March may be Women's History Month, but in the Minnesota wine world, the present has a far richer tapestry than the past.
For more than four decades, winemaker Nan Bailly has led the way at Minnesota's first winery, Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, started in 1977 by her father, David. But until fairly recently, she was all alone as an Upper Midwest female vintner.
That is changing, considerably and conspicuously. Now women are at the forefront of an enhanced enterprise in which improved practices in the vineyard and cellar, new winter-hardy grapes and good ol' Mother Nature are spawning major progress.
It's a revolution amid an evolution, and the results are showing up in the wine bottle. Those who have eschewed Gopher State wines in the past would be well advised to give them another shot, thanks in part to these five women.
Paige Bouc, Fountain Hill Winery & Vineyard
The Nebraska native, who earned a master's degree in organic chemistry at Iowa State University, is not only the winemaker but also manages the 5-acre estate vineyard in Delano.
She said the latter role "makes it more fun to experience the changing in flavors, but also gives me better control, a better sense of where I want the wines to go."
She also will be spending a good bit of the growing season monitoring a recently purchased 20-acre vineyard (known as Woodland Hill before a 2019 sale) and launching a club at the winery.
Bouc is pumped about working with grapes ranging from those created decades ago by acclaimed Upper Midwest hybridizer Elmer Swenson to the recently released white Itasca grape from the University of Minnesota.
"I'm really excited about Itasca," she said. "It's a different flavor profile [from previous cold-climate grapes]. It lends itself to being more of a dry white. Ours in bottle is more minerally compared to the other whites."
It's all part of what Bouc sees as a very promising future here. "There are so many possibilities with how the weather is shifting and with the U of M putting out great grapes," she said. "People are seeing that Minnesota has more than sweet wines, that they can be dry and complex."
Find it: At the winery (731 County Road 30 SE., Delano, fhwandvineyard.com) and its website, plus Delano Wine & Spirits and Liquor Hutch in Hutchinson, Minn.
Josie Boyle, Mousse Sparkling Wine Co.
Boyle fell in love with wine in France. She fell in love with sparkling wine in Michigan.
Now the Stillwater native is focused on effervescent juice at her Jordan winery, where she makes cider and a bit of table wine, as well.
As a student at Wisconsin's Lawrence University, Boyle studied in Paris and said she "drank a lot of cheap wine, but even cheap wine is good in France."
She spent 2 1/2 years at the renowned bubbles-focused Mawby Vineyards and Winery in Michigan, then launched the sparkling wine program at Minnesota's Chankaska Creek in 2014 before opening Mousse in September 2020.
There she makes bubble-licious wines in a variety of styles — from the méthode champenoise required in Champagne, to the simpler charmat process favored in prosecco, to the increasingly popular pét-nat technique popular with natural-wine devotees — but always with locally grown grapes.
A good bit of the production is Mousse's Dry White Bubbly (64% Frontenac Blanc, 36% Frontenac Gris), available in several metro outlets. But she loves to experiment with small lots such as an "orange" La Crescent with a touch of spritz.
Boyle's primary focus, though, is on what she calls "the wonderful world" of bubbles. "It's fun, it's celebratory," she said, "and no other beverage is as naturally complex as great wine is."
Find it: At the winery (115 E. 1st St., Jordan, moussewinery.com) and its website, plus several Twin Cities locations, including Dabbler Depot in St. Paul and Stinson Wine, Beer & Spirits, France 44 Wine & Spirits and Ombibulous, all in Minneapolis.
Michelle Bredeson, Carlos Creek Winery
Bredeson loves stomping grapes. "It's so much fun," she said, "and it really solidifies what we do here."
But that is merely one of myriad roles she fills at the Alexandria winery started by her in-laws, the now-retired Kim and Tami Bredeson.
Her official title is co-owner (with husband Tyler) and director of marketing and events, among them scores of on-site weddings and other occasions. The Fargo native's duties also have included pruning, picking, working on the bottling line and helping start a brewery, cidery and wood-fired pizza kitchen.
When not seeing to the needs of an estimated 150,000 annual visitors, Bredeson loves to explore the more than two dozen offerings from the winery's 11,000-case production.
"We pride ourselves on balance, whether [the wine is] sweet dry, off-dry or dry," she said. "We have come into our own as far as what our style is. We're definitely getting there, especially our oak-aged wines. We use a lot of Minnesota oak on our [California-sourced grapes] to get that Minnesota flair.
As for the mostly Minnesota-grown output, she's especially fond of a white grape called Petite Amie. "It's very similar to a sauvignon-blanc style. We have had so many people come in and go 'Oh, wow' when tasting it."
Find it: At the winery (6693 County Road 34 NW., Alexandria, Minn., carloscreekwinery.com) and its website, plus many liquor stores throughout the state and metro area, including Total Wine and municipal liquor stores in Edina and Eden Prairie.
Hannah Hanlon, Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery
After doing countless vinous chores while growing up at her parents' Whitewater Wines in Plainview, Minn., Hanlon decided she had had her fill of the business.
That lasted less than one semester at the U. "I missed the cycle of growing," she said. "I missed being on my feet out in nature. I missed the intersection of art, science and farming."
So she transferred to arguably the country's foremost wine school, University of California, Davis, then landed a plum gig: running the lab at the esteemed Ridge Vineyards, working closely with fellow Minnesota native David Gates, senior vice president of the California winery's vineyard operations.
"Many of us say that he is the heart of Ridge," she said. "Perhaps we bonded initially over the fact that we are both Minnesotans, but we also share a love for going the extra mile in everything we do."
That will be her M.O. after coming onboard earlier this month at the Four Daughters winery — just 50 miles from her family's operation. "Ridge's preindustrial, minimal-intervention and sustainable philosophies are things that I will follow and use," she said.
Climate change, she added, has created "untapped potential in the Minnesota and Midwest industry. For my parents, some of our best vintages were recent."
One Minnesota grape she's excited to work with is Frontenac Blanc. She actually poured some for friends and co-workers in California, "and people loved it."
Find it: At the winery (78757 Hwy. 16, Spring Valley, fourdaughtersvineyard.com) and its website, plus Andy's Liquor and Apollo Liquor stores, both in Rochester.
Allison Sheardy, Rustic Roots
Growing up in Pennsylvania and other states, Sheardy thought her destiny was to become a food writer.
"Then I started visiting Napa and Sonoma, loved the food and wine there, and one grew to outshine the other," she said.
So Sheardy started studying — she's a recent Level 4 grad of the renowned Wine & Spirit Education Trust (a big deal, by the way) — and now not only is teaching courses at Vine Lab Wine & Spirits Academy of Minnesota, but also serving as a public face at the Scandia winery.
"My official title is tasting room manager," she said, "but I also oversee events, our wine club and the seasonal kitchen, and dabble in creative ideas and quality control."
While not an aspiring winemaker — "My dad and brother both have Ph.D.'s in chemistry, and I did not get that gene" — her palate has been honed by sampling countless international wines in her studies.
That "really helps me put Minnesota wines in context," she said. "So someone might come in and ask for a chardonnay. We don't have that, but we can hit the same markers with our oaked Frontenac Blanc, which has the same kind of weight."
Sheardy's favorite cold-climate grape is the red Marquette. "I see it as having the most potential and versatility," she said. "A lot of producers fall into thinking that it has to be made like a cabernet sauvignon. It's better to let it express itself."
And what's more Minnesotan than that kind of thinking?
Find it: At the winery (20168 St. Croix Trail, Scandia, rusticroots.wine) and its website, plus MGM Wine & Spirits in Chisago City and Scandia Old Towne Liquor.
Bill Ward is a freelance food and drink writer living in Nashville who writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.