Guest post written for Minnesota Grown’s Pick of the Month
If the term “wine region” conjures up images of quintessential French cottages dotting the hillsides of Burgundy, or expansive coastal vineyards of California — close your eyes and picture this: lush, rolling pastures of Minnesota farmland, painted with vineyards. It’s not a dream, with upwards of 70 operating wineries, Minnesota has formed its own wine region, and you likely don’t need to travel far to experience it.
One rule you need to know
Not sure about what kind of Minnesota wine you might like? (Or not sure what kind of wine you like in general?) With over a dozen varieties of grapes thriving in Minnesota’s vineyards (not to mention fruit wines and blends) there’s sure to be a wine to please every palette, and here’s the one rule you need to know before you step into a winery: if you like it, it’s the right wine.
There is nothing else that people eat or drink that has the perception of being “wrong” in quite the same way as wine. Precedents for proper pairings, hard to pronounce names, and a wide range of price points can make the wine world difficult to navigate. Beer aficionados don’t seem to anguish over the “right” beer, but drink what they like — so, why wine?
When visiting a winery you can enjoy a “wine tasting” (small samples of several wines) for just a few dollars, which allows you to try and compare several wines.
Don’t like it? Dump it out! (Hint: that’s what the “dump” bucket on the wine bar is for). Contrary to our commonly adopted “Minnesota Nice” mentality whereby we smile and tell the cook something is delicious (when it’s not) — it is not impolite to dump out the wine, or even spit it out, if a sip isn’t to your liking. A wine tasting is all about discovering what you like.
Most locations also have bottle shops where you can purchase wine to take home — couple that with a wine tasting, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to try before you buy! (Pro-tip: Special legislation allows the sale of wine on Sundays, when liquor stores are otherwise closed).
Yes, Minnesota’s wine country is rife for exploration: in addition to navigating the many flavors of a wine tasting, many locations welcome — if not encourage — sightseeing in the vineyard grounds themselves, so take a hike and enjoy the vistas of Minnesota’s unique wine country!
Family friendly? Absolutely! Many wineries have events and activities for families and youngsters — not to mention, are live, operating farms with plenty to see and do. Experiencing local agriculture with your family is a great way to build awareness of where food comes from. Consider packing a picnic (not all serve food, and many in are in rural areas), and make a day of it!
September and October is harvest season for vineyards in Minnesota. A lot of vineyards hand-harvest their grapes – which, as you can imagine, is not only time-sensitive to make sure they get harvested at the peak of ripeness, but time-consuming to hand pick acres of grapes. Several vineyards have programs for “harvest help”, looking for volunteers to pick grapes for a few hours – typically in exchange for a hearty farm lunch, and fabulous wine, of course! Some vineyards may provide donations to charity organizations who volunteer as well, a fantastic way to get out and help two causes at once.
If harvesting grapes isn’t your thing, you can always just stomp on them — vineyards across the state are hosting grape stomp festivals, a fantastic way to celebrate the harvest without getting your hands (but maybe your feet) dirty!
We’ve compiled a few of these fall events and opportunities for you here.
Where to start?
We have a comprehensive map of regional wineries here, and we’ve included a chart below that may help you to understand some of our local wine varieties (compared to more commonly recognized favorites).
Minnesota’s Budding Grape Crops
Minnesota is yet a fledgling when it comes to its history as a wine region. Barely over a generation old, the first grapevines were planted in Minnesota soil in the 1970’s (compared to other American wine regions established in the mid-1800’s.) In that short time almost 70 wineries have opened regionally!
The University of Minnesota has one of the top programs developing “cold-climate” grapes, meaning grapevines that survive Minnesota’s extreme cold winters. To put it simply: the U of M has developed and continues to develop new varieties of grapes which thrive despite cold winters and produce excellent wine (an important fact, since not all grapes will make good wine!).