A large purple banner welcomes visitors to the Alexis Bailly Vineyard near Hastings, celebrating 40 years of growing grapes and making wine in Minnesota, where, according to the winery slogan, “the grapes can suffer.” Four decades of suffering have obviously honed the rough edges off of many of our native varietals, creating the ingredients for some very fine wine as I learned during a recent weekend visit.
Some might call Nan Bailly the founding winemaker for Minnesota. Her father, David, first planted the vineyard in 1973 and began experimenting with grapes more prone to cold weather climates. Five years later, the vineyard opened its tasting room and released the “first wines ever produced commercially of 100 percent Minnesota grown grapes,” according to their website.
The vineyard’s namesake arrives from a Minnesota voyageur ancestry, and Alexis Bailly plays with the heritage in other ways as well. Among the grapes in which Bailly has experimented with over the past decades include French hybrids called Marechal Foch and Leon Millot, which were the varieties first planted 40 years ago. Bailly blends these grapes with Minnesota’s own Frontenac, which in 1990 was the first grape released by the University of Minnesota from its cold climate viticulture research. The resulting wine is appropriately called Voyageur, and it was my personal favorite during my visit.
Nan took over the winery when her father died in 1990. Over the past couple of decades, she has developed a reputation for expertly blending wines into interesting blends. Ratafia is the name of a dessert wine that has come to be associated with Alexis Bailly. This fortified red wine is infused with orange flavors and other herbs and spices to make an interesting aperitif. If you like dessert wines, a personal favorite of mine is called ISES, a sweet white made in the style of a German ice wine or Eiswein. In Alexis Bailly’s version, La Crescent and Frontenac Gris grapes are frozen. Once the ice is removed, what’s left behind is a juice that’s naturally sweet with its higher sugar content, with resulting notes of honey and citrus.
If you visit, plan to stay and enjoy the grounds. Over the years the vineyard has added seating in its outdoor patio spaces, including a sculpture garden and two vine-covered bocce ball courts. In recent years the vineyard has also expanded its tasting room to include a small shop that features local cheeses and sausages. I can’t think of a better way to spend an autumn afternoon enjoying the countryside.
May until Thanksgiving: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
April and December:â€¨ Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
Closed Christmas through March