Local wine, local flavors
Riverton – Forget California, local wine enthusiasts need only travel to Fremont County to treat their pallets to homegrown vino flavors.
Riverton vineyard owners Kathy and Terry Irvin have expanded into a wine-tasting cellar with wines made from locally-grown produce. The Irvins began their expedition into the grape-growing business after learning that the University of Wyoming was interested in testing grapes at higher altitudes. After a lot of experimenting with different varieties, Kathy and Terry ended up with a vineyard where few thought a vineyard would survive.
The next challenge was deciding what to do with the grapes once they were ready to pick. The answer was to open a winery. Everything at the Irvin Cellar is a product of Kathy and Terry’s commitment to their wine business. From the buildings to the product in the bottles, Kathy and Terry have built everything from scratch.
“Neither one of us knew how to build a building until we got started,” says Kathy. “But here they are.”
A big part of the development of the wine factory had to do with Kathy’s ingenuity. She is constantly thinking of inexpensive and creative ways to ease the wine-making process. She has designed a cradle to hold bottles for labeling and she is currently developing an easier way to transport the wine to the barrels.
The process to crafting the Irvin Cellar wines is an involved one. The grapes are cleaned and weighed before the fruit is crushed. After sugar, water and other ingredients are added, the mixture sets for seven days and is stirred periodically. The liquid is then siphoned into barrels several times, acting as the filtering system to clear the wine. Finally, the wine is siphoned into bottles and the cork is set with a tool called the “Red Ferrari.”
“It’s the only Ferrari my husband will ever own,” Kathy jokes.
After a seal and label are in place, the bottles make their way to the shelves of the Irvin Cellar.
Aside from establishing the highly labor-intensive grape plants in the Riverton climate, the biggest obstacle for Kathy and Terry has been getting through the red tape and learning the rules and regulations associated with grape wine making.
“We are constantly and slowly learning,” says Kathy. “We are even our own broker now so we can sell to restaurants and bars.”
Kathy treats her customers to a wine-tasting experience only Wyoming could offer. In their log wine cellar, she has set up a counter with seasonal wine flavors ranging from sweet to dry. To get the full effect Kathy starts the tasting with a sweet variety like apricot. She works her way down to the dryer wines and ends with the ultra-unique jalapeno wine. This surprising flavor, Kathy says, has a hot bite initially and moves to a more subtle pepper taste. Another unique wine flavor is their bullberry wine, a cousin of the Russian Olive.
With other flavors like currant, chokecherry, peach, plum, raspberry and white grape; the Irvin Cellar wine varieties are unique in their own right but Kathy says each batch has it’s own distinctive flavors.
“From one batch to the next, they will never taste the same,” Kathy says. “The altitude also makes a lot of difference in the way our wines taste.”
The Irvins started offering the wine-tasting to attract customers, but Kathy has other plans for expanding the wine business. Kathy hopes to increase her fruit supply by offering to pay for grape plants for others to establish and grow. She also says she would pay or trade wine for local fruit.
Kathy says she enjoys learning as she delves deeper into the grape and wine industries and she welcomes the challenges coupled with the business. Whether it’s helping others establish a vineyard, tending to the vineyard or offering a taste of local wine, Kathy says she is happy to be the owner of a unique Wyoming business.
Liz LeSatz is the Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be e-mailed at email@example.com.