wine industry has faced recent challenges,
last spring Governor Rod Blagojevich renewed his state’s commitment
to winemaking and declared September ‘Illinois Wine Month.’

What do these wines taste like? Limestone. ‘The limestone in the
soil here could be discernable, especially in the white wines,’
says John Brietlow, a wine judge from Winona, Minnesota. ‘Keeping
the limestone taste would be the winemaker’s choice, of
course.’

UTNE
UTNE
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