Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bob Sorenson, Mormon Wine Maker

As I was passing through Mount Pleasant (otherwise known as "Little Denmark,") I had heard about a wine maker who worked using all sorts of fruit. It turned out that Bob Sorenson had gone out of business a year earlier, but he consented to an interview. When we pulled up in front of his old storefront, it was nearly dark. Getting out of the car, we saw the most beautiful little apple tree. Its fruit was wine colored, skin and flesh. The fruits were chubby and squat. As he came out to greet us, Bob boasted that it was a Russian variety he had grafted from scions.

Bob comes from a Mormon heritage, a Scandinavian from Cache Valley. The Mormon wine-making tradition on the other hand came from Switzerland to Southern Utah. I asked Bob whether he thought there was any remnant of the old Mormon wine tradition from the Dixie days. He explained that many local old-timers used to stop in and share recipes with him, but that contemporary Mormon culture had no room for what he does. He saw a distinct shift in Mormon culture after World War II.

One of Bob's specialties was rhubarb wine. At its peak, his winery was the driving force behind Mount Pleasant's Rhubarb Festival, with pie eating contests, etc. As a basic Utah beverage, rhubarb wine seems to have been a staple in pioneer days. Bob shared some of his research with me, including this extract from The Farmer's Oracle. The Oracle was an agricultural newspaper published by J.E. Johnson (yes the same seedsman previously mentioned) in Utah County.

"A very good beverage can be made of the juice of the common pie-plant; it is not strictly a wine, as that dainty can only come of ripeneed fruit. Dr. Marsh gives the following receipt for making rhubarb wine, which he says is the best remedy for dysentery and diarrheas yet known.--Peel and slice the leaf stock as for pies; put a very small quantity of water in the vessel, only just enough to cover the bottom; cover the vessel and gradually bring to a slight boil, then strain, pressing out all the liquid; to this liquid add an equal quantity of water; to each gallon (after mixed) add four to six poiunds of sweetening, set aside, ferment and skim like currant wine; put it in a cask and leave it in bulk as long as possible. All wine is better kept in casks." --The Farmer's Oracle, Aug. 14, 1863. Spring Lake Villa, Utah County, Utah.

That seems like an awful lot of sugar to add, in my estimation. Bob also shared with me a recipe for rhubarb wine he received from an old-timer in the community. It followed similar lines as above, but with less sugar. The nice part was that the old-timer's recipe showed that the tradition remained active in Utah for at least 100 years. This old fellow also shared local Utah recipes for loganberry wine and potato wine.

Today it seems these traditions are pretty much dead in the Mormon community. Perhaps its just as well. Potato wine seems pretty desperate.