Last month, I visited Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery for the Stewards of the Land Tasting. Art Mart teamed up with Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery for this event, offering 30 wines from sustainable, bio-dynamic and/or organic wineries plus an offering of local appetizers. Tickets were $30 per person.


The event was held under a pavilion, and — while beautiful — it felt pretty packed with around 100 people in attendance.

Now you should know I typically pick my wine by selecting any bottle under $10 with an animal on the label. My tastes are likely a far cry from Todd Fusco's, Art Mart’s well-loved and extremely knowledgeable wine buyer. Todd and his team hand-selected each of the wines offered for this tasting. These wines ranged in price from $9.99 to $44.99 and were presented by Art Mart’s wine distributors.

While I feel like my wine selection method has done well for me so far, this event was definitely a chance to experience a lot of wine I wouldn’t normally pick out and, of course, to eat a lot of cheese and pet all the goats. As someone who generally tries to eat sustainably and organically, I don’t often think too much about these qualities in a wine. This information is typically kind of hard to find, so allowing Todd and Art Mart to curate wines was a luxury. It was really fascinating to learn about each wine, where and how the grapes were grown and processed. I highly recommend doing a wine tasting sometime.

This was the first tasting event Art Mart has had in quite a while and the first event of any kind I have attended since sometime around March 2019. The open air of the Prairie Fruits farm was an excellent choice for those of us who are still very much covid-anxious. Mask up and get vaccinated people. Seriously. So we can have more events like this.

Five wines from Louis Dressner/France locations are presented on a bed of ice in a gray tub. The wines are labled from various wineries mostly in French language. From left: Chateau L'Eden Medoc; Fontenille Rosé Entre-Deux-Mers; Petite Sirene Roug; Petite Sirene Blanc; and  Chateau Fourcas Borie Listrac-Medoc. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

There were six tables of tastings each offering five varieties of wine. Tables were organized by appellation, a word I learned that describes the geographical location where the grapes for a wine are grown. Each table had a mix of wines red and white, dry and sweet, plus some sparkling wines and rosés. My tasting notes also get just a bit more difficult to transcribe over the course of the evening, so I will profile a just few of my favorites here.

An image of Italian wines for sampling in a clear container with ice. The bottles vary in color and shape. From left the wines are labeled in Italian as follows: Zenato Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie; Zenato Photo by Sara Ressing.

One terrific red wine from the evening was a 2019 New Zealand wine from Villa Maria called “Earth Garden “ Pinot Noir ($21.99). The Earth Garden wines focus on grapes naturally farmed with wildflower gardens between the vineyard rows and regenerative viticulture. Like many of the wines of the evening this was organic and vegan. I’d probably pick this one out on my own just because the label has a nice design with flowers and cute bees. My notes next to this wine say, “Yum," but to get more specific, this dry red wine had a red/dark fruit flavor like raspberries/cherries/blueberry with a light tannin finish. 

Four bottles of wine sit in a wine bucket with ice. The bucket is oblong and says “Champagne CHarles Heidsieck” on it, though that detail is irrelevant. These four wines are some of a sampling of Southern & Northern Hemisphere wines. Around the wine bucket are several empty wine glasses. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The best tasting experience was absolutely the second table of Italian wines. All of the wine distributors working the tasting tables were incredibly knowledgeable about the wines. This table experience was like traveling to Sicily and northern Italy. The aromatic white wine from this table was the 2020 Purato Terre Siciliane Catarratto Pinot Grigio ($14.99). I was attracted to this wine because I know absolutely no Italian and thought Purato would have a cat on the label (Purrrato if you will?). Instead Purato is a range of organic, vegan-friendly, Sicilian wines with a little lady bug on the label. This was a great sweeter white wine with lots of citrus flavor and easy to drink.

I enjoyed the very smooth red wine from the Italian Pecchenino Winery’s 2018 vintage called Siri d'Jermu Dogliani Superiore Dolcetto. This was a dry wine with a raisin and black current taste. Both of these wines go well with, of course, pasta and cheeses.

In a bucket of ice, there are two open wine bottles at an Art Mart + PFF tasting event. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

Finally, described as, “the most exciting wine in North America,” my favorite sample was a 2020 wine from Ovum Wines in Oregon called Big Salt White ($19.99). This was a sweeter white wine blend that has a very bright, citrus flavor and a surprising kind of smoky aroma.  This was one of the last wines I tasted, and really was unique. The wine maker notes that they are trying to capture a day at the beach in a bottle, hence the name Big Salt. I can imagine having a class of this wine with some take out from my favorite Thai food from Siam Terrace or enjoying a chilled bottle outside on a warm fall evening.

This is a view of the dining area at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. There are tables with red chairs, white table cloths and red checkered runners. There are shelves against the back wall with logo clothing items available for purchase. In the foreground of this photo is an array of food items and appetizers offered for the event. They include bowls of olives, and cheese spreads, trays of bread, crackers, fruits and vegetables and a charcuterie with grapes, cheeses, dried fruit and nuts. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

Let’s move on to the very important cheese samples. Sadly, the food table was substantially picked over by the time I was able to grab a photo or a snack. I might have started the evening outside petting the goats rather than waiting in the food line. The staff at Prairie Fruits farm & Creamery put together a beautiful array of local and house-made offerings. The star of which was their charcuterie.

A small plate of food on a white tablecloth with a red checkered tablecloth in the background. On the plate there are crackers, bread cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes and watermelon. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

I was able to sample some of the black goat cheese and fresh chevrė as well as some beautiful local veggies with garlic hummus and a fruit platter. The chevrė frais was creamy and salty with a note of tang. The taste and texture paired well with some local beets that were pickled in house. The black goat cheese looked to me like a blue cheese, but the black color comes from the vegetable ash the cheesemakers dust the rind with. This cheese had an earthy flavor and a soft texture. I absolutely need to get back to the farm for a more formal sampling of their cheeses.

A large white platter full of vegetables on a black and white checkered tablecloth. Orange, yellow, and red grape tomatoes; sliced cucumbers, and sliced radishes sit on a mixture of lettuce leaves. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The vegetable platter was beautiful, with bright and tasty grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes. The veggies were crisp and fresh and the hummus had a strong garlic taste that made it a bit spicy.

Spears of watermelon, cucumber, and canary melon sit on a white plate on a gray background. A spring of mint and flower are centered in the fruit as garnish. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The fruit plate included spears of cucumber, watermelon and a new favorite of mine, canary melon. Canary melon has a white fruit and an attractive bright yellow rind. It was sweet and tangy with a taste and texture between a honeydew and cantaloupe. You should definitely consider grabbing one of these melons at the next Urbana Market in the Square.

An image showing a large silver cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and filled with sliced bread. There is a silver pair of tongs resting on the food. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The talk around the snack table was the bread from Publican Quality Bread from Chicago.
Luckily, Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery offers this bread in their freezer to take home. It was served warm and sliced and had a soft texture and crisp crust. It was perfect with any of the cheeses.

A very cute black goat is standing upright at a hay manger. In the background a brown and white goat is browsing the hay. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery is a local agro-tourism rockstar, hosting events such as their popular Dinner’s on the Farm. You can find out about more events at this link. Want to know more about Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery? Check out Alyssa’s coverage of the farm's weekend food and drink options or Matt's interview with co-owner Leslie Cooperband.

Photo by Sara Ressing.

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery
4410 N Lincoln Ave
Champaign
F 4 to 8 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more info about Art Mart, check out this recent interview with the owners  including very cool throwback photos. Follow them on Facebook to see when their next tasting event is scheduled.

Art Mart
1705 S Prospect Ave
Champaign
8 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily

Top image by Sara Ressing.