A Wyoming Vintner that isn’t limited to Grapes

An interesting article by Josie Fowler of the Associated Press

When walking into the Irvin Cellar brewing warehouse, one cannot help but notice an odd smell.

A barrel in the middle of the room contains vineyard owner Kathy Irvin’s latest wine project: chopped pumpkin.

If you put your ear close to the barrel, you can hear the sounds of simmering and bubbling. The barrel of diced pumpkin will be eventually be siphoned, brewed, tested and waited on, all for the purpose of making just the right taste for Irvin’s pumpkin wine.

A Wyoming native, Irvin said she has winemaking in her blood. “I think wine has a culture of its own,” she said.

Both her grandmother and mother used to make it. Irvin worked as a cook for many years before obtaining her license in 2006 and opening a winery in 2008 with her husband, Terry.

The Irvin Cellar specializes in locally made wines with ingredients that come from Fremont County and surrounding areas. With the exception of two wines with ingredients that are not grown locally, Kathy Irvin said everything else is native. This includes honey, sugar, peaches, apricots, pumpkins, raspberries and grapes. Irvin said her winery is the only one in the country she knows of to sell jalapeño and pumpkin wines. She said drinking jalapeño wine with a steak is like having it marinated or flavored with jalapeño peppers.

Some of the favorite flavors among buyers include the jalapeño, chokecherry rhubarb, raspberry honey and pumpkin wines.
In reviewing the winery’s guestbook, one can find the names of people from Washington state, New York, Florida, California and everywhere in between who have visited Irvin Cellar. For example, Irvin said people have come from Napa Valley, Calif., to buy cases of wine, and they sometimes reroute their road trips just to visit the winery. There is much more to maintaining a winery than sampling and providing opportunities for the public to test unique creations. Long before sampling, the preparation begins. Grape plants must be planted five years before they will begin to produce. Irvin Cellar maintains 300 grape plants.

Irvin said she begins work in the field on Memorial Day weekend. During the summer, she said, she works from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Grapes are harvested around Sept. 10. For fruit wines, the process starts by scaling out 120 to 150 pounds of fruit. The fruit is crushed and transferred to barrels, where the pulpy mash stays for seven to 10 days. The resulting liquid is siphoned off and placed in air lock containers.

These containers are specially designed to allow gasses to escape and prevent air from entering. After two months, the fruit that has settled is cleaned out and the liquid is returned to storage for another two months. Irvin emphasized that everything is natural and takes its time.
After leaving the brewing warehouse, the tasting room offers a sense of outdoor serenity. Housed in a log cabin, it includes a crackling fireplace and rows of wines on display.

Irvin took a position behind the bar with an array of wine bottles and sparkling glasses, eager to share her work and passion with a taster. The most popular wine flavors are available for tasting along with crackers and specialty cheese for cleansing the palette. Irvin said just as there is an art to creating wine, there is also an art to tasting it. She goes through each wine, talking about the effort that goes into making it just right. She swirls the glass, talking of the “legs” that are left behind as it settles to the bottom of the glass, indicating it is just the right taste. “I want them to experience the old. There’s more out there than just grape wines,” she said.

The vineyard boasts many ribbons and awards, which indicate the growing popularity of the cellar’s creations. The wine offered is not only unique, it is created one container, one mixture at a time.

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