Wisconsin American Wine Project Winery Produces Low Intervention Wines


Erin Rasmussen has heard it all.

  • Midwestern wines are too sweet, with too much added sugar.
  • Cold climate grapes have newer and different names, so how are you going to market this type of wine?
  • You can’t compete with the established wineries of Napa, California.

All of these naysayers pushed Rasmussen to do something different.

“There is so much potential there,” she said. “I don’t want to do something that’s been done a million times.

“The world doesn’t need an extra $ 60 for Pinot Noir.”

She opened a winery at Mineral Point, about 30 minutes west of Madison. She only uses grapes within a five-hour drive, which means they’re all found in the Midwest, and mostly Wisconsin.

His goal ?

“Let the grapes speak for themselves,” she said.

His winery, the American Wine Project, focuses on making low-intervention wines, paving the way for some of the latest wine trends here in Wisconsin.

When Wisconsin people think of local wines, they usually think of Door County wines, which are usually quite sweet, Rasmussen said.

Thanks to modern technology and hybrid grape cultivation, Rasmussen knows that Wisconsin wines don’t need to be sweet.

“I don’t make wines with sugar,” she said. “It’s part of my goal, how far you can push the natural flavor of the grape. “

Without adding sugar and limiting other added ingredients, Rasmussen has made a name for himself in the world of natural winemaking. It’s a new trend winemaking that takes winemaking back to its roots of centuries ago, when winemakers didn’t add many ingredients.

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There is no certification for those who call themselves natural winegrowers. Rasmussen does not call herself a natural winegrower either.

“I will be transparent about what I put in the wine,” she said. “People want transparency, and I think that’s what fans of natural wines are passionate about.”

One of Rasmussen’s most popular creations is a piquette wine. Winemaker Todd Cavallo, owner of Wild Arc Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, has resurrected a style of winemaking that squeezes leftover grape pomace – the solid residue – to make a new wine.

Rasmussen saw the trend and jumped on it.

“I was maybe one of 16 piquette wineries – in Wisconsin, of all places,” she said.

Rasmussen’s picket featured his little Wisconsin winery in Wine & Spirits and Wine Enthusiast.

A current American Wine Project piquette is the Wit & Wisdom red piquette ($ 24 for a pack of four). It is made from a blend of red grapes and La Crescent grape marc. American Wine Project describes the flavor as “enticing, fruity and funky”.

Rasmussen’s other picket is the Light Verse orange picket ($ 24/4 pack) made with white grape pomace. American Wine Project describes it as “floral and spicy – think apple blossom and cardamom”.

Making piquette also helps Rasmussen achieve one of his main goals, which is to build a sustainable winery, as it is a way to use the grapes twice.

While she strives to have a sustainable cellar, some wines “aren’t technically natural, whatever that means,” said Rasmussen.

“Some people are dogmatic about it. I have to be practical. My goal in all of this is to sell a product, and if the product isn’t good then I can’t sell it,” she said. . “It’s not sustainable to throw grapes when I can add yeast and coax it in the right direction.”

Conventional wines can contain many surprising additives like isinglass, which is made from the bladder of fish, or casein, which is found in milk.

Rasmussen stays away from most additives, but she will add yeast and sulphites, depending on the reaction of the grape.

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Rasmussen appears to be the largest distributor of low-intervention wines from Wisconsin.

“Nobody does it at their level,” said Bradley Kruse, co-owner of Nonfiction Natural Wines at Bay View. “We were thrilled because we’re always looking for things closer to home, and it’s great to see someone focusing on similar beliefs. And having good tasting wines doesn’t hurt either. ”

Kruse said he could sell American Wine Project products aimed at first-time wine drinkers, like Rasmussen’s Switch Theory red blend, or recommend his pét-nat wine to seasoned wine consumers looking for something a little different. .

Nicholas Smith, professor of wine science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also said he didn’t know of anyone else in that state who produced low-intervention wines at the Rasmussen scale.

“I’m happy to see what Erin is doing, attracting customers into the local industry, while being introspective about how we produce products and being transparent about it,” Smith said. “It’s a benefit for everyone.”

Smith said he was not a fan of “natural wines”.

“There is no natural wine,” he said. “What upsets me sometimes are the claims about these wines, this wine that is not natural will make you sick. It’s all about marketing.”

But he’s open to low-intervention wineries trying something different, and he praises Rasmussen for being transparent about his wines.

“I think there is room for improvement within the wine industry to find out what’s in your product,” he said.

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Explore art through flavor

Rasmussen, originally from Wisconsin, attended UW-Madison, where she studied musical performance and French.

The combination of her interests strangely led her to winemaking.

“I’ve read about wine, and people just had the nicest things to say about it,” she said. “Wine is a way to explore art through flavor.”

Her friend, who may have selfishly needed a roommate in Northern California, according to Rasmussen, suggested she move out and do an internship in a basement after college.

Rasmussen cold called Old Wines to see if they had any job offers. When she walked in for an interview, “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, one of Rasmussen’s favorite bands, was playing. She felt it was fate.

After working at Ancien, Rasmussen moved to New Zealand during the harvest season and completed a year of a graduate program in viticulture, the study of grape cultivation.

She moved back to Northern California in 2013. In 2016, “I was really a little overwhelmed,” Rasmussen said of winemaking in California.

She wanted to be more creative in her winemaking, which might be difficult to do in large wineries where consumers expect the same wines every year. The continued forest fires didn’t help either, to the point where she would feel guilty for needing water to go to the grapes to sell wine around the world.

She considered working with apples to make cider in Wisconsin, or anything else that could bring her back to her home country.

“It’s changing now, but people didn’t really think good grapes could grow here,” Rasmussen said. “I was also in that state of mind.”

While working at E&J Gallo, she visited a small vineyard with hybrid grapes developed by the University of Minnesota.

It made him change his mind.

“We walked through and tasted. I realized that the grapes were really interesting. I realized that I am pretty sure I can make wines that can compete with the global Wisconsin industry. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Doesn’t that sound like a call? ” she asked.

She returned to Wisconsin and founded the American Wine Project in 2018.

His enthusiasm for cold climate grapes is only growing.

“We work with grapes that are only 5, 6, 7 years old. How would we know what to do with them? The excitement comes when we create our own stylistic choices. I can do whatever style I want to do,” a she declared.

After producing wines for three years, Rasmussen opened his own wine tasting room at 802 Ridge St., Mineral Point. The tasting room celebrated its inauguration on September 18.

It is open from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Private tastings are available Tuesday through Thursday by appointment.

She hopes her products, which emphasize the flavor of cold-climate grapes, can get people across the country excited about Midwestern wines.

“It’s not that it’s the wines that we have to grow up here, ”she said. ” We want to cultivate them because they make excellent wines. We to have to grow them here. ”

For more information on American Wine Project, visit americanwineproject.com or send an email [email protected].

Jordyn Noennig covers the culture and way of life of Wisconsin. Follow her on Instagram @JordynTaylor_n. Find her on Twitter @JordynTNoennig. Call her at 262-446-6601 or email [email protected]

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