The Prairie, Northwoods and Good Wine Meet at Grape Mill Vineyard and Winery

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 Halversons

The Halversons

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!

Grape Mill Vineyard and Winery is located in East Grand Forks, Minn. For more information, visit www.thegrapemill.com or find them on Facebook by searching “Grape Mill Vineyard and Winery.”

 

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