Many wine enthusiasts began their love affair with wine based on an experience while visiting a winery. It could be a trip to Napa Valley, where wineries are abundant, or a visit to Tuscany where there is a vineyard and winery around almost every turn in the road. But the connection to the land, the people who produce the wine and the wine itself makes wine more than just the liquid in the bottle.
Nebraska has seen an impressive number of wineries spring up in recent years, and they are making the personal experience of visiting a local winery a reality for wine lovers and people new to the world of wine alike. Currently more than 35 Nebraska wineries or tasting rooms are located throughout the state.
I recently visited three local wine producers and found an interesting and enjoyable experience at all of them. Interestingly, they each have their own unique features to make them stand out, and they each have their own story to tell.
The first place I visited was the Glacial Till tasting room in Ashland. About 25 minutes from Lincoln, situated in a nice “small-town Nebraska” downtown area, this tasting room doubles as an art gallery. The place is classy and upscale in appearance, and the people working there are friendly and knowledgeable about their products. The Glacial Till wines are produced in Palmyra, where many of their grapes grow in the Glacial Till soil of that area.
My wife, 11-year old daughter and I went on a Saturday afternoon. There was a steady stream of people from all age demographics, enjoying the art and tasting the Glacial Till wines. They offer wines ranging from dry red and dry white to sweet whites and even a port style wine. In the tasting room for $5 you can try a small sample of five different wines and even a red or white sangria creation, which are both tasty and refreshing.
The wines are all nice, I especially enjoyed their 2011 Chambourcin, which had distinct black raspberry notes, a hint of spice and soft mouthfeel. We ended up taking home their port wine named “Prairie Fire.” This wine is sweet, smooth and flavorful, even more so when combined with a small chunk of dark chocolate.
Next, we visited Windcrest winery in Raymond. This winery is a pleasant 10-minute drive in the country just a few miles north of Lincoln and situated in a picturesque farmland setting with beautiful panoramic views. They have a stately indoor tasting room with a nice patio outside for their visitors.
At Windcrest the owner, Dale Lilyhorn invited us to try the wines “our way” with 5 samples for $5 or “his way,” where we could taste 10 for the same price. The sample size was smaller, but we thought it best to taste through as many offerings as possible. His wines run the gamut of styles, and I found both his cherry and pear wine a very interesting change of pace. My favorite is his “Cherry Delight,” a cherry wine that has distinct cinnamon notes.
Lilyhorn is as friendly as anyone you will meet, and he is passionate about his wines. So much of the fun with wine is the story behind it, and Lilyhorn has a story with every wine he makes. That alone makes the visit worth the drive.
Another highlight of this visit was the way Lilyhorn spoke about the Nebraska visitors he sees. He says most of them, and in particular the college age people, come with a designated driver, and they are very discerning in what they look for in wine. It is so important that wine drinkers take driving safety in account before every wine drinking experience, in our business (The Italian Vine: Wine Distributors) it is a key area of emphasis. It's great to hear that the young people who are part of the wine culture are taking this to heart.
The final winery we visited was Cellar 426, a country estate in the hillsides near Ashland, again just 25 minutes from Lincoln. Majestic wooded views abound from the classy outdoor tasting area adjoining the air-conditioned indoor tasting room. The owners, Richard and Amy Hilske, will walk you through your tasting of 5 wines for $5. They are nice people who have put a great deal of thought into their winery and retail operation. Both of them have an agriculture background and are a joy to be around.
They offer fruit, meat and cheese plates to go with the wine tastings. With the scenery offered in this location, it is worth the time to get a glass of wine to sip on the deck and enjoy the moment. They offer a wide variety of wines, ranging from dry red to a sweet white dessert wine. My favorite of the tasting was “Midnight Gold,” a smooth dessert wine with slight grapefruit and citrus notes that would go perfectly with a creamy key lime pie. I was impressed that the tasting descriptions of each of the wines they served was on the money, showing that they know their product and have a palate to help the customer make a good selection.
Each of these wineries has a great deal to offer wine lovers and wine novices alike. They offer a great wine experience and a nice family experience for Nebraskans and visitors from out of state. The people who own these wineries are friendly, passionate and looking to provide a great experience for anyone who walks through the door.
Whether you are the wine enthusiast who has been to Napa Valley half a dozen times or someone who never has gotten into wine and just wants to know about what the big deal about wine is, I would encourage you to load up the family and head to one of these wineries for a Nebraska wine experience.