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.