Each climate and topography creates its own unique juice, and the cold climate varietals found in Minnesota offer the oenophile opportunities to experience some homegrown terroir not available anywhere else. Their names may not be as recognizable as Zinfandel or Pinot Noir, but our region’s cold climate varietals (many of which were developed by the University of Minnesota) are beginning to gain much praise as they become more popular with regional wine drinkers.
I’ve written about Minnesota wineries in previous posts, and I’m not hesitant to say that I am becoming a fan. On each of my visits to new wineries, what continues to surprise me isn’t the high quality of many of the wines, but just how unique each winery is in their product and presentation. Whether it’s the northern lakes region, the eastern rivers or the western prairies, Minnesota’s wine regions each offer winegrowers their own unique landscapes that influence the flavor found in our own cold climate varietals. With that in mind, I recently ventured to a winery on the edge of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association’s Western Prairies region.
If you mentioned to someone who has never visited a winery outside of California to picture just what a Midwestern prairie winery located along Minnesota’s Heartland Trail might look like, I would bet the image in their head would look a lot like Woodland Hill Winery near Delano. Located on what looks to be a former farmstead, this charming setting, complete with a large red barn and well manicured lawns, is just what might come to mind. Of the wines I tried during a recent weekend visit, two in particular caught my attention: Crimson Delight and Vinnie’s Red.
In 1996, the University of Minnesota released the cold hardy Frontenac grape. While it is fairly new, the varietal is now one of the four main grapes grown in our region, including the Frontenac gris, La Crescent, and Marquette grape. Frontenac is often used to create delicious red table wines, but I often find that it can have a very bold, heavy, even acid taste on its own if the flavors are not in balance. Most unique, Woodland Hill has made a very refreshing blush red wine called Crimson Delight using the Frontenac grape; to my taste it’s a much better use of the cold hardy grape. Of all Minnesota grapes, Marquette is my favorite, and it is quickly gaining fans across the country even though it has only been available to vineyards and wine makers since 2006. Also released by the University of Minnesota, Marquette is a “cousin of Frontenac and a grandson of Pinot Noir” according to the U’s description. Woodland Hills’ Marquette, Vinnie’s Red, takes its name from the winery’s official greeter Vinnie, the large friendly red golden retriever (along with his sweet sibling, Syrah). The wine’s notes of dark cherry, ample tannins and spicy finish make this a wonderful iteration of the varietal. If you are a Pinot Noir fan, or even if you typically enjoy a bigger Zinfandel, I think you’ll like this red as well.
It’s great fun, especially this time of year, to visit area wineries and spend some time touring rural Minnesota. Check out the Heartland Wine Trail and map your trip to visit all of the region’s wineries.
Woodland Hill Winery
731 County Road 30 S.E.
Delano, MN 55328
Check calendar for tasting room hours:
Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m-8 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.
February through May: Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.