Friday, October 11, 2013

What Pairs Well with Minnesota Wine? Music! Art!

I am often asked what pairs best with wine made from Minnesota-grown grapes. My usual response is, "What have you got?" Because there's probably a cold-hardy wine that fits. This is especially true today as the state's cold climate grape growers and winemakers are producing more outstanding grapes and wine each year. In 1990, there were two licensed wineries in the state, according to the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. Today there are more than 60, with 41 of them actively selling wine, Not bad for a state that much of the US population assumes is cold year-round.

What, in addition to quality product, is fueling this growth? A key component is the fact that Minnesota wineries are developing into destinations. No longer quick-stops on a wine trail, many Minnesota wineries are ripening into great places for locals and tourists alike to eat, shop, get married, hold business meetings, spend high-quality time with family and friends, and listen to great music.

Full disclosure: This is my band at Sovereign Estate's
Fall Jam & Grape Stomp. Donna Dingle, photographer.
Many of my musician friends are regular players at local wineries and are really enjoying the experience. Singer, songwriter and pianoman Rob Meany recently told me that Sovereign Estate Winery is becoming his favorite venue to play.

"The atmosphere at Sovereign Estate is especially nice because it combines the sophistication of a winery with a rustic rural location. It's very exhilarating to play outside there in a wooded area while entertaining the patrons sitting on the patio. And of course great food and wine is an extra perk!"

"Music and wine is a great pairing," says Terri Savaryn, who owns Sovereign Estate with her husband Paul. "We've developed a regional reputation for being a place to go for entertainment. People call to find out who is performing on a given day. We've really become and event-driven business based largely on our live music schedule."

Photo courtesy of Parley Lake Winery
Nearby Parley Lake Winery also has a regular music schedule, and something else: a live-in artist. Winery owners Steve and Deb Zeller produce award-winning wine and art. Steve (also a musician) is the winemaker and Deb is a world-class sculptor and painter who, with other local artists, draws portraits of visitors to the winery's tasting room.

"This year my wife, who is an accomplished artist, is creating free portraits of visitors to the tasting room. The experience is great for our customers and has become a real draw as we try to create unique experiences at Parley Lake," says Steve. "For us it's about more than the wine. Come out, bring the family, pick some apples, get your portrait done, try some wine. We feel fortunate to be part of such a collaborative industry."

Collaboration is key among local wineries and between wineries and the community. Music brings the two together. "It is my belief that wine is not only the sauce of every meal, but also a cultural binding agent," Says Matt Scott, General Manager of Saint Croix Vineyards. "We host music events at our winery to offer wine pairings at another level. People shouldn't just eat local, they should integrate local into all aspects of life." Saint Croix Vineyards plays host to an annual summertime party-with-a-purpose Rock The Vine, a line-up of up-and-coming local bands paired with SCV wines, local beer, food trucks and a variety of causes worth supporting. This past July SCV added a Wine and Jazz Fest to their summer schedule.

Northern Minnesota's Carlos Creek Winery hosts an annual grape stomp festival that is one of the region's top cultural events of the year. The three day festival features 12 bands, 150 art, marketplace and food vendors and attracts 15,000 attendees.

Cannon River Winery's downtown location puts it in close proximity to local bars, restaurants and businesses in historic Cannon Falls. The winery is part of the community. In addition to weekend music, Cannon River keeps it local and unique by offering a selection of locally produced cheeses that you can purchase to enjoy with your wine.

One of the newest wineries on the Minnesota farm-winery scene is Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery. A full-on event center, Chankaska Creek features six different event spaces surrounded by vineyards. Full bands play every Friday and Saturday night. Wine and wood fired pizzas keep the customers satisfied.

Clearly, good food is an integral component in the wine destination experience. "We're reviving our Supper Club events," says Terri from Sovereign Estate. "They're an homage to the supper club scene from the past. We've scheduled entertainment to enhance that exclusive club feel. Food and wine is a classic combination. Add music and it's an unbeatable experience for our guests."

Jazz guitarist and bandleader Dean Harrington agrees, "The music we play in the Mill City Hot Club originated in Paris, in a culture that knows a thing or two about wine. This style of jazz helps create the kind of ambiance that makes people feel like they're in a special place. For a musician, it's a rare opportunity when you can play in a beautiful and quiet environment, where people can hear the music clearly. People who love wine also seem to be big music fans, so it's fun to talk music and wine with such a receptive group."

Rob Meany sums it up: "Wineries are a great venue for musicians of all stripes. I personally like the playing at wineries because they offer an intimate, relaxing, low-key setting where a performer can really engage with an audience in more authentic way than at a bar. Plus the hours are a lot more reasonable!"

Minnesota's wine industry is booming, the wines are delicious and the public is taking notice. As a result, local musicians and artists are getting work and exposure. What pairs well with Minnesota wine? The sky's the limit. Just remember, it's still not cool to ask the band to play Freebird.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Winners of the 2013 International Cold Climate Wine Competition Announced

Here's your shopping list folks. The press release announcing this year's ICCWC winners follows:

Millner Heritage Little Iza wine takes top honors at cold-climate competition.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minn., (8/16/2013) – 2012 Little Iza wine, made from La Crescent grapes, from Millner Heritage Vineyard and Winery in Kimball, Minnesota, won the coveted Minnesota Governor’s Cup trophy at the 2013 International Cold Climate Wine Competition (ICCWC), held today at the University of Minnesota’s Conference Center in Saint Paul, MN.

 The Minnesota Governor’s Cup, a lovely large silver ice bucket, recognizes the “Best of Show” or top prize of all Minnesota gold-winning wines. This is the fifth year the traveling trophy has been awarded.

 La Crescent wine from Parallel 44 of Kewaunee Wisconsin won the “Best of Show” award for the top white wine. Other “Best of Show” awards went to the Shelburne Vineyard, Shelburne Vermont, for the third year in a row for their 2011 Marquette Reserve in the best red category and to the Illinois Sparkling Company, Peru Illinois, with their sparkling wine blend of La Crescent and Frontenac Gris in the best specialty wine category.

 This year’s competition included nearly 300 wines from commercial wineries in 12 states and Canada. Awards were based on blind tastings by 21 expert judges, who include wine writers, restaurateurs, retailers and wine educators. Three-judge panels determined the initial awards, with the top-scoring Best of Show wines evaluated by seven-judge panels and all 21 judges for the Minnesota Governor’s Cup award.

 The ICCWC is a partnership between the Minnesota Grape Growers Association and the University of Minnesota, which developed several of the cold-hardy grapes used to make the wines in the competition. It is coordinated by Gordon Rouse, AWS Certified Judge, of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association (MGGA), Gary Gardner, Professor of Horticultural Science in the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Katie Cook, University of Minnesota Enologist. Sponsors include the Minnesota Farm Winery Association and the Ramada Plaza Minneapolis Hotel.

 The competition is open to commercial wineries meeting the criteria for cold-hardy grape or fruit content. In 2013, a total of 15 Gold, 55 Silver, and 93 Bronze medals were awarded. In addition, “Best of Show” designations were awarded to wines rated as the finest in various areas.

Visit for the full release and the list of winners.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

So You Want to Grow Grapes in Minnesota?

So you want to grow grapes to eat or to make into wine right here in Minnesota? Get an introduction to the process from the University of Minnesota's Horticultural Resource Center this weekend.

Growing Grapes in Minnesota
Saturday, March 2, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
$40 for ARBORETUM MEMBERS -  / $55 non-members

All Levels, Lecture / Demo, Limit 40, Horticulture Research Center (HRC)

Welcome to the vineyard! Join vineyard keepers John and Jenny Thull at the University of Minnesota's Horticulture Research Center to delve into the winding journey of cold climate hardy grapes. There are grapes for eating and grapes for making wine, and you'll discover which are best for your garden and taste. Learn which cultivars to grow, how to grow them, what to do about diseases and pests, and more. You'll find out about the University's breeding projects, and head out into the vineyard to learn about pruning techniques. Take home your own cutting of Frontenac or Edelweiss grape vine! Meet at the Horticulture Research Center (near the Apple House) 1 mile west of the Arboretum entrance.

See more at:


DIRECTIONS to the HRC:  The HRC is a little over a mile further west of the Arboretum, at the corner of Highway 5 and Rolling Acres Rd.

Can't make the seminar? You can buy the book Growing Grapes in Minnesota or join the Minnesota Grape Growers Association.


What's a Wine Blogger To Do?

la crescent wine from four daughters winery Last Saturday I wrapped up my service on the board of directors of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. I joined the board two years ago to serve its members and help spread the word about a unique state industry that was growing right under my nose. Six months prior I didn't even know the Minnesota wine industry even existed, let alone that Minnesota is a national leader in cold climate viticulture! That's when I started this blog. It began as a log of my discoveries and a way to help spread the good word about Minnesota wines.

While I was involved with the MGGA, ironically, I didn't have the capacity to do much with this blog. But now, with a new perspective, more knowledge and new industry contacts and friends, (and more capacity in my life) I'm wondering: what's a cold climate wine blogger to do now?

And so I'm asking:

  • What you want to know about the Minnesota grape and wine industry?
  • What information would be helpful to you before purchasing Minnesota wine?
  • What sources do you use now to learn more about Minnesota wine?
  • What's your opinion of Minnesota wine?
  • When was the last time you tried Minnesota wine?

Let me know your thoughts! I hope to see you soon in a local tasting room! --Kristo