Grapes like to grow in beautiful places.
Across the globe, vineyards blanket lovely landscapes, and visitors can enjoy the setting and the fermented juice that springs from these hills and dales.
Even in Tundraland.
Yes, beautiful backdrops await those who venture out to Minnesota’s wineries, 50-plus and counting, and most are an easy drive from the Twin Cities area.
If there are better ways to partake of our favorite pastime — savoring summer — I’d love to hear about them. Especially because on a wine excursion, it’s all about the journey and the destination.
Rambling in a rural direction is a treat in itself, and whether the target is a century-plus-old barn (at Parley Lake Winery in Waconia and St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater) or a huge event center (at Four Daughters in Spring Valley), the end game is worth any jaunt.
Especially when there’s wine — which has gotten incrementally and sometimes exponentially better over the past decade — awaiting you. A bonus: Of late, the state’s wineries have ratcheted up their game in not only winemaking but hospitality. Diversionary amusements await for those who want more than juice.
And yes, at most of these wineries, you can get everybody’s current fave, a tasty, refreshing rosé.
No matter which corner of the Twin Cities area you call home, there are swell wineries within reach (definitely more than I can cover here). Here’s a gander at wineries near and semi-far in four directions, all open Thursday-Sunday unless noted.
Close by: St. Croix Vineyards (6428 Manning Rd., Stillwater, 651-430-3310, scvwines.com) has been a stalwart on the local wine scene for decades. In the converted barn or the dandy deck, enjoy some of the best renditions of cold-hardy grapes such as Frontenac Rosé or La Crescent. (Co-owner Peter Hemstad was integral in creating these and other hybrid grapes at the University of Minnesota.)
The vineyards are right there for the ambling, and it’s fun to see them in various stages of growth such as veraison (when the red grapes actually start turning red). Bonus points for sharing a parking lot with Aamodt’s Apple Farm, making for some fabulous fall double-dipping.
Further afield: Wild Mountain Winery (16906 Wild Mountain Rd., Taylors Falls, Minn., 651-583-3585, wildmountainwinery.com) is way worth the journey 10 miles north of Taylors Falls. This is the most beautiful vineyard in the state that I’ve seen (alas, I have not seen them all), rolling up hills that proffer magnificent views of the St. Croix River, and there are concerts every Saturday.
The tasting room is basic, but the outdoor seating areas provide alluring vistas. The wines are tasty, with several nice blends and sweet wines (in general, the farther one gets from the Cities, the sweeter the wines) and a first-rate Frontenac Gris for just $12.95. Bonus points for the nearby Wild Mountain ski area, with an Alpine slide, water park and go-karts at this time of year.
Close by: Alexis Bailly Vineyard (18200 Kirby Av., Hastings, 651-437-1413, abvwines.com) is the state’s oldest winery and one of the very best. Owner/vintner Nan Bailly is a master blender and loves to experiment with offerings such as the fruit-infused fortified Ratafia. For a good while, her Voyageur red and her white Seyval Blanc have been hallmarks of what this state can do.
The winery also puts on jazz shows every Sunday and has yoga sessions scattered throughout the summer. Not to mention one of the best bocce-ball layouts around. Bonus points for one of the area’s hidden treasures, the 30-foot Vermillion Falls (on 26th Street just off Hwy. 61 in Hastings).
Further afield: Four Daughters (78757 State Hwy. 16, Spring Valley, Minn. 1-507-346-7300, fourdaughtersvineyard.com) rises almost majestically amid corn and soybean fields pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s a thoroughly beckoning mecca, open daily, with a massive restaurant, live music on weekends and semiregular movies and meals in the adjacent vineyards.
Justin Osborne crafts flavorful wines from all manner of grapes, from Edelweiss and a Big Boy Red Blend to a don’t-miss-even-if-you-don’t-like-sweet-stuff sparkling moscato. He’s equally pumped, and with good reason, about his Loon Juice Cider program. Bonus points for checking out Rochester’s suddenly en fuego dining scene on the way there or back.
Close by: Parley Lake (8350 Parley Lake Rd., Waconia, 952-442-2290, parleylakewinery.com) combines a seriously cool old-barn tasting room with some of the Upper Midwest’s most full-flavored, balanced wines. The Marquette and Frontenac Blanc are superlative exemplars of those exciting newer grapes, and Steve Zeller’s blends and apple-grape hybrid are absolutely worth checking out.
Open Friday through Sunday, the 1885 barn shows its age in the right ways and has been modernized seamlessly. Events include a raft of concerts and art/wine amalgam (Steve’s wife, Deb, is one of the area’s top sculptors). Bonus points for Deb’s “Goddess of the Grapes” statue and the next-door-neighbor Deardorff apple orchards.
Farther afield: Chankaska Creek (1179 E. Pearl St., Kasota, Minn., 1-507-931-0089, chankaskacreekwines.com) takes advantage of winemaker Mike Drash’s Napa background to produce pinot noir, chardonnay and the like from Out West. Meanwhile, his Marquettes have justifiably garnered best-of-show awards galore, and his Petite Colline smells about as swell as any Minnesota wine. Josie Boyle’s sparkling efforts are another lure.
Open daily in summer, the tasting room is airy and welcoming. But grab a glass and walk the grounds, traversing the Chankaska Creek and checking out the sculptures along the way. Or savor a pizza with your sangiovese. Bonus points for the ginormous Jenga game on the patio.
Close by: Woodland Hill (731 County Road 30 SE., Delano, 763-972-4000, woodlandhillwinery.com) has my favorite gazebo of any winery in the state, and beyond. A view of 7 acres of pristine vineyards and a glass of Mike Dickerman’s citrusy white Summer Breeze or spicy red Hunters Blend make for an afternoon of languid delight.
Open Friday through Sunday, the roomy tasting room sells wine-themed accoutrements and flavored olive oils (sampling welcome). Bonus points for the nearby Peppermint Twist, an old-school drive-in eatery almost worth the trek to Delano all by its lonesome.
Farther afield: Carlos Creek (6693 County Road 34 NW., Alexandria, Minn., 1-320-846-5443, carloscreekwinery.com) pushes the limits of how far north grapes can be grown. And wins. It’s worth a day trip just to check out the iterations of two fantastic grapes developed by hybridizing star Tom Plocher, the red Petite Pearl and the white Petit Ami. The other grape and fruit wines are also deftly made.
Owner Tami Bredeson is a marketing whiz, so there’s no shortage of happenings on the 360 days a year the winery is open. Also available: self-guided cave tours, a rarity in Minnesota. Bonus points for a chance to see what you think of a certain slab of rock at the nearby Runestone Museum.
Bill Ward writes atdecant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.