STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — Over the weekend, you may have had a chance to drink a glass of wine or two.
Perhaps it was bottled at a vineyard in France, or maybe California, or maybe it came from a Minnesota vineyard.
This week in Finding Minnesota, we took a tour of one of the largest and best-known wine makers in our state — St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater.
It’s no Napa Valley, but certain regions of eastern Minnesota are producing grapes that are making some award-winning wine.
Matt Scott, the general manager of St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater, explained how grape breeders at the University of Minnesota have come up with special varieties that are able to thrive in our climate.
He pointed to a beautiful cluster of red grapes still on the vine in the middle of a field.
“This is one that was released a few years back called Marquette. It’s a red, a descendant of Pinot Noir, basically of a grandchild of Pinot Noir. It produces a nice tannin rich red,” Scott said.
Scott said a lot of people are skeptical about Minnesota wines because of our cool climate and relatively short summers.
But if you just take a look at a globe, you might just be a little more comfortable with the idea.
“We are lucky. Latitude 45 goes right through Minneapolis and through Bordeaux France, so we get the same summer light schedule they get in Bordeaux and no one would question the ability there to get good wine,” he said. “The difference is that we get the cool effect being in the center of the continent so our winters are cooler so we have to develop these new varietals that are a little heartier.”
St. Croix Vineyards is one of the oldest wine makers in our state, opening for business in 1992.
At that time, there were only about three wineries in Minnesota. Today there are close to 40.
And just as the number of wine producers has increased, so has the quality of the wine.
The folks here at St. Croix Vineyards have won lots of awards over the years, but just last month they earned on of the most prestigious in the industry.
Their 2009 Seyval took a double gold medal in the San Francisco International Wine Competition. And now bottles of it are on a national tour.
Right now their top-selling product is a dessert wine called Raspberry Infusion.
Autumn Fleck is a wine educator at St. Croix Vineyards. She poured a sample for WCCO’s Angela Davis.
“It’s perfect for dessert. People love their sweet wines. A lot of people love raspberries,” she said. “It is higher in alcohol content and sugar than most wines and that is what makes it a dessert wine.”
And like the nearly 20 other wines sold here, the Raspberry Infusion is made right on the property.
Scott said they have a back room where they work with the berries they fly in from Washington state because of the huge number they need to make this wine.
The mixture has been fermenting for a week and still has a few more days to go, he said, giving it a stir.
“The sweetness is going away and the sugar is being converted to alcohol. What I have in my hand is a punch down tool. I am pushing the cap down. As you can see there is wine underneath there,” he said. “Each day we have to push the cap down or it dries out. You get aroma, color out of the skins. The same thing happens with grapes. All this foaming is fermentation, that is CO2 being released.”
This vineyard like many others is open to the public for tours and wine tastings.
And come mid-September each year, they even have a grape stomping festival.
Even the choosiest of wine lovers would love that.
That Grape Stomp Festival is coming up in three weeks on Sept. 11 and 12. The audience judges the participants on their technique.
Also you have a chance to sample the wines from more than a dozen vineyards here in Minnesota, at the State Fair when it starts on Thursday.
Just go to the Minnesota Wine Country exhibit inside the Agriculture-Horticulture building.