Minnesota is home to Prince, the Mall of America, and 10,000 lakes (or, more accurately, 11,842 lakes), but even die-hard Minnesotans might not realize their state is also home to over 600 vineyards and more than 30 wineries.
The abundance of wine-related activity is not only good for wine enthusi- asts, but also the local economy. According to the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, the combined impact of the Minnesota grape and wine industry contributes over $40 million annually to Minnesota’s bottom line.
At the heart of this boom is wine tourism. More and more people are embarking on wine trail/sightseeing tours, or taking day trips to visit win- eries and vineyards. The main attractions include not only the wine, but the scenery and the experience. Wineries are also growing in popularity as venues for weddings, anniversaries, and milestone birthday celebrations.
“People plan their days off—sometimes entire vacations—around visiting wineries,” says Tami Bredeson, president of Alexandria’s Carlos Creek Winery.
Many offer more than just a tasting room, but also live music, tours, and activities, appealing to everyone from 20-somethings to retirees.
The recent surge in Minnesota wineries is due in part, to more people drinking wine (according to The Wine Institute of America, wine consumption in the U.S. has increased overall), but also because Midwesterners take great pride in supporting and celebrating local businesses and products. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the demand for local foods has increased dramatically during the past few years. It only makes sense that Minnesotans also want a local wine to accompany their meal. In this case, that local wine encompasses dry whites to sweet whites, rosés, and traditional style barrel-aged reds. Some local wineries buy grapes or juice from California to supplement their stock, but most rely on what they grow. (Per the Minnesota Farm Wineries Act, 51 percent of production must be from local fruit.) Popular cold-hardy grapes developed by the University of Minnesota include Frontenac, Frontenac gris, Marquette, and La Crescent varietals. The more you enjoy wine, the more you can appreciate the regional differences—whether it’s Europe, South America, California,orMinnesota,thatmakewineunique,says Matt Scott, general manager of Saint Croix Vineyards.
“Regional wines pair well with our local cuisine,” he says. He considers wine as the “sauce” of a meal—if the sauce isn’t right, the rest of the meal isn’t in balance.
Nan Bailly, vineyard owner/winemaker at Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, grew up in the wine industry. He dad, David Bailly, started the vineyard in 1973. She knew at a young age that she was interested in learning more, so moved to the Loire Valley of France 35 years ago to work as an intern before returning to Minnesota. When her father died in 1990, she inherited the family business. Today, Alexis Bailly is the oldest operating winery in the state.
When asked why she thinks there’s a growing interest in local wine, Bailly jokes, “Its closer than France, and cheaper than Napa.”
In all seriousness, though, the art of winemaking can be frustrat- ing in a state that’s had four days of school closures this winter due to “extreme cold.” Mountains of snow and below-zero temps don’t seem to go hand-in-hand with vineyards. “We’re still challenging nature’s boundar- ies,” Bailly comments. “This winter is a prime example of why vineyards are not commercially viable yet this far north. It’s too cold.” Every spring, vintners hope and pray that their vines survived another deep freeze; that there will be a crop to harvest. The main problem, says Bredeson of Carlos Creek, is that there isn’t a lot of available information about cold climate grapes. “Every year we learn more,” she comments. “We see larger yields, greater consistency, and improved quality.” Every year, new research comes out about new varieties and variations on existing varieties that are more disease and pest-resistant and better adapted to Minnesota’s climate. In the summer, the humidity can take its toll, too. Although— according to Saint Croix Vineyard’s Scott, with a background in chemistry and biology and past researcher at the University of Minnesota—our summer growing season is very similar to the popular Bordeaux region of France “both [located] at latitude 45,” he says. Like in France, Minnesota summers are warm, sunny, and have an adequate amount of rainfall.
When it comes down to it, weather will always be a challenge to agriculture, no matter where you live, Bredeson comments.
“The drought in California this winter will likely affect their vineyards just as our cold winter will likely impact us here in Minnesota,” she says, pointing out, “It is farming, after all.”
Click here for more information about Minnesota wine.
The wineries in Minnesota host a series of festivals and events, tastings and tours, adding excitement to the sipping. For a really fun adventure, embark on a wine trail tour. And don’t forget to buy a passport to Minnesota wines and receive 10 free tastings at participating wineries. Click here for more information.
Alexis Bailly Vineyard – Hastings
Minnestalgia – McGregor
Bevens Creek Vineyard and Nursery – Chanhassen
Millner Heritage Vineyard & Winery – Kimball
Brush Wolf Winery – Alexandria
Morgan Creek Vineyards – New Ulm
Buffalo Rock Winery – Buffalo
North Folk Winery – Harris
Cannon River Winery – Cannon Falls
Northern Vineyards – Stillwater
Carlos Creek Winery – Alexandria
Olde Country Winery – Lake Lillian
Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery – Kasota
Post Town Winery – Byron
Crofut Family Winery and Vineyard – Jordan
Richwood Winery – Richwood
Crow River Winery – Hutchinson
Saint Croix Vineyards – Stillwater
Diamond Ridge Winery – Peterson
Salem Glen Vineyard & Winery – Rochester
Falconer Vineyards and Nursery – Red Wing
Santiago’s Winery – Alexandria
Fieldstone Vineyards – Morgan
Scenic Valley Winery – Lanesboro
Flower Valley Vineyard – Red Wing
Schram Vineyards & Winery – Waconia
Forestedge Winery – Laporte
Two Fools Vineyard – Plummer
Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery – Spring Valley
Whispering Oaks Winery & Black Oak Vineyard – Melrose
Glacial Ridge Winery – Spicer
Whitewater Wines LLC – Plainview
Goose Lake Farm and Winery – Elk River
Wild Mountain Winery – Taylors Falls
Grandview Valley Winery – Belview
WineHaven Winery – Chisago City
Great River Vineyard – Lake City
Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery – Janesville
Hinterland Vineyards – Clara City
Woodland Hill Winery – Delano
Indian Island Winery – Janesville
Minnesota Wine Trails
A great way to explore Minnesota, try local wine, and discover new towns is by embarking on a wine adventure. Most wine trails offer fun seasonal events for wine tasting enthusiasts. Don’t forget your camera!
Minnesota Food & Wine Festivals
One of the best ways to experience the soul of a region is through its food, and what better way to sample a little of this and a little of that than at a lively festival or event? We highlight some of the more popular and/or unique events below. For a comprehensive list of food and wine-focused events in the state, visit www. exploreminnesota.com and search for “food themed” events.
• Minnesota Monthly Food & Wine Experience, Target Field/Minneapolis, March 1-2
• Beer & Bacon Festival, Moorhead, March 8
• Wing & Brew Fest, Welch, March 15
• ThreeRiversWineTour, Stillwater, March 22-23
• Food & Farms Weekend, Sandstone, April 4-6
• Savor Minnesota, St. Paul, April 12
• Annual Taste of the Nations, Austin, April 26
• Festival of Nations, St. Paul, May 1-4
• Bluefin Bay: Spring Food and Wine Lovers Weekend, Tofte, May 2-3
• Taste of Lakeville, May 15
• Smokin’ In Steele BBQ & Blues Festival, Owatonna, May 30-31
• Grand Old Day, St. Paul, June 1
• Happy Harry’s Ribfest, FargoDome/Moorhead, June 4-7
• Rhubarb Festival, Lanesboro, June 7
• Sauerkraut Days, Henderson, June 27-29
• A Taste of Minnesota, St. Paul, July 3-6
• International Day, Bemidji, July 4
• Wild Rice Festival, Deer River, July 11-13
• Minnesota Country Sampler Picnic, Brainerd, July 16-17
• Mankato RibFest, July 31-August 3
• Twin Cities Polish Festival, Minneapolis, August 8-10
• Irish Fair of Minnesota, St. Paul, August 8-10
• Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Festival, Faribault, August 9
• Corn on the Cob Days, Plainview, August 14-17
• Ulen Turkey BBQ Days, Ulen (Red River Valley), August 15-17
• Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, August 21-September 1
• Grape Stomp and Fall Festival, Carlos Creek Winery, Alexandria, September 12-14
• Oktoberfest, Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter, Stillwater, September 12-14
• Alexis Bailly Nouveau Harvest Festival, Hastings, November 1-2
Cheers to Local beers – a Guide to Minnesota Breweries and Taprooms
Breweries have been part of Minnesota’s history since the August Schell Brewing Company was founded in 1860, but taprooms are a newer phenomenon in the state. They weren’t legal until 2011, when the “Surly bill” was signed into law, making it possible for commercial brewers producing fewer than 250,000 barrels a year to sell their beer on-site.
Taprooms are not only a great way for anyone who enjoys tasty brews to sit back and enjoy a pint of handcrafted beer in the very same area where the “beer magic” happens (at the brewery); the beer also tastes better.
“Many styles of beer are best when fresh, and there is no place to get a beer as fresh as the taproom in the brewery that made it,” says Brian Hoffman, co-founder/co-owner of Fulton Beer, located in Minneapolis.
Taprooms are a sign that more Minnesotans are embracing the local movement, which is really a return to regional sensibility, says Carey Matthews, marketing coordinator at St. Paul-based Summit Brewing Company. “Minnesotans take pride in where we’re from and supporting the local business down the street,” she comments. “This is happening not only in beer, but in food, products, and more. We like to have a personal connection and locally produced beer definitely brings us together. The taprooms are just another way we can get that much closer and build those relationships.”
Summit understands what it’s like to build relationships; they’ve been around since 1986. They have the experience and expertise to craft high quality consistent beer ranging from their flagship Extra Pale Ale to the Saga IPA and Czech-style Pilsener.
In 2013, a $7 million dollar expansion was completed that added 7,632 square feet of cellar space and doubled annual production capacity to 240,000 barrels. Summit Brewing Company also purchased an adjacent property that includes a 40,000 square foot building and 3.5 acres of land directly behind the existing brewery. In the spring of 2014, they will utilize part of this space for a state-of-the-art canning line.
Cold Spring Brewery, southwest of St. Cloud, also invested in a state-of-the-art brewhouse facility and spent considerable time and resources reinventing themselves under the Third Street Brewhouse brand, debuting Three Way Pale Ale, Lost Trout Brown Ale, Rise to the Top Cream Ale, and Bitter Neighbor Black IPA. “People want better beer with creative touches,” says Doug DeGeest, vice president/general manager of Third Street Brewhouse/ColdSpring Brewing Co. “Our beers are about who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.”
Those in the Cold Spring area are encouraged to stop by to sample the new-and-improved beers in the taproom/patio/courtyard, where regularly scheduled events add to the fun.
Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth is another popular destination for beer enthusiasts, either as a destination unto itself or as a stopping point for those on their way up the North Shore. “It used to be that everyone stopped at Grandma’s,” says Dave Hoops, master brewer (and “Father Beer of the North”) at Fitger’s. “Now people stop at Fitger’s for a growler.”
Hoops first started brewing beer back in 1995 and has seen tremendous changes in the industry since then, going from 200 breweries in the country to nearly 3,000. Minnesota had “maybe five” breweries nearly 20 years ago. Today there are over 40, as well as a host of contract breweries. “It’s a really different world,” he says. “And we’re all riding this incredible wave together.”
Fitger’s is different from other craft brewers in that they’re a brewpub, and not allowed to sell beer in the open market, Hoops says. This gives them the freedom to experiment with new beers, and guarantees a beer that’s “alwaysfresh.” The only way to try the Star Fire Pale Ale, Superior Trail IPA, or Hopcentric is to order a pint at the bar or restaurant, or buy a growler to go.
Successful brewers are creating a sense of community along with really good beer, and visiting a taproom or brewery will give you an appreciation for the process like nothing else can. We’ll drink to that.
*Some breweries don’t have taprooms, but most offer tours if you call ahead. Most tours are free. Some encourage visitors to bring a canned good or other charitable donation.
Minnesota Breweries and Taprooms
Bent Paddle Brewing
Bang Brewing Company
Big Wood Brewery, LLC
Castle Danger Brewery
Boom Island Brewing Company
Dangerous Man Brewing
Lake Superior Brewing Co.
Excelsior Brewing Co.
Flat Earth Brewing
Bemidji Brewing Company
Leech Lake Brewing Company
Jack Pine Brewery
Hayes’ Public House
Third Street Brewhouse
Indeed Brewing Company
Lift Bridge Brewing Co.
Pour Decisions Brewing Company
Kinney Creek Brewery
Sociable Cider Werks
Steel Toe Brewery
Mantorville Brewing Co.
Reads Landing Brewing Company
Surly Brewing Co.
Red Wing Brewery
Vine Park Brewing Co.
Schell’s Brewing Co.
Wenonah Brewing Co.