A trip to the Napa Valley region this summer really started me thinking about wine. While I’m certainly not the connoisseur, I’ve traveled to northern California a few times and over the years I have developed a taste for a few varietals, especially Pinot noir. So when I recently received an invitation from the kind folks at Saint Croix Vineyards to learn about local wine, I was eager to learn about some of the cold climate varietals grown right here in Minnesota.
Frontenac grapes on the vine.
Located just west of Stillwater, Saint Croix Vineyards’ origins can be traced to apples, not grapes. Paul Quast, an attorney by day with a long relationship with Aamodt’s Apple Farm, wondered if the property might make an ideal location for a vineyard. When Quast met Peter Hemstad, a grape researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Horticultural Research Center, an idea for the vineyard began to form, and in 1992 Saint Croix Vineyards began producing wine.
During my visit, I learned that the University of Minnesota has a history of wine research going back to 1978, when it formally initiated its wine grape-breeding program that has become among the most widely respected in the nation. Many of the varietals developed at the U can be found at Saint Croix Vineyards, including the Frontenac grape, introduced in 1996, whose deep garnet colors produces interested reds and ports with distinctive aromas of cherry currant and plum, and the La Crescent grape, introduced in 2002, which produces wonderful notes of peach and citrus in white wines near to Vignoles or a Riesling.
Pictured, from left: Paul Quast, owner,
Peter Hemstad, owner (holding a bottle
of 2009 Marquette), and Martín Polognioli,
But I have to say that my favorite wine produced by Saint Croix Vineyards is the newest grape to come from the University of Minnesota called Marquette. It wasn’t surprising for me to learn that the grape is directly related to Pinot noir. The wine of the same name contains wonderful tastes of cherry and black pepper, with strong tannins. I was pleasantly surprised with the character of Marquette.
A sunny fall afternoon is the perfect time for a stroll through a picaresque vineyard. Saint Croix Vineyard’s tasting room, built in a restored century-old barn, is open through December, every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information about Minnesota wines, visit the website for the Minnesota Grape Grower’s Association, where you will find information about Minnesota’s many wineries.