Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In the Tasting Room at Saint Croix Vineyards

Helping people learn about and better appreciate wine is fun. A lot of fun. I can think of few things as rewarding. I wish I knew more about it so I could make a living doing it. Until then, I'll stick to blogging and volunteering.

The opportunity

The head of my daughter's ballet school Saint Paul City Ballet and one of the owners of Saint Croix Vineyards are neighbors. They've created a partnership where SPCB provides volunteers to work the tasting room during the busy Fall season, and in return, SCV makes a contribution to the ballet school. As a drink-local enthusiast, it was an easy "yes" to volunteer.

The experience

I didn't know what to expect since my experience in tasting rooms as a customer was limited, and working in them was was something I'd never even considered. I showed up for my shift at 11:00 thinking the other volunteers and I would have a little time to get to know each other and learn about the wines we were pouring before the tasters showed up. When I pulled onto the property and saw hundreds of people milling around and State Fair style parking flaggers directing the line of cars to spots among the apple trees I realized there was a reason the volunteer coordinator had emailed a fact-sheet in advance.

Tastings were in full swing as I approached the bar. No time to get comfortable with the wine selection or the process. Before I had tasted them myself I was pouring and describing, with the help of the pre-printed tasting notes, 2 whites, 2 reds and a blush. At the first and only lull in the action the other newbies and I tasted each wine, quickly talked about what we were tasting and got a little more info from our volunteer coordinator. The crew divided neatly between introverts (who opened wine and washed glasses) and extroverts (who poured and talked to the tasters) and we were back into it non-stop until 6:00 when the last glass was poured. I learned later, it was SCV's biggest Saturday on record. (And that wasn't just because I sampled a little throughout the day.)

The tasters

An unexpected and very rewarding part of my experience was meeting so many fun people. There were a handful of snobs who wandered through with a "prove it to me" attitude, but overall everyone I met was curious, optimistic, and open-minded. Many were already familiar with wine made from non-traditional grapes and either reconfirmed their preferences or found new tastes to be enthusiastic about. The majority of those who didn't know what to expect from a Minnesota winery, left the tasting bar wanting more. This bodes well for the future of wine made from non-traditional grapes.

I served groups of 2 or 4 primarily, but also had some large groups of 10 to 12 and three bachelorette parties (big tippers!).

The wines

We poured Chardonnay, Rosé, Delaware, Marechal Foch and one of SCV's ports: Raspberry Infusion.

  • A classic, dry white wine with a delicately fruity nose, spicy oak overtones, and a finish with more fruit and less oak.
  • Pairs well with fish, seafood, and poultry
  • Grapes are from the Finger Lakes region in NY

I'm not much of a Chardonnay fan, but this one I enjoyed very much. It spends a comparitively short time in French oak barrels before bottling. We're drinking this at Thanksgiving.


  • A semi-dry rosé with pleasant cherry and berry aromas and a nice ruby color
  • Drier than most rosés which is pleasantly surprising for a lot of people
  • Made from the Frontenac grape which is a cold hardy grape variety released by the U of M’s viticulture program
  • Juice is pressed off of the grapes right away rather than fermenting the grapes with the skins on (like the Frontenac red wine)
  • Pairs well with seafood, appetizers or pork
  • Grapes are from our vineyard and from one of our growers in SE MN

I don't have much experience with Rosé but have become more curious about it as the style is becoming more popular. This has a fresh, fruity sweetness as opposed to being sugary or raisiny. It was also interesting for me to learn about the winemaking process for this one. Will be having some more of this when warmer weather returns.


  • A semi-sweet wine with pleasant citrus and floral accents in the nose and a very grapey taste with a smooth finish
  • Our sweetest table wine
  • A great wine for a picnic or BBQ or just for sipping
  • Most grapes lose their grapiness when fermented but the Delaware grape maintains it well so it actually tastes like it is made from grapes which is unique for a wine
  • Grapes are from the Finger Lakes region although Delaware used to be grown extensively in Minnesota in the early 20th century

The grapiness described here is the very familiar "grape juice" flavor this grape is known for. I had a lot of fun talking to tasters about this one, and for some, because the traditional grape juice flavor is very familiar, this wine served as a great first experience at identifying different flavors in wine. I heard a lot of, "Yeah, that's definately there, but there's this other flavor there too." Pretty cool experience to share.

Marechal Foch

  • A dry, medium-bodied red wine with a beautiful garnet color, black cherry and berry in the nose, and an earthy body
  • Moderate level of tannins in the finish
  • Aged in American Oak barrels
  • Pairs well with pasta, beef, or a variety of fowl
  • Grapes are from our vineyard and from one of our growers in SE MN

We didn't get too many converts on this wine. It has a more complicated flavor profile that, in my experience, is better paired with salty foods. We had some pretzels at the bar, but it wasn't quite enough to get people over the acidic character. Others absolutely loved it as is. I've had this before and I'll have it again.

Raspberry Infusion

  • An intense dessert wine with a beautiful raspberry aroma and taste
  • 75% raspberry wine + 25% Marechal Foch
  • Delicious by itself for dessert or pairs wonderfully with dark chocolate, Ice Cream, or cheesecake
  • Available in 750 or 375ml bottles…375ml bottles make a great gift

This is SCV's best seller. We poured it and served dark chocolate. Lots of oohs and aahs for this one. Hard to keep too many ports around the house without losing them to oxidation. However, with the holidays upon us and more opporutnity to pour for friends and family, I may have to add this to the mix.