Growing Grapes with the Gentleman Farmer at Indian Island Winery

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.

Winter Family

Ray and Angie Winter’s beautiful family

Discover the Destination: Indian Island Winery

Indian Island Winery

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.

Indian Island Wine Glass

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!

Indian Island Winery is located in Janesville, Minnesota. Follow them on Facebook by searching “Indian Island Winery.”

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