Drinker’s Blog

The Big Picture of American Fruit Wine

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I found an incredible book at the bookstore the other day: The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. The 700-page reference tome was written to offer up a definition for everyone including those overseas, just what “American food” or “American cuisine” really is.

In the preface, the editor describes American food as “a smorgasbord foodscape filled with creative entrepreneurs, overworked consumers, well-intentioned reformers, and competing culinary elites. It is composed of numerous ingredients, diverse flavors, unique dishes, ever-changing modes of preparation, expanding methods of distribution, and usual and unusual ways Americans eat.”

While recognizing that fruit wine started as an ancient practice (“Egyptian pomegranate wines and Mesopotamian date wines are among the earliest documented examples.”), contributing editor Tonya Hopkins writes that it’s also an American tradition stemming back to our earliest days:

“Many European colonists and pioneers who settled what is today the United States had come from northern regions where grapes were not primary crops, so they were accustomed to making fermented concoctions from apples, wild berries, and grains.”

She writes that in the days before canned goods were available on the shelves of supermarkets, homemade fruit wine was an integral part of American cookery, “like canning and preserving foodstuffs to last beyond a harvest.”

During  Prohibition (1919-1933), homemade fruit wine became even more common  thanks to a loophole of sorts in the federal law that allowed families to make up to two hundred gallons per year of fruit juice for personal use. Sometimes, of course, some accidental fermentation was just bound to happen, right? Whoops!

According to the Companion, fruit wines were sold in general stores in small towns throughout the country both before and after Prohibition, and especially in rural areas and in the South. These wines were made on many American farms and fruit orchards, “further underlining the strong association of fruit wines with country living.”

Today, the making of fruit and other non-grape wines has become, according to the book, “an American hobby supported by numerous societies and websites linking enthusiasts to information and technological advancements that foster quality winemaking.

“Nevertheless,” the book concludes, “most fruit wine in the United States (these days) is produced and sold at wineries, generally using locally grown fruit.”

We would add these additional “big picture” details to the book’s excellent snapshot of fruit wine:

• There are about 7,000 working wineries, mostly small, family-owned operations in rural areas spread across the country, and in just about each of the 50 states, but only about 700 of these wineries make fruit wine, honey wine, hard cider or other specialty non-grape wines. That means only 10% of American wineries make it.

• Most of those 700 wineries that make non-grape wine and hard cider do not ship their products out of state, selling them out of their tasting rooms and sometimes additionally through limited retail in their local communities and counties surrounding their winery.

• The wineries that do direct ship to consumers, usually only ship to a handful of states. And there’s no way to predict which states those may be. That’s why offers a state-by-state search function that allows you find which wines, ciders, and liquors can ship to the state of your choice.

• None of the wineries who make real, handmade fruit wine have national retail distribution. So, the only fruit wine you’re likely to find in stores near you (unless you live by a fruit winery) is a Japanese-made plum wine, or Boone’s Farm or Manischewitz, which are mass-produced “pretend” fruit wines (see link).

• Boone’s Farm is not actually wine. It’s a malt beverage dressed up like a fruit wine, and nothing against Boone’s Farm (I’ve enjoyed it in the past myself), but it is nothing like a fruit wine made by a small winery with real, whole fruit. And Manischewitz is actually sweetened grape wine with artificial fruit flavors added.

• The top ten states with the most wineries that make fruit wine, honey wine, hard cider and exotic non-grape wines & spirits are:

1. New York

2. Pennsylvania

3. Michigan

4. California

5. Ohio

6. Washington

7. North Carolina

8. Virginia

9. Wisconsin

10. Missouri

• Some trivia: Only one state in the union does not have at least one winery making fruit wine: Nevada. Nevada makes up for this oversight (or perhaps it’s due to the lack of agriculture there), by giving us Las Vegas. So, Nevada can be forgiven. And, the good news for Nevadans is that currently  lists 88 handmade non-grape wines that are shippable to Nevada. So even if they can’t go wine tasting there, Nevadans can still enjoy the specialty wines, ciders and liquors of producers in lots of other states. And they can make your own fruit wine by ordering supplies and equipment from our Winemaking Kits search.

I hope that adds to the big picture.

And so, the Oxford Press has spoken: fruit wine is as Egyptian as The Nile, as Mesopotamian as the Tigris-Euphrates…and as American as the Mississippi. As American as a wild black raspberry, a juicy strawberry, and a tart cherry. Apple wine is as American as apple pie, country stores, dirt roads and root cellars. And we’re glad to be here to help you get your hands on this array of very special, very delicious, hard-to-find American beverages.

—Todd Spencer



Just in Time for Valentine’s Day: Welcome, Washington’s Chocolate Shop Wine

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hi, How’s your January going? Recovering from the holidays? Getting used to writing 2013 on your checks? Well, believe it or not, Valentine’s Day is already less than a month away, and we have a super exciting new addition to the site just in time for you to get your shipping order in.

An official welcome to Chocolate Shop Wine in Walla Walla, Washington, makers of maybe the perfect Valentine’s wine: chocolate wine. And not just chocolate wine, The Wine Spectator‘s absolute favorite chocolate wine.

The Chocolate Shop ships directly to 33 states, and their premier bottle—a blend of red wine (mostly Merlot) and chocolate is just $15.

chocolate wineMichelle Monda, the winery’s tasting room manager, has great copy that gives you a good sense of what it’s like to try it:

“We start with a proprietary red blend  of the finest vinifera varietals (mostly Merlot), add a touch of oak and a kiss of sweetness to create the perfect fruit-driven foil for the rich dark chocolate, which unfolds in silken layers across the palate.”

And Owen Dugan of the Wine Spectator writes: “The nose carries the cherry motif, with a little kirsch. The first time you taste it you will smile a little as the surprise of chocolate unfurls.”

So, welcome to Chocolate Shop, the perfect Valentine’s Day addition to the site, and welcome to their celebrated bottle of chocolate wine, a great and fun addition to our list of “exotic” wine flavors to go along with other hard-to-find and fearless exotics.

Products like black tea honey wine, douglas fir eau de vie, elderflower mead, jaboticaba berry wine, maple dessert wine, sparkling rhubarb wine, and woodruff-flavored Maywines. And adding more all the time!

—Todd Spencer


Cranberry wine: for the holidays!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thanksgiving dinner means family, friends and oven-roasted, hand-basted turkey. And for a lot of American families, Christmas dinner means the same thing.

Even my wife who’s a vegetarian gets seriously excited about these meals. Why? Because of all the traditional fixin’s: mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, green beans, cranberry sauce and relish…. Oh man, I just sort of drooled on the keyboard. —Sorry!

Now, if you think cranberries are the perfect complement to an oven-roasted turkey, then imagine adding a bottle or four of cranberry wine to your holiday dinner setting.

cranberry wineIt’s a unique way to make the occasion even more memorable and — shock! — even more delicious.

Now, there are a few small, family-owned wineries across the country that make small batches of cranberry wine and we list six of those wineries, who make a total of eight cranberry wines. Any one of them could be at your front door or office in a week.

Orders shipped “Ground” will arrive in time for Christmas if you order by Friday, December 14. But don’t wait. Do it now and cross it off your list.

Here are the boutique cranberry wines to consider, and where they can ship:

1 & 2. Cranberry Bog is a multi-award winning 100% cranberry wine. And Lake Effect Blush is a cranberry-apple blend, both made by Bill Martin the winemaker at Seneca Falls, New York producer Montezuma Winery. Ships to: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

3 & 4. Auntie X is an organic 100% cranberry wine and Twisted Sisters is an organic blend of cranberries and raspberries, both made by Alexia at Shell Lake, Wisconsin’s Clover Meadow Winery. These organic gems ship to: Alaska, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

5. Carl over at Century Farm Winery in Jackson, Tennessee makes a large, seasonal batch of 100% cranberry wine every year, and always sells out! So get your order in. This is a well-balanced wine. Is it sweet or is it tart? No one’s certain. Could be both! Ships to: Alaska, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

6. Earl at Texas Star Winery in remote Richards, Texas makes a 100% cranberry wine that’s slightly tart, full-bodied, and bold in flavor. Ships to: Alaska, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

7. Stephen at world-renowned Portland, Oregon producer Clear Creek Distillery uses

Clear Creek Distillery

cranberries from the southern coast of Oregon to make an amazing no-sulfites-added cranberry liqueur. It’s sweet, it’s classy, it’s handmade. It’s also almost 20% alcohol so it can’t be shipped, but luckily is available at well-stocked wine retail locations in most states. And you don’t have to wait a week to get it! Perfect for last-minute holiday planners. Call Clear Creek at 503-248-9470 (don’t forget, they’re on west coast time) and ask where the nearest retail location is for you. And if you talk with Stephen tell him we said, “Hi.” Thanks!

Available in: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

8. John at Chico, California’s Honey Run Winery makes a cranberry honey wine, putting an extra elegant spin on the cranberry wine tradition. It’s also certified kosher (OU). Honey Run Winery ships to: Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

And independent third-party retailers ship Honey Run wines to: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.


—Todd Spencer


Welcome, Huffington Post “Menuism” Readers

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

California wine writer Etty Lewensztain gave us our first unsolicited mention in the press, a blog post titled, “Thinking Beyond the Grape: Fruit Wines” published in the Huffington Post!

Nice…(and thank you, Etty!).

Her bio: Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great cheap wine. The food- and wine-obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the U.S., and is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter @PlonkOnline. has a Facebook page! Like us!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Check us out on Facebook!

Soon, our Facebook account will be a great news feed for all things fruit wine, hard cider, honey wine and fruit liquor.

Use to find the fruit wines and ciders that you’ve been searching the web for (and that are actually shippable to your state of choice), and “like” us on Facebook to get relevant updates from our client wineries, cideries, meaderies and distilleries in your FB news feed!

Sales; new products; big news items; and great pictures of the products, the production process, and the winemakers, cidermakers, meadmakers and distillers from coast to coast who are making the award-winning boutique products that you can’t find at national retail and that we love to promote on



Welcome, Washington’s Finnriver Farm

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One of the newest producers to join us is Finnriver Farm, an organic cidery and fruit winery in the Seattle area that makes a fantastic lineup of  sparkling hard ciders and fruit dessert wines fortified with their homemade apple brandy.

organic hard cider, hard apple cider, apple cider

Welcome to Finnriver Farm. "Cider, anyone?"

My brother lives in the Seattle area and he brought an armful of their wines back to Michigan with him on the plane last winter, and it was a joy to have a few glasses of their spirited apple wine to wash down our Christmas dinner with.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know Crystie, the wife of the husband-and-wife team behind the organic winery/cidery and farm, over the phone, and she is as sweet as pie. And like all the family-owned winery folks I’ve met so far through, she’s extremely hard working and industrious while going about the day-to-day demands of her labor of love.

Get to know Crystie — and Finnriver Farm —  a little better yourself by reading her “Farmwife Diaries” blog.

Finnriver lists nine products in our database, all shipping to a limited but growing number of states: Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, and their home state of Washington. They plan to add more states soon.

If you’re visiting the Seattle area, the Finnriver Farm tasting room makes a great day trip — and it’s the perfect excuse to take a memorable ferry ride across the Puget Sound (either the Bainbridge Island Ferry or the Kingston Ferry will get you there) to the breathtakingly beautiful Olympic Peninsula, just west of Seattle’s bustling downtown.

Chimacum, Washington.

...located in Chimacum, Washington. Not too shabby.

Directions from Seattle to Finnriver Farm are here. The cidery is in Chimacum, Washington, and tasting room hours from May-September are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday & Monday from 12:00-5:00 pm. Tastings are $5 per person and the fee is gladly waived with a bottle purchase. Shared tastings are allowed.

Says Crystie and husband Keith Kisler: “Our Certified Organic family farm and Cidery is located alongside a restored salmon stream on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The process of creating our products begins in the spring blossoms of organic fields and orchards. Bees work their magic, fruit ripens in the sun and come autumn, when the rain-washed air of the mountains turns crisp, we gather our families and farm crew to harvest and press the fruit. We then ferment it slowly through the chill of winter months and use traditional methods to refine and bottle our select batches.

“Finnriver grows a variety of berries and heirloom apple trees, in order to provide organic fruits for our wines and ciders. We also glean wild apples from old-time local homesteads and source fruit from organic family farms in eastern Washington and around the region. We’re committed to sustainable land stewardship through organic production, conservation easements, renewable energy, salmon safe certification, habitat restoration, and community partnerships, celebration and outreach.

“We are very pleased to share the flavors of Finnriver with you and invite you to come visit the farm, taste our ciders and wines, walk the orchard, and connect with us.”



Strawberries are coming: (strawberry wine is already here)

Monday, April 23, 2012


It’s a cold spring here in northern Michigan, but I know that downstate lilacs are coming out weeks ahead of schedule. This is just to say that the season’s first fruit harvest, mouth-watering local strawberries, are usually only as far off as late May, but in some areas due to the warm March, harvests might be a lot closer.

strawberry wine blog


Wineries need time to make strawberry wine, of course. It doesn’t happen overnight. If that’s the “bad” news, the good news is that you actually don’t have to wait because handcrafted strawberry wine made from last year’s berries is at its peak right now.

Getting impatient for those amazing local strawberries? Get yourself some strawberry wine. We feature several bottles from makers of small batch wines made from those very juicy local berries and released to the public just a few months ago.

Quick strawberry wine links here, for your perusal: Linganore Winecellars (Maryland), Latah Creek Maywine (Washington), Montezuma Winery’s Ruby (New York).

— Todd


Rustic Washington organic winery opens for the season

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bart Alexander over at China Bend Winery is opening up thecherry wine, dessert wine, fruit wine, honey wine tasting room for the season on April 2nd, and he’s inviting old friends and anyone curious about small-production organic fruit and grape wines to sample away an afternoon at the rustic winery. Tours available, too.

A Washington state treasure on Lake Roosevelt in Kettle Falls, China Bend makes a variety of organic grape wines along with some organic fruit wines, including a 10-year-aged cherry-honey dessert wine he calls Twin Eagles that is one of the most unique wines featured on our site. And it tastes incredible.

Anyone heading to Spokane should consider a road trip north to taste the organic, small-batch difference. Not going to northeastern Washington but live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon or Washington? Then order some of Bart’s wines for direct shipment and drink them while you gaze at photos of scenic Lake Roosevelt.

China Bend will be open daily, noon-5pm, closed Sundays, starting April 2nd, 2012.




Welcome, Michigan’s Peninsula Cellars

Friday, January 6, 2012

The west and especially northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, where the best grape growing happens, is also

They grow their own cherries at Peninsula Cellars.

home to the state’s best cherry farming, so it’s pretty normal for the state’s earliest winemakers to have backgrounds in cherries.

Many have cherry orchards growing next to their vineyards.

Such is the case with Peninsula Cellars, a winery near Traverse City, Michigan that’s owned and operated by one of the tart cherry industry’s most famous pioneer families: the Kroupas.

John Kroupa started farming fruit on Old Mission Peninsula — a finger of hilly glacial-cut land that extends out into Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay — during the Civil War. These days, the winery and cherry orchards are run by his great-great grandson — who also happens to be named John Kroupa.

Peninsula Cellars makes some great wine, including the Rieslings Michigan is becoming known for — Time Magazine recently lauded their Select Riesling, for example. Of course it would be nothing short of bizarre if Peninsula Cellars did not also make and bottle their own cherry wine, and they now have both of their bottles featured here on cherry wine dot com.

One is a modestly sweet blend of black Ulster and tart red Montmorency cherries called Hot Rod that the winery sells for $11.99. It gets its name from having a higher-than-normal alcohol content, at 13.5%.

Peninsula Cellars' 1896 one-room school house tasting room.

The other is a fine, port-style dessert wine called Melange that blends Ulsters and grape brandy that sells for $17.99. It’s perfect for cold weather sipping on dark January nights.

All the cherries, of course, come from the Kroupa’s own orchards.

Peninsula Cellars ships to eight states: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. If you live in one of these states, or know someone who does, order from the winery by emailing their tasting room manager at


Welcome, Vermont’s Eden Ice Cider

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eleanor and Albert Leger.

We’re very pleased to bring Eden Ice Cider‘s unique line of “ice ciders” into the Cherry wine dot com family.

Albert and Eleanor Leger, the founders of Eden Ice Cider, are hard cider-dessert wine-apple specialists in hilly northern Vermont.

And their five fascinating products, which are winning awards at an almost alarming pace, span the boundaries of what we think we know about wine classifications.

Allow me to explain.

The Leger’s “ice ciders” combine characteristics of hard

Melting the concentrate.

cider, apple wine, ice wine, and dessert wine. And in case that description is not loose enough, their newest product, Orleans, is not a dessert wine at all, but a high-alcohol dry apple wine made in collaboration with maître liquoriste Deirdre Heekin, that’s flavored with organic herbs.

Albert, a French Canadian, follows Quebecois custom for making ice cider, which are similar to the German rules about what makes a traditional Riesling ice wine an authentic product. That is, in part, pressing your own apples and freezing/thawing the juice outdoors.

Eve would approve.

Other than pure creativity and lots of going of the extra mile, another common denominator running through these products are the inputs: fresh Vermont apples, many from their own orchard of 800 trees.

Some of the Leger’s ice ciders are varietal —  the Northern Spy and the Honeycrisp, while others are blends. The Leger’s make Windfall Orchard Ice Cider from the fresh juice of, and I am not kidding here, 30 different varieties of apple.

Their ice cider business has grown fast since 2007, and they now have good retail distribution in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont. But luckily, they can ship their wines to several states along the northern eastern seaboard and as far afield as Florida, Colorado and California.

Free shipping on orders of 6 bottles or more.







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