The Beer Drinker's Guide to Fruit Wine

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Fruit wine.

Yes. Grapes are a fruit. I know.

Door Peninsula Winery is an unconventional winery in an unconventional wine-making region: Door County, Wisconsin. If you’re thinking “Dude, that’s too freaking cold for wine grapes,” you’d be largely correct. But this forty year old winery is in prime real estate for apples and cherries, and these guys, who have been operating out of a Victorian-era schoolhouse since 1974, are taking advantage of the thriving local produce to create a surprisingly wide range of “Beverages Not for the Schoolroom Set.”

It’s not for the wine snob set either, by the way. These guys are different. Their products have a sense of humor. They are not necessarily drag and drop crowd-pleasers—some folks will find them confusing—but let’s bear in mind that plenty of extremely haughty California Chards and Cabs with huge price tags are also going to please some and gross out others. Taste is taste. Meanwhile, I tasted a range of Door Peninsula potions and here’s my take.

Some of the bottles I tasted I would not recommend to people who are averse to sugar in a wine. As someone who sends back a lot of Rieslings and Geurtztraminers for being too tropical-sugary myself, I am not a person who can deal with a Columbard to which a significant dose of pineapple and mango have deliberately been added. But if you are a sweet wine person, or someone who likes playing with infused stuff—you should check these out. They have a large range of products, some out and out kooky and some a little more serious. Consider the possible merits of a cranberry-spiked cabernet on the Thanksgiving table. Or their sweet apple “Hallowine,” which is infused with a lot of pie-spices and might make a great heated beverage to cruise the neighborhood with on a chilly trick-or-treating jaunt with the kids. Just don’t, you know, give it to the kids. Because it’s not for kids.

It’s for your Inner Child.

My far-and-away favorites are the apple wine and the dry cherry. Really tasty, fun, lighthearted and not too complicated. Both are dry and pleasant, light bodied beverages with the consistency of a lightweight cider. However, ciders they are not—they are made from 100% apples and cherries, respectively, but they are yeast fermented, yielding a wine-level alcohol content (about 14%), versus a cider, which comes out a bit more like a beer (5-7% range). The apple wine is made from locally grown Macintosh apples and aged in oak. If you are a cider lover—or an apple fetishist, which I admittedly am—this stuff is worth checking out. The sour cherry wine is sort of a red counterpart to this dry white—sour cherry is a note I happen to love in conventional grape wines and I will go out of my way to find things like varietal Ciliegiolos, of which there are like one and a half on earth, because that Marasca sub-flavor just makes me happy. So this was a fun variation to try. It’s not “wine,” in the sense that it is not made from grapes. But treating other fruits as if they were grapes can yield some very appealing results. These two are great examples of that.

Upshot: if you are someone for whom wine is a dessert, these people deserve your attention. If you are someone who appreciates the unconventional, these people deserve your attention. If you want to find out what happens when someone pretends cherries or apples are grapes, these people deserve your attention. And if you value the experimental, the slightly oddball, the I-would-not-have-expected-that factor in a drink—well, ditto. My prediction is that for some people there will be too much cognitive dissonance involved in parsing a blackberry-infused merlot, or an alchoholic version of the Cran-apple juice you give your second grader. If you are thinking “wine” when you taste that stuff, you could easily become confused.

Note: some of Door Peninsula’s wines are straight up wines, made by fermenting the juice of grapes, period. But what I think is the most fun and interesting about these folks is what they do with their own local Wisconsin produce. As nearly always happens, locally sourced produce just makes sense and local people know how to make sense of it. You can buy wine grapes from all over the place (also, there are grapes bred for cold climates and Door Peninsula does utilize Wisconsin plantings of La Crosse, Merechal Foch and St. Pepin grapes, which can handle growing conditions that would make a Pinot Gris cry). But this is serious orchard fruit territory and it’s what feels the most authentic and interesting when you drink it. At least to me. I’m not likely to go for a chardonnay from Wisconsin because I happen to live in American Chardonnay Ground Zero. On the other hand, neither Macintosh apples nor sour cherries are commonly found here, and experiencing the results of four decades of hands on, loving experimentation with those things – that’s a pleasure.

There is a rather vast range of offerings from Door Peninsula available here. Click around. They’re diverse enough that I feel comfortable saying it’ll be the rare person who loves every single product they make. But you might find something you love and wouldn’t find anywhere else.