Monday, August 27, 2012

"Active Wisconsin!" Frank Lloyd Wright Bike Tour

Wisconsin has a reputation for being the land of beer and cheese (as evidenced by some of our previous blog posts), however, Wisconsin is also a great place to be active and outdoorsy. To celebrate the active side of Wisconsin, we're launching our "Active Wisconsin!" series in which we'll highlight some of the cooler things that one can do out-of-doors in the Badger State.

Recently, I hit the dusty roads of Madison with a posse of friends. We spent the day biking around the city in search of Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic architecture. Wright is famous for a style deemed "organic architecture" because of his use of natural materials and the way in which his buildings worked harmoniously with their surrounding environments.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. Wright spent most of his early life in Madison and attended the University of Wisconsin. As a result, Madison has a high concentration of buildings designed by FLW.

All in all, we peddled 17 miles, made 10 stops, and had one lousy (albeit, well-timed) flat tire. It was a really fun day of biking and getting to know Madison in an interesting and intimate way. For anyone interested in biking our route, please feel free to consult this map

Robert Lamp House
Our first stop was the Robert Lamp House (22 North Butler Street). This house is unique because it was built in the middle of a city block and is surrounded by residential properties on all four sides. We had to shimmy down a narrow back alley in order to get this picture. The Robert Lamp House is thought to be one of FLW's earliest examples of the Prairie Four-Square plan. 
Monona Terrace
Next, we hit up the iconic Monona Terrace on beautiful Lake Monona. FLW designed the plans for this building in the 1930s and proposed it to the Dane County board in 1938. It was denied in 1938 and was set on Madison's back burner for much of the twentieth century. Finally, in 1992 the Monona Terrace was approved for construction and the convention center opened it's doors in 1997. Today, it's a beautiful place to listen to music (check out the FREE Concerts on the Rooftop Series), attend events (like the Wold Champion Cheese Contest), and bike along it's lakefront on one of Madison's paved bike paths.
Lake Mendota Boathouse
We peddled around the capital and found ourselves at the former site of the Lake Mendota Boathouse (Lake Mendota at N. Carroll Street). This plaque gives you an idea of what the boathouse looked like in it's heyday. Built in 1893, the boathouse was later demolished in 1926 because it had fallen into disrepair. 
Lake Mendota Boathouse
Here's a lakefront view of where the Boathouse once stood. After cooling off in the lake breeze for a couple of minutes, we hit the lakeshore bike path and bombed over to our next stop on the tour.

Eugene Gilmore House
We biked into the picturesque University Hills neighborhood to get a glimpse at the Eugene Gilmore House (137 N. Prospect Ave). Also known and the "Airplane House," FLW designed this home in 1908 for University of Wisconsin law professor, Eugene Gilmore. 

Eugene Gilmore House
This home features grand overhanging eves and is perched atop a large hill in the University Hills neighborhood. FYI: peddling to this house takes some muscle power, but coasting to the next destination is pretty fun and fairly effortless!

First Unitarian Meeting House
The First Unitarian Meetinghouse is one of the most impressive buildings on the tour (900 University Bay Drive). FLW's use of glass and brick creates a striking (and surprisingly natural-feeling) architectural effect. I found the slope of the roof in the sanctuary to be both dramatic and awe-inspiring. 
First Unitarian Meeting House
If you walk around the back of the building, you can get a peek at the magnificent organ inside of the sanctuary. 

First Unitarian Meeting House
Inside of the First Unitarian Meeting House, natural light creates a beautiful feeling of placidity.

John Pew House. Photo credit: PrairieMod
Our next stop was the John C. Pew House (3650 Lake Mendota Dr). The Pew house was built between 1938-1940 and features cantilevered balconies. FLW's ability to seamlessly mesh architecture with nature is made evident by the Pew house-- this home straddles a small creek and is nestled in a wooded neighborhood near lake Mendota. 

After visiting this house, we discovered that one of our buddies had a flat tire. We used this opportunity to grab a bite to eat and fix the bike. If you decide to grab lunch at this point in the tour, I would suggest taking a picnic to one of the parks located nearby (Spring Harbor Park is a six minute bike ride from the Pew House) or visiting one of the many restaurants in the area. One of my favorites is the Great Dane Pub near Hilldale (a 10 minute bike ride from the Pew House). The Great Dane has excellent fare and refreshing brews. 

Jacobs' First House
The seventh stop on the tour was the Jacobs' First House (441 Toepher Ave). This home was constructed in 1936 for Katherine and Herbert Jacobs. The couple asked FLW to design two homes for their family while they lived in Madison. This is the first home they commissioned (the second home is the tenth stop on the tour). The prairie in front of this home really complements the low, parallel lines of the roof and FLW's Usonian architecture. This home was restored in 1983 and was one of the most beautiful privately-owned homes we observed on the tour.   

Walter Rudin House
Next, we visited the Walter Rudin House. This home was constructed in 1957 and features extensive glass work in the front of the house. The living room of this home is two stories tall and surrounded by two glass windowed walls (as seen above).
Walter Rudin House
The parallel lines established by the living room windows continue all the way around the exterior of the home. Here, the garage roof and entryway keep consistent with the theme. 
Van Tamelen House
Our penultimate destination was the Van Tamelen House (5817 Anchorage Rd). This was one of the most private homes we visited on the tour. From the road, you can only see a small sliver of the house (but get a load of that sweet lamp at the end of the driveway!). Build in 1956, the Van Tamelen House also features Wright's Usonian design and is an example of his prefabricated homes (for more information on FLW's prefabricated homes, please click on the link above).
Van Tamelen House
We mustered up the gumption to get close enough to snap a couple of photos. Here's a quick peek at the exterior of the Van Tamelen House. 
Jacobs' Second House: Usonian garage
Finally, stop number ten! We rolled up to the Jacobs' Second House as we rounded out mile number 17 on our bike trip (3995 Shawn Trail). This home is a beautiful example of FLW's "solar hemicycle" design. The southern wall of the home consists of a giant 14 foot tall wall of arced glass. This glass wall allows the sun to shine in and partially heat the home. The north, east, and west walls of the home feature earth reinforcement that protects against Wisconsin's cold winter winds and also helps maintain steady temperatures year round. 

By the time we arrived at Jacobs 2 it was around diner time and the owners were enjoying a meal in their front yard. We didn't want to disturb the couple and we felt a little sheepish walking down the driveway to take a photo of their home. However, we were able to snap this little gem from the road (above). Here you can see the beautiful Usonian garage that corresponds with the Jacobs' Second House. For more information and additional photos of the solar hemicycle house, please see this link.

We finished the trip by cracking open a couple of bottles of wine and having a delicious dinner of grilled salmon and caprese salad served al fresco! It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin. For those of you who are lovers of architecture (or for those who simply want to see more of Madison in an intimate and active way), hop on your bike and spend a day hunting down Frank Lloyd Wright's beautiful architecture. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Great Taste of the Midwest

This past weekend was the 26th annual Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin. The Great Taste is a 5-hour long beer tasting event where 6,000 patrons have the opportunity to sample beers from craft breweries across the midwest. This year there were 500 beers to sample!

Even getting tickets for this event is an adventure. Tickets go on sale in May and they always sell out on the same day. A couple of my friends camped outside in the pouring rain to get a ticket for me (that may be the definition of true friendship). A ticket for the event will set you back 50 clams, but it's worth every penny.

The doors to the Great Taste open at 1:00pm and an epic line starts forming by late morning. Here we are at the front of the line looking back at a sea of beer enthusiasts.

Photo credit: Brian Czech
The Great Taste is held in Olin-Turville park on lake Monona. The lake provides a scenic backdrop for the event with the Monona Terrace and Capital building contributing some iconic Madison flair.

Photo credit: Brian Czech

I went to the Great Taste with three friends-- between the four of us, we managed to taste 114 of the 500 beers. If you're going to this event, I totally recommend bringing a couple of people you know (and who you don't mind sharing koodies with). Our group would hit a brewery booth and each of us would get a different sample of their brew. This rocked because we could all sample several beers at once and maximize our tasting efficiency. I received an excellent tip from fellow MTC blogger and tasting aficionado, Greg, before going to the event: take one modest taste of each brew, then pour the rest out. Although this felt like beer SACRILEGE, the "sip and pour" technique did allow us to taste dozens of beers and still retain our pallets (and some lucidity) by the end of the event. Thanks, Greg!

If you're going to the Great Taste, another awesome tip is to bring your own snacks. Many of these events have flexible carry-in policies that allow you to bring your own food, water, and pop. I had my purse loaded with three huge water bottles and they definitely came in handy. We spotted this fella on the right wearing a pretzel necklace at the Great Taste. The pretzel (string cheese, slim jim, etc.) necklace was a popular item at the Great Taste this year.

One of my favorite styles of beer is the Belgian Sour, so I tried to sample as many beers in that category as possible. The biggest standout brewery (in my humble opinion) was Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales from Dexter, MI. Jolly Pumpkin had four beers on tap: La Roja, Oro de Calabaza, Sobrehuhmano Palena 'Ole, and Luciernaga. La Roja was my personal favorite. Jolly Pumpkin had a steady line at their booth as soon as the doors opened; they ran out of beer two hours into the event.

Jolly Pumpkin's booth.
 There were several other good breweries, but a few of my favorites include: Short's Brewing Company from Bellaire, MI (they had some well-executed novelty beers, including a black chai cream ale); Wild Onion Brewing Co. from Barrington, IL (had the best pumpkin ale at the fest); and Three Floyds Brewing Co. from Munster, IN (their Bourbon Ice Grille was my favorite-- a Belgian-style dubble with hints of raisins and plums).

Short's Brewing Co.
General hubbub in the beer tent.

The guys from Free State Beer in Lawrence, KS were happy to share their brews.

One thing that really impressed me about the The Great Taste was how they promoted responsible sampling. Union Cab offered $1 cab rides after the event and several Madison breweries sponsored free shuttles to and from Olin-Turville Park. If you're thinking about going to the Great Taste next year, I totally recommend taking advantage of these handy services.

The Great Taste of the Midwest was my first large-scale beer sampling fest and it certainly didn't disappoint. I'm already counting down the days until I can get my tickets for next year's event! Prost!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fisher King Winery

Wisconsin will always be strongly associated with beer.  But last week MTC visited the other side of the coin: wine.  We drove the easy 30 minutes down to Mt. Horeb to visit the up-and-coming Fisher King Winery.  We sat down for a glass with owner/winemaker Alwyn Fitzgerald ('Fitz' to his friends) to discuss Wisconsin's growing wine culture and his passion for the art.

More Than Curds: [Being served the Gentle Sin] This is really good! It’s not too sweet. I usually find Wisconsin wines to be too sweet but this one is really nice.
Alwyn Fitzgerald: Wisconsin is no stranger to the overly sweet wines. They’re definitely out there, you can find them by just turning sideways, so we try not to have our wines overly sweet. One of my guiding principles. I’m a dry red person by desire and passion and it’s what I’ve always really liked and migrated towards. Maybe it’s because when I was little, in my German household, we would have sweet wines and I really…maybe that’s what turned me off to sweet wines.

Yes please!
MTC: Why did you choose to open up shop in Wisconsin instead of, say, California?
AF: Because I live here! I don’t live in California, I don’t want to move. My kids are in the school system here. Even above and beyond that, I got to tell you something—if you open up a winery in California you’re one of a million other wineries. You open up a winery in Wisconsin and it’s unique. We’re still at the earlier stage of the growth curve, it’s not a saturated market. Now granted, in the last 20 years we’ve grown from a handful of wineries to about 70 or 80 [MTC editors note: that’s more than breweries!].

MTC: How many employees do you have?
AF: Well I’m the only fulltime employee but I do have a guy who helps me back here part time, Charlie. And then I have a staff of part timers that work up front. But I have an ad out right now for more part time wine servers—I want a bigger pool of wine servers. We have private events, we have live music on Fridays, all local musicians.  It’s a variety, too. This past Friday we had a string quartet, but usually it’s young
Madisonian artists playing their own original songs. We also have volunteers. Last year in August we bottled 14,000 bottles just doing it with volunteers. They’re motivated! We put the word out all the time—I’ll send out an email saying that we’ll be bottling next Thursday and we’ll be all set up for our bottling run. They love it, people love it! Maybe because it is out of the ordinary, but people have a blast.

Tasting Room on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

MTC: Let’s try the White Whisper.
AF: That sounds like a good idea. It’s made from Frontenac Gris. I had a guy from Midwest Wine Press get a hold of me and he wants to do a story on us. A person that works at Scott Labs, who has yeasts and things like that for wine and beer industry out in California, started asking questions about Wisconsin wines. See, Frontenac Gris is a new hybrid grape that is actually starting to get a little notoriety, there’s a little bit of buzz going on about it. People are trying to find wines made from Frontenac Gris because it’s one of the most recent hybrids introduced.  It was planted only four or five years ago, it’s just now bearing grapes, but there’s only a few wineries making wine from Frontenac Gris. Our White Whisper is Frontenac Gris.

MTC: Are you aiming to use all Midwestern grapes? Or are you going to source wine for whatever kind of wine you’re trying to make?
AF: Well, I want to make wine that sells. That’s kind of important. There are some people that are sort of purists or they have these attitudes about it and everything when it comes to different parts of the winemaking process.  If it tastes good, it is good. That’s what’s driving me.

MTC: How much of the final product is a reflection of where the grapes came from and how much is your influence?
AF: I don’t know, I guess it’s both. You’ll get different answers depending on who you talk to. Let’s put it this way: if you’re a lousy winemaker it’s all going to come from your hand. Basically the winemakers role has been described as being the person who facilitates the grape turning into the wine without getting in the way. But then again it’s a bit more than that because you can steer what happens. You can bring out more floral esters, you can do different things to the wine that bring out characteristics in it. The main thing in the winemaker’s job is to understand the principles as best as possible—you’re not following a recipe. What you do is you following winemaking principles throughout the process—from the beginning to the middle to the end—and if you’re following good practices you’ll get good wine.

MTC: How about a bit of the Romantic Rogue?
AF: Yeah, let’s switch over to reds—over to the dark side. A blend of Marechal Foch, a Wisconsin grape, and Norton, which is the state grape of Missouri. They have a big industry down there in Missouri. The Norton we had in a bit of oak and that’s the part of the wine, when you taste it, is the oaky part, especially in the finish. The Foch, we kind of lightened it up and then we made sure that it came in with just a little bit of residual sugar for some sweetness at the very end. And that is so we could have at least one of our wines that could balance the dryness of the oak with the sweetness. There is some berry in there, but I want to have at least one of our reds be not dry. I didn’t want a sweet red, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it (maybe next year, I don’t know), but we’ve had people asking for it, but in my tip-of-a-hat to that, I’ve made a semi-dry red.

Fitz (right) talks to a group of cyclists passing through town.
MTC: We overheard you talking to that other group about the bike trails. What’s the deal?
AF: The bike trail, it’s right there [Fitz points out the window]. We’re right here in town and the bike trail goes right though town, the Military Ridge Trail. I’ve been touch with the folks at the DNR and they’re really struggling—like, all departments because of budget cuts and staff hiring freezes and letting people go—they have all these miles of trails that they have to maintain, not to mention make improvements on. So I was thinking, geez, well maybe what I should do, because it goes right through town, why not create a program where we have this little club. We’re not making any money on it, but we don’t want to lose too much money—but we have this little club where they can come in and give us $10, we will give them one of our $8 wine glasses, and then we donate $5 to the DNR, earmarked specifically to the Military Ridge bike trail maintenance. And then we give them a membership card, it lasts a year, and every time they come in after that, when they order a glass of wine, we donate a dollar right off the top to the DNR. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’ve sold a bunch of them, but I’m still trying to get the word out. I can’t really spend money trying to advertise it. But I’m just trying to support this trail thing here.

Fermenter tanks built in Wisconsin by Darlington Dairy Supply
MTC: When did you first start winemaking? I know you’ve been doing this as a hobby for awhile.
AF: I’ve been making wine since high school. But I don’t talk that one up to my teenaged daughter! I’d make wine and my parents were ok with it, they were European, you know ‘It’s fine as long as you don’t get carried away.’ But I’d make wine and back then the production standards aren’t what they are today. I
mean—it was high school. Some of the wine would come out really good (or, I guess, ok) and some of the wine wouldn’t come out very good at all. Back then you really didn’t know what you were doing. I remember in high school, each kid had to do a presentation during a homeroom period during the year on a hobby of theirs, so I did winemaking. So I had my good friend Bob, who was really into photography, take all these pictures of me making wine in the basement, holding up campden tablets. We did this whole slide presentation and I brought it in. And I gotta tell ya, everybody loved it. I spent an hour and the homeroom teacher was just smiling, and she was laughing, and she was clapping, and at the very end she said the only thing that she regretted was that I didn’t have samples to hand out to everybody! So yeah, I’ve been making wine since then, and now I have a biology degree, so I understand the fermentation process and I’m not put off by the chemistry. I got a business degree and some business experience and so I was mostly into marketing and it seemed like a good fit. I know the biology of it, I’ve had an interest in it since I was little, I’ve been taking other courses, I got involved in UC Davis certificate program in wine production, which has it’s limitations because they focus on California grapes, but I got involved in the program in Michigan State and I spent time with this unbelievable wine guru, Alan Dillard, in southern Illinois. Unbelievalbe guy, I can’t believe how much time of his I got. I had almost an entire week—8 to 10 hours a day with the guy—and I got more information out of that one week with him that all that other stuff combined, just about. So, you spend some time with winemakers, you spend some time with Philippe [Coquard, of Wollersheim Winery] and you learn and absorb and you basically get the principles down about what you should be doing. And it’s still a learning process! I still make mistakes. I’ve going from non-commercial to commercial. The principles are the same, the fermentation is the same but you have to deal with volume management. There’s the ramping up and there’s different pieces of equipment. But it’s like anything else in life. You never, never, never stop learning.

Fresh wine

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why the Upper Peninsula is really Wisconsin

Why the Upper Peninsula is my favorite place, even though it’s technically Michigan (but it really should be Wisconsin, everyone there is a Packer fan anyway).

Wisconsinites are in a constant state of going to and coming from “up north”. The term “up north” means different things to different people, but usually refers to traveling to a rural Wisconsin location, to stay in a cabin, often on a lake or river, eat brats and sauerkraut, drink lots of beers, and breathe in some crisp green northern air.

My family is not from Wisconsin (shock and horror!), so when I moved here as a child I was very confused about where my classmates were going on the weekends. Their moms would pack up their van, they’d hit the road and end up God knows where, maybe Minoqua, Rhinelander or Eagle River, to name a few up north hotspots. It didn’t take long for me to become very, very envious. Not jealous. Seriously green with envy. You can only look at so many pictures of kids in neon life jackets, riding inner tubes behind pontoon boats with sun burned cheeks…

Fortunately for me, after years of sulking about my family’s’ lack of cabin, I scored a boyfriend who has his own lakeshore cottage (he’s still my boyfriend, and I’ve come to love him for other reasons as well). His is about 15 miles outside of Marquette, Michigan on the shores the magnificent Lake Superior. His grandpa’s family lived in the cabin beginning in the 1910’s. The cottage itself is perfectly kitschy and cozy. Quirky art lines the walls, unquestioned, and trinkets collected over decades fill the bookshelves. The classic rock radio station fills the plank wooden walls, giving a sense of timelessness that perfectly complements the furnishings and multi-generational gatherings.

I recently returned from my seventh trip to this northern retreat. I can’t speak for the whole UP—really, I can only speak for the 20 miles from Marquette to Big Bay. But let me tell you—these are my favorite 20 miles on earth. I really can’t describe this area—pictures are the best way to share the sheer and awesome beauty of the region. And sadly for you, being in the UP really is much better than the pictures.

I’m risking sounding cliché, but the UP changed how I think about nature—I never grew up camping and hiking, and traveling to the UP is to me, what nature should be. It is pristine, meditative and rugged.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest.

The kitschy/quirky art mentioned above.

The old and the new. Schlitz and Louie's Demise of Milwaukee Brewing Company.

We feed this chipmunk. Normally he eats peanuts. Here, he's trying new things and apprehensively chewing a tortilla chip.

Morning from the family's beach.

Little Presque Isle. You can walk across the water and hike the island.


Beautiful scenery--the water is outstandingly clear. It's too cold for extensive seaweed or algae, lending a crystal view during the summer.

Wetmore beach (probably my favorite beach)

Little Presque Isle.

Little Presque Isle.

Jumping off of Little Presque Isle. They did jump eventually.

Climbing rocks on Little Presque Isle.

Tony's Point Morning.

Morning on the rocks.

Camp. The tradition and history here is amazing. I'm so lucky that the my bf's family has shared it with me.

View from Sugarloaf mountain

View from Sugarloaf mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain!

Wisconsin made vodka + Mexico made soda = yum!

A secret beach--we had to walk a mile through water to get here.

Secret beach.

Secret beach, looking up.