Local vineyards and others serve wine to the masses
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — Minnesota Wine Country is in its fifth year of making a State Fair statement: Cold-hearty grapes and wines made from them have come into their own in a big and flavorful way.
Those visiting the State Fair through Labor Day can taste 12 wines, a sparkling wine, a raspberry wine smoothie — all made with Minnesota-grown grapes — and sample eight gourmet “eats” inspired by those wines.
Minnesota Wine Country serves as both an advertising and an educational venue, said John Falconer of Falconer Vineyards in Red Wing.
“We’re a relatively new industry still. We have to keep letting people know we are here,” he said Tuesday during the break between preparing the building and the fair’s opening Thursday.
The number of Minnesota wineries has doubled from approximately 25 to 50 in five years, said Paul Quast, co-owner of Saint Croix Vineyards in Stillwater.
“It’s definitely grown, thanks to the wonderful varieties that the University of Minnesota has developed,” Quast said Thursday.
People can learn all kinds of Minnesota wine facts — including wines produced here that have no grapes — during daily 3:30 p.m. seminars at the fair. For the full list, go to mnwine.org/events, but know that on Monday St. Croix Vineyards co-owner and breeder of popular grapes designed to survive our harsh winters Peter Hemstad will let people try Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc grapes and compare them to the final product.
The Frontenac grape, created at the U of M, is among the most versatile in the world, Falconer noted. Some grapes are good only with the first and immediate crush, for example, while others must be mature. Frontenac works for wine in all stages.
He uses it for Frontenac Rose, which in July earned Falconer Vineyards a double gold at Indy, among the biggest wine competitions in the U.S. More than 1,700 entries came from 20 countries.
The eight Minnesota Wine Country member wineries will go through roughly 50 cases of each variety poured during the fair, Falconer said. Cannon River in Cannon Falls is serving the first sparkling wine at the fair, Cannon River Sparkle Edelweiss. Falconer Vineyards in Red Wing is providing Snow White as part of a three-wine sample or flight.
Falconer calls Snowy Owl an off-dry or semi-sweet blend of Prairie Star, a cold-hearty grape developed by Elmer Swanson, and a Seyval Blanc, one of the few northern hybrids going back to the 1800s, with a touch of the Native American grape Catawba. The vineyard sits in the heart of the Mississippi River Flyway, thus the name of this wine which is best served cold.
“We have snowy owls who come down here every few years,” Falconer said.
Wineries from Laporte, Winona, Waconia and Chisago City have contributed wines that feature rhubarb, raspberry and apples as well. That means red, dessert and fruity wine flights also are on the menu.
“There’s something for everybody,” Quast said.