Archive by Author | jldahl

Wine in the time of globalization

Firefly carries mostly small producers by conscious choice.  In part, we want to be different and give our customers interesting choices instead of the same-old, same-old ubiquitous brands.  There are a lot of good wines in this world!  But there are other reasons why we focus on the “little guys.”

Is mass production a good thing?

It’s amazing to know the amounts some wine producers kick out.  It hardly seems physically possible, sometimes.  Do an internet search of a big brand’s production and you’ll be stunned.  I won’t name names, but a certain brand from “down under” went from 112K cases in 2001 to 7.5 million by 2005, according to my research.  While some credit the brand with bringing Aussie wine to the rest of the world, others think it threw the rest of the Aussie wine industry under the bus.

According to Oregon Wine Press, “One ton of grapes produces a little more than two barrels of wine, each of which contains about 60 gallons. One barrel of wine is about 25 cases, and 25 cases are equal to 300 750-milliliter bottles. In the end, if all goes well and there are no significant losses from grape to bottle, one ton of grapes should yield about 600 bottles of wine.”  So when wineries get up into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of cases, imagine the volume of grapes it takes.

Certainly some of the largest producers are contracting with many growers at once in order to achieve the high output.  But are the growers being held to any standards? would be my first question. My next question would be, what is the winemaker doing to produce such high consistency across a “single vintage?” (I put that in quotes, since the vintage on that scale is likely being harvested in multiple locations and/or terroirs and possibly not all at the same time, depending upon the ripeness stage in a particular location.)  Is the winemaker using additives to “correct” any “flaws” in his or her product in order to achieve the expected result?

There are many winemakers who feel that it is an adulteration of the wine to use additives and that those who do use them must not know what they’re doing–i.e. poor viticulture or poor wine-making resulting in a need for additives to make a marketable product. There are also many wine makers who shy away from additives because the risk is that it starts to create a more homogeneous flavor among their wines, and they don’t want them to all start to taste alike.

There is a grape concentrate product called Mega Purple (and there are various others) being used in today’s wine making in order to”bolster or enhance sensory attributes such as color, taste and mouth feel, ” according to Wikipedia.  It isn’t completely clear how these products are produced, but the Wikipedia entry speculates it could be by “vacuum distillation, fractional distillation, and solvent extraction. ”

Solvent extraction?  What does that mean, hexane or something?

Apparently virtually every low-end wine in California is being enhanced with these kinds of additives.  See this article for more in-depth discussion on that topic.

Here is an interesting personal observation that could possibly be related…On many occasions since we opened our shop last May, various customers have told us they cannot tolerate red wine anymore (migraines, diarrhea) and some even have serious life threatening reactions to some wines and not others (anaphylactic reaction.)  I have no idea if additives are to blame, but I find it extremely disconcerting that something that has been produced and consumed for centuries (even under pesticide use for decades) is now causing terrible adverse reactions.  I sure hope wine does not become “the next wheat,” with people fearing “frankenwines.” Imagine what it could do to restaurant fine dining… “Is the sauce wine-free?”  or “Is there wine in the soup?”

In trying to help our customers, I have pointed them to certain wines we have that are labeled organic or that I know are using minimal chemical interventions in the vineyard or in the wine-making (reduced or no added sulfites, for example.)  These wines have largely been European ones, and so far I have gotten good feedback as to no ill effects.

Which brings me to Europe…

I would estimate our shop carries about 75% European wines.  As it happens Collin and I happen to prefer the styles of Europe, so that is a strong influencing factor.  But it’s also common knowledge that Europe is way ahead of us when it comes to banning or reducing pesticides and other chemicals which affect animal, plant, insect, human and planet health.  Many wineries are using organic methods, biodynamic methods, dry farming or other sustainable measures.  Vineyard workers have historically had more health issues (like cancers) than workers in other agricultural endeavors, given the frequent hands-on nature of the work, so vineyard owners know it’s not only in their workers’ best interests to reduce exposure to chemicals, it’s in their own health and economic interests as well.

This is another reason we seek out small, family producers rather than mass producers–we would rather minimize exposure ourselves. And while I can’t say definitively whether or not European producers use additives like Mega Purple, because I have not researched it, I can say that in Europe there is a lot of history and tradition behind the production, and pride in the particular characteristic flavors and qualities terroir brings to their wines.  Like winemakers in the US who attribute the use of Mega Purple to ineptness, essentially, I would think that the European wine tradition would preclude it as well.  Also, if they were to use such enhancers, the distinctive character might be lost, and then the wine would not be what it once was, or what people expect it to be in terms of what terroir contributes.

In the new world, as wine making is maturing, there is more and more attention being given to terroir, which is a hopeful sign for the future. In the U.S. we have designations known as AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) which are distinguished by geographical features (in other words, terroir.)  In cool-climate Wisconsin, believe it or not, there are 3 AVA’s.

But what about price?

Globalization and mass production certainly have made wine more accessible to the average person in terms of price. In a way, it is a positive thing, since it has probably caused more people to be interested in wine, and over time as their palates evolve they may move away from the ubiquitous, mass produced brands and become curious beyond common straight varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

However, as I said at the beginning, there is so much good wine out there.  A lot of it is not what most wine consumers would call expensive, rather it is very affordable.  It may not be “Two Buck Chuck” cheap,  but you can get a good Pinot Noir from France in our shop for about $13, that has all the class, quality, and cachet of an old world wine because it is an old world wine.

In addition, I believe you get more value for your money when you decide to spend a little more on a bottle.  The difference between a wine you get at the big box store for 3 for $18 and my $13 French Pinot Noir is likely to be huge in terms of quality (and maybe even in terms of hangover–I can tell you personally even a veteran wine consumer like me can’t tolerate the Two Buck Chucks of this world, the next day is usually awful.)

Lastly, in the U.S., many communities are now accustomed to the notion of paying more at the farmers’ market in order to support sustainable agriculture and farm families.  When you support the wine industry through smaller producers, maybe you are paying a little more, but you may also be supporting sustainability and way of life that is starting to disappear.  It might be a little better in a “farm to table” or “who’s your farmer” sense, even if that farm or farmer happens to be halfway across the globe.






Catching the Fermentation Bug

We sell alcohol products, so it’s pretty obvious we like fermented stuff!   But what is fermentation, anyway, and why should you consume fermented products?

It’s basically a chemical transformation of organic matter into similar organic compounds by way of enzymes and other catalysts produced by micoorganisms (most notably, yeast, mold and bacteria.)  Enzymes break down complex molecules into more readily digestible substances and nutrients so they can be assimilated by your body.  We have enzymes in our bodies, too, and the complex “microbiome” of enzymes, bacteria and such that lives in our guts are important to good health.

Fermented beverages like wine, cider, and beer were important in the old times because they were often safer to drink than the local water supply.  And fermenting foods was often the best way not only of preserving the harvest, but making it through to the next growing season, until the advent of reliable canning methods. Fermentation was simply necessary and practical, but now we are discovering a side benefit to consuming fermented products: better health.

It’s pretty well-known today that wine has benefits for the body.  Compounds in the skin of the grapes help the heart, vascular system, colon, bones and cholesterol levels.  Writer Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is famous for saying “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  When you think about the fact that it takes 600-800 grapes to make one bottle of wine, you are getting a good amount of a plant-based substance when you have a glass of wine.   Pollan may not have been talking about wine as food, but wine contains clorophyll and other compounds we usually associate with fruits and vegetables (sunshine in a bottle, then?)

Similarly, beer is made from plants, and has some similar benefits as wine.  Beer happens to have a lot of B-vitamins, and appears to be better for workout recovery than sports drinks.  It might also help prevent kidney stones and cut stroke risk.  One caveat, however, is that beer drinkers might tend to choose less healthy foods to have with a cold one, whereas wine drinkers tend to make better food choices, according to people who study this stuff.

Speaking of healthy foods, fermented  products are finally making their way into the mainstream as health foods, as the importance of gut health is becoming more prevalent in the news.  Naturally pickled foods like sauerkraut, rather than those pickled in vinegar, for example, contain lactobaccillus bacteria which also reside in the gut, and are needed in keeping the body healthy.  These microbes are also found in everyday foods such as yogurt and certain cheeses.

A number of factors, including widespread antibiotic use and poor diet, have been contributing to damage of the human microbiome over the years in Western countries.  People with diminished gut flora, or dysbiosis of the gut bacteria communities, are at risk for many chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, cancer, and even autism may be associated with it.  It also could be a factor in the rise of liver cirrhosis. A healthy microbiome is necessary for proper nutrient absorbtion, synthesis of Vitamin K, digestion of cellulose (plant fiber, essentially) and the development of new blood vessels and enteric nerve function (the nervous system that causes the gastrointestinal system to work.)  It’s also linked to a healthy immune system.  In a nutshell, you need that balance of good bacteria and such in your gut for everything else to work right.  I’m sure there’s a car maintenance analogy someone out there could come up with to parallel this!


At any rate, there are lots of things people can be doing to maintain a healthy gut, like cutting down on junk food, eating fresh local foods when they can, and seeking out naturally fermented foods.  Try a little kimchi the next time you have Korean food or stop at an Asian grocer.  In Door County, I have noticed lately that many restaurants including home-pickled vegetables with their entrees; they are fresh and wonderful foils which give your palate a break from rich foods, and likely are going to aid in their digestion, so don’t be shy about trying them.  Make you own fermented pickles at home–you can pickle just about any vegetable, including sweeter ones like carrots. Sauerkraut made at home is practically a no-brainer, trust me, and you don’t need to make a ton of it.


And what if you don’t like the sour stuff?  Maybe you weren’t raised eating it, and it’s hard to overcome the sharp taste.  Often you can find Kombucha sweetened to your liking in the store, or sweetened kefir blended with fruit.  (Kefir is a fermented dairy product and it’s smooth and drinkable like a milkshake.)  If you’re not a fan of kraut, you might still make a small batch in a mason jar, and just have a pinch of it now and then on the side of your plate.  If you find yogurt too tart, try mixing in honey or jam.


Personally, I’m kind of a fermentation addict.  I have made wine at home from our local cherries and my own honey, I’ve made sauerkraut and kimchi, my own sourdough starter, I’ve made yogurt with commercial starters, I’ve made beer and on and on… I like to have things bubbling away in my kitchen, and the putting things together and waiting to see how they turn out– the mad scientist in me, I think!   We call it, “Jennifer’s experimental kitchen.”  I have to say things almost always turn out well– that’s how easy fermentation can be.  I once made a wine from beets that tasted like a red wine made from grapes– I kid you not!


We recently brought in some of the Cultures for Health products as an adjunct to the sale of wine in our shop, to encourage people to give fermentation a try at home.  I listed what we have in a Facebook posting a couple days ago.  It’s easier than one might think, and it’s an affordable way to get probiotics into your family’s diet, and on a regular basis.  It’s much tastier, I might add, than swallowing probiotics capsules, and it’s probably much more reliable as a probiotics source since those supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA anyway and who knows what conditions they were exposed to in the manufacturing and shipping.  The Cultures for Health web site has a lot of ideas, help and recipes, and I am willing to help you by answering questions and troubleshooting.


To your health, as they say!




Kermit Lynch selections at Firefly

For those of you out there who are fans of Kermit Lynch’s imports, I thought I would put a list together of what we currently offer (subject to availability at the time you come in, as they come and go fast.)  Please forgive any accents missing on the words….

Vin de Bugey-Cerdon “La Cuielle”-  Savoie sparkling wine.  80% Gamay and 20% Poulsard.  For fun, read Anthony Lynch’s “one likely scenario” that could happen when you open a bottle of this seductive, pink sparkler.  $22.79

Champagne– Paul Bara Grand Rose’ Grand Cru (Bouzy)  The Paul Bara estate is one of the rare “recoltant-manipulants” in Champagne, meaning the estate grows and makes its own wine (whereas a lot of Champagne is mass-produced by large corporate champagne houses.)   Paul’s daughter, Chantale, now runs the estate.  This wine primarily Pinot Noir, with Chardonnay and red Bouzy wine, vines 35 years old on average, clay and limestone soils.  Aged 3 years before release, it is an elegant wine with mineral-tinged aromas of cherry, rose, and orange zest.  The palate is dry, with mineral and spice notes adding to its complex finish.   $38.99 for a 375ml bottle.

Muscadet– Le Clos de la Butte Muscadet Cotes de Grand Lieu sur lie 2014.   This is a white from the Loire (Eric Chevalier.)  50 year old vines,  Melon de Bourgogne grapes, nine months on the lees with regular stirring, producing hints of citrus, stone fruit, and a nice minerality in a slightly off-dry wine.   $15.49

Beaujolais- Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils 2015.   Gamay from 50-100 year old vines.  The grapes a7re grown in a biodiverse vineyard, using organic methods. From KL: “The wines are not chaptalized, filtered, or degassed and only natural yeasts are used for the fermentation. The wines of Dupeuble represent some of the best values in the Beaujolais today and are widely regarded for their very high quality and eminently reasonable price.”  $17.99

Ventoux Rouge- “Megaphone” 2014 Ventoux by Frederic & Daniel Brunier. 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, from vines 25 years old on average, aged in foudres 10 months. Fresh, bright and rich in fruit, this is a beautiful wine you can enjoy although it’s “young.”  $19.99

Vin de Pays de Vacluse en Provence, “Le Pigeoulet” 2013.    (Also Frederic and Daniel Brunier.)  Hand-harvested, aged 18 months (50% in foudres) 80% Grenache, sourced from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, along with Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan.  Cherry, rasberry and licorice in the aroma.  This is a straightforward, fresh and fruity wine for any occasion. $19.99

Cotes du Rhone– Domaine Clape 2012.  All vineyard work is done by hand.  Northern Rhone from 30-50 year old vines growing in granite subsoils, aged in 6 months in foudres.  Old-style Rhone comprised of 100% Syrah, medium to full bodied, notes of blackberry, cassis, tobacco, with a mineral and peppery finish. Kermit Lynch believes Clape wines are capable of great longevity, but encourages trying them while young to be able to appreciate the evolution to come.  $41.99

Saint-Peray-Domaine Clape 2014.  All vineyard work is done by hand.  From vines 40 years old on average, and only .2 hectares (about a half acres) of granite and clay soils.  This Marsanne/Rousanne is fermented in cuve, completes its malolactic fermentation and is aged in stainless steel 8 months.  Jeb Dunnuck of Wine Advocate writes, “it offers lots of salty minerality (which is the hallmark of St. Peray) spiced apples, and honeysuckle in a medium-bodied, supple, sexy, and mouthfilling style on the palate.  Drink it any time over the coming 4-5 years.”  (written Dec. 2015.)  $41.99

Cahors-  Clos La Coutale 2013.  From the Southwest of France, this 80% Malbec, 20% Merlot is typical of the appelation– inky and earthy, rustic with a everyday drinkability– a great complement for rich food, especially duck, cassoulet, or steak.  This wine also has the potential to age well.  $17.50

Arneis-Tintero Elivio Langhe Arneis 2014.  This is a white from the Piedmont region of Italy.  From Kermit Lynch’s web site: “This delightful Arneis features a heady perfume of apricot and flowers, with a luscious texture balanced by crisp acidity and mineral notes. Like all Tintero bottlings, it is easy on the palate and the wallet—a Piemontese classic at bargain cost.”   $11.79

Barolo-  “Vigna Lazzairaso” Guido Porro 2010.  Nebbiolo sustainably farmed, from 30-35 year old vines.  Barrels are at least 5th passage, aged 3 years in Slavonian oak botti.   Great aging potential with firm tannins, this wine exhibits bright aromas of cherry, rose, white pepper, clove, and on the palate black cherry, raspberry, sage, black pepper, and a lovely acidity.  $44.99

Valtenesi– La Basia Valtenesi La Botte Piena 2013.  80% Grapello (native to Lombardy) blended with Barbera, Sangiovese, and Marzemino.  Produced using sustainable methods on the western shore of Lake Garda.  From vineyards 15-50 years old, unoaked (aged in stainless tanks, then in the bottle.) “Notes of wild herbs and shrubbery mingle with fresh, ripe, dark fruits over soft and cozy tannins, lifted by a bright acidity. A bargain everyday quaffer from an unheralded region, this wine is also exceptionally versatile at table. Our advice: keep a bottle on hand at all times, and don’t be afraid to slightly chill it before indulging.” –Anthony Lynch  $16.99

Garda –La Basia Garda Marzemino Lorene 2012.  This is 100% Marzemino, native to Lombardy, grown on the western shore of Lake Garda, using sustainable methods. This is a fuller-bodied but easy-drinking wine with spice and berry notes.  Marzemino was mentioned in Mozart’s Don Giovanni– “Versa il vino, Eccellente Marizimino!” $17.49














What to have when it’s H-O-T hot!

Like many households in Door County, we still live without air conditioning.  Most summer nights have a breeze and the temp drops quite a bit after sundown.  We almost always have good “sleeping weather” but occasionally we’ll have a multi-day stretch of around-the-clock hot, sticky weather and we can do nothing but sit outside in the shade, nearly motionless, drinking something cold, hoping for a breeze.

Here are my top summer relief adult beverages:

#7           Cold beer.  In the summer I lean toward lighter styles—summer ales, weiss beers (always nice with a slice of lemon).  Belgian Farmhouse ales, like the Saison Dupont we carry in a “bomber” bottle, are great for sharing.   I get kind of full near the end of a second beer, and in the heat, that is especially uncomfortable.  So then I have some water, and switch to something else later on.

#6           Moscow Mule.  There’s something purely thirst-quenching about ginger beer and lime juice.  The copper mug is optional, in my opinion, as a tall tumbler is just fine.  4 oz Ginger beer, 1 1/2 oz Vodka, 1/6 oz Lime juice, serve on the rocks.

#5           Boozy lemonade.   Pretty much anything goes.  Try rum, vodka, gin, mezcal, whisky, sparkling wine, beer (for a shandy), or liqueurs like St. Germain or fruit flavored schnapps.  Garnishes such as lavender, sliced cucumbers, tarragon, rosemary can add complexity without a lot of effort.  Firefly carries Tru organic vodka which is infused with various botanicals– save a step! Try boozy lemonade as a frozen blender drink, and the brain freeze will take your mind off of the heat.

#4           Mojito.  Mint has a cooling effect on the body, and you’re basically making limeade when you mix one up.   1 1/2 oz white rum, 6 leaves of mint (muddle with the sugar and lime juice), soda water, 1 oz fresh lime juice, 2 teaspoons sugar.   Tip: Instead of using granulated sugar, make a batch of simple syrup by bringing one part sugar to one part water to a boil and simmering for 3 minutes.  Store in a mason jar in the fridge, and sweeten your mojito to taste with the syrup.

#3           Ice cold rosé or white wine.   Sometimes it’s too hot for liquor-based drinks, they make me sleepy, and they require more effort than opening a bottle of wine.  Keep the bottle on ice and in reach of where you’re sitting.  Firefly has a very nice selection of summer wines right now, but keep in mind that many rosé wines are seasonal and will be in shorter supply as the summer progresses.   Pinot Grigio, Bordeaux Blanc, and Albarino are some favorite whites.

#2           Sparkling wines.  When the weather is just oppressive, I go for the fruity, lighter options instead of true champagnes which can be toasty, yeasty, musky and are not as thirst-quenching.  Cava from Spain is an inexpensive option, as is Lambrusco from Italy, along with our go-to, everyday sparkler, Veuve du Vernay, from the Loire Valley of France.

#1           Gin and Tonic, lots of ice, with a squeeze of fresh lime, in a tall tumbler so you don’t need a refill right away.  Fast and easy to make.  Put-it-on-your-forehead-cold.  Although we like to enjoy different gins, our go-to is Beefeater.  It’s just an all-around great gin for mixing or martinis.

Imbibe responsibly and keep cool, and let us know your favorite way to beat the heat!




Firefly Lights Up Door County!

After months of planning (and tasting wines!) over the winter and early spring, we finally opened May 28th.    Thank you to everyone who has encouraged us, purchased and sent us referrals so far!

We have been asked about the name frequently.  People get the Firefly part, but what is the “Outfitters” part all about?  Here’s a rough idea:  We’re located on the beautiful Door Peninsula, the “thumb” in the mitten that is Wisconsin.  The peninsula is served by 3 bridges (two of which were out of service at once this summer!)  The only other ways here is by boat or small plane, unless you feel like swimming.  Being a seasonal tourism area on a spit of land only a few miles wide, there is not a plethora of shopping choices for certain categories of things (e.g. Spanish Cava .)  And of course, the further north you are on the peninsula, the longer the drive to “civilization” with its bigger stores and correspondingly bigger selections.

And so we decided we could provide a service to far northern Door by selling some things that we, as year-round residents here, found to be lacking and/or inconvenient to seek out due to driving distances.

Here is what we can outfit you with:

Fine wines, spirits and beer.  Our wine selection is mainly comprised of old world wines– primarily Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal.  We have a limited selection from the US, down under, and South America, since those are fairly easy to find here.  Most of our wines are under $20 with many under $15.  We have a range of very good sparkling wines for any budget, as well as many excellent Champagne choices.  We have a small selection of locally harder-to-find spirits, mead, cider and beer as well.  Having tasted almost all of it, we can say that there is not a bottle in the shop we would not take home and enjoy.

Many of our wines and beers are good for cellaring, unlike much of what you find in the grocery or big box stores.  We like to encourage our customers to build a handy “stash” and discounts are available on larger purchases.

We also make up gift baskets for personal and corporate giving.

Camping/preparedness items.  We carry freeze dried foods which are great to take camping or to have sitting in your pantry in case the power goes out– just add hot water and you have a tasty, nutritious meal.  We also carry things like emergency  candles (some meant specifically for boiling water), solar rechargeable LED lights, fire starting tools, and personal water filters.

Other items and services. You’ll see a little folk art and a few antiques for sale in our shop, including vintage oil (kerosene) lamps, ready to be used in emergency or out on the patio on a summer night.  A few of Jen’s handmade soaps, lotions, and other personal care items are for sale in the shop as well.

We are happy to make gift baskets up for you.  You can select the items you’d like to give, or tell us the ballpark dollar amount, and let us choose for you.

This entry was posted on June 18, 2016. 2 Comments