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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Buy MN Grapes! Make MN Wine!

A quick shout to the Minnesota Grape Growers Association listserv yielded the following grape growers who sell to hobbyist winemakers in smaller amounts. Just in time for harvest! Please contact the growers in advance to make harvesting or pick-up arrangements, and to get more specifics on availability and harvest times. Go make wine!

Learn more about the varieties here:

Windy Acres Vineyard
5955 118th Ave NW
Byron, MN 55920
Contact: Ward
Marquette, Frontenac Gris and Prairie Star

Ponds and Pines Vineyard
12 mi north of St Croix Falls WI,
Contact: Tom
Marechal Foch, Frontenac and St Croix

Morristown Vineyard
Morristown MN
45 miles south of the MSP airport
Contact: Jim
Marquette, Brianna, petite pearl, edelweiss

Wisp O Willow Orchard
Stacy MN
Contact: Paul Anderson
Significant amounts of King of the North, Bluebell and Chontay- 400 to 1000 lbs each.
Lesser amounts of Frontenac, Valliant, Kay Gray and Edelweiss 100 to 400 lbs each.

Dancing Loons Vineyard
Underwood-Battle lake area
Contact: Bryan
218 826 6258
Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, Prairie Star, St. Pepin and Concord

French Lake Vineyard
Dayton, MN
Contact: Fred or Fey
Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, King of the North, Bluebell, and Somerset Seedless.

Next Chapter Vineyards
South of New Prague
Contact: Timothy
Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris and La Crescent

Prairie Fire Vineyards,
12631 212th Avenue NE
New London, MN 56273
Contact: Duane or Michelle
320.444.5355 cell
Frontenac and Frontenac Gris

Prairie Haven Gardens and Vineyard, LLC
5 miles east of Hudson, WI.
Contact: Melanie

Cherib Vineyard
Near LaCrescent, MN
Contact: John
Pick your own in 100# lots.
Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix, Frontenac Gris, LaCrescent, LaCrosse, Brianna, and Edelweiss.

Hidden Hollow Vineyard & Nursery
5273 Elmore Ave.
Webster, MN
Contact: Kori
Frontenac, Edelweiss

Domaine Da Vine Vineyard and Orchard
20 miles south of Prescott,WI or 45 miles SE of the Twin Cities
670Th Street Bay City,WI
Contact: Paula or Jeff
St. Croix, Marechal Foch,Bluebell,Kay Gray,Frontenac,St.Pepin,Sabrevious,Prairie Star
complementary use of press for purchased fruit.

CR Vineyard
Chippewa Falls, WI.54729
Contact: Cathy & Randy Feuling
Currently has 200# of Frontenac Gris available

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Annual Fall Tour of the University of Minnesota's grape breeding program

From the UofM:

The annual Fall Tour of the University of Minnesota's grape breeding program will be held on Saturday, September 10th from 10am-1pm. Admission is free and it is open to the public. We will meet at the Horticultural Research Center (HRC) about a mile and a half west of the Arboretum on Highway 5. (The address is 600 Arboretum Blvd., Excelsior, MN.) The event will begin with a discussion and tasting of several dozen grape varieties and breeding selections from the U of M's grape breeding program. After that, we will break into groups and tour some of the research vineyards.

The event will conclude with a tour of the research winery and a small sampling of experimental wines. This is a great opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the University's grape breeding and enology projects and learn more about the various grape varieties that can be grown in our area. We will also take a look at several different trellising systems and discuss their suitability for Minnesota vineyards.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Go stomp some Minnesota grapes!

Harvest time is almost here for vineyards throughout Minnesota. Grape growers start looking toward harvest when their grapes go through veraison, the final stage in the ripening process in which the grape skins change color and soften and the vine diverts its energy to the grapes. Sampling and testing help determine the optimal time to harvest, but it is typically 45 days after 50% of the grapes have changed color. (More on veraison at the UofM's Enology Blog.)

The next step after the harvesting of red or white grapes is crushing, a process that simply breaks the skins so the juice can come out. This begins the winemaking process. Red grapes are crushed and in most cases the juice and skins are left in contact for a certain period of time so that the color and tannins are extracted from the skin. This is called maceration. When making rose', the time is short. When making other reds, the time is longer. White grapes, on the other had, are crushed and in most cases pressed immediately to extract the juice without extracting any attributes from the skin.

Crushing in most commercial winemaking operations is done by machine, typically a two-function device called a crusher/destemmer. Harvested grapes come to this machine with stems and some leaves still attached. These are moved through a perforated spinning cylinder which allows the grapes to pass through the perforations, but the stems and leaves remain and are forced out the end of the cylinder. The grapes drop into a hopper equipped with tumblers that break the skins.

In small operations crushing is done by hand, or rather by feet. Even some large volume producers still have some of their grapes crushed at grape stomp events at their wineries. This begs the question: is it sanitary? The answer is yes, the acid present in freshly crushed grape juice keeps any bacteria away. Besides, just like cooking, you should wash-up before you start.

White grapes, and red ones when maceration is complete, are pressed to extract the juice from the skin. In large operations, this is accomplished with a machine equipped with a large air bag or bladder. The grapes and skins are loaded into the press and then the bladder is inflated a series of times with increasing amounts of pressure to properly extract the juice and leave behind the now undesirable elements. Small operations will use a screw-down style press.

From there the winemaking process continues, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's almost harvest time, go find some grapes to stomp. Just Google minnesota grape stomp or visit the Minnesota Grape Growers Association website to find the winery nearest you and check their website about stomping opportunities. Some may also want your help harvesting!

Stomp on!