“What I Got”

Sonja and I loaded the kids into the car and took off for the Sandhills mid-morning yesterday. A few hours in we stopped at a public rest stop, used the restrooms, and had a picnic on one of the provided cement picnic tables before climbing back into the car and getting back on I-80.

I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but our trip to Napa at the end of the month had to be cancelled when we learned that our daycare is going to be closed at that time. It was pretty upsetting, but one of those things we can’t do anything about, so we’re just stuck it seems. Eventually, I may get over it. No promises.

On the way down the interstate, we remembered a winery we reviewed years ago for American Winery Guide. What I remembered most was the outdoor seating and the thick lawns; I figured Titus, Zooey, and Mollie would enjoy the break from driving, and so might Sonja and I. With that in mind, we pulled off at North Platte and went to Feather River Winery.

Recently, I caught up with a friend and fellow wine writer whose company I greatly enjoy. During our conversation, he devoted significant time to maligning a Midwestern winery he had recently visited. I’ll admit, the practice of using fruit concentrate to make wine as he described it is pretty cringy to say the least, but his complaints, valid though they were, got me to thinking as well.  I am coming to believe that Nebraska’s wine drinkers can be divided into two categories, if you’ll allow me a few passes with a pretty broad brush. The first category would be wine snobs, and the second would be the more laid back, easy going Midwesterners I grew up around. They might enjoy white zinfandel, but they’re pretty easy to hang out with.

The wine snobs have always had my attention. We love the same things by and large, exempli gratia big, bold, rich Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I won’t deny how much I adore wines in that category, and many, many others like it. But the thought I can’t shake right now is that you get out to Napa, to the wineries I love most, and you run into people who are a lot more like those Midwesterners I was talking about. They’re farmers — grape farmers, and they are artisans who know how to turn a few tons of grapes, a few years, and some wood into something truly extraordinary. But they don’t go around getting into pissing contests and telling people why their stuff is good and other stuff isn’t. They just hope you enjoy it, and they offer you a place to try their wine that is enjoyable and relaxing. In that way, I find that some of the wineries I have visited in Nebraska actually have quite a bit in common with some that I’ve come to love in more prestigious wine growing regions.

Sonja, the kids, and I whiled away forty-five minutes in the shade of a gazebo. Sonja and I sipped at wine while Titus and Zooey snacked and played with their toys in the grass. It was a relaxing stop, restful and in many was reminiscent of the Napa Valley we won’t be getting to visit soon. And while the wines don’t remind me much of those I drink in Napa, the whites can hold their own and paired very nicely with a warm day and a relaxing place to sip them. We bought a bottle to share on our own patio back in Omaha later (you’re welcome to swing by and try it). Ultimately, I realized that, given the choice between a gas station truck stop and a small winery with lush green lawns on a sunny day, I was quite thankful that my family had the opportunity to hit up this little Midwestern winery yesterday.

We got out to the ranch in time for dinner, and after we unloaded the car and got everyone settled in I paired one of those big, robust, rich Napa Cabs I love so much with mom’s spaghetti casserole. It was pretty terrific. That said, my best memories of wine from yesterday may involve spilling some off-dry Edelweiss as I tackled my son in the grass and wrestled with him. Wine is always about the experience, about who you share it with, where, and how, and I’m thinking that since Sonja and I can’t get out to Napa this summer then maybe we need to go have a few more experiences at the local places. I’ll keep you posted.

Cheers to appreciating what you’ve got, regardless of what it is,

Mark

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