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Dec 10, 2015 - The New York Times, Eric Asimov

The Pour: A Top 10 Wine List So Good, It Takes 12 Bottles to Hold It

 

2015


     

**Click image to view electronic copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014

 

March 20, 2014 - Premier Wine Blends, Bill Skrapits

Minnesota: Growing Grapes and Making Wine

February 28, 2014 - Wines and Vines, Linda Jones McKee

Economic Impact of Cold Climate Grapes Hits $401 Million

February 27, 2014 - Minnesota Daily

University Grapes Help Make Minnesota Wineries Possible

February 24, 2014 - North Folk Winery Blog

We had a great time a the MN Grape Growers Cold Climate Conference

February 22, 2014 - KSTP Channel 5 News

Winter Wine Fest Presented by the Minnesota Grape Growers Association

February 21, 2014 - Kare11

Minnesota Grapes Fuel Cold Climate Wine Explosion

February 21, 2014 - Jennie Olson, KSTP Channel 5 News

Minnesota Grape Varieties Fuel the Northern Grape Industry

February 21, 2014 - Tom Webb, St Paul Pioneer Press

Minnesota Wineries Promoting California Style Wine Tours - Associated Press

February 21, 2014 - Cannon River Winery Events

Winter Wine Fest by the Minnesota Grape Growers Assocation

February 21, 2014 - Seven Hawks Vineyard and Winery Events

Winter Wine Fest

February 21, 2014 - Flower Valley Vineyard Events

Winter Wine Fest

February 17, 2014 - KSTP Chanel 5 News

Interview; Cold Climate Wine

February 15, 2014 - KARE11 News

Minnesota Grape Growers Host Events Open to the Public: Winter Wine Out -- Dining in St Paul, Winter Wine Fest

January 29, 2014 - Furst Draft

Wine Makers Gather for the Cold Climate Conference


 

2013


MARCH 3, 2013

Michigan and Minnesota Wine Strategies Diverge

By Mark Ganchiff

During February, I attended both the Cold Climate Conference in St. Paul and Michigan Grape and Wine Conference in East Lansing.   The “buzz” at both shows was palpable.  In both Minnesota and Michigan, the energy of growing wine industry filled the air with an optimistic aroma.

While the mood was similar, the approach of Michigan and Minnesota towards wine is quite different.  Michigan is now winning major wine contests for vinifera wines made near Lake Michigan.  Michigan also has skillfully integrated wine and tourism with a top quality ad campaign.

As Michigan wine stands on the threshold of national and international acceptance,  the challenge is establishing a signature variety.   Michigan Riesling is now world-class, but other regions laid claim to this grape long before it was planted in the Wolverine State.

Finding an old world varietal that grows well in Michigan and has not been branded somewhere else is a challenge.  At the Michigan Conference, there was discussion about Pinot Blanc becoming the Michigan hallmark varietal.

Other vinifera grapes, like Rhone and Northern Italian varietals, grow well in Michigan too.  However, the accepted flavor profile of these wines are implanted firmly in the preexisting tastes of wine consumers.  Does it make sense to constantly explain to wine drinkers why Michigan Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris does not taste like what they are accustomed to?

On the other hand, wine and beverage preferences change continually and a new generation of wine drinkers is known to like to experiment.

Michigan grape growers also like to experiment.  There are at least fifty varieties of wine grapes growing in Michigan currently.  While this diversity is great for the adventurous wine explorer,  having too many labels can be confusing for the casual consumer.

Minnesota has taken a different approach in regard to positioning its wine industry.   Mainly because of geography and climate,  Minnesota focuses on making wine from a handful of hybrid grapes.   The majority of Minnesota wine is made from University of Minnesota or Elmer Swenson bred varietals like Marquette, La Crescent, St. Pepin and Frontenac.

There are only 58 wineries in Minnesota compared with 200 in Michigan.  However, Minnesota sees potential for its grapes anywhere in the world where vinifera grapes cannot grow commercially.  In so doing, Minnesota has positioned itself as the epicenter of cold climate grape growing and wine making in the Midwest and beyond.   University of Minnesota grapes are now being grown across the northern tier of US states and the University reports that international licensing agreements are in the works.

So rather than compete in the shark invested waters of the vinifera wine ocean,  Minnesota has chosen to swim in a relatively uncrowded hybrid market that more closely resembles a placid Northwoods lake.   The market for hybrid wine is small now, but there is no debate about the rapidly improving quality of cold climate wines.

In his recent tasting room study for the Northern Grapes Project (which was conducted in Michigan), Dr. Dan McCole of Michigan State found that 65 percent of respondents had tasted cold climate wines and 42% “like them a lot.”

It’s amazing how far some of the better LaCresent and Marquette wines have come in the past few years.  These are not “good cold climate hybrid wines,” they are just good wines period.  Baby boomers generally don’t drink “unusual” wines, but younger wine drinkers are finding these cold climates both approachable and delicious.

By concentrating on a relatively small number of cultivars,  cold hardy winemakers can also focus their collective efforts more efficiently.  I have never seen an industry with such cooperation. In the close knit cold climate winemaking community,  information is shared freely among what are ostensibly competing wineries in an effort to lift the entire industry.

In Minnesota and Michigan, two different courses have been charted.   Michigan is mostly now about vinifera; although there is a cold climate grape movement underway in the area around Petoskey and Charlevoix.

In Minnesota (and Wisconsin) the current challenge is to get more cold climate vines in the ground.  However, the upper Midwest is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of where cold climate grapes can be grown.  Minnesota can be the world headquarters of cold climate wine and grape production while the state’s own wine industry grows at comfortable pace.

The larger point is that both the Michigan and Minnesota approaches hold great promise for Midwest wine.  Having a vision of the future  is what creates the energy and excitement that drives people to go beyond current limits.  Other Midwestern states are doing great things with their wine industries, but Minnesota and Michigan are both poised to soon become known for more than just “local wine.”

 

FEBRUARY 28, 2013

California Grape Growers Strike Gold with Midwest Wineries

By: Johanna Puelston

Grape growers, winemakers, suppliers and enologists gathered in St. Paul for the Minnesota Grape Growers annual Cold Climate Conference, Jan. 21-23. The subject: making wine in the Midwest. But many of the attendees and exhibitors came from much farther away than these frostbitten plains.

In the past decade, wineries have been popping up in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas and beyond. More than 1200 wineries are now open for business across an 11-state area. In Minnesota alone, the wine industry has recently been growing at an annual rate of 28 percent.

But in Minnesota, as well as other cold weather states, making wine from only locally grown grapes has proved challenging.  While cold-hardy varietals, such as the Frontenac and Marquette, are being made into better and better wines, grape choice remains limited. Many winemakers are also looking for flavor profiles with more depth and dimension in their wines than a single fruit can offer.

One of the regions Midwest winemakers are sourcing grapes is Lodi, Calif. In 2009, Lodi's 100,000 acres of vineyards accounted for $5 billion in economic impact to the region, according to a study by the  wine industry advisory firm Stonebridge Research. That's good when times are good. But six years ago, the California wine market took a nosedive and many grape growers found themselves with a whole lot of grapes and no one to sell to.

So at least several started looking back east for sales opportunities. Now many winemakers in this middle-American region are looking to the supplies of people like Steve Borra and Mike Stokes for their California supply. Borra and Stokes have developed a cross-country market for their grapes. Along the way, they say, they’ve developed meaningful relationships with their customers. Midwest, meet California. California, meet the Midwest.

Steve Borra, with his white mustache and dapper Aussie style hat, spoke with passion and grace about his beloved craft, both as a grape grower and winemaker. Borra is the third generation to live on the family ranch in Lodi.

His area receives an extra dose of the cooling winds from San Francisco Bay, and the grapes have a freshness of flavor that makes the land of and around Borra Vineyards the most popular and renowned sub-appellation in Lodi, he said.

Forty-seven years ago, Borra and his wife Barbara moved into the ramshackle farmhouse on the ranch, and slowly added acreage to their property over time. Now he has a large operation, boasting more than 230 acres of old heritage vines and new varietals too.

Borra began making wine for family in 1967, and his success brought the adventure of adding a winery in 1975. They first produced Barbera and Carignane wines from their grapes. Today, his children and grandchildren have joined the business – their daughter works in the winery tasting room, their son works in the office and the grandsons drive down the dirt tracks on the ranch.

When the California market took a turn for the worse, and he found himself traveling as far east as Pennsylvania to hunt down buyers for his fruit. Lo and behold, he struck gold outside of California and now has a thriving business providing quality grapes to about 45 wineries in mid-America. He loves his relationship with those wineries and is glad he made the move to market out here, he said.

Mike Stokes also hails from the “fertile crescent” of Lodi. There, “Mediterranean-like breezes” make for an early ripening season, Stokes said, an advantage to creating unique flavor profiles in the grapes. The warm, dry summers; cool, moist winters, and distinctive sandy soils make ideal growing conditions, too, he said.

He takes great pride in his grapes, the wine they produce and the work it takes to make a profitable business of it. Stokes, like Borra, found a niche selling grapes, bulk juices, and bottled wines in the Midwest.

Stokes and his brother Bill manage the family farm, founded in the 1950’s by their grandfather.  Today they raise up to 15 varieties of grapes each year, along with cherries and apples on 5,000 acres.

They ship the grapes across the U.S. and also offer other wine-related services like bulk wine sales, custom blending, custom crushing and bulk storage at their facilities. The brothers also operate Lodi Wine Cellars, a tasting room in downtown Lodi, to showcase and sell the wines made from their own grapes.

 


FEBRUARY 27, 2013, Midwest Wine Press

Cold Climate Conference Photos and Review

Midwest Wine Stroll Photos and Review
By Mark Ganchiff

 


FEBRUARY 26, 2013

Man on the Street Interviews at the Cold Climate Conference
By: Johanna Puelston


FEBRUARY 23, 2013

Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference Highlights
By Johanna Puelston

It speaks of the grit and determination it takes to grow grapes and make wine in the upper Midwest when a third-generation winegrower from California says with conviction, “These are the real grape growers.”

This weekend, these real grape growers, winemakers and wine industry professionals from the upper Midwest gathered in St. Paul at the Crown Plaza Riverfront for the Annual Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference presented by the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. They compared notes, learned from experts, shared ideas and asked questions to improve their craft, hone their skill and continue creating excellent wines from the region’s varietals.

Minnesota has been on the leading edge of cold hardy wine grape variety development for decades, with grapes like Frontenac, Marquette, Frontenac Gris and Briana all developed by the U of M horticulture department. Could there be a better place to host a conference about cold climate grape growing and wine making? Experts in the field were poised and ready, with the play on words theme of the conference, “Grape minds think alike…” shaping their collaboration and presentations.

In the main session on Thursday evening, Sara Spayd, Extension Viticulturist and Professor of Horticultural Science at N.C. State University, brought the keynote address to the conference. Friday morning, a panel discussion with both winemakers and grape growers proved helpful and educational. Saturday morning was an opportunity for attendees to trouble-shoot and problem solve their wine and grape issues in small groups during “Bar Camp”.

Three main tracks of education were available to conference attendees in the breakout sessions: enology (the science and study of all aspects of wine and winemaking), viticulture (the science, production and study of grapes) and marketing.

On the topic of enology, professionals in the field covered sweet wine production, yeast selection, tannin use, bottling, wine faults, wine sanitation, aeration and oxidation, ozogation, and wine blending.

Over in the viticulture track, presenters spoke about pesticides, grape diseases and prevention, canopy management, improving fruit quality, organic grape growing, growing and marketing table grapes, harvest parameters, and vineyard floor management.

In the marketing sessions, experts shared ideas on website promotion, online sales, financial consideration, grape profitability, unique winery marketing, and winery collaboration. This track also included wine tastings using the well known stemware from Riedel.

At the trade show, companies with something to offer grape growers and wineries interfaced with attendees – exhibitors included vineyards from Minn., New York and Calif. selling bare root grapevines, bottlers, winemaking suppliers, soil management and fertilizing companies, label designers and printers, wholesale wine-themed products, vineyard equipment, tractor dealers, plant care systems, yeast and many more.

Over lunch on Saturday, attendees packed out the tables in the trade show hall, sharing stories of their vineyards, trading notes about the sessions they’d attended in the morning. The common bond of grapes and wine brought people together from all across the upper Midwest – more than 11 states were represented among the conference-goers.

What’s a wine focused event without freely flowing reds and whites? The Midwest Wine Stroll on Friday evening showcased upper Midwest wines and local chef’s pairings. Live music, clinking glasses, exclamations of “Delicious!” could be heard in the upper hall as attendees enjoyed the night, the food and the company of others who share a passion for making the wines of the Midwest well-known and well-loved.

The conference continued into Saturday with more sessions and concludes this evening with the MGGA Gold Medal Gala dinner.



FEBRUARY 21, 2013

Cold Climate Conference Kicks off in St. Paul
By: Whitney Stewart

Upper Midwest wine producers are gathering in Minnesota’s capital city this weekend for Minnesota Grape Growers Association annual Cold Climate Conference, Feb. 21-23.

Largely an educational conference for the growing number of winemakers in the region, this year’s conference will feature a number of sessions covering topics on enology, viticulture and marketing. Vendors who support the grape-growing and winemaking industries will also be present, exhibiting at the trade show, which runs throughout the duration of the conference.

Friday night, dozens of winemakers will offer tastings of their wines at The Midwest Wine Stroll, the featured event of the weekend.

“Every year, the wines are getting better and it comes from all the learning and sharing and networking that the wineries do,” said University of Minnesota Enologist Katie Cook, who will be teaching several sessions at the conference. “The wineries here do a pretty good job of helping each other out.”

In her session on sweet wine production, Cook will discuss the opportunity she sees for wine producers in this colder area of the country to capitalize on a growing preference for sweet wine.

A shorter growing season and colder climates are better suited to sweeter grapes, but, she said, because the market preference for so long has been skewed dryer, regional winemakers have tried to fit in.

“Winemakers have been really struggling to make dry wines and I don’t necessarily think we need to focus on that,” Cook said. “The wine world is saturated with dry table wines and making dry table wines is just competing with that market.”

Good thing the times they are a-changin’.  In the 1950s, 70 percent of the market was sweeter wines like port and sherry, Cook explained. Then in the 70s that became seen as old-fashioned and there was a spurt of dry wine production. Now sweeter wine is making a comeback.

A new generation is just coming into their wine preferences—a generation that grew up on Coca-Cola, fruit juice, ketchup, basically anything stuffed with high fructose corn syrup.

“People used to be ashamed to drink sweet wine,” Cook said. “But millennials aren’t ashamed to say they like sweet. It’s the one market where I think there’s growing demand for it.”

Last year, the sale of sweet red wine increased about 60 percent. It’s still a marginal part of the overall market, but Cook said she sees opportunity for local winemakers.

“The question is always what the next big thing in wine is going to be,” she said. “There’s huge money in being at the front of the trend.”

Being the local winery for local visitors is never a bad thing, either.

Stay tuned to WineTable all weekend. We’ll be covering the event live in St. Paul!

The 2013 Midwest Wine Stroll: A Showcase for the collaboration of the grape, wine and food industry

On Friday night, February 22 in conjunction with the Cold Climate Conference, The Midwest Wine Stroll was held at the Great River Ballroom of the Crowne Plaza in downtown St. Paul, MN.  It was a great example of the collaboration and integration of the efforts of the didicated growers, skilled wine makers and artisan food partners of the best that Minnesota has to offer.  A special focus was created to highlight the progress of Marquette as a wine along with complemenatry food.  More than 34 wineries and food partners brought their best to make the event a success.  For the first hour, more than 60 wine and food industry VIP's and Minnesota legislators participated in a special by invitation only tasting event.  From 7-10pm, more than 500 conference attendees and ticket paying guests sampled food, sipped on wine and listened to the great music of the BZ Girls.

Wine Strollers voted on 6 awards as part of the Peoples' Choice Award program. 

Winners of the event were:

Best Marquette: Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery

Best Cold Climate White: La Crescent, Saint Corix Vineyards

Best Dessert Wine: Frontenac Dessert Wine, Parley Lake Winery

Best Elmer Swenson Variety: Mountain Sweet White, Wild Mountain Winery

Best Food Pairing: Potato Salmon Soup, The Oceanaire Seafood Room

Best Booth: Buffalo Rock Winery

A Special thanks to Jen Antila for coordinating the special food partners.  They helped illustrate that our wines belong at the table with the best artisan foods.  Great grapes molded into well crafted wines, intriguing food and local music.  True Minnesota Collaboration!

 

FEBRUARY 15, 2013, Press Release MGGA List Serve

Minnesota Grape Growers Association Annual Conference and Midwest Wine Stroll

Ronald Barnes, MGGA President
The Minnesota Grape Growers Association is once again holding its annual Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Crowne Plaza from Thursday, February 21, through Saturday, February 23, 2013.

"As the Minnesota wine industry continues its rapid expansion, the MGGA has a tremendous responsibility to educate our members and encourage steady growth to an industry that is supported by good legislation, strong marketing concepts and sold best practices that will produce grapes and wines worthy of global attention," says conference chair Terri Savaryn, of Sovereign Estate Wine in Waconia.

The conference Keynote speaker is wine industry expert Sara Spayd currently Extension Viticulture Specialist/Professor of North Carolina State, who was a key figure in the Washington State viniculture expansion.  Classes on viticulture(grape growing, enology (wine making) and grape and wine marketing and business, run Thursday through Saturday.

On Friday evening, February 22, twenty-four of the Best Cold Climate Wineries will offer wine samples in the annual conference Wine Stroll.  The event will also focus on local food pairings.  A limited number of tickets are available to the general public.  

The conference concludes on Saturday, February 23 with the Gold Medal Gala featuring a menu of pairings with select 2013 International Cold Climate Wine Competition Gold Medal wines.

 

 

NOVEMBER 26, 2013 - The Northern Tier

The Cold Climate Conference Exclusive! - click the image for a readable copy

 


2012


MAY 7, 2012 The Journal

Food & Drink: Giving Minnesota wines a second chance
By Aaron Berdofe

If you would have asked for my professional opinion on Minnesota wines a few weeks ago, I would have politely told you that there are much better things to drink. In fact, I was asked this after a wine and food pairing class I gave in Uptown last December by a small group that turned out to be employees of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. They asked specifically about Frontenac, which is a hybrid grape cultivar developed by the University of Minnesota to withstand our cold winters. As I delivered the hard truth that the wine world doesn’t think much, if at all, about Frontenac, I could see the disappointment in their faces. This group had seen a lot of work going into Minnesota grapes and wines.

Anyone in Minnesota with even a passing interest in wine has tried local wines in the past and it usually has ended in disappointment. They’re too sweet. They’re too simple. They finish short. They lack structure. Most importantly, if you asked someone what Minnesota wines taste like, what emotions they evoke, you’d probably get a lot of quiet pondering or blank stares, and certainly not a consistent answer. However, disappointed faces are usually too much for me to bear, so I decided to look again into how Minnesota wines were coming along. I wanted to figure out what the identity of Minnesota wines was now because it was clearly important to these people and just maybe it had changed from its boorish past.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the last weekend in February amidst a weather battle between light snow flurries and sunshine, I got my chance and attended the Cold Climate Conference held in downtown St. Paul at the Crowne Plaza. When most people want to look into something they do some light reading or a few Google searches. I attend conferences. The Minnesota Grape Growers Association has invited local grape growers and wine makers to the conference for the past eight years which may come as a surprise to those who weren’t aware that having a wine economy and being in the state of Minnesota were synonymous. In fact, it contributed around $40 million to the state economy last year alone. What may be more surprising to those of us in the Twin Cities is that we live just minutes from the largest wine appellation in the world.

The conference packed in a trade show and three different tracks of seminars covering Viticulture (growing grapes), Enology (making wine), and Marketing. While one might expect this sort of conference to be the type that tumbleweeds pass through, it was entirely the opposite. I remarked to Mike Cronin of Kaufman Container who was displaying the company’s wares at the trade show that the place was bustling, almost too crowded. Without missing a beat, he corrected me, “Actually...this seems to be a down year.” He would know, his company supplies bottles to the majority of the winemakers that were there.

Each of the 32 sessions was intense and focused, ranging on topics from wine chemistry, vineyard frost prevention, to how to entice customers by pairing food with your cold climate wines. This was no band of amateurs. No motley crew. When an Enologist from Cornell, Iowa State University or the University of Minnesota described how to encourage the production of mid-chain fatty acids, people understood. The biggest difference between vines grown in Minnesota and other cold climate regions and those that we associate with our favorite wines, is that here we can only grow varietals that can withstand our harsh winters. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest would all suffer from frost bite and die if left exposed during the winter months much like a transplanted Californian. The U of M is conquering this deficit by developing new hybrids such as Frontenac, La Crescent and Marquette that can not only handle the cold winters, but then also produce suitable grapes for growing wine.

The Minnesota Wine Stroll event on Friday night was my chance to figure out if Minnesota wines had developed an identity yet; a side-by-side comparison of numerous local wines. Yes, I still had to sift through some overly sweet whites, sweet rosés, unstructured reds, and ambiguously developed dessert wines, but there were quite a few wines that I was pleasantly surprised by. A push is being made to finish the white varietals like Brianna, La Crescent, Edelweiss in a dry fashion with an acidity that was nicely crisp instead of untamed and sweeter as it had been done in years past. On the side of the reds, Frontenac is becoming a light, fruit-forward and floral wine with some respectable structure. Perhaps most surprising though was Marquette, which may be what brings cold climate wines out of the depths and into the spotlight. Despite only being around for a few years, the best Marquettes can be compared to some northern California Pinot Noirs. We have much more to see of this varietal.

At the tail end of the conference I snuck into a session on how grape growers practice their craft in Napa Valley with Dr. Paul Skinner. As he played videos of mechanical harvesters and migrant workers moving at a ferocious speed, the jaws of the local growers dropped. “This is real time speed,” Dr. Skinner remarked dryly. “We didn’t have to speed up the video or anything.” His presentation represented the distance to go. After all, the rest of the world has been growing grapes and making wine for much, much longer than we have here in Minnesota, with far fewer environmental hurdles. I do implore you take another look at Minnesota wines though. You will be pleasantly surprised. I, for one will enjoy finishing this glass of Marquette I have before heading out into this mild winter that seems to be trying to give it one last shot.

Aaron Berdofe is a local wine educator who resides in the East Harriet neighborhood. He blogs at aaronberdofewine.com.

 



FEBRUARY 29, 2012 the Crush Pad

Last nite I spent some time with the Minnesota Grape Growers Association at the Cold Climate Grape Conference held at the Crowne Plaza, St Paul.

With over 20+ wineries in attendance, and between the number of fabulous conversations I had with Minnesota wine growers across the board, I had just a small window to taste getting to about 8 of the local wineries featured. While the varietals and blends ran deep, with each winery hosting over 15+ wines to taste, some of the most important University of Minnesota grape varietals: Frontenac, Marquette, La Crescent and Frontenac Gris were hi-lited.

As the range of flavors from each grape ranged from very dry to stewy sweet – one of the most important lessons I learned of each, was that each winery worked hard to bring ‘balance’ to a variety of their bottled wines. Some wineries laid a heavy hand to their barrel regime, while others let the grape varietals speak for themselves. Some by the use of French oak and most with variations of American oak. Styles were broad, grape varietals were plenty and blends were of interest, yet one of the most interesting projects I came across was from winery, Millner Heritage. A Minnesota bubbly, quoted by the winemaker as being produced in a ‘Methode Champenoise’ style. Sweet, with a foxy backbone, the bubbles seem to be a big hit with the winery booth.

The conversations I shared across the board were heartfelt, spoken from true Minnesotan farmers that were simply there to show their wares. Some, brand new to the industry and others that had been in the business for over 10+ years, like the owner of the Fieldstone Winery. All with passion, interest and love for their industry.

I did, at the same time, talk two of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association members into sharing a few live minutes with me about the event, the Cold Climate Conference with some description as to a few of MN’s most known varietals WITH food pairings to boot! In HD



FEBRUARY 23, 2011 Heavy Table

When asked to participate in a panel addressing members of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, this writer couldn’t have been more excited. Not only did it present a chance to give opinions straight to the stewards of a local agro-industry, but it was also a chance to get a better bearing on the state of local wines. There are certainly quality wines being made in this state, but they really have yet to catch on with most wine drinkers. The goal for the evening was to figure out why this is, while trying to gain a sense of how local wines will evolve in the coming years.

The focus of our panel discussion concerned the marketing of local wines — the central issue being why locavores aren’t becoming locapours. Joining this writer on the panel was Lee Zukor, of Simple Good And Tasty, and Dan Schwarz, of Lift Bridge Brewery. The entire panel suggested greater synergy with restaurants, especially ones making their name by using local produce. “Restaurateurs, as business people, they understand that being able to offer something that’s new to their customers is a pretty valuable thing,” said Zukor. “They’re already used to people coming in with all kinds of produce, and being given ideas on how to use it. The goal is getting them to think of wine as an agricultural product and to have food pairing ideas ready.”

The session touched on the advantage cold climate wines have in a restaurant setting. Wines with higher natural acidity (which cold climate grapes tend to be) are food-friendlier wines. Local wineries are already keen on this idea. Steve Zeller at Parley Lake Winery makes a Frontenac that he admits is too acidic to enjoy on its own, because it’s specifically designed to be a complement to food. “It’s not just about making a local product,” says Zeller. “We’re passionate about what we do. We’re serious about making great quality wines; we’re not just trying to put sweet wine on the table. You have to try it, pair it with food correctly. If you do, you’ll be coming back for our wines all over the state.”

The panel also suggested that wineries capitalize on their unique purpose. “The ability to explain where this wine comes from, why it matters, who created it, where the grapes came from,” explained Zukor, “all those things fill out a story that’s really interesting to the chefs and restaurant owners. It’s not just about the product, it’s about the story that connects people to the product.” One way to do that is to make a greater effort to get people out to the wineries — especially while the law is on their side. “Wineries have the edge over breweries right now,” Schwarz said. “To be able to get people to your place and see how you make your product, but then sell them a glass or a bottle of wine to go, both are illegal in Minnesota for breweries. They can sit and soak up the experience that much more. Even if you can’t afford to staff a tasting room all the time, set some hours and use social media to get the word out.”

This raises another question — how are wineries getting the word out? They are certainly not publicized like the Minneapolis microbrews. Picking up the slack is Jason Johnson, founder of the Minnesota Wine Club. He packages six Minnesota wines, complete with a newsletter, information on the wines and wineries, coupons and other educational materials, in a quarterly shipment for $109 including tax and shipping. “Only a few of the wineries do a really good job of marketing,” says Johnson. “We’re able to get these wines out to every corner of the state, to places where people wouldn’t be able to try them. The wineries can use our website, for news and events that they have going on, and we’ll talk about it on our Facebook and Twitter. We want the wineries to look at us as another marketing arm for them.” Johnson, too, is concerned with the overall quality of Minnesota wines. “In the past 10 years, they’ve come a long way,” he says. “With all the new wineries opening up, and with more competition, a lot of the junk wines are falling off.”

Johnson’s business model is significant for Minnesota because he is taking a crucial step that the industry isn’t: letting consumers know which are its top products. There’s currently no vintner’s quality alliance or other official avenue that gives any indication that a wine is representative of the quality one should expect. Certainly this is, in part, a function of the industry being only about 20 years old, but again, how do people know these are quality wines? Or are they even quality to begin with? Well, when 24 of the area’s top producers are pouring their wares in one place, it’s a little easier to figure out.

From the vast array of Minnesota wines being poured at the Midwest Wine Stroll that evening, the whites certainly stood out. It seemed that every winery had a great example of a La Crescent, Brianna, St. Pepin, or Edelweiss in a range of styles that would please most wine drinkers. Though it became evident to this writer that the red wines were not on par with the quality of the whites, there were certainly successful reds on display. An informal survey of those at the conference named Saint Croix Vineyards and Indian Island Winery as two with top notch reds (this was confirmed during the tastings). Many reds, however, exhibited strange aromas, unbalanced bodies, or odd aftertastes.

This quality gap seemed to plague even the most respected producers – it begs for explanation. “White winemaking is following a recipe, while red winemaking is more of an art,” explains U of M Enologist Katie Cook. “Because these varieties are so new, it is difficult to give a ‘best practice’ to winemakers. We only have one shot at it every year, and because each year brings different challenges, it will take many vintages before we start getting it right consistently.” She cites overly judicious oak and difficulty determining harvest times among the myriad of winemaking decisions that make red wines such a challenge. She also pointed out that the extra natural acids that make the whites so food friendly are a hidden obstacle to successful reds. Cold-climate reds require a significant amount of deacidification to make a balanced wine. This can’t always be accomplished by the secondary (malolactic) fermentation, which by itself can result in off-flavors for wines with a high malic acid concentration.

In this writer’s opinion, the best “reds” in the evening’s tasting were the ones that used red grapes in adulterating styles, like Garvin Heights Frontenac Port and Morgan Creek’s “Nova,” a semi-sweet Frontenac Rosé. In these examples, while supplemented with brandy or residual sugar, the Frontenac flavor was still front and center. The flavors are there, the vintners just need a few more vintages to get it right — and based on the quality of the whites, it looks as if they probably will.

 

 

 


 

 

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