Perhaps you have asked, or been asked, when is the best time to visit a winery? Or asked: Why even visit a winery when a wide variety of wines are readily available at local retailers?
Visiting a winery offers an opportunity to experience more than just the taste of the wine. It can prove educational, enlightening, entertaining and energizing! Learn how a given winery approaches wine making, meet the winemakers and knowledgeable tasting staff, and encounter trivia and interesting history. A winery visit often turns into a social experience — which can’t be bottled.
In the peak tourist season — that’s summer here in Minnesota — it is not uncommon to find live music being performed to provide ambiance during the tasting experience. Again, it’s that social thing!
The past 25 years have seen Minnesota’s wine industry expand significantly. In 1990, there were two licensed wineries in the state. Today, there are 70 licensed, bonded wineries, with 41 of them actively selling wine, according to the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. Fewer than 20 vineyards were established in Minnesota before 1990, but today, there are more than 600 vineyards in Minnesota.
In 2011, researchers at the University of Minnesota determined the total economic impact the grape and wine industry in Minnesota to be at $59 million, compared to $36.2 million in 2007.
Cold-climate wines tend to be lighter in body, lower in alcohol, more acidic and, at the same time, sweeter. That sweet finish, a result of the winemaker trying to balance out natural acids, is probably the strongest association drinkers have with local wines. However, many local winemakers are beginning “to push” the grapes in a different way to get different results.
Cold hardy grape varietals include Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent and Marquette which, until recently, was the area’s newest, introduced in 2006. It is one of the first cold-hardy grapes to produce a bigger, drier, more tannic table wine.
However a new varietal, Petite Pearl — actually a red grape — has begun to be more widely planted. It is too new to know precisely what wine style and character will be achievable using this grape.
As one begins to explore local and regional wineries, it is important to note the Minnesota Farm Wine Law requires that, in order to call a wine “local,” at least 51 percent of the grapes must have been grown in the state.
For some southeastern Minnesota wineries, the 2015 harvest appears to be a tad behind. Daron Ford, winemaker at Cannon River Winery, said, however, “we are on track for a really nice vintage. The summer heat as well as a mild winter provides for good looking yields across the board.” He added, “We are at zero crop loss from the cold, something we could not say this time last year.” By mid-September, most area vineyards will be picking.
Here are some tips for your winery visit:
• Deviate from your norm. If you think you only like dry wines, try a sweet one. Sticking to what you know you like runs the risk of missing something you might find you like.
• Bring your own baggie or container of a neutral cracker. A cracker between tastes is a great palate transition, and some wineries don’t offer them.
• Check websites or call ahead to determine specific hours a winery is open to the public. Many wineries also invite the general public to experience picking, though previous registration is required.
Behind every wine, there is a winery, and behind that, a story. Finding a wine that suits you is always a pleasure. Finding an idyllic place to enjoy the wine doubles the pleasure.
Alexis Bailly Vineyard & Winery
18200 Kirby Ave., Hastings
Alexis Bailly holds the honor of being the state’s oldest winery. With the 2015 season it celebrates its 41st year of growing grapes and making wine; includes an extensive gift shop area.
Cannon River Winery
421 Mill Street West, Cannon Falls
Cannon River Winery is in downtown Cannon Falls just 45 miles north of Rochester. It opened in 2004. The stately old brick building, with its century-old limestone walls, was once a Chevy dealership; includes gift shop area.
Four Daughters Winery
78757 State Hwy 16, Spring Valley
Four Daughters opened in December 2011 on property which originally was open farm fields. They offer a full food menu and gift shop area.
Post Town Vineyard & Winery
1207 Frontage Road NW, Byron
Located on the west side of Rochester on the Frontage road just NW of the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and West Circle Drive. Open seasonally.
Salem Glen Vineyard & Winery
5211 60th Ave. SW, Salem Corners
Salem Glen was established in 2006 on an old dairy farm nestled in the Zumbro River valley, just 14 miles southwest of Rochester.
10832 Fischer Hill Drive, Plainview
Whitewater is in a beautiful rural setting on 30 acres of prairie, hardwoods and vineyard. They opened to the public in July 2010 following 14 years of experimenting with different grapes to determine what made the best wine from their land.
For a complete list of wineries that are members of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, visit www.mngrapes.org.