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Cannon River's's newest release honors winemaker's mother, Graciela

After drug dealers in Colombia, South America, ran his family out of the winemaking business, Vincent Negret could have pursued a different - safer - career.

But Negret was a third-generation winemaker, and he wasn't about the give up his dream.

Perseverance brought him to Cannon Falls, where Negret is the winemaker for Cannon River Winery.

And love of family led him to develop a brand new wine, Graciela, to honor his mother. She still lives in Colombia but will be coming to Cannon Falls later in May to autograph the label, which features a portrait of her as a young woman.

Graciela, a reserve white wine, will be bottled beginning at noon Saturday. The public is welcome to watch the process and then to sample all the wines for $5.

Authentic Latin American music will be performed by Robert Everest, a guitarist who studied in Argentina, from 2 to 5 p.m.

Negret's grandfather got into the winery business in 1937 in Colombia. Negret's father and uncle took over in 1952. They retired around 1983, giving Vincent - who spent some time in California studying winemaking - and his brother Juan an opportunity to take charge of the family business.

"Then the drug dealers and the guerrillas ran the country upside-down," Negret said. They wanted to use the winery - and countless other businesses - to launder drug money, and offered the owners partnerships.

"If you refused, they ended up purchasing your competition," he said. By lowering prices they created a price war and ran the Negret family winery out of business in the mid-1990s.

After the bank claimed the assets, the drug dealers bought the business. In fact, Negret said, two of their original wine brands are still on the market.

He saw no future for himself in any other field, so Negret came to the United States, hoping to make wine here. First, he found work in late 2000 at the Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, Minn. A year later Negret was able to bring his family to the United States and they moved on to a winery in Ohio.

"While I was driving through this area," he recalled, "I thought, 'I wish I could come back.'"

Negret contacted the University of Minnesota in 2004 and learned that John and Maureen Maloney were starting a winery in the Cannon Falls area. The next day John Maloney contacted the university looking for a winemaker.

"A dream come true," Negret said. He helped them during the startup phase, and has been the Cannon River Winery's winemaker ever since.

Minnesota's climate is a far cry from that of his native land, he acknowledged.

"It's a little colder, but the warmth of the people -- they are so educated, and so nice. Everything is clean, and there is very little corruption. It's beautiful."

A couple of years ago Negret's father called asking him to think about "putting a wine together" in his mother's honor.

"They loved the idea here," Negret said, so he went to work on it. The family forwarded a circa 1946 picture of Graciela, hand-painted, for the label.

The result: "It's a delicate, soft, noble kind of classy white wine that goes well with food," Negret said.

On Saturday, he'll be bottling about 100 cases at 12 bottles per case. "And that's it for this year," he noted.

On May 23, Negret's parents, Graciela and Vicente, will arrive for a visit; she will autograph her namesake wine from 1 to 3 p.m. That day is also going to be a "barrel tasting event" for Gunflint Red wine; guitarist Everest will return to again entertain from 2 to 5 p.m.

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