Raising a Glass to Art
pairing local wines with local artists
There are many words that I’d use to describe myself, but up until last week, sommelier wasn’t one of them. As a humble high school teacher, I cannot think of a more pretentious and elitist occupation than wine steward, which is why I decided to become one … unofficially, that is.
Friends of the Valley, I have swirled, swished, and tasted my way to Local Wine Sommelier Greatness. And while I was at it, I figured I might as well use my newfound expertise to judge local artists, too, bestowing upon myself the title Local Art Critic Extraordinaire. In doing so, I was able to curate what is arguably the most subjective and succinct local wine and art pairing that there ever was and possibly ever will be.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being an expert wine and art critic, it’s that I’m definitely not an expert wine and art critic. But the following pairings still celebrate local talent, and that’s what it’s all about. Behold, la Liste.
Mystique • Infinity Beverages
Mystique, a full-bodied red wine from Infinity Beverages, is made from 100% mulberry (an oblong cousin to the blackberry). So far as they know, Mystique is the only 100% mulberry wine available on the US.. market. This semi-sweet wine is both funky and tart with a taste that lingers, like the in-laws when they drop in unannounced. Except these are the kind of in-laws that you actually don’t mind hanging out with because they respect your space and don’t pressure you to have children before you’re ready.
Such a unique wine deserves to be paired with a local artist who embodies individuality and eccentricity: Kelsey M. Wenberg. Wenberg works largely with fiber and macramé (she’s a knot guru) and is the mastermind behind the ArtFly pop-ups. One of the coolest pieces she has is a beautiful “yarn painting” that reads a short and sweet anti-affirmation: Try Harder.
Wenberg isn’t afraid to say it how it is. Her skills vary from punch needle embroidery to crocheting to 35mm photography and beyond. Find a more unique local artist – I dare ya.
Or even better, meet the artist herself and check out her work at “Now: Emerging Artists of the Chippewa Valley,” an exhibition that opens May 24 at the Pablo Center at the Confluence. Find her on Instagram @kelseymwenberg.fineart.
Big Falls Red Reserve • Autumn Harvest Winery
Most summers I’ll go on a handful of trips to Big Falls County Park. It’s the perfect place to take a dip, take a jaunt in the woods, and even awkwardly run into former students. Much like the park, Big Falls Red Reserve from Autumn Harvest Winery (the first winery in the Chippewa Valley!) is equally enjoyable.
This smokey, oaked, Bordeaux-style wine shouts “THIS IS WHAT THE EARTH TASTES LIKE.” And with its menacing 14% ABV, it’s sure to be a good time, every time. Perhaps its best quality is that it’s the perfect go-to wine when trying to impress others. I would recommend snatching up a bottle on your way to your workplace summer cookout or a stay-in date with your crush.
Local artist Andrew Ritchie is a great example of a go-to artist. This past holiday season, I was stressing about what to buy for my boyfriend’s brother, who I had never met and desperately needed to impress. Ritchie’s epic “New Barbarians” print saved me from my shopping dilemma AND scored me some serious brownie points. He’s a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to illustration – he’s done children’s books, comics, magazine covers (including Volume One!), posters, and more. His style includes anything from fantasy/fable characters to sci-fi monsters. Much like Big Falls park and wine, there’s something for everyone! Find him on Instagram @andrewritchie.
Summer Delight • O’Neil Creek Winery
O’Neil Creek Winery of Bloomer specializes in turning its orchard fruits and veggies into delicious adult beverages. Summer Delight – a crisp, white wine – is made from their very own homegrown dandelions. Last week was my first time trying this mysterious wine, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, it was strangely delicious, but I kept sipping and trying to put my finger on the exact flavors that I was tasting. I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure. I guess it’s kind of complicated… in a tasty, local way.
A complicated wine pairs well with complicated art, much like that of Gabriel Fischer. He’s a punky street artist with an uncanny resemblance to Jared Leto (it’s true), and his art is just as cool. He paints on anything and everything – skate decks, bikes, tables, ceiling tiles, garage doors – you name it.
Much of his art seems to feature these strange humanoid beings in an attempt to “explore and further understand the human condition, emotions, and spirituality.” Edgy, provocative, and a little obscure, it’s the kind of art that I know my mom wouldn’t understand or appreciate because it’s just too weird. But much like dandelion wine, that’s what makes it so damn good. Check out SHIFT Cyclery and Coffee Bar, Artisan Forge Studios, or ScrubsLove to see some of Fischer’s more recent creations or find him on Instagram @gabrielmfischer.