By Randy Gutzmann
Mike and Ann Tessneer were hobby winemakers for many years before deciding to take their hobby to the next level in 2008, when they decided to open a winery called Stark Wines. Mike even described the winery as “a hobby gone wild” in an interview with a reporter from the Cook County Herald, a local community newspaper. Coincidentally, a parcel of land adjacent to their homestead was put on the market in 2008, which eventually became the site of their winery, which was rebranded to its current name, North Folk Winery.
To say the winery is a beautiful building is an understatement. The timber frame construction of the winery was an easy choice for Mike and Ann, who have constructed three other timber frame buildings. The timbers were cut at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais under the direction of master timber-framer Peter Henrikson. “Peter was our teacher and guide from the beginning to the end of the project,” Mike and Ann say.
A group of more than 30 volunteers helped the Tessneers construct the winery building from over 200 timbers over the course of five days. In fact, many of the people lending a hand didn’t know anything about timber frame construction when they started. Luckily, as they learned how to use power tools, they became more confident as the project continued.
The winery structure was erected on the site in 2011, and the tasting room opened shortly thereafter in 2012. The decision to build a timber frame structure came early on, as it communicates the values the Tessneers wish to share with visitors.
As they explained, the wine business, and North Folk Winery, centers on celebrating the seasons, harvesting ingredients from the land, and making things by hand. The timber frame building accomplishes that by incorporating wood from the land and literally hand-pounding nails to build a high-quality winery from scratch. Not to mention the fact that their wines are hand-made as well.
Speaking of their wines, which are made from grapes and other locally grown fruits, a few of my favorites include:
- Frontenac Gris: A nice, tangy white wine with notes of grapefruit and green apple.
- Marquette: An oak aged red wine with notes of cherry and plum.
- Plum Wine: An easy drinking social wine made from Minnesota wild plums that has a nice, warm finish.
And even though it’s not technically wine, their “Two Springers” hard cider, made from locally grown apples, is worth a mention!
Since the original winery was built, the Tessneers have added a wood-fired pizza oven and a porch to accommodate long afternoons of sitting outside with a glass of wine. Start planning a visit of your own to check out the timber frame winery and see what it’s all about.
North Folk Winery is located in Harris, Minn. For more information, visit www.northfolkwinery.com.
By Randy Gutzmann
Winona is a beautiful river town, a wonderful destination for a drive down the Mississippi River valley, and home to Garvin Heights Vineyards. The winery is located on the scenic bluffs high above the river, offering a unique view of five different valleys on Winona’s edge.
A recent visitor wrote on TripAdvisor:
“We were on a Sunday fall colors road trip. Part of our plan was to stop at a couple of the wineries along the Mississippi. The drive up to Garvin Heights Winery is beautiful. The fall vista from the back deck [was] splendid. […] Probably one of the most beautiful locations for a winery that we have visited.”
Owners Linda and Marvin Seppanen started growing grapes at Garvin Heights over 20 years ago, while living on the property and raising their family. They opened the winery in 2007. Linda is a registered nurse and nursing professor at Winona State University (as well as the president of the Minnesota Farm Winery Association!), and Marvin is an engineering consultant.
The winery got its start after the Seppanens ordered four varieties of grapes from a seed catalog. As they learned the trade, they also learned about the many other grape varieties suited to our colder Minnesota climate and planted a variety of cold-hardy grapes at the vineyard.
Current grape varieties grown at Garvin Heights Vineyards include Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, La Crescent, La Crosse, St. Pepin and St. Croix, and they offer an array of wines based on these cold-climate grapes.
As many Minnesotan winemakers have experienced, with cold-climate grapes comes a learning curve, and each year the cold-hardy varieties become more commonplace. In fact, any Minnesota winemakers and wine drinkers I’ve talked to say the same thing and agree with the growing quality and character of Minnesota-made wines.
Some of my favorite Garvin Heights Vineyards wines include:
- GHV Frontenac Gris, a dry white wine with hints of peach, apricot and tropical fruit. The Frontenac Gris grapes in this wine were grown in the driftless blufflands of Minnesota.
- GHV Frontenac, a red wine of a deep garnet color with a distinctive cherry aroma and inviting palate of blackberry, black currant and plum. Serve at room temperature. Food pairing suggestions: prime rib with mushrooms, veal parmesan or other seasoned red meats.
- Red Raspberry Fruit Wine, a fruit wine that has been an instant favorite with a pleasant berry aroma from its 100 percent fruit base. Winner of a Silver Medal at the 2010 International Cold Climate Grape Competition.
In the past year, Garvin Heights has expanded its production and also built an event center that capitalizes on the wonderful “five-valley view.” They can host up to 100 guests in the new center, and are hosting group tastings as well. Future plans include adding brandy to their line-up, pending a federal permit for distilling liquor.
In the meantime, visit Linda and Marvin at Garvin Heights Vineyards and enjoy a glass of wine made from Minnesota-grown grapes while taking in the gorgeous river bluff views.
Garvin Heights Vineyards is located in Winona, Minn. For more information, visit www.ghvwine.com.
By Randy Gutzmann
I bought my home just outside of Stillwater in 1986. My job at the time had me traveling 50 to 60 percent of the time, and it seemed like I had little time to explore the historic town and beautiful St. Croix River Valley that brought me to the area in the first place. In 1996, after leaving the company, I finally had the opportunity to actually visit and spend time in my hometown.
I’ll always remember walking into Northern Vineyards, having no idea what or who they were. Back then, member grape growers would work behind the tasting bar on a volunteer basis to save costs. As I sampled my first taste of Minnesota wine, the grower shared the Northern Vineyards story.
First, I was surprised how good their wines were; and second, I loved the Northern Vineyards’ story, which is the reason why so many years later I’m working to let more people know about Minnesota wineries.
Northern Vineyards Winery has been making wine since 1977, and is one of the oldest Minnesota wineries in operation. In 1983, the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative acquired Northern Vineyards as a means of making and selling wines from the grapes grown by the member growers. Northern Vineyards is actually one of the first wine cooperatives in the United States and is unique among Minnesota wineries.
The members’ vineyards are located throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Each member of the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative maintains a vineyard from one to 15 acres. The wine co-op members produce grapes that are brought to the winery in the fall to be transformed into wine. Each vineyard has its own unique characteristics for growing grapes, depending on soil and sun exposure.
The growers are located in Wisconsin and Minnesota, stretching as far north as Mora, Minn. to as far south as Viroqua, Wisc. It has been great fun to meet the growers over the years. They provide meticulous care to their vineyards dealing with the rigors of Minnesota’s continental climate. Due to the variety of growers, Northern Vineyards offers a variety of wines, everything from dry to sweet (in both whites and reds), and they have a variety of dessert wines.
Robin Partch, the winemaker, came on board in 1989 and has been producing award-winning wines ever since. Robin has been an integral part of the Minnesota wine industry. He is a founding member of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, the organization dedicated to helping Midwest grape growers, and he is a founding member of the Minnesota Farm Winery Association, the organization I’m working with to promote Minnesota wineries.
He has won more than 100 international awards for his wines and is a recognized leader in the industry. Robin is also the founder of one of my favorite events, Savor Minnesota, a show that features only Minnesota wineries sampling their wines made from Minnesota grapes. The show also features a variety of Minnesota made food and merchandise. The next Savor Minnesota event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 2017 at Canterbury Park Event Center.
Early on, Northern Vineyards determined they would do business year ‘round and stay open 7 days a week, taking advantage of the farm winery legislation that allows Sunday sales. The winery is on Main Street and has a deck overlooking the scenic St. Croix River and historic lift bridge. It is a wonderful spot for a glass or bottle of one of their award-winning wines. The deck serves as a unique venue for a variety of events, and in the winter the winery is also available for events.
You definitely do not want to miss out on any of their wines. A few that I recommend are:
- Croix Reserve: A dry, barrel-aged red wine made from the press-run juice of St. Croix grapes (aged in hand picked barrels). This wine has won multiple gold medals in national wine competitions.
- Edelweiss: A dry, barrel-aged, white wine made from Edelweiss grapes grown by our winemaker, Robin Partch, at Lavender Vineyard in Stillwater, Minn.
- Yellow Moccasin: A semi-sweet, unoaked, white wine made from La Crescent grapes grown in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
- Oktoberfest: A sweet, unoaked, white wine made from late-harvest Edelweiss grapes grown in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
- Rivertown Red: A dry, barrel-aged, red wine made from Frontenac grapes grown in St. Croix County, Wisconsin.
Visit my friends at Northern Vineyards Winery! They are a great reason to make the short trip to Stillwater, one of my favorite Minnesota towns.
Northern Vineyards Winery is located in Stillwater, Minn. For more information, visit www.northernvineyards.com.
Opening note from Randy Gutzmann:
Over the past couple of months, I’ve visited remarkable Minnesota wineries and have shared the unique stories about the individual wineries themselves, as well as highlighted the wine experts driving Minnesota’s wine business. Tami Bredeson, President at Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, Minn., holds an influential role in shaping the Minnesota wine scene, and is a prominent name to be included on the list for top women involved in the wine industry.
Tami, along with her husband Kim, have owned Carlos Creek since 1999. It is a beautiful property situated on 160 acres a few miles outside of downtown Alexandria with 20 acres of vineyards surrounding the tasting room, a newly expanded tasting room, a great event center and a brand new building for wine making which includes a glass enclosed viewing deck and conference rooms.
I highly recommend a trip out to Carlos Creek Winery. It makes for a great day trip with friends and family, or even a weekend getaway. The winery is also open year-round, making it a point of destination and unique pairing with all of the activities in the Alexandria area.
Tami has been on the forefront for driving the Minnesota wine industry forward for a long time, and she is always working to expand Minnesota wine’s presence. Below is Tami’s guest post “WHERE’S THE LOCAL ON THE WINE LIST?,” which showcases the growth as well as challenges the industry faces.
WHERE’S THE LOCAL ON THE WINE LIST?
By Tamara Bredeson
The local food movement has pushed farm fresh produce to the menus of top restaurants around the country, yet the movement stops short when it comes to local wines. Even restaurants hailed as leaders in local sourcing often have few, if any, local wines. A study of the menus of six of the top-rated Twin Cities “locavore” restaurants reveals only one carries Minnesota wine, and they offer only a single selection.
As a winery struggling to obtain wine placements for our wines, I have searched for a plausible answer to this lack of synergy within the local food movement.
Initially, I thought it might be a distribution issue. Most Minnesota farm wineries self-distribute their wines so restaurants need to contact the winery directly for purchases. This is certainly more cumbersome than completing an order with the representative from your liquor distributor. When I’ve asked restaurant beverage managers why they don’t carry local wines, most admit they didn’t know that Minnesota wines existed, which suggests they rely heavily on their beverage distributors for wine suggestions.
But I struggle with an image of the chef who scours Farmer’s Markets and co-ops for locally sourced produce, yet fills his wine list with bottles from France and Italy. It just doesn’t resonate. Like all local products, sourcing local wines takes more effort than ordering non-domestic wines from a distributor.
Some have suggested the reason for few, if any local wines, is that customers expect variety. They want a global restaurant experience, so why limit the wine choices? I find this argument contrary to the definition of local, where production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated on a small scale, creating sustainable local economies and a strong connection between farm and table. I find it hard to imagine Locavore advocates praising the practice of sourcing wines shipped across the globe in climate-controlled containers, when you could purchase them from your neighbors.
Further, if consumers’ desire for globally sourced beverages is the defense for the lack of local wine placements, then beer must be immune to this phenomenon. Locavore restaurants are loaded with great local beer choices. There seems little concern about a lack of far-flung beer sourcing from restaurateurs. Indeed, here in Minnesota, most locavore restaurants carry 75%-100% local beers on their menus, and consumers are reaping the benefits. I attended a beer tasting recently that was conducted by a local liquor store, and of nine beers presented, seven were from Minnesota, one was from Wisconsin and one from Utah. I was delighted to experience these local offerings. But when I asked if they used Minnesota wines when they conduct their wine tastings, they admitted they hadn’t, focusing instead on presenting tastes from around the world. I prefer their beer approach that introduced me to great local brewers I’d probably never tried otherwise, and I’d love to see liquor stores use this same approach with wine.
The French wine regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux have long been staunch supporters of locally grown, and regarding especially their wines. As Matt Kramer, of Wine Spectator so cleverly put it, “If you had a fatal disease in Burgundy that only a bottle of Bordeaux could cure, you’d soon be dead.” This local advocacy has played a huge role in the global recognition of their wines, which have a significant impact on the French economy.
A prominent Minnesota food and wine editor once wrote, “I like everything local except wine. When they’ve been making Minnesota wine as long as the French, then they deserve a place in our restaurants.” In addition to dissing all new world wines, this statement clearly shows we are still building an identity for Minnesota wine. We haven’t been around as long as, well, any other wine region, so we have some vetting to do. Minnesota wineries haven’t been making wine nearly as long as our neighbors have been raising beef, so our lack of tenure could explain a lack of confidence from sommeliers. Ah, but then there’s that beer thing again.
The craft beer movement is far younger than the domestic wine industry, yet local craft beer experiences far greater acceptance from local restaurants, and a lack of wine quality doesn’t explain why Napa Cabs and Oregon Pinots are missing from their local menus. And in terms of quality, Minnesota wines have been racking up international medals at an impressive rate, so I don’t believe the lack of local wines on menus is due to local wine quality.
Lack of familiarity with Minnesota grape varieties, however, is a real challenge for Minnesota restaurants. Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay grapes are widely recognized by even the most novice wine drinker, so wines made from those varieties simply sell better. Wines made from unfamiliar grapes, whether a warm-climate grape like Mourvedre or a cold-climate grape like Marquette, tend to languish in restaurant cellars. When these wines are offered by the glass, where substantial waste is inherent, the financial risk for the restaurant increases. The same customer who readily orders a glass of the latest craft brew craze hesitates to venture beyond the familiar with their choice of wine. The wine world, long steeped in a bath of ritual, etiquette and pretentiousness, has created this customer who at best is uninterested and at worst afraid, to experiment with wine. This unfortunate legacy is a continual barrier to restaurant acceptance of Minnesota wines.
The really good news about Minnesota wines and Minnesota restaurants is that Minnesota wines are particularly food friendly. High acid wines really go with almost any food, and wines from cool climates are relatively high in acid: we are at the same latitude as Bordeaux!
Minnesota wineries continue to battle the dual challenges of awareness of Minnesota wines, and unfamiliarity of Minnesota grapes, to bring beautifully handcrafted, locally made, food-friendly wines to restaurants throughout Minnesota. So next time you dine out, look for us!
Minnesota’s First Single Serve Wines
Unfamiliar grape varieties, such as those grown in Minnesota, can lead to more waste for restaurants offering them by the glass. Carlos Creek Winery is addressing this challenge by offering a number of their wines in single-serve bottles.
Carlos Creek is the first Minnesota winery with the capability to produce single serve bottles. We can bottle still and sparkling wines in single-serve plastic or glass. This versatility has really helped increase restaurant placements. One of their goals with producing single-serves was to get their wines in one of the Major League stadiums in the Twin Cities, and beginning this October, Carlos Creek single-serve wines will be the exclusive single-serve wines available at the XCEL Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild!
Minnesota Wines are Minnesota Grown
Minnesota wineries are required by statute to source a majority of their fruit from Minnesota growers. This is not true for Minnesota brewers or distillers and is uncommon in many other states. Minnesota wines are truly a value-add to Minnesota agriculture and have resulted in the establishment of thousands of acres of vineyards throughout the state.
Carlos Creek Winery is located in Alexandria, Minnesota. For more information, visit www.carloscreekwinery.com.
By Randy Gutzmann
I have fond memories of my first visit to northwestern Minnesota and the Red River Valley area. The first time I visited was in college to see a couple of my fraternity brothers’ farms. One grew sugar beets and potatoes, and the other raised registered Herford cattle. I would never have dreamt that years later I would be visiting the area to see a winery. Explore Minnesota Tourism describes the region as the “Great Northwest” where the prairie meets the Northwoods and naturally offers plenty to explore. I looked forward to revisiting the area to explore Grape Mill Vineyard and Winery and to meet its proud owners, the Halverson family: Russ, Gail and their son, Matt. I couldn’t have had more fun!
Their first 200 vines were planted in 2006, overlooking the banks of the beautiful Red Lake River, kicking off the beginning of the Halversons’ experiments with winemaking and new arrangements of the wood and wire trellises that held up the vines.
Russ Halverson says he knew when they started their vineyard that many wine enthusiasts would be curious about their winery, as well as the cold-hardy grape vines grown on-site that produce a unique flavor specific to the region. Today, the vineyard has over 2,000 vines including Marquette, La Crescent, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc and Brianna.
A Grand Forks Herald story about Grape Mill published last summer describes it best as, “A scene out of northern California [that is] playing out in northwest Minnesota.” East Grand Forks is a very northern location for a winery, which makes it unique.
Grape Mill’s rural setting includes a small wine tasting room near the bank of the Red Lake River. The lovely tasting area is supplemented by a patio space where visitors can sip wine made from grapes that were grown just feet away. If I didn’t have another meeting in the evening, I would have loved to have taken Russ up on his offer to have a glass or two of wine on that patio.
Russ is a potato farmer, Gail is a nurse practitioner and Matt works on winery operations full-time. I always ask Minnesota winery owners why they ventured into such a unique enterprise. Russ says they have always had an interest in wine, and when he found they could actually grow cold climate grapes in Minnesota, he thought it would be pretty neat to grow a few. Then, when they started producing more than their family could possibly drink, they decided to open a winery, Russ jokes.
The winery has been years in the making for the Halverson family. In traditional Minnesotan fashion, they purposefully kept a low profile in the early days so they could ease into the business. But word has since spread, they have received lots of well-deserved publicity and the winery is now keeping them very busy in their second year of operation.
Some of their most popular wines include:
- Huntsville BIG RED: Their biggest and boldest dry red wine is a blend of their Frontenac and Marquette grapes harvested at a very high brix. The well-balanced wine bursts with flavor, notes of cherry, black currant, pepper, spice and light tannins all reflecting the terroir of their Huntsville vineyard.
- Frontenac Gris: This semi-dry wine features crisp aromas of apricot and peach, and hints of enticing citrus and tropical fruit. A brilliant balance of fruit and acidity, the Frontenac Gris pairs well with spicy food, fish and fresh fruit.
I have full confidence that Russ, Gail and Matt are going to continue making Grape Mill Vineyard and Winery and the Great Northwest a “can’t miss” trip for many years to come!
By Randy Gutzmann
Calling all wine lovers, vacationers, scenery admirers and individuals looking to relax and unwind: Your mission, should you accept it, is to meet U.S. agent (and winery owner) Penny Aguirre at Richwood Winery. You’re welcome.
Penny is another woman who has left a lasting impression with me. I’ve known Penny for a while; she is an active participant in Minnesota Farm Winery Association, but I had no idea until visiting her at the winery that she was the registered U.S. patent agent responsible for writing the patents for most of the University of Minnesota grapes. As a Richwood Winery owner AND registered U.S. (patent) agent, Penny has worked with plant breeders from all over the world through her own small business, unearthing her passion for horticulture.
A big part of her job in the early years was working at the University of Minnesota on getting patents for the cold-hardy plant varieties that university researchers had developed: Crops like apples, shrubs, perennials and grapes. “That’s how I found out about these little Minnesota wineries and grape growers,” Penny explains. “I had started to meet the people who got me interested in doing it.”
In 2006, Penny and then-partner Mike Bullock stumbled upon the winery’s property of 9 acres of pristine land overlooking Lake Buffalo in northern Minnesota, as a great point of destination for residents, travelers and anyone and everyone in-between. It had everything they needed to start their own vineyard and winemaking operation.
When Penny opened up the winery in 2007, she was convinced that the grape varietals created by the University of Minnesota would not only survive the conditions of northern Minnesota, but that with care could thrive to create a great wine. Penny purchased the location to put her notion to the test. Mission accomplished.
Her vision for Richwood extended far beyond just the grapes. As she fondly remembers, “I wanted to make a community gathering place where people in the area can meet each other and become friends.” Today, the winery and grounds of Richwood are that vision personified: a place where family, wine and science play happily all day, every day.
Starting in the spring of 2008 with LaCrescent, Frontenac Gris and Marquette grapes, the winery expanded, bringing those cold weather loving, hearty vines and their delicious products together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir grapes from California.
With all of the grapes crushed on-site, the wine is made, blended and bottled in the “wine laboratory,” a converted garage combining the quality of any Napa Valley winery with all the charm of northern Minnesota. A combination of the log cabin tasting room overlooking the vineyards, the former-airplane-hangar storage facility AND the rest of the gorgeous nine acre, you have an experience not to be missed.
Currently, Richwood Winery produces eight different vintages of red, white and rosé wine, though that number ebbs and flows as different varieties are developed and become popular, or not, as the case may be. The names are as colorful as the winery itself: Carmen’s Cab, Rosie’s Red, Buffalo Red, Marquette, Metro Marquette, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, and Frontenac Rosé.
Richwood Winery is located in Callaway, Minn. For more information, visit www.richwoodwinery.com or find them on Facebook by searching “Richwood Winery.”
By Randy Gutzmann
I’ve had the chance to meet and watch many Minnesota winery owners who see what they are doing as a “work of love” and who see working together through the Minnesota Farm Winery Association equally as important. I’m proud to report Nicole Dietman from Buffalo Rock Winery is one of those people.
Nicole describes Buffalo Rock Winery as a welcoming and unintimidating (one) woman-owned winery offering an extensive list of wines all produced and bottled on-site with something for everyone’s palate.
I made my trip to the winery on a Sunday afternoon. The winery, vineyard and family home is just off a gravel country road. The winery offers a comfortable covered patio that allows for tasting outdoors, which I of course took advantage of. Nicole was kind enough to walk me through a tasting, and it was so much fun to see the passion and commitment she has to her wine. I find this passion and enthusiasm in most winemakers when they take you through a sampling of the fruits of their vines.
As Nicole explains on her website, her story of how the winery came to be is a dream come true.
“Opening Buffalo Rock Winery in 2010 was truly “living the dream” for me. With a passion for wine and an even greater desire to spend more time with my children, owning a winery on my property was a perfect fit.
My ultimate dream came true on May 10, 2012. It was my first day without a day job! Finally, I could focus on my children and the winery! No more 100-mile round-trip commutes and only one cell phone for emails and calls instead of two!”
The vineyard got started in 2007, three years before the opening of the winery, when she planted Marquette, Frontenac and La Crescent cold-hardy grape varieties from the University of Minnesota. Later on, in 2009, she added Frontenac Gris, Edelweiss and Prairie Star cultivars. It seems only fitting, since Nicole has earned both undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota.
Being a winemaker is second only to being a full-time mom in terms of Nicole’s most important role in life. The motivation to open the winery in addition to the vineyard came when she was on maternity leave from her day job in 2009. Now, after her transition from home vintner to commercial winery owner, she can “work from home” at the winery and spend more time with her family.
Nicole is very gracious in thanking her family and friends who have offered their generous gift of time “compiling countless hours of manual labor” constructing, planting, weeding, harvesting and bottling, and is pleased to report a growing list of guests and visitors are coming out to Buffalo Rock Winery to make the vineyards and winery part of their Minnesota wine experience.
To show her appreciation, Nicole has named a number of her wines, which are only available at the winery, after family members. Some of the namesake wines include:
- Sweet Addilyn (2012 Frontenac Gris): Named after Nicole’s daughter, Sweet Addilyn is crisp with a balance of sweetness and acidity. Fresh apricot and peach notes.
- Marcus’ Marq (NV Marquette): Named after her son, Marcus’ Marq is dry, and oaked with layers of flavors from spices to cherry.
- Jeff’s Shining Moon (2012 Frontenac): Named after Nicole’s husband, Jeff’s Shining Moon is fortified and semi-sweet, featuring a nose of licorice with sophisticated flavors of coffee, licorice and tobacco,.
By Randy Gutzmann
I set out for Round Lake Vineyards and Winery on a cloudy, rainy day this summer. The trip took me into beautiful southwestern Minnesota, south of Worthington close to the Iowa border. After traveling on U.S. Highway 90, passing power poles, corn and soybeans, the winery is just five miles south of the interstate at the end of a tree-lined driveway with grape vines on one side and the winery on the other. It is a gorgeous setting, like an oasis in the middle of the patchwork of traditional southern Minnesota agricultural land, and the lake itself creates a beautiful backdrop.
Owners Scott and Jenny Ellenbecker established the winery in 2007 when they planted its first four acres. Today, they have 30 acres that offer 13 estate-grown varieties of grapes. They are very hands-on with the control of their grapes from winter pruning through fall harvest, giving them the opportunity to nurture exceptional fruit and produce-quality wines.
The tasting room is very comfortable, with a fireplace that is great for winter time tastings. Upstairs, above the tasting room, is home to the couple’s business, Ellenbecker Communications. We sat out on the nicely landscaped patio that surrounds the tasting room on what ended up being a sunny day despite the rain on my journey to the winery.
Jenny also gave me a tour of the new 1,500-square-foot wine cellar and the 3,500-square-foot event center, catering kitchen and restrooms. There were preparations going on for a wedding as we walked through.
You definitely do not want to miss out on any of their wines. A few that I recommend are:
- Reserve Marquette: A dry red wine with a spicy upfront bouquet offering notes of black currant, cherry and white pepper. The beautiful garnet color is unique to Marquette. Exclusively sold in the tasting room.
- La Crescent: A semi-sweet white wine that balances its floral aromatic nose with a refreshing citrus finish. This wine pairs well with light cheese and fruit, or with a light meal of fish or chicken salad.
- Frontenac Gris: A sweet white wine with citrus notes of mango and grapefruit that balance nicely for a crisp and sweet flavor. Goes great with spicy Latin or Asian food, as it rounds out the burn.
Round Lake received fun recognition earlier this year from the Star Tribune when they were selected “Best new(ish) Minnesota winery” for the Best of MN 2016 contest. As the Star Tribune puts it:
“Minnesota wineries continue to improve, thanks to some combination of grapes from the West Coast, cold-hardy varieties planted here, and perhaps some fruit wines. Tucked into the southwest corner of the state, Round Lake has taken giant leaps in all three realms since hiring Washington transplant Sam Jennings in 2014. Even the wines from that year’s cruel vintage (remember the polar vortex?) are fresh and flavorful, and Jennings has a deft hand with Marquette and La Crescent grapes from the University of Minnesota. […] Some of the wines are available at retailers in the metropolitan area, but hey, an excursion to Nobles County is not the worst idea for the fall.”
I agree with the writer; a trip out to Nobles County to visit Round Lake Vineyards and Winery is a great end-of-summer travel plan, complete with some perfect Minnesota wines to top it off!
By Randy Gutzmann
For many Minnesotans, the town of New Ulm is known for a long history of locally produced beer and the Schell/Marti family. But what most people may not know is that the Marti family is also in the business of producing great Minnesota wine.
Paula and Georg Marti established Morgan Creek Vineyards in 1993 and opened Minnesota’s only underground winery in 1998. That’s right, I mean “underground” in the literal sense. The on-site underground earth shelter at this vineyard provides perfect cellar temperature for wine production and aging.
Paula explains that, in a trip looking for firewood, they found and bought the 10-acre farm site along Morgan Creek. She and Georg have always been interested in agriculture and gardening, so what initially was going to just be a grape-growing venture turned into creating a full-blown winery.
Paula has a true passion for what they are doing, which is such a joy to see firsthand. A winemaker’s passion for his or her craft is the reason why I love making winery visits!
My conversation with Paula lasted several hours, sitting at a table in the tasting room overlooking their beautiful grounds with their historic red barn, which is used as an event center, on the edge of the property. Paula says the preservation of the wooden barn is a great opportunity to honor the history of the area, since it is part of the uniqueness of Morgan Creek. Georg, equally as passionate as his wife, says the barn creates a connection to the past.
“Paula and I both appreciate the beauty that you see that comes out from that history, and you have an innate desire to hang onto some of that,” he says.
While specializing in growing and producing German, French and American style wines using its Minnesota cold-hardy varietals, Morgan Creek Vineyards also offers a cycle of seasonal events celebrating the joy of living and the art of fine winemaking.
Paula and Georg are striving to make Morgan Creek a family business with involvement from their two sons. One of their sons, Adam, is the full-time winemaker, and their other son Ben, a full-time musician, is a featured artist at the winery and leads the effort in harvesting their grapes.
They state their mission is to make Morgan Creek Vineyards a regional leader in the Minnesota farm winery scene, producing distinctive national award-winning fine wines using environmentally and socially sustainable agricultural business practices. Morgan Creek Vineyards is an “agri-tourist culinary destination” that promotes itself and Minnesota wine through education and events, and continues to grow mutually beneficial relationships based on regionally produced foods and wine.
Paula is also very proud of their Grapes and Grain-New Ulm project, which is a culinary adventure to discover the local styles of wine and food produced by Morgan Creek and August Schell Brewing Company. As their special menu states: “Through improvisation and contrasting flavors we create a colorful menu […] exploring old world and emerging new flavors associated with the histories of grapes and grains.”
They say they find inspiration in the New Ulm area where growers, winemakers, brewers, chefs and artists offer a local experience with the flavors, aromas, colors and rhythm of each new season.
Morgan Creek centers around all of the principles I love about Minnesota’s wine. Paula and Georg’s passion is why it is so much fun to make a visit to see firsthand what is going on at Minnesota wineries.
Put a trip down the scenic river route on your calendar to visit the Martis at Morgan Creek Vineyards, and hurry, because grape harvest will be starting soon! Or, if you absolutely can’t make it out this fall, check out this great video about Morgan Creek Vineyards here.
By Randy Gutzmann
Painted Prairie Vineyard, located just outside of Currie, Minn., is a three-and-a-half-hour drive into the amazingly beautiful landscapes of southwestern Minnesota. I made my trip on a great summer day, practicing my gravel road driving skills as I got close. The journey was well worth the effort.
Painted Prairie Vineyard looks like a Norman Rockwell painting of a turn-of-the-century farm yard. The tasting room is in a charming former barn with a patio overlooking the vineyard and pond beyond the vineyard. Hollywood’s best would not be able to create a more beautiful setting.
The vineyard, which got started about a decade ago, recently changed ownership to Andy and Krista Kopperud in 2014. The original one and a half acres of grapes were planted in 2006, and the doors of the tasting room opened in 2011.
In July 2014, the Kopperuds moved to the vineyard, looking to live in a rural setting, and they took over the duties of vineyard ownership. After a year of paperwork, Painted Prairie Vineyard officially re-opened under their new ownership. Both Kopperuds chose to continue their occupations beyond the vineyard: Krista works in multiple counties as a public health and human services professional, and Andy is a doctor. He joked that, as a winemaker, he is finally putting to good use all those chemistry classes he took in medical school for making wine!
In addition to their flourishing wine operation, they have three “kiddos,” as Krista lovingly refers to her children, Annika (6), Elysa (4) and Britta (16 months). It was my great pleasure that Britta joined us for our fabulous patio visit. She is a real charmer as is very obvious in the picture below, taken on the patio!
Sylvester, the very friendly vineyard cat, also showed up about halfway through our discussion and tasting. Goldie, the resident Golden Retriever puppy, did not make an appearance, which might be for the better since it probably would have been one too many pet personalities on the deck.
Krista and Andy are wonderful hosts. I asked Krista to share her thoughts on being a winery owner with me. Here is what she wrote:
The vineyard is alive and thriving, taking on the vision of the first owners. It is a small, rustic winery that is peaceful and serene. Surrounded by a wildlife management area, the view is breathtaking and one that we are proud of.
As we grow our business, we are focused on highlighting and supporting local business. We know how hard it is to survive as a local business, so it makes sense to collaborate and help each other out. Within 25 minutes of the vineyard you can experience specialty shops, fine dining, historical museums and recreational opportunities like hunting, fishing, camping, golfing and biking. We also now offer local craft beer from Luverne and Marshall in the tasting room and our décor is made from local vendors who truly make unique decorations perfect for the vineyard/winery setting.
We are “green” to the winery and vineyard worlds, but are absolutely loving the challenges and excitement of being winery owners. We strive to be family-friendly, welcoming all ages. We take pride in being able to greet everyone who comes through our door and we love to share our new knowledge regarding our wines and vines. We are starting to get momentum in folks visiting our place, so we are looking forward to many busy years to come!
By Randy Gutzmann
Ron and Kim Wothe opened Glacial Ridge Winery, located north of Willmar between Spicer and New London, in August 2007. If you haven’t been in that part of the state for a while, you should definitely plan to make a trip to go back again. As Kim and Ron say, their backyard is filled with many lakes and recreational areas, which, when paired with a visit to the winery, makes for a wonderful weekend away from the city.
Glacial Ridge is located at the home of Jimmy Appleseed Orchard, which has over 800 apple trees boasting 12 different varieties of apples. In the fall, when apples are in season, they’re offered for sale at the winery along with pumpkins, apple cider and caramel apples. Delicious!
The winery was actually originally built as a bait and minnow house. The building was then converted to an apple house for selling fresh apples and frozen apple pies. They produce wine in the newly renovated Wine Pavilion, which also houses the event center. I’ve seen the event center set up and fully decorated for an event, and it is fabulous.
Sample Glacial Ridge Winery’s Award-Winning Wine
The winery features a distinctive barrel room and sit-down lounge area where visitors can sample the specialty wines Glacial Ridge Winery produces on-site. Several of their wines use a play on words in the title, like the “Zinful Bastard” and “Call Me a Cab.”
A couple of their popular wines include:
- Castle Red: A beautiful treat for the senses of both the beginner as well as experienced red wine drinker. Beginning with its beautiful garnet color, leading to its multi-layered captivating aroma and finally tantalizing your tongue with sweet, smooth berry tones. Made with Minnesota’s own cold-hardy Frontenac grape cultivar.
- Wicked: A little sweet, a little naughty and wickedly smooth: a crowd-pleaser! Made with a blend of Cabernet and Minnesota-grown Frontenac grapes, lightly sweetened.
Be sure to check out the beautiful patios, located throughout the grounds of the property. The front patio and main stage patio are great places to enjoy wine and pizza. One of the newest additions is a walking and picnic area carved through the woods and looking out at the apple orchard. It’s a great place to plan a romantic picnic for two.
Kim and Ron say they love to have fun at Glacial Ridge Winery and host a variety of special events throughout the year. Some of their most popular events include a summer concert series, the annual grape stomp and parties in the pavilion.
“Glacial Ridge Winery Goes Hollywood”
The winery will have several of their wines shown in upcoming movies and TV shows, and they’ve decorated the tasting room with Hollywood and movie-themed decor and props for a fun atmosphere. Kim told me even their events will continue the Hollywood theme, most notably for the Grape Stomp coming up Sept. 10 and Harvest Fest, a family fun day, on Sept. 25. Other upcoming events will include movie and TV theme nights as the shows and movies featuring their wines are announced, so stay tuned!
By Randy Gutzmann
Waconia is an easy drive from the metro and Schram Vineyards Winery and Brewery is just a couple miles south of town on a gravel road (a common feature of farm wineries I’ve mentioned in a previous post). When you pull into the parking lot, you see a small aluminum shed and the Schram home. Could a winery this size really be producing all their wines from this tiny shack?
My doubt was alleviated when I walked past the small metal structure to see a wonderful new building overlooking grape vines, a small lake and a grassy recreation area with a bocce ball court. Aaron and Ashley Schram are wonderful, ambitious, young people who are working hard at their now shared passion. Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery hosts a wide variety of fabulous events all season long that, as cliché as it sounds, have something for everyone. After meeting with them in their spacious tasting room, I’m excited for the future of Minnesota’s wine industry and, of course, beer, too 🙂
Aaron and Ashley’s story begins about 10 years ago when they met at an Oktoberfest party in Minneapolis, where Aaron shared with Ashley his dream about wanting to start a vineyard and winery. Well, apparently Ashley found his passion and determination to be contagious, and she soon traded in her high-heels for rubber work boots.
The winery and vineyard officially planted its roots in 2008 when Aaron and Ashley found “a little slice of heaven” in Waconia, where they started a family, complete with two kids, two dogs and 4,000 grapevines. Countless projects later, the winery finally opened to the public in 2013.
Thanks to a friend and beer enthusiast, the two realized they had a lot of equipment that could be used to brew beer as well as produce wine. Given their fateful meeting at Oktoberfest, it seemed meant to be. They then selected a brewery crew, perfected their recipes and launched the brewery in June of 2014. Today, Schram Vineyards is the first singly owned and operated winery and brewery in Minnesota.
Some of their popular wines featuring Minnesota grapes include:
- Barnstormer: A very fruit-forward red blend with perceptible sweetness make this a lively and easy-drinking red: the perfect Minnesota blend!
- Blossom: Our signature white blend featuring 4 Minnesota cold-hardy white grapes. A brilliant balance of sweet and refreshing with apricot and tropical fruit flavors.
- Coop de Blanc: A Minnesota blend featuring Frontenac Gris grapes delivers vibrant citrus flavors with an off-dry finish.
And while I’m definitely more of a wine person, I’d be remiss to not mention any of their beers. One of their featured brews is the Puddle Hopper IPA, their bitterest beer yet with a citrus aroma which uses locally grown hops.
Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery is quickly becoming known as a must-stop destination spot where guests can taste and appreciate a variety of quality and serious wines alongside distinctive craft brews, all made right on-site. The Schram family still lives at the vineyard with their children and dogs, so if you see them walking by in their rubber boots, say hello!
By Randy Gutzmann
National Mead Day is right around the corner on Aug. 6, and many people may not know that we actually have a prolific mead maker right here in Minnesota at Winehaven Winery and Vineyard.
Early on in my time getting to know the members of the Minnesota Farm Winery Association, I met Winehaven’s Kyle Peterson. He’s a lawyer by day, and along with his mom Cheri, his dad Kevin, and brother Troy they have literally and figuratively built a great presence for Minnesota wine.
Winehaven’s Visitor Center is located in Chisago City, a place that looks and feels like lake country in northern Minnesota, but in reality is only a 40-minute drive from the Twin Cities metro area. The 50-acre estate is surrounded by three lakes and includes a winery and event center that was newly built in 2013 and sits atop of a hill surrounded by vines. Just the physical ambiance of their location alone makes you want to stop in and visit for a glass of wine.
Mead: It’s the Bees’ Knees
The origins of Winehaven, as Kyle explains it, is all about the bees.
“My family has been making mead for over 50 years,” he explains. “My father and grandfather were among the largest honey producers in Minnesota for several decades. They read stories about mead during the Renaissance period, and tried replicating it using their own honey and modern mead-making techniques.”
Winehaven’s award-winning “Stinger” mead evolved from those early efforts, and in fact, when Winehaven opened in 1995, the mead was their only product. Stinger can be enjoyed on its own, or makes a wonderful mixer for a number of mead-based cocktails like a “Mead-tini,” “Mead-a-Rita” or a summery Mead Cosmo.
Today, Winehaven offers a wonderful variety of grape and fruit wines in addition to Stinger, including Edelweiss white wine; Nokomis, a red wine made with Winehaven’s own patented grape cultivar of the same name; and fruit wines made from raspberries, rhubarb, cranberries and everything in between.
Winehaven has become a cornerstone of the Minnesota winemaking industry, producing highly acclaimed wines, capturing the distinctive flavors of its vineyards and the lakes region. The Peterson family represents four generations of stewardship to the land and five distinct vineyards in the Chisago Lakes area.
By Randy Gutzmann
The Gentleman Farmer’s Growing Grape Expectations
Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery and Indian Island Winery are a true example of the wonderful spirit behind Minnesota’s farm wineries. The first time I heard the names Ray and Lisa Winter was about 12 years ago when my brother-in-law, Blake, was making the transition from full-time dairy farmer to full-time Minnesota grape grower.
Blake bought his entire starter crop for his 12-acre vineyard from Ray – what looked to me at the time like little sticks, no more than six inches in length, with four or five tiny roots at one end, that are now full, bushy vines bearing great amounts of fruit. In fact, Ray has provided starter stock for many new grape growers over the years.
My brother-in-law’s decision to go into the grape growing business had everything to do with Ray’s encouragement, and his always-ready-to-help attitude and understanding of all things related to growing cold-hardy grapes in Minnesota.
Growing up, we would have referred to Ray as a “gentleman farmer” for his willingness to help anyone in the wine industry in any way that he can. Ray and his family started their grape business in the spring of 2000 near Janesville, Minnesota, again in the middle of traditionally agricultural land.
Discover the Destination: Indian Island Winery
Indian Island Winery, which originated from Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery, currently covers more than 12 acres with over 6,000 vines, and that number is growing just as fast as the vines! They have 17 different varieties and they are adding more every year. Ray says they are focusing on the newest cold hardy grape varieties available today, like the Frontenac, LaCrescent, Marquette, St. Croix, Brianna and more.
For two years, the nursery plants were grown indoors in pots, and gradually transitioned into nursery stock outdoors in nursery beds. They now sell many bare-root grapevines (those “sticks” I mentioned earlier). Ray also built a greenhouse so they can supply new varieties sooner as potted plants.
After nearly three years of construction, the Indian Island Winery is now open as an extension of the vineyard and nursery. It is a fabulous location with lots of space for the tasting room and special events, both indoors and outside. They feature fine wine from grapes grown from their vineyard and other local growers. A few standout offerings include:
- LaCrescent: Sweet white table wine with citrus, tropical and light honey notes. Pairs well with spicier Asian foods, Mexican and cheeses. Riesling-type wine.
- Marquette: Semi-dry red table wine. Aged with American oak chips. Aromas of spice, black currant and blackberry. Great with steak, red sauce, dark chocolate, elk and wild game.
- Wita-Pa: Sweet red dessert table wine. Cinnamon and spice flavors fill this wine with holiday spirit. Recommended to serve lightly warmed. Great with turkey, pumpkin pie and chocolate.
Make the trip to visit Ray and his family at Indian Island Winery and see for yourself why Minnesota wine is in such good hands!
Frontenac Gris: a cold-climate grape that makes a white wine with a light, tropical flavor and hints of green apple
By Neil Bahr
Frontenac Gris, one of the five varieties of cold climate grapes developed by the University of Minnesota, makes a nice white wine and is used by wineries across the state and region.
At Vinmark Estates, we grow two cold climate grape cultivars, Frontenac Gris (white) and Marquette (red). Both were planted in 2010.
Our 350 to 375 Frontenac Gris plants are one of the more unique grape cultivars released by the University of Minnesota, developed to withstand the colder temperatures in the northern regions of the United States, and thus, helping the wine industry grow in new areas.
Frontenac Gris made its debut in 2003, but wasn’t introduced as a separate wine category at the Mid-American Wine Competition until 2011, thanks to an increased interest in the grape.
In fact, the Mid-American Wine Competition reports that the number of submissions in the Frontenac Gris categories has increased by double-digit percentages in recent years.
What I find so interesting about Frontenac Gris is that this varietal has so much potential on its own, as well as an excellent blending component for other interesting whites and rosés based on our wine release plan for the following year.
What drew our winery to the Frontenac Gris was its flavor profile. It has an excellent bouquet and mouthfeel, and others have noted the grape for its variability in color. The way we prepare our Frontenac Gris wine has a drier, crisp flavor that may remind some tasters of biting into a tasty pear.
“Frontenac Gris appears to have more pigments than other gris cultivars like Pinot Gris,” former University of Minnesota Enology Project Leader Katie Cook stated in a 2012 blog post. “Some wineries produce Frontenac Gris using typical white wine production methods, while others produce it as a rosé/blush. Thus, the wine color can range from a traditional white to a pink, peach or salmon.”
The importance and future of Frontenac Gris was put in the spotlight in 2009 when Prairie Berry Winery of Hill City, South Dakota, won the Sweepstakes Award for the Best Rosé/Blush in the Mid-American Wine Competition. Judges and organizers at the competition knew that Frontenac Gris had potential, but this award cemented that potential and thus led to the inception of the Frontenac Gris category.
The taste of Frontenac Gris wine varies between individuals, with a range of tropical pineapple and mango notes, to green apple tartness.
Depending on the style of processing, with whole cluster free run press, a peach/apricot and pear crispness appears. Some slight adjustments to the acidity or sweetness may yield wines that are a bit more balanced on the palate. Choice of fermentation yeast also plays a huge role in the finish of the wine from what we are experiencing. At times, an herbaceous character can be noted in the grapes fermented on the skins or when pressed as whole cluster.
Some tasters find Frontenac Gris wine too different with its purity, while others enjoy its unique flavor profile. Depending on the winemaker’s finishing style of dryness to off-dryness, the wines when chilled provide an enjoyable experience at our tasting bar. We look forward to hearing your opinion!
Neil Bahr is the owner of Vinmark Estates in Hastings, Minnesota. For more information about Vinmark Estates, visit www.vinmarkestates.com.
By Randy Gutzmann
At Aspelund Winery, Bruce and Dawn Rohl have built a blooming side business on their 10-acre property. Besides growing and selling peony plants, they have invested in planting 450 elderberry bushes, 150 apple trees and 80 grape vines. And I can tell you first-hand they are wonderful hosts, who love what they are doing with their winery and wines, and enjoy entertaining tasting room guests.
When you set out to visit a Minnesota farm winery in the summertime, you are likely going to get a chance to see how “green” Minnesota is this time of the year: you’ll pass lush fields of corn and soybeans, and watch livestock roam on verdant pastures. And one of the reasons why visiting Minnesota’s countryside is such a fun adventure is because in the midst of this environment, there’s a wonderful assortment of unique Minnesota farm wineries.
Aspelund Winery is only an hour’s drive south of the Twin Cities metro area on State Highway 52, a few miles down a county road and, as Bruce puts it, in all likelihood a visit to a Minnesota winery is going to give you a chance to travel on a gravel road for a few miles.
You can see a wonderful variety of flowers and crops growing as you turn onto the driveway, including peonies, apple trees and much more to be explored. The tasting room is attached to the Rohls’ home, and is purposely designed for smaller groups to create an intimate environment for tasting room guests.
The first wine Bruce poured for me (as he challenged me to identify its origins) had a little sweetness, with characteristics I’d never tasted before. Although at the time they were waiting for final approval from the state, that approval has now come through, and the Rohls are introducing High Country Spice. Dawn explains, “It is made from organically grown heirloom tomatoes allowed to sun ripen on the vine, from which we save seeds from year to year. The wine is spiced with other vegetables and spices to give it a Bloody Mary flavor.”
I tried Mingo Red, which is their only Minnesota grape wine, a unique blend of seven varieties of cold climate grapes, which is a nice mix of all the characteristics the varieties have to offer.
I also tried Elderberry which, as published and I can attest, has a taste all its own. I always like to think about how wine would pair with food, so it was great to hear that Elderberry pairs well with beef, venison and salmon, or great as a dessert wine with dark chocolate.
I heartily enjoyed my visit to Aspelund Winery, and the Rohls were wonderful hosts, so I know you will, too. The winery is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit www.aspelundwinery.com or find them on Facebook by searching “Aspelund Winery.”