Light, sweet ... mmmm, that's asparagus!

The Fox Barn's asparagus wine label
In a new televised promotion campaign, the state of Michigan is pushing its status as a major producer of wine grapes and other fruits, and of wine itself. In all the text and images encompassed by the ads, the word "asparagus" doesn't come up.

Perhaps it should.

As part of their ever-widening range of products, Todd and Kellie Fox of the Fox Barn Market & Winery now are offering asparagus wine, a nod to their location in the state's asparagus belt. Last year they introduced their first apple wines.

Todd and Kellie Fox
It came about, Kellie said in an interview, when husband Todd -- a fourth-generation owner of their farm -- "brought home a tub of mashed asparagus and said, 'Do something with this.' So I added water and sugar and yeast, and it started fermenting. It did not smell great."

However, further tinkering wound up producing a light, slightly sweet wine to go with other wines they've been producing since founding a winery on the farm eight years ago.

You can get a detailed look at their operation by checking with the Detroit Free Press online.

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Wal-Marts to get PA wine kiosk approval

HARRISBURG, PA -- The experimental self-service wine kiosk program being used in some Pennsylvania groceries is about to be expanded.

Stacey Witalec, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said Friday the board has approved wine kiosks for 24 Walmart stores around the state. Contracts are being reviewed.

Witalec said it probably will be several months before Walmart has the automated wine-bottle dispensing machines in use.

The initial trial program of such kiosks in about 30 non-Walmart stores was reduced in December when many of the devices malfunctioned. However, Witalec said, those problems have largely been resolved.

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PA trail votes for name change this weekend

A Pennsylvania wine trail with a name that many saw as misleading and unoriginal is asking consumers to pick a new one.

The UnCork York Wine Trail, a name seemingly ripped-off the older "Uncork New York" marketing motto -- and an odd pick considering the fact that it meanders over several counties other than York County -- will be renamed and rebranded to better publicize the region that stretches across south central Pennsylvania.

Visitors to the wineries this weekend for the 4th annual "Tour de Tanks" will be asked to vote for a new name. Voting will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at four wineries:

Adams County Winery/Farm Winery, Orrtanna, Adams County
Allegro Vineyards, Brogue, York County
Cullari Vineyards & Winery, Hershey, Dauphin County
Nissley Vineyards & Winery Estate, Bainbridge, Lancaster County

"As the UnCork York Wine Trail continues to grow, it is important that the trail’s identity reflect the experience and footprint guests enjoy during their visit," said Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "To achieve this goal, the UnCork York Wine Trail has been working on a rebranding effort to expand the trail’s identity, further establishing its reputation as one of the top Pennsylvania trails."

The trail began in 2005 with 10 member wineries. It now has 13 wineries across York, Lancaster, Dauphin and Adams counties. It is the largest of Pennsylvania's 11 wine trais.

Voters will get to select from among three proposed new names and mottos. They are:

"Vine to Vintage: Central PA’s Premier Wine Trail"

"Central PA Reserve: Experience the Area’s Premier Wine Trail"

"UnCork PA: Central Pennsylvania’s Premier Wine Trail"

Curious possibilities. None falls trippingly from the tongue, and I don't understand the logic of calling something the area's "premier" trail. An area has only one trail. Why not try something simpler and more to the point, something without two parts -- such as "Vintage Pennsylvania" or "Keystone Wine Trail"?

By the way, anyone who cannot make it to one of the four winery "polling places" can vote online this weekend. Trail officials will reveal  the new name this summer.

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Maryland may change wine shipping law

• From The Baltimore Sun

ANNAPOLIS, MD -- Wineries across the state -- and country -- soon might be permitted to ship bottles directly to Maryland homes. Shoppers could pick up local wines at more farmers' markets. And diners might one day be able to bring their favorite vintage to an already licensed restaurant.

After years of shooting down changes to the state's alcohol laws, lawmakers are showing signs this year that they're ready to embrace some measures long sought by consumers.

But for enthusiasts, there may be a price to pay: On Thursday, a state Senate committee agreed to raise the sales tax on alcohol from 6 to 9%. If the increase survives the budget process, it would be the first tax hike on alcohol in four decades.

Maryland wine aficionados are cheering the policy developments. While many are not happy about the potential tax increase, several predicted that it would have minimal impact on sales.

[Go here for the full story.]

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Kent State offering Ohio's 1st wine degree

ASHTABULA, Ohio -- College-level training in winemaking isn't new to such places as California, New York and Indiana, but in Ohio it's new territory.

The state's first college degrees related to winemaking will be offered at Kent State University's Ashtabula campus beginning in the fall.

Students in the new two-year program offering associate's degrees in enology or in viticulture will be in the midst of Ohio wine country. A majority of Ohio's 151 wineries are located in Ashtabula County, located along Lake Erie, and neighboring Lake and Geauga counties.

The program is affiliated with the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), founded in 2003 at Missouri State University, to serve wineries between the Appalachians and the Rockies. It partners with colleges, state agricultural agencies and vineyards in 11 states to promote education in grape-growing and winemaking.

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Ruined Aussie grape crop seen as a positive

Marker shows the blighted Dubbo region.
A ruined grape harvest in the New South Wales region of Australia is making some growers smile.

Ken Borchardt, chairman of Macquarie Valley Food and Wine, says the loss of hobby grape growers from the Dubbo region could help strengthen the Australian wine industry.

Borchardt, who also is the founder of Red Earth Estate winery, says the entire grape harvest in Dubbo, worth about $3 million, has been wiped out by mildew and disease from the wet weather late last year, and some "hobby" growers are pulling out vines and planning to grow cherries and other fruit crops instead of grapes.

He looks at that as a positive.

"If the weekend warriors, or those that didn't take the industry seriously, were out it would definitely open doors for us in reference to markets," he told ABC News. "Also, if the amount of fruit or wine produced for Australia was decreased, we could actually start earning a little bit better dollars. Then we could get into the marketplace and market what Australia's very good at -- producing premium high quality wines."

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Fronds will be at half-mast

Photo courtesy San Francisco Chronicle
From The Village Voice

Norman Jay Hobday, the man credited with inventing the leafy breed of swinging singles bar called the "fern bar," died last week at the age of 77 in San Francisco. 

Originally from Upstate New York, Hobday ended up in San Francisco after the Korean War, where he opened Henry Africa's. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he had little money to spruce the place up, so he filled it with hanging plants, and it became known as the world's first fern bar.

Last year's tiki renaissance led Washington Post booze writer Jason Wilson to ask the question: Can a fern bar revival be very far off? He wrote:

"Are we soon to see trendy urban bars themed to look like the Regal Beagle, Jack Tripper's swinging hangout in the 1970s sitcom 'Three's Company'? Why not? We've already lived through the speakeasy revival and the tiki bar revival."

Sadly or not, the fern bar remains a distant, fuzzy memory -- in New York, at least. But prospective bar owners looking for the next fad might want to take note: We already have bars with rooftop and backyard gardens. So, why not bring some of that green inside, trade in those tiki Hawaiian shirts for some good ol' polyester, and see what sort of convoluted, sexually suggestive mishaps we can get ourselves into.

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