Tag Archives: Nebraska State Fair

Foraging and Fermenting Wild American Grapes

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

If you’ve ever been interested in making wine from wild grapes, Frank Sobetski says this is a good year to start.

For nearly 25 years, Sobetski has been supplying local winemakers at Fermenter’s Supply & Equipment (84th and J streets in Omaha, behind Just Good Meats). He sells kits, equipment, and supplies to experts and novices alike. He also offers useful advice on foraging and fermenting.

Blue ribbons hang on his back wall, behind the counter of the small, tidy shop. The ribbons recognize the proprietor’s mastery of oenology (i.e., the study of wines).

Sobetski has tasted a variety of local wines as the superintendent of the Nebraska State Fair Winemaking Competition for the past 33 years. He knows what to expect from local vintages.

He has cultivated grapevines year-to-year since the mid-1980s, and he opened Fermenter’s Supply & Equipment in 1992. Sobetski has been serving winemaking wisdom soaked in his scientific knowledge ever since.

Foraging Wild Grapes

Wild American “fox” grapes differ from store-bought table grapes and wine grapes, which are largely of European origin. Wild grapes are more tart and less sweet than domestic varieties used in commercial winemaking. Fox grape varieties are known for having an earthy and sweet muskiness. The distinct aroma is called “foxy.”

Nebraska’s wild grapes are predominantly from the vitis labrusca and vitus vuplina species of American grapes. They are hardier than European vitis vinifera grapes associated with European, South American, and Californian wines. Nebraskan vitis labrusca and vuplina can better withstand Nebraska’s frigid winters and brutally hot summers. Concord grapes are a well-known cultivated variety of vitis labrusca.

The ripening of wild grapes is known as “veraison” in viticulture and véraison in French. In Nebraska, veraison generally occurs from August to September.

Harvest enough grapes and, with a bit of effort, aspiring winemakers can produce a unique wild grape wine that is unlike any familiar European wine. 

In July 2016, Sobetski predicted a good year for wild grapes in Nebraska because of “fortunate rainfall.” In early fall, the ripe blue-black clusters of wild grapes begin sagging from vines stretched between fence posts and tree branches.

The low-hanging fruits can easily be collected by hand. Wild grapes are often found near rivers and streams, or associated woodlands. Plant guidebooks or a Google image search can assist with identification, and grapes are typically plentiful once located.

Understanding Fermentation

Sobetski says that in order to produce a palatable wine from wild grapes, the “must” (i.e., the juice solution) should be made chemically like European grape juice, which remains the standard.

Balancing the must is complicated by a number of factors. Wild grapes are more acidic and contain less sugar than European grapes. Sobetski says this condition can be ameliorated by adding water and sugar to the must

The equipment generally needed for the initial fermentation stage is a primary fermenter (an airtight container to which a fermentation lock can be affixed), a fermentation lock (a simple device through which gasses may escape but not go back through), and a mesh sack to hold grapes in the fermenter. Measuring cups, spoons, and scales are also necessary. A length of food-grade tubing and sealable bottles are needed to bottle the wine.

A hydrometer—a buoyant glass tube that is calibrated to measure the amount of suspended solids versus straight water in a solution—is “the most important tool in winemaking,” according to Sobetski. Reading a hydrometer can tell a winemaker when fermentation is complete. Sobetski says that one can make wine without a hydrometer, but to pursue the hobby in earnest, a hydrometer is essential.

“Sanitization is the most important thing,” Sobetski says. “Soap and water is not enough.” Phosphoric acid is a safe, nontoxic sanitizer that can be used. Diluted household bleach sanitizes effectively as well. Everything that may come into contact with the wine must be thoroughly sanitized or the wine is at risk of becoming infected. Infection will ruin a batch of wine, effectively destroying an entire grape harvest.

Making Foxy Wine

Making wild American grape wine is not difficult. First, sanitize all of your equipment. Then remove your grapes from the stems and wash them. Place the grapes in a mesh sack. Place the mesh sack in your primary fermenter. Crush the grapes in the sack, releasing as much juice as possible. Add water, sugar, pectic enzyme, and yeast nutrient. Add the crushed Campden tablet and mix thoroughly. Cover the primary fermenter.

After 24 hours, pitch the yeast into the solution, attach a fermentation lock, and seal the fermenter. Wait a few days. If you are using a hydrometer, fermentation effectively stops when the density reading (known as “specific gravity”) reaches below “1.000.”

Further fermentation in secondary and tertiary fermenters before bottling would improve the wine’s quality. But the additional steps can add several months (or years) to the process. Then, the wine can be siphoned into bottles using a small length of tubing.

Store a few bottles. Share the rest. They will run out fast. The sweet, “foxy” tartness pairs well with autumn weather and is sure to please your holiday guests. They will never forget their first sip of wild American fox grape wine, and neither will you.

Wild American Grape Wine Recipe

Frank Sobetski recommends the Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook as a starting point for wild fruit wine recipes. The brief handbook costs less than $5 and is easy to read. Sobetski says that this book “assumes the reader has knowledge from other sources,” including knowledge of fermentation processes and equipment. Nevertheless, a novice winemaker can follow these recipes and expect “reasonable outcomes,” says Sobetski. His recommended wild-grape wine recipe is derived from the handbook. The following recipe makes one gallon of wine:

6 pounds wild grapes. Forage them.

6 pints water. Avoid tap water if possible.

2 pounds white sugar.

½ teaspoon pectic enzyme. This breaks down the fruit fibers and releases the juices.

1 teaspoon yeast nutrient. This is a fertilizer for yeast. Sobetski says it “makes yeast happy.”

1 crushed tablet of Campden. This is a pre-measured sulfite dose that kills off wild yeast. Sobetski notes that it is impossible to make a sulfite-free wine, as yeast naturally produces sulfites.

1 package wine yeast. Montrachet is recommended for most wild-fruit wines. For grape wine, Pasteur can create a redder wine due to better extraction.

All supplies can be obtained via Fermenter’s Supply.

Visit fermenterssupply.com for more information. OmahaHome


Talking Passion, Public Relations, Purpose

May 25, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From working on her parents’ farm to raising a young family while building a business, Linda Lovgren, President and CEO of Lovgren Marketing Group, is no stranger to hard work. Lovgren started her career as a copywriter and producer at Omaha radio station KRCB before moving to a small advertising agency. Several years later, with a new baby, the support of several clients, and a Creighton University intern, Lovgren decided to go into business for herself.

“My mom and dad always said go after whatever it is that you want to do,” says Lovgren. “And I think to some extent that attitude permeated a lot of my thinking in terms of if you don’t try it, you’ll never know if you could’ve done it, number one. And, number two, it would be better to be making tracks on the trail than to be following tracks on the trail. I think it was that seed they planted that made me feel like I could try everything. If it didn’t work or I failed, that was okay too. What did I learn from it? How would I change things? That philosophy has definitely influenced me as a business owner.”

“We kind of laugh about it, but Linda always looks at the glass half full,” says Lovgren Advertising Business Accounting Manager Donna Maxey. “Even if there’s a bump in the road—let’s say something is happening with a client—she doesn’t look at the negative side. She’s always looking for the bright spot and somehow pulls it off. She’s very energetic,” Maxey smiles. “She just goes for it.”

Lovgren likes that her work keeps her life exciting. “I really enjoy having a challenge, and finding a solution to that challenge,” she says. “I enjoy getting up every day because no two days are ever the same. And generally by 10 o’clock, the day I had planned isn’t the same. I enjoy
that flexibility.”

That knack for flexibility and desire to explore new opportunities has served Lovgren well. She’s found great success and satisfaction carving out a niche working on government affairs and election campaigns.

Lovgren says she’s especially proud of the work she did on the bond issue for the Omaha convention center and arena, now the CenturyLink Center Omaha. “I think it made a very big difference in Omaha on a lot of levels. It provided more entertainment and economic development,” she explains. “I’m passionate about the idea that what we can do to help our clients will help the bigger community be a great place to work and raise a family. And to grow a business.”

Lovgren also played a role in helping to bring the National Space Symposium to Omaha in 2003. It was among the first major international meetings held here, she says. Lovgren’s career was flying high. That same year she was elected as the first chairwoman of the Omaha Chamber Board of Directors. “That was a very exciting year to learn the inner workings of the city and the many, many things that go on to make this city great.”

Another highlight came in 2012 when Lovgren was named to the Omaha Business Hall of Fame.
She attributes a central part of her success to surrounding herself with the right people. “I think the best advice I’ve gotten over the years  is to do what I do best and surround myself with people who complement those skills. No one can know how to do everything,” Lovgren says. “I learned that lesson extremely early on, and I’m glad I did.”

Networking has been an important factor, too. “It’s a really vital part of growing,” Lovgren explains. “You have to find the business. It doesn’t come to you just because you have a name on the door. All of the networking and the decisions you make about how you want to spend your time are really important in determining how that business will grow.”

Her attention to relationships doesn’t go unnoticed, says Ann Pederson, Director of Public Relations at Lovgren Marketing Group. “Linda works very hard to build and then maintain excellent relationships in developing strong, long-lasting friendships,” Pederson says. “That speaks very highly of her as an individual.”

Outside of her office, Lovgren has a long history of involvement in professional and civic organizations. She was appointed to the Nebraska State Fair board when the event moved from Lincoln to Grand Island. She’s been heavily involved in education-related causes and currently serves on the Partnership for Kids board.

Lovgren also started a non-profit that combines her passion for making a difference with one of her favorite hobbies—fly fishing. She founded the Nebraska chapter of Casting for Recovery in 2011. The organization takes breast cancer survivors on an all-expenses-paid fly-fishing trip on the Snake River outside of Valentine, Neb.

“It really makes everything worthwhile to know that you’ve made a difference.”

That drive to make a difference is the key to Lovgren’s success, she says. “If you’re passionate and you love doing it, it will make you happy,” she says. “And if it makes you happy, you will be even better at it. I think that’s so true. When your whole heart is in it, you can overcome a lot of adversity and a lot of challenges.”

Nebraska State Fair

July 22, 2013 by

It’s time to head to Grand Island for the food, fun, and thrill of Nebraska’s annual must-attend event: the Nebraska State Fair.

This year’s fair, from August 23 to September 2, is luring visitors with a new midway provider. Wade Shows will offer rides that are sure to be a huge draw for little ones and thrill seekers alike.

Families will find kiddie rides in the Lil’ Pardners area, family rides, thrill rides, and a new slate of the spectacular rides fairgoers expect at a state fair. An all-new Gold Access Program will give participants the VIP experience by allowing them to jump to the front of the lines.

The partnership with Wade Shows began last year with the new Sky Tram that provided 30,000 fairgoers with a high-flying look over the fairgrounds.

Also new for 2013 is a jaw-dropping BMX stunt show. The Mega Jump Action Sports Experience will feature the largest jump in the industry, giving riders plenty of airtime to attempt the most dangerous tricks at perilous heights. At the end of the show, families can hobnob with the professional athletes.

Top-notch musical artists will perform, including free concerts by Kellie Pickler on August 23, Mel Tillis on August 28, TobyMac on August 29, and the Eli Young Band on August 30. Paid performers scheduled are country superstar Trace Adkins on August 25, Chicago on August 31, and Lynyrd Skynyrd on September 1.

Of course, the fair will be filled with any kind of Nebraska farm and ranch animal that moos, neighs, clucks, or whinnies. Come see the livestock exhibits or take in a competition show. If that isn’t enough, discover Butterfly Adventures, a petting zoo, camel and pony rides, racing pigs, acrobatic sea lions, and stock dog trials, featuring handler and dog teams that guide unruly cattle or cagey sheep around a fast-paced course.

Come on an empty stomach because no one can leave the fair without eating something on a stick. In fact, there’s an app for that. Before arriving at the fair, download the Nebraska State Fair Mobile App to locate your favorite fair food, download daily entertainment schedules, find friends and family, and even track down where the car is parked. This must-have app is available free in the Google Play Store or the iTunes App Store.

Find directions, complete schedules, and more at statefair.org.