Story of “Orphan Train”

The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1854 and 1929, relocating about 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children.

Three charitable institutions, Children’s Village (founded 1851 by 24 philanthropists), the Children’s Aid Society (established 1853 by Charles Loring Brace) and later, the New York Foundling Hospital, endeavored to help these children. The institutions were supported by wealthy donors and operated by professional staff. The two institutions developed a program that placed homeless, orphaned, and abandoned city children, who numbered an estimated 30,000 in New York City alone in the 1850s, in foster homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were labeled “orphan trains” or “baby trains”. This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of organized foster care in America. (Source: Wikipedia)

Note: There are still children among us who have drawn the short straw in life, and we donate $2 from each bottle sold to children’s causes.

#trainwreckwinery #iowawine #wine #orphantrain


Best of Show!

BREAKING NEWS: Train Wreck Winery is pleased to announce “KATE” won Best of Show (red wine division) at the Iowa State Fair Commercial Wine Competition! Officials from the competition said, “Receiving the Best of Show award is not only a great achievement and testament to the quality of your wine, but we also feature and sell tastings of the four winning Best of Show wines at Grandfather’s Barn each day of the Iowa State Fair! This is an excellent opportunity to sell and showcase your wine to the thousands of Fairgoers who visit the Iowa Wine Experience in August.” The Iowa State Fair runs from August 10-20. All of us at Train Wreck Winery are pleased and proud to win this important distinction and invite you to visit the State Fair to try our wines and to stop by our Algona, IA tasting room on Friday and Saturdays (noon to 5pm).

Winemaker Blog – Baco Noir!


Empty tanks ready for fresh Cranberry juice, Baco Noir (red wine) and Concord (red wine) juice.

We received a juice shipment on Monday. Walker’s Wine Juice from Forestville, NY, arrived with tanks containing 550 gallons each of Cranberry juice, Baco Noir (red wine) grape juice and Concord (red wine) grape juice. The Walker family is a farm family that grows many acres of fruit, and buys/presses many tons of fruit each year. They cold-store this juice until needed by winemakers like me.

There are several benefits to processing juice vs. grapes. It requires less labor, as I received the juice on Monday by myself, rather than having 4 people handling grapes. It was much faster, as I tanked 1650 gallons of juice in about the time we could process 90 gallons from grapes. I can get juice that I can’t buy locally. And I can make wine during the year other than during the frantic grape harvest season, making better use of our facilities.

I split each of these juices into 3 tanks, total of 9 tanks, for fermentation. A foamy head develops during fermentation, so tanks can’t be completely full. I added sulfites to the juice to protect it against wild yeast that could gain a foothold before my wine yeast get started. I then let the juice rest for a day to warm up, as it was approximately 36 degrees on arrival, much too cold for our yeast.

Tuesday I circulated the juice in each tank with a pump to ensure that the sulfites were well distributed. I added some cane sugar to the Baco juice to up the alcohol that will result. Towards the end of the day the juice had warmed to about 54 degrees, so I prepared yeast propagations for each tank. I pitched these into the tanks Tuesday evening, and now I’ll await the start of fermentation in the tanks.

Cheers, Steve

Winemaker Blog – When to Harvest?


Marquette (red wine) Grapes

HARVEST PARAMETERS. We have lots of grapes schedule to arrive this weekend at Train Wreck Winery. We will be harvesting our own Marquette, and we will be getting Frontenac and Frontenac Gris grapes from several growers.

How do we know when the grapes are ready to harvest? Science and experience. In a perfect world, there would arrive a moment when the sugar and acids were in just the right amounts. That seldom happens. So we pull sample clusters from the vineyard, trying to get a representative mix of clusters. Clusters that are exposed to the sun will ripen faster than those that may be shaded.

We press the juice out of this sample, and test for pH, sugar %(called “brix”) and sometimes other things such as titratable acidity(TA) or yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN). Because of variablilities of rain, sun and growing degree days, the numbers we measure in the lab are seldom exactly what we are aiming for. And even though our lab tests might dictate waiting, we may see degradation in the quality of the grapes in the vineyard, or maybe we have to pick this weekend because next week is the big game and nobody will want to help pick. So we pick when the science, our experience, and our gut tells us the time is right.


Winemaker Blog – Fermentation and Stuff

Steve has been busy in the cellar and around the state over the past week. Here are his notes from this period. Enjoy!

FERMENTATION. On Friday Aug 29th we inspected the juice. Very little activity is present. This is due to the temp of the juice. Going from the freezer, thru the destemmer, and thru the press, the resulting juice was in the low 40’s. By Thursday it had raised to 52 degrees. Today it is 56 degrees, so the juice is still a little chilly for our yeast, for which the optimal temp is 59-65 degrees. We’re keeping the facility chilly (60 degrees) to encourage this slow warm up. We want a slow, cool fermentation to encourage the properties we want in the finished wine.

We now have Brianna, Edelweiss and St Pepin juice fermenting in the winery. We are monitoring the Brix in the wine to make sure the fermentation is going smoothly. Once about a third of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, we add nutrients to the fermenter. The product we use is Fermaid-K. This product provides yeast nutrients, particularly nitrogen, to the yeast cells to ensure they don’t stress from lack of essential foods. Other stressers include high alcohol and heat. We treat the latter by keeping the volumes low and the winery cool. As we’re shooting for an alcohol level of 11%, the fermentation should be complete before high alcohol becomes a problem.

Brianna grapes

Brianna grapes

This year many growers are reporting sour rot in their Brianna grapes. Unlike other fungi that we prevent by proactive means, sour rot occurs when grapes are damaged. The skin on grapes can be broken by any number of things: insects; hail; cracks caused by drought/too much rain; birds. Once the skin is compromised, sour rot sets in. At that point there is little to be done except to sort the clusters at harvest and get the grapes processed as quickly as possible. The main concern is the amount of Volatile Acidity (VA) in the juice/wine. VA is basically vinegar, and can cause flavor issues. There is a federal limit of 1.2 grams/liter of VA. So I sent juice samples off to the Iowa Grape and Wine Industry Institute for testing, and our VA is well within the limits.

Snuck away from a function at the Depot last night and added Fermaid-K to two tanks of Brianna. The sugar had reached about 2/3 its original amount. Fermentation additions have to be done at certain points of the process, and cannot be delayed.

Checking the ferms this morning for temperature and any off-odors that may have developed. We’re off to a wedding in the Quad Cities this evening, so won’t be able to check them again until noon on Saturday. I think we may be getting grapes in tomorrow, too.

Winemaker Blog – Starting the Ferment

The next step in the process is to put all that lovely juice into a tank and begin fermenting.  Here’s what we do:

WINE MAKING. We pumped all the juice into a single tank. We measured our pH (3.05), our sugar (15.5) and our free sulfites (0 ppm). I added sulfites to the grapes in the cooler for two reasons: to prevent wild yeast from starting fermentation; and to prevent oxidation (browning) of the juice. After processing there was 0 ppm(parts per million) free sulfite, so I added enough to have 50 ppm in the juice. 50 ppm is enough to inhibit wild yeast, but not our special wine yeast. I also added sugar to increase the Brix of the must to about 20%. We will want about 11% alcohol in this wine. A rough rule of thumb is that the final alcohol percent in the wine is 55% of the starting sugar level. So 20 X .55 is 11. After sugar addition, we let the juice settle overnight.

The frothy bubbles tell us the yeast is ready to "pitch" into the juice.

The frothy bubbles tell us the yeast is ready to “pitch” into the juice.

PITCHING THE YEAST. We started Thursday morning by making our yeast propogation. Starting with warm (100 degree) water, we first added a product called Go Ferm. This product contains nutrients and micro nutrients that help the yeast fully rehydrate and get off to a good start. We then add the wine yeast. The yeast we are using for this wine is called Aroma White, manufactured by the Enartis company. This yeast has the characteristics we’re looking for in making a young, aromatic wine fermented at low temperatures. After about 20 minutes the yeast prop begins to bubble as the yeast begin to reproduce. Over the next couple hours we introduced small amounts of the juice to acclimatize the yeast.

Meanwhile we verified our 20% sugar, and rechecked the free sulfites (SO2). Instead of 50, the result was 16ppm. This is because a large portion of the SO2 we added had become “bound” to other substances while performing it’s protective role. So we added SO2 again to achieve our desired 50ppm. We then pumped the juice to another tank, leaving as much sediment behind as possible. We then split the juice into two tanks, and pitched the yeast into each.

The reason for using two tanks is twofold: at peak fermentation the wine will develop a great deal of foam, and we need head space to prevent overflow; and heat is developed during fermentation, so the smaller amount in each tank will help the heat dissipate. Once the yeast is pitched we enter the “lag phase”. During this period the yeast are reproducing like teenagers. At some point the activity will become noticeable, as the yeast cells approach 10-12 million yeast cells per millileter. Then the lag phase will be over, and full fermentation occurs.

Cheers, Steve

Winemaker Blog – Processing

After pressing the grapes the by-product is a dry "must" - the grape skins and rice hulls.

After pressing the grapes the by-product is a dry “must” – the grape skins and rice hulls.

Processing the Grapes: After a couple days battling bearings and starter capacitors, I had the destemmer ready to go. Wednesday, August 27th, we processed our Brianna grapes. The grape clusters are manually shoveled into the destemmer hopper. This machine spins the berries off of the stems, and simultaneously breaks the berry skin. An internal pump moves this mash of skins, pulp and seeds(now called MUST) thru a hose to the vertical bladder press.

The press squeezes the juice from the must, which we then pump to a tank. Our grapes fall into what is known as “slip-skin” varieties. During processing the skins slide whole off the pulp. These skins can then form nearly impenetrable walls inside the press, preventing the juice from getting out. So we use rice hulls in the press. Rice hulls are the seed coating left after rice is processed, and dumping adequate amounts in the press with the must forms channels that the juice can use to escape. It allows us to increase the juice yield. A typical juice yield from a ton of grapes is 150 gallons. We got a yield of about 168 gallons per ton using the rice hulls.


Winemaker Blog – Brianna Harvest

SteveBottleWelcome to our Winemaker Blog.  Train Wreck Winery winemaker, Steve Larson, will share the experiences of growing and harvesting grapes, and the process of making wines.  Please follow along, ask questions, and if you enjoy the story, please share with your friends!

BRIANNA HARVEST. We picked our Brianna grapes on Saturday August 23d. The timing of harvest is based on the chemistry of the grape, as well as when we can get help to harvest. In the grape, we’re looking at sugar levels, pH, and total acidity.

BriannaFor the Brianna, I focus on the sugar level (expressed in degree Brix). Brix is actually a measure of dissolved solids, but virtually 100% of dissolved solids in grapes consists of sugar in the form of sucrose. For Brianna grapes, we’re looking for 15-17 Brix. If the sugar gets higher, this grape can develop aromas we don’t want. “Foxiness” is a term used for one of those aromas that we don’t want. Some use the term “cat-pee” instead of foxiness. Either way, sounds like something we want to avoid.

We’d like the pH of the grapes to be 3.2 if possible; our grape juice ended up at pH 3.05, with a Brix of 15.5. So we liked the sugar level, and can deal with the low pH. We harvested about 4,500 pounds from our half acre of Brianna, which is double our yield from last year. This yield resulted from a better-than-usual fruit set at bloom, and our intentional leaving of more buds at pruning this spring.

Because of mechanical difficulties with our destemmer, we brought the grapes to the winery and put them in our walk-in freezer at 28 degrees. The cold temp, along with the judicious addition of sulfite, keeps the berries fresh until processing.

World Wine Championships – TWW Recognized!

The results are in from the World Wine Championships and Train Wreck Winery did exceptionally well!

2014 Best Iowa Rosé Wine
Train Wreck Winery 2012 “Orphan Train”, Iowa $13.95. Best Buy.
RATING: 90 points (Exceptional)
Copper salmon pink color. Aromas of warm apricot compote and buttery pralines with a silky, fruity medium-to-full body and a tangy sour cherry and blood orange accented finish. A delicious, appetizing rosé that dances to its own beat.



Train Wreck Winery 2012 “Caboose”, Iowa $13.95. Best Buy.
RATING: 89 points (Highly Recommended)
Golden yellow color. Attractive aromas of banana-nut bread, honeyed dried stone fruits, toasted meringue with a silky, fruity sweet medium-to-full body and a tangy white grape juice, apple sauce and pear tart finish. Very tasty and will be great with ice cream.



Train Wreck Winery 2012 “Gandy Dancer”, Iowa $13.95. Best Buy.
RATING: 88 points (Highly Recommended)
Interesting aromas of brewer’s yeast, clay, honeydew, and Asian pear are very sake-like with a crisp, dry-yet-fruity light body and a tangy, sweet tangerine, green apple, and Playdoh accented cider-like finish. Flavorful, fruity, and different.

Choo Choo Choose Me!

ChooseMeChoo Choo Choose Me is our delicious, off-dry cranberry wine made from fresh cranberries from Wisconsin.  You’re sure to love this bright and lively cranberry with with just the right amount of sweetness to balance the natural tart of the cranberry.