Up the Creek to Find a Hidden Gem

Up the Creek wine flight

Up the Creek wine flight

With the dog days of summer nipping at our heels, my friend, Shelly, and I decided to take a little road trip. The past few weeks had been incredibly busy for us and we needed to find a place that we could just relax, decompress, and sample some wine. Shelly was already familiar with Thorn Creek Winery, having planned an event with them last year but it was new to me ~ not that I ever need any arm twisting to check out a winery.

Located in Aurora, OH and only 30 minutes by car from downtown Cleveland, Thorn Creek, is a sweet ride to rustic charm, beautiful gardens and some nice wine. Established in 2005, owner David Thorn envisioned what would become the Thorn Creek experience; old world European ambience, blended with a casually elegant vibe.

Before we ordered our wine flight, we took a little tour of the gardens and winery. Down stairs was a beautiful event space that juxtaposed a smaller nightclub feel with the warmth of a winery cellar due, in part to the wooden casks that lined the walls. Outside, the gardens unfolded almost labyrinth like, winding casually from an old English courtyard, through a lanterned brick pathway to a tented waterfall garden wedding space.

Thorn Creek’s approach to winemaking includes purchasing select grape products from other wine growing regions around the country; then marrying those qualities with grapes native to Ohio. For our wine flight, we chose Up the Creek, which included Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot,  Aurora Cream Red, and Aurora Cream White. We paired our wine samples with seasonal strawberry lettuce wraps and some amazing braised short rib sliders, which brought more depth to our wine selections.

My pick: the Pinot Grigio, which had a great honey-like vibe and texture. It paired beautifully with the strawberries, goat cheese and chocolate dusted almonds. Shelly liked the Cab reserve, which we had in addition to our flight. She found it had a slight pepper-y finish on its own but when paired with the sliders, awakened a more full bodied warmth.

One of the things I enjoy about life in Cleveland is the incredible variety of urban and rural experiences; both are cool in their own unique way. Nearby destinations like Thorn Creek give the experience of being at a Napa winery getaway without feeling like you’ve really left the city.


©TheWineStudent, 2014

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Who Cut the Cheese?



Well, I did. It was another fantastic day in the Cleve, I was communing with nature on my patio so I cut a few pieces of Sartori MontAmore cheese to pair with my 2012 Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc. It had a creamy, sweet/savoury vibe that brought out the refreshing vegetal quality in the wine. I won’t deny it, I supplied it ~ and it made the second day of summer even nicer.


When Stoned Isn’t Always So Much Cooler

It was bright, sunny, hot (yes) and crystal clear here in the Cleve. And like the summer romance that vanishes by Labor Day, I chose to make the most of it while it was here. I wanted a little glass of Chard to toast a beautiful late afternoon but nothing was cold (stupid fridge ~  for not knowing what I needed before I knew what I needed). Bah! And so I did something one should never do with any white wine ~ I opened it anyway and tried to chill it with some frozen whiskey stones. Desperate times called for somewhat desperate measures. How did they fare? About as well as you can imagine … notsomuch. While they created a nice little bubbly effect on the glass, they didn’t help cool the temp to drinkable. But then again, they’re not really designed for wine.

Well, live and learn. And in future, I’ll make sure I always have a couple of bottles on the chill. Because that’s so much cooler for me if I do.


©TheWineStudent, 2014

Viva El Vino! Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Wine

Spicy hot days and cool evenings can produce some fantastic wine. With vineyards planted as far back as 1524, Baja, and in particular, the Guadalupe Valley in Mexico has been producing some wonderful vintages.To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I could’ve chosen a traditional shot of Tequila, blended a Margarita or at least poured an icy Corona. But I remembered a bottle of wine that we bought on our last trip to Cancun. And I was instantly transported back to savoring a glass as we enjoyed a shimmery golden sunset. Pop goes the cork.

A Little History Lesson

In the earliest days of the Spanish settlers in Mexico, they brought with them grapevines since they believed, as many of us still do today, that wine was nutritional, healthy and quite fun to drink. There was little need to convince the Mexican people of this; the Aztecs had been already cultivating the wild Cimarron grape from which juice was extracted, mixed with fruits and slightly fermented to create a beverage known as acachuk. As decreed by Hernan Cortes in 1524, settlers were ordered to plant a thousand grapevines for every one hundred natives in their service.

Mission Statement

The expansion of viticulture in the Baja region occurred largely because of the Jesuit priest Fray Eusebio Khun who in1683, founded several missions which began cultivating indigenous grapes and making wine for religious ceremony held at each of the missions. In 1697, Father Juan de Ugarte became the “founding father of Baja’s viticulture.” On one of his trips to Guaymas, he brought back some ‘vitis vinifera’ vine cuttings to be cultivated, since the endemic grape varietals didn’t meet the Spanish criterion for wine grapes. Over the years, ministry and laypersons worked together to increase the volume of wine production as well as the expansion of vine growing regions to where they launched new outreach missions. The divine was happening to the vine. And yes, that was a really bad pun, and so you must drink some good wine to cleanse your brain.

The Baja wine region includes:

  • Santo Tomas Valley ~ founded in 1791 and located 18kilometers from the Pacific Ocean maturity temps of the grapes vary between 14 – 36 degrees celsius
  • Guadalupe Valley ~ founded in 1834 it is by far the largest area of wine development. Located 30 kilometers north of Ensenada, is 320 meters above sea level and is the most topographically diverse ranging from granite to red clay. Low temps at night and high daytime temps make for an area that has the most favorable environment for maximum grape development.
  • Ojos Negro Valley ~ It was so named due to the two oval swamps that looked like black eyes. These marsh areas have all but disappeared due to underground depletion but what remains is a diverse vegetative environment with highly cultivated irrigation systems to accommodate for the higher levels of rainfall.
  • San Vicente Valley ~ Located 90 km south of Ensenada with an altitude of 110 meters above sea level, San Vicente has unique vineyards where the grape maturity temps from a minimum of 10 degrees celsius.

 Muy Caliente!

Much of Mexico can be too hot to produce very flavorful wines; the heat has a tendency to push the grapes into ripeness before full flavor can be developed. The Guadalupe Valley has a unique microclimate of mineral-rich soil and sea breezes that gently cool the heat; bringing the grapes into a robust maturity. Our wine for tonight is Pitxos a combination of an 07 Grenache, 05 Syrah and an 06 Merlot from Bodegas de Santo Tomas in Ensenada. And while I wouldn’t normally pair a blend like this with chicken, the heat from the spices I’ll use might just be a good juxtaposition. Since I had to do a product shot, I did have a sample. On its own, it’s very rich with black cherry overtones, mild to moderate spice, a definite alcohol vibe (probably from the hot climate), and zippy currant on the finish. And I can say that it travelled quite well (we bought it in ’11); withstanding a plane ride home and undisturbed cellaring since then.

Wines from Mexico are available in the US from Wines from Baja.com.

Whatever your choice of drink to celebrate the day, I wish you a happy and safe Cinco de Mayo.

Que tengas uns noche buenisima!

©TheWineStudent, 2014


Green Day in Ohio: Celebrating Sustainability in Winemaking


The winemaking carbon footprint can loom quite large but many wineries are now making the conscious move towards sustainability and making sure that the footprint they leave is one that will help keep the planet beautiful for generations to come.

Sustainable winemaking involves:


  • Changing from power usage to solar power, thereby cutting energy consumption.
  • Reusing and recycling all water and making their own compost as fertilizer.
  • Practicing Integrated Pest Management: Using owls, bats, hawks or other wildlife, as well as cover crops to help control insects.
  • Also using weed control | border management by goats or sheep to cultivate the vineyards instead of traditional chemical pesticides and herbicides.
  • Using low-gravity flow techniques to move wine steadily downward through the winemaking process, decreasing the use of energy consuming conveyor belts and equipment in the process.
  • Recycling all materials used in the winemaking process.
  • Erecting or modifying buildings to make them energy efficient.
  • Using biofuel or alternately powered farming equipment; preferably using horsepower instead of tractors when workable.
  • Ensuring that workers, employees are fairly treated.


 Vermilion Valley Vineyards is one of the few identified sustainable wineries in North East Ohio that uses recycled materials, solar energy and storm-water management (large tanks collect storm-water for reuse in the vineyard). Located in Wakeman, OH about 45 minutes west of Cleveland, Vermilion Valley Vineyards is situated beside a fully restored wetland that is home to natural residents like Bluegills and Large Mouth Bass, and naturally occurring, native plant life. The wetland also serves to provide the winery a viable heat source in winter, and acts as an area to release heat overloads during high summer. The heating | cooling systems are ‘ground sourced’ HVAC using the wetlands. Their vineyard building has 40-plus “R” insulation for its walls and roof; saving energy that would normally have to be produced by burning fossil fuels.


Vermilion Valley Vineyards’ philosophy is one of holistic agriculture: viewing the entire farm as a living organism. They work to build soil fertility by using composted grape skins, stems and seeds.What comes out of the earth, eventually goes back in.

Using composted grape skins, seeds and stems

Using composted grape skins, seeds and stems @ Vermilion Valley Vineyards


Crop rotation, companion planting and cultivation is the main source of natural pest and disease management. In cases where it doesn’t work, they employ Integrated Pest Management ~ where some conventional but less toxic pesticides are permitted ~ but it is used only sparingly and never where non-chemical interventions have been shown to be most effective. They have maintained a commitment to find new certified organic fungicides that will precisely target problematic organisms.


To further educate the public about the importance of sustainable farming practices, they created the Green Lit Scholarship Fund. The fund rewards select graduating high school students wishing to pursue a career in sustainable winemaking | farming, as well as those majoring in a related field (forestry, agriculture and architecture) and is awarded annually. The winery hosts several fund raising events during the year to provide support.

While it can seem like a daunting proposition to completely revamp a winery’s operating practices to incorporate sustainable winemaking, it can be done. And it can be a work in progress. But the commitments to the environment that are made now will ensure a better world that we leave for our children to enjoy.

And that’s worth toasting.


©TheWineStudent, 2014

Chips Ahoy


Today, I opened a bottle that I’d had for a little while. But when I tasted it… well, it wasn’t exactly off but a little more bitter than I was expecting. What to do? I ripped open a bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips. I’d been craving them, had gone for a long run earlier in the day, and up until now, had been really, really good about my my foodie choices. But why would I think chips would go with any wine, much less this one?

When I  took my WSET course last year, I remembered that in the food and wine pairing class, salt had been considered a wine-friendly component of food that can aid in softening some harder elements of wine.

Salty foods also:

  • Increase the perception of body in the wine
  • Decrease the perception of the wine’s bitterness and acidity

The chips actually did their thing quite nicely. The wine became considerably less harsh and easier to enjoy.

Clearly, it wasn’t a day for carefully selecting the vintage, and the exact right variety of potato. And much that I’d read had chips being paired with Champagne or other sparklers. My choice: An Australian Shiraz. And it was made much softer and enjoyable with this pairing.

You might want to experiment on your own with kettle-cooked-cracked-pepper-gourmet what have you, and that would be great. But if you’re finding your wine a little too harsh, and your pantry has only a bag of chips, be brave.  You might discover that what’s inside can be just as nice as the most expensive, savory hors d’oeuvre.


©TheWineStudent, 2014

Lusca the Irish: Wine from the Emerald Isle

Kiss me! I’m Irish. Actually, I am. And for these past three St. Patrick’s holidays, I’ve been on a quest to find the elusive Irish wine. Coming up about as lucky as a sliding down a banister with the splinters pointing in the wrong direction, I found nothing that was a true wine made exclusively in Ireland. So I wrote instead about Mead ~ and while it is a traditional Irish honey fermented drink, it’s not wine in the sense of the true grape nectar. Faith and begorrah, I searched today and found a little pot ‘o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. The third time was definitely the charm.

Planted in 2002 by David Llewelyn, Lusca Irish Wine currently produces a small trove of about 300 bottles per year of: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Dunkfelder and Rondo. Sauvignon Blanc, Gerwurztraminer and Schoenberger round out their whites. Vineyards are planted near their orchards, just outside the village of Lusk , and use cloche-like polythene structures to encase the vines during the summer months. They find that this helps protect the fruit and foliage canopy from rain, subsequent rot, disease and insects ~ negating the need for pesticides. It also acts to increase temperatures helping to mature the late-ripening fruit.

The wine is made exclusively from their own grapes, using simple winemaking methods, natural filtration processes and is hand bottled and labelled. These are some mighty young wines, to be sure, but may be worth a sample after a wee bit of cellaring to gain some depth and complexity.

Lusca wines are currently available from www.winesonthegreen.com.

As my Da used to say when he’d toast the day, “May the good Lord take a liking to you … But not too soon!”


©TheWineStudent, 2014