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Progress: Wine and a good time

1. Grapes are harvested in the fall — many of them by volunteers — and loaded into containers for transport to the winery. The occasion is festive, co-owner Maureen Maloney said, complete with wine tasting and outdoor eating. (Photo provided by the Cannon River Winery)1 / 5
2. Back at the winery, grapes are put through a machine to remove the stems and begin the crushing process. For white wine, the grapes then go directly to a press (pictured) to extract the juice from skins and seeds. Red wine starts out fermenting with the juice, skins and seeds kept together before being sent to the press. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)2 / 5
3. Fermentation is done in six individual 1,000-gallon tanks (3) in the back of the winery. Maloney explained that the jacketed containers use a glycol cooling system to regulate temperature throughout the process, which can generate a good amount of heat. 3 / 5
4. The various wines are stored in food-grade plastic totes (4) while undergoing a variety of clarification and blending processes. Chemical analysis is used to track how the wine is progressing. 4 / 5
5. When ready, the wine is bottled by hand at the winery. Customers are invited to taste the wine direct from the tank before it goes into a bottle. (Photo provided by the Cannon River Winery)5 / 5

CANNON FALLS — In the Sogn Valley south of town sits the largest vineyard in Minnesota. Although the hills are covered in snow for now, come next fall the area will be teeming with energy as groups of volunteers help harvest grapes for the Cannon River Winery.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” said Maureen Maloney, who founded the vineyard with husband John more than a decade ago. “You’d think you just stepped out into Napa Valley.”

The venture started with the intriguing notion of growing grapes in Minnesota, and later evolved into a full-fledged winery so the duo could do something with their product, Maloney said. The business opened in 2004 with Vincent Negret, an experienced Colombian winemaker, guiding the development process.

The winery has since produced around 20 varieties of wine sold locally and as far north as the Gunflint Trail, she said. It also partnered with the St. Paul Winter Carnival to make three wines commemorating the event.

“We like to say we have something for every palate,” Maloney said.

Although people may think Minnesota is not an ideal spot for grapes, she pointed out that the state is near the same latitude as legendary French vineyards and shares similar growing conditions.

“We just have harsh winters,” Maloney said, which requires special kinds of “cold-hearty” plants that can survive the elements. The vineyard features a number of such cultivars developed at the University of Minnesota and by the late Elmer Swenson, a pioneering grape breeder from Osceola, Wis.

A learning experience

Maloney said the philosophy behind the winery is for it to be wide open. She encourages the public to be part of the winemaking process, from picking grapes to attending tasting parties when it comes time to bottle.

“And ask questions and learn as much as they can,” she added.

The winery is based in downtown Cannon Falls inside a renovated car dealership. Maloney said its location between Rochester and the Twin Cities — as well as proximity to the Cannon Valley Trail — makes it an attractive spot for day-trippers.

“We have a lot of people come in wearing spandex shorts, and we don’t discriminate,” she joked.

Along with daily wine tastings, the winery hosts live music and entertainment events throughout the year. And, because it is considered a farm winery under state law, Maloney said they can sell and serve wine even on Sundays.

Making progress

Maloney said the focus of the business now is expanding the winery with an upstairs banquet center, including a catering kitchen and bar. The addition will provide a location for receptions after wedding ceremonies held at the vineyard.

The upstairs used to be a roller-skating rink and dance floor, making it a fitting spot for romantic events.

“A lot of local people come in and tell us their stories about meeting up there,” Maloney said.

Construction is expected to be finished June 1 and the winery is beginning to take reservations for events, she said, adding that anyone booking the banquet center in 2014 will receive a discounted rate.

More information on event planning can be found at or by calling 507-263-7400.

This story originally appeared in part 3 of the 2014 Red Wing Republican Eagle Progress Edition, titled Start to Finish. The three-part series features local businesses, artisans and community groups describing their step-by-step processes. 

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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