Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery sponsors medieval feast and wassailing
MAIDEN ROCK -- Guests to the Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery earlier this month were welcomed to a different era -- the Medieval Era, to be exact.
The business hosted a medieval feast and wassailing of the apple trees on Dec. 6 as part of Stockholm's Country Christmas.
Co-owners Herdie Baisden and Carol Wiersma started Maiden Rock Apples in 2000. They added the winery and cidery portion this summer.
"I wanted to get closer to the land," explained Baisden, who was in the business world before starting the apple business. "I wanted to do more with my hands."
So what exactly is wassail? Baisden explained wassail is a term derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "Wes," meaning good, and "Hael," meaning health. As a greeting or toast, Wassail means "good health" or "be well." He continued it's an old English tradition done around the holidays dating back to the 1400's. It's a custom that's more popular in the United Kingdom than in the United States.
On this night, the wassailing was done for the apple trees. According to www.maidenrockwinerycidery.com, "Apple trees were sprinkled with wassail to ensure a good crop. Villagers would gather around the apple trees with shotguns or pots and pans and make a tremendous racket to raise the Sleeping Tree Spirit and to scare off demons. A toast was then drunk from the Wassail Cup. Wassailing was meant to keep the tree safe from evil spirits until the next year's apples appeared."
The wassail was only part of the night's festivities, as nearly 50 guests enjoyed the medieval feast of a five-course dinner prepared by Judy Krohn of the Harbor View Café in Pepin. The courses consisted of stuffing-stuffed mushrooms, curried squash and apple soup, winter vegetable slaw with apples, cider-glazed turkey legs with roasted winter vegetables and figgie pudding with whipped cream.
To whet their appetite, guests sampled non-alcohol and alcoholic wassail. For the entertainment portion, Kenton Whitman of the Wisconsin Renaissance Fair and friends provided live music and entertainment from the Medieval Era.
"I thought it went very well," Baisden said afterwards. "People were talking about putting it on their agendas for next year." He added it was the first time he combined the feast and wassailing. The only drawback, he said, was the cold night.
Baisden grew up in Florida and was a history and psychology major with no agricultural background.
"I learned a lot quickly about growing apples," he said.
He and Wiersma planted their first apple trees in 1999 on their 80-acre farm near Stockholm. Out of those 80 acres, 10 are for apples, which consist of 5,000 trees.
Baisden said that, in the beginning, his goal was to add a winery and cidery at some point. That vision became reality this past July.
"We've got the widest collection of apples within miles for making cider due to the variety and the number of trees," he said.
Besides domestic apples, the winery and cidery also grows cider apples of international origin. They currently have over 25 varieties, including Zestar, Senshu, Liberty and Honeycrisp.
Baisden is a director and vice-president of the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association and is also a member of the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. Wiersma serves as a director for the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association.
"It's been a steeped learning curve," Baisden said of his newest venture. "It's been more complex than I realized.
"I knew there would be a lot of regulations, but I didn't realize the depths of it." For example, he mentioned the federal government has to approve each label and wine couldn't be put in a beer bottle. Ciders are seven percent alcohol, while everything above that would be classified as wine.
For more information, one can visit www.maidenrockwinerycidery.com.