Post Town Winery is dedicated to a simple but elegant pleasure: savoring a Midwest bottle of wine, augmented with live music and food like gourmet pizza or cheese.
For Rochester couple Steve and Bonita Patton, the inspiration for their winery came while making their annual pilgrimage to the lush vineyards and wineries of California. Thirteen years ago, the couple were enjoying a bottle of wine on a Sonoma Valley veranda nibbling on cheese and grapes when it hit them: Why not bring that same experience to the Rochester area?
“People think of wineries as being romantic settings,” Steve Patton said. “It just appealed to us at the time that it would be a nice, relaxing thing to do as a hobby business that involved the kids.”
The idea gave birth to Post Town Winery, along the U.S. 14 frontage road just west of West Circle Drive in Rochester (4481 North Frontage Road, Plaza 14 Building). Unlike most wineries, Post Town specializes in wines made from locally cultivated grapes, all grown within a 60-mile radius of their Rochester winery.
It’s one thing to envision your own winery, and it’s quite another to make it happen. Akin to aging a bottle of wine to bring out its best qualities, starting a winery takes time and patience — more specifically, three to four years to get such a business off the ground.
“You can’t just open the doors and say, ‘OK, we’re going to learn this as we go,'” Steve said. “It’s not like you can just decide on Monday and start selling wine next week.”
First, there were the six months needed to secure a license to make and sell alcohol. There was the purchasing and planting of a 4-acre vineyard near Oxbow Park. The land had once been home to a small, all-but-forgotten community of Post Town until the same 1883 tornado that gave rise to Mayo Clinic destroyed the settlement.
As they built their enterprise, the couple marked its development by the growth of their own children. Steve shows a picture of his youngest child, Miles, as a first-grade boy tending the family’s vineyard. Today, he is a freshman at the University of Minnesota.
But it wasn’t just the seduction of Sonoma Valley memories that alone inspired Post Town. Both Steve and Bonita belonged to families whose histories were intertwined with farming, and owning a vineyard was a way to connect to the soil in the same way that their family forbears had. Bonita, a psychologist, was raised on a farm, and Steve, a Mayo Clinic project manager, is one generation removed.
The family planted its first crop in 2003. Early on, the family didn’t have any equipment so they stomped grapes with their feet. In 2010, it opened a tasting room in Byron, then shifted to its current, roomier Rochester location in 2012. The 2,500-square-foot space features a tasting room lined with bottles of wine, a gift shop, a studio for live music and a storage area where as many as 2,000 gallons of wine can be kept.
One challenge Post Town faces is its out-of-the-way location. The winery is located in an industrial area beyond the County Road 22 bridge, if you’re heading west toward Byron. Without much of an advertising budget, the business relies on word of mouth to bring in patrons. Managing expectations is also part of the job.
Minnesota wines are not California wines. For casual wine-drinkers whose expectations have been shaped sipping California merlots and cabernets, Midwest wines offer an introduction to something different.
The wines bear not only different labels — Frontenac and Marquette for reds, La Crescent and Prairie Star for whites — but have a different taste, Steve said. Minnesota grapes produce a more fruity flavor and have less tannins that give wine a dry taste.
“The example I always give to people is, if you went to Germany and sat down in some tavern and ordered a Bud Light, they’d look at you like you were crazy,” Steve said. “I’d say 50 percent of (our customers) have been to other wineries and understand it’s like going to a brewpub.”
With their kids grown or off to college, the division of labor has narrowed somewhat, and Bonita says they are always open to partners. Most vineyards are family enterprises where the work can be spread among an extended clan.
Steve said the couple has made a point to run the winery conservatively and as a business, reinvesting profits back into the business. They have a small staff, but neither Steve or Bonita pay themselves anything.
“It’s true of so many businesses,” Steve said. “The way to make a million dollars in a winery is to start with 2 million. In our case, we’ve always used profits and invested them back in the business.”