“Our focus is relaxation. Enjoy and take some time.”
So says Linda Seppanen of Garvin Heights Vineyards in Winona, as she gestures at the sloping hillside behind the winery, where her husband Marvin prunes the different varieties of grape vines on a sunny afternoon. The deck behind the tasting room offers a view of five different valleys on Winona’s edge.
Garvin Heights’ wines are a local product, made entirely within the region. The majority of grapes are grown on site, where the wine is made and bottled. Sometimes Garvin Heights will reach outward for extra grapes or supplies, which they purchase within 20 miles of their southeastern Minnesota home, typically sharing resources with other members of the Great River Road Wine Trail, a tourism outlet that partners 11 wineries along the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
When Garvin Heights opened in 2007, though, local wine was less familiar. There’s been a learning curve as North American hybrid grapes, also referred to as cold climate grapes, become more commonplace. They offer different flavors than more prominent California wines, and Seppanen has seen awareness and curiosity grow in the near-decade they’ve been open. “We’ve grown with the wine industry here,” she says.
“Some bulk wines don’t have any flaws,” Seppanen says, but they don’t have a lot of flavor either. “They’re in the middle,” she notes, crowd pleasers aimed at a general audience. Garvin Heights’ wines, she explains, are intentionally flavorful, but sold at an accessible price of $15-20 per bottle.
Garvin Heights produces dry, semi-dry, and sweet wines, as well as select ports and cranberry and raspberry wines. Best sellers include the semi-sweet St. Urho White, the fruit-forward GHV La Crescent, and the crisp, dry GHV Frontenac Gris. Bottles are sold mostly in the tasting room, at select liquor stores in Winona, and via mail order.
With many nearby wineries, Garvin Heights separates itself from the vine by their process. Though the same local grapes are used at different establishments, Seppanen explains, “you’re going to get different tastes.” Some prefer sweeter wines with more residual sugar. “My personal preference is dry wine,” she says, but they make all ranges to meet consumer tastes, ensuring that they pass her taste bud test first. “Our sweet wines are desert wines for me,” she says, “but I like them.”
The growing season of the grape is comparable to the apple, with blossoms coming in springtime, followed by the fruit, which ripens in late summer. Fall is a popular time for visitors, she says, both because of fall foliage tourism and also because it means the grapes are being harvested, making the view from their deck all the more active and colorful.
Garvin Heights expanded production and built an event center in the past year and is hoping to add brandy to their line-up, pending a federal permit for distilling liquor. As future plans unfold, Linda and Marvin Seppanen will continue to tend their vines, press their grapes, and bottle and sell Winona grown wine from the top of the hill, where a light breeze descends from the ridge and into the valley, a serene place to escape to and relax.