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It's no secret that I like wine. I have a dedicated 20-bottle wine rack at home and I love nothing better than having a glass or three with friends - as any Woman of a Particular Age could attest to. Not long ago, I talked about discovering the Nebraska Wine Passport program and how that has become a bit of a passionate interest of mine.
So it happened, then, that my friend, Rebecca, and I found ourselves on a bright, late summer Saturday traveling south on Highway 75 to hit up some tasting rooms and wineries to get more stamps on our passports. And drink wine, of course.
Our first stop was at Union Orchard. A long-time fixture in the area, this roadside country establishment sells wares from their orchard - particularly apples - and sells a wide variety of canned/pickled items. I've been here a handful of times over the years and never come away without some of those items.
More of a tasting room for Nebraska/local wines in the past, the orchard now makes a few wines from the grapes they have growing on the hill above the country store. We opted for the tastings of four (but they gave us five) for five dollars plus the glass.
In the past, they sold a delightful rhubarb wine from a winery (somewhere in Nebraska) that I was hoping to pick up a bottle of this day. Unfortunately, they no longer sell it. Who knows? Maybe it's not made anymore.
They do, however, make a rhubarb-raspberry wine of their own, so after having a taste for one of my samples, I picked up a bottle. I also picked up Mac's Creek Irish Jig (a tasty white wine from another winery on the passport program) along with pickled carrots and Vidalia onion relish. One of my great aunts used to make dill-pickled carrots and this is the ONLY place I can find them, so I always grab a jar of them when I come here.
After a nice time at Union Orchard, we headed a few miles south to Kimmel Orchard. Styled similarly to Union Orchard, they leave a lot to be desired. I had been here once in the past and it's really only a place for a sad hayrack ride and a money-making pit for the owners. I got a glass of their fruity wine (I didn't know they made wine) which was cheap at $3.75/glass but was subpar and served in a small, disposable plastic cup. Needless to say, we got our passport stamped, finished our cup of wine, and left.
A few more miles south on 75 brings you to Nebraska City, home of the Arbor Day Farm complex. Composed of the Arbor Day Farm, the Morton Mansion (which I've talked about here on this blog in the past), and the Lied Lodge (inside pictured above), it's a really cool place to spend a day or two. The wine tastings are done in the complex's Apple House Market, which is just a large tent on the Farm. Because of the heat this day, it was closed, so we went up to the Lied Lodge.
The Lied Lodge is a semi-fancy, large log cabin-style hotel with a fancy restaurant and the Library Lounge. Since the Apple House Market was closed, we went up to the Library Lounge and asked if they could stamp our passports. They were kind enough to do so and we opted for a dark, Nebraska beer: Lincoln's own Empyrean Brewing's Collapsar.
It's called the Library Lounge for a reason, and we enjoyed our brew with some of the books that line their shelves. We ordered a too-expensive meal to soak up some of our drinks, before leaving, from the Lodge's fancy restaurant, Timbers.
While we waited for our meal, Rebecca pointed out that there were a couple of wineries just west of 75 in Syracuse, Nebraska. Eager to add a few more passport stamps - and emboldened by all the spirits we had imbibed - we headed there next.
We stopped first at one of the only two legit wineries on our Wine Day Trip, Rich Harvest Winery.
Large and spacious, the tasting room was surprisingly decorated using both modern decor and architecture.
It was quiet and a nice respite from our previous stops.
The winery sits on several acres of beautiful land.
And the vines were picture-perfect in the waning, afternoon sun.
Our last stop of the day, Safehouse Winery's tasting room, sits in the sleepy downtown of Syracuse.
The building was the site of the former Bank of Syracuse and it's the COOLEST and one of the more interesting wineries I've been to. Here you can see the old bank safe which now is a wine vault.
The winery plays up to its bank past...
...while also imbuing the place with a Prohibition Gangster vibe. This place has a historical richness and an ambiance that cannot be beaten. This old safe (a nod to its bank past) and these framed photos of Prohibition Era gangsters - like Pretty Boy Floyd, Lucky Luciano, Baby Face Nelson, and Al Capone (to name a few) attest to this.
True to form, the tasting room pipes in music from the time period.
I enjoyed a glass of their Prohibition Dead Red, aged in whiskey barrels for an extra kick.
We left here knowing that we would definitely be back again!
All I can say is, "What a day!" We had such a good time and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly...even if Kimmel Orchard wasn't up to snuff. I heartily recommend the Nebraska Wine Passport program. It's a fun way to learn about and try the wines made from Nebraska grapes while also being a gateway to day trip adventures...and you know how I feel about those. So, grab a passport, a friend or two or three, and enjoy a day discovering some of what my great state has to offer.